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From CK To VK. Indian Skippers In England- Part 14

Mahendra Singh Dhoni is Street-smart. He always has been. As a young boy, he never was in awe of any cricketer. He had no idol. He never watched cricket on TV. He never was very passionate about cricket till his mid-teens. Cricket along with basketball, badminton and football was just another sport for him. He played all the sports which came his way and was the goalie of his school football team. His sports teacher asked him to keep wickets in the cricket team. Seeing the popularity of cricket in the country, Dhoni agreed to. At the time, being good at a sport was the only means for him to get into a decent university. Excelling in sports was much easier than burning midnight oil for studies. Yet, there was a hitch. Being a son of a pump operator meant he would have to support his cricket on his own. Cricket is an expensive sport.

M S Dhoni
Captain Cool- MSD

He did a lot of things for that. Blessed with the strength of a bull and speed of a gazelle, he knew that he had the basic attributes to excel in the sport. And he also had immense stamina. He took to playing tennis ball matches and taking money for it. Took up a job of a ticket collector. But kept playing. An entry to a university never happened, but he entered seamlessly in the most glamourous field in the country. Suddenly, in fray for a place in the Indian Cricket team. That too didn’t happen without drama. The Bihar Cricket association didn’t deem it appropriate to intimate a player from Jharkhand that he has been selected to represent the East Zone in the Duleep trophy. A congratulatory call from a friend of a friend was the means by which Dhoni came to know he has been selected. Yet it was too late, and despite desperate efforts by his friends, Dhoni missed the flight to Agartala.

However, Dhoni went to the next match in Pune as the 12th man. He kept performing enough to remain in the fray for the next 3 years, but the national call up won’t come. Things changed in 2004, India A, ODI and Test match debuts happened in a year’s time, and the small-town boy had made it big. Dhoni quickly became a brand second only to Sachin Tendulkar. Within three years, Dhoni was leading the Indian Cricket team in all the three formats.Much has been written and cinematographed about his story thereafter, and there’s no point in repeating the same here.

The Indian team which went to England in 2011 under Dhoni was on a high, having won the 2011 world cup. They felt invincible but were brutally brought to the ground by the English Cricket team. Just like the West Indies had slaughtered the Indian Cricket team with vengeance after winning the 1983 world cup.

The first test was the test match # 2000, and Dhoni, winning the toss, put England in. Bad move to start with. Initial success came as Cook fell for 12 when England had made 19, and Strauss for 22 when the score was 62. Then the South African imports, Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pieterson got together and added 98 between them before Trott fell for 70 workmanlike runs. His name is Trott, but he made his runs in a saunter always. Bell (45) added another 110 runs with the in-form KP. Thereafter, another import, this one from Ireland (Eoin Morgan) lasted only 3 balls and didn’t bother the scorers, and with England score 270/5, India could hope to make a comeback in the match. But wicketkeeper Matt Prior and Pieterson added 120 brisk runs and snatched the game away from India. England declared at 474/8 and KP was unbeaten on 200.

Zaheer Khan picked 5 for a 106, but just when he was bowling well, got injured and was ruled out of the remaining tour. The Indian openers, Abhinav Mukund and Gautam Gambhir put on 63, but both were back in the hut by the time the score had reached 77, and it fell on the senior pros Dravid and Tendulkar to salvage the situation. They added 81, but that was not enough. Thereafter, it was a mere procession to the pavilion with only the captain and the ex-captain showing any resistance. Dravid finally got himself on the Lord’s honours board with an unbeaten 103 and Dhoni made a patient 28 off 102 balls, and added 57 with Dravid, but as India were wrapped up for 286, even saving the match was going to require a gargantuan effort. Yet the bowlers hadn’t lost heart. They made the new ball talk, and reduced England to 62 for 5, and then 107 for 6. But the first innings villain Prior was not done with tormenting the Indians. He scored an unbeaten 103, and along with Stuart Broad, (74 off 90 balls) added 162 and put India completely out of the game.

Indian second innings was a sad story. All their batsmen got starts, but only Laxman (56) and Raina (78) could convert. India all out 261, but they played 96 overs for that. Anderson (5/65) and Broad (3/57) destroyed the Indian innings, and led England to a handsome 196 run victory, to draw the first blood in the series.

In the second test, Dhoni again won the toss and put England in. Yuvraj Singh had come in for Gambhir. But this time around, the bowlers proved him right. Ishant Sharma, Pravin Kumar, and Shantakumaran Shreesanth all claimed 3 wickets apiece and bundled England out for 221. Stuart Broad (64) top scored for England. India opened with Dravid and Mukund, and Mukund was out without scoring. Dravid and Laxman then added 93 stoic runs and Laxman fell making 54. Tendulkar failed so did Raina and Yuvraj combined with Dravid to add 128. Yuvraj made 62 and after he fell, the remaining 5 Indian wickets could add only 21 runs. Dravid was out 9th, making 117, his second century of the series. Broad claimed a six- for and India secured a lead of 57 runs. In the England second innings, Ishant Sharma removed Cook cheaply, and then came Ian Bell. He held the England Innings together with a masterly 159.

Dhoni recalled Ian Bell to bat again when the latter was given wrongly run out. It won Dhoni the spirit of cricket award for the year 2011, but lost India the match. Prior, Pieterson, Prior and Bresnan all responded with big half centuries and England put up a mighty 544 and set India an improbable 478 to win. Bresnan and Anderson scythed through the Indian batting and reduced India quickly to 55 for 6. Sachin Tendulkar (56) and Harbhajan Singh took India past 100, then the little master fell, and Praveen Kumar threw his bat around for a run-a-ball 25. But 478 was too imposing a target and India folded up for 158, losing by 319 runs.

India were down and out, trailing 0-2 in the series and in the Birmingham test, they were ground to dust. Batting first, India scored 224, Gambhir and Laxman made 30s and the captain made a fighting 77. England put on an epic 710/7, Cook making a career best 294 , Morgan made 104 and Strauss, Pieterson and Bresnan made fifties. In the second essay, India made 244, the captain made another fine 74, and Tendulkar and Praveen Kumar made 40s. India lost by a small matter of an innings and 242 runs.

A thoroughly demoralised India went to the Oval to play the final test England won the toss, made 591/6 and put India out of contention right from the day 1 of the match. Ian bell made a silky 235 and Kevin Pieterson hammered 175. In reply, India reached 300 for the first time in the series, the “Wall” standing tall for a stoic 146 and carrying his bat through the innings. All the batsmen did come to the wicket, but they might as well have not, as their stays were short, and contributed precious little. Dravid found an unlikely ally in the rotund Amit Mishra who scored 44 and added 87 for the 7th wicket.

The injured Gambhir walked in to bat, hung around grimly for an hour and added 40 for the 8th wicket with Dravid. RP Singh threw his bat around for 25, and India made an even 300. Following on 291 runs in arrears, India made 283 in the second innings, Sachin Tendulkar (91) and Amit Mishra (84) being the only innings worth a mention. Another innings defeat, and a 0-4 whitewash. India were never in the game for the whole series, and barring Rahul Dravid and Dhoni, none of their batsmen showed the grit to graft in tough situations. The bowling was lackluster and so was the fielding. No wonder the result came out as it did.

Yet three years later, Dhoni was again at the helm when India toured England. And he was there on Merit. India was the number one test side in the world, it’s young batting line-up was formidable on the paper at least, and the bowling attack too was of a high quality. BUT THERE WAS A HUGE DIFFERENCE THIS TIME AROUND. None of the fab 4 were in the team, and the team had a point to prove, that despite losing 4 great batsmen to time, they yet were a formidable unit.

In the first test at Nottingham, Dhoni won the toss and chose to bat first. India made a formidable 457. Murali Vijay made 146 gorgeous runs, Dhoni made 82, but the highlight of the innings was the 107 run 10th wicket partnership between Bhubaneshwar Kumar and Mohammad Shami. Both scored individual 50s. England replied with 496. Their rising star Joe Root made an unbeaten 154 and added a mighty 198 runs with James Anderson for the last wicket. Anderson made 81. Garry Ballance and Sam Robson made fifties. It was a peculiar case where the 10th wicket partnerships had crossed the 100-run mark in two successive innings of a test match. India batted again making 391/8 declared, debutante Stuart Binny made 78, Vijay and Pujara made 50s and Bhubaneshwar Kumar made his second fifty of the match, scoring 63. The five days were over and the match ended in a draw. But both the teams looked even Stevens in their form, promising a closely fought series ahead.

The second test was at the Lord’s. Captain Cook called correctly, and put India in. India made 295, riding on rookie Ajinkya Rahane’s unbeaten 103. Anderson took 4/60. England replied with 319. Garry Ballance made 110 and Liam Plunkett 55. Bhubaneshwar Kumar took 6 wickets for 82 runs. India in their second innings, made 342, Murali Vijay making 95, Sir Jadeja made 68 and Bhubaneshwar Kumar, carrying his batting form from Nottingham to Lords, made another 52. England were set 319 to win, but the lanky Ishant Sharma went through their batting line up like a hot knife in butter, and bowled a man-of-the-match winning spell of 7 for 74. Only Joe Root (66) and Moeen Ali (39) showed some fight and England folded up for 223. India had won at Lord’s after 18 years, and gone one-up in the series.

Stung by the defeat at Lord’s, England came back strongly in Southampton, piling up 569/7 in their first innings. Cook made 95, Butler 85, and Ballance and Bell scored big hundreds. The hero of Lord’s, Ishant Sharma was out of the team due to injury and the rest of the bowlers looked hapless. India scored 330 in reply. All their batsmen got starts, but only Rahane and Dhoni could make 50s. England didn’t enforce the follow-on and scored a brisk 205/4 in their second innings. Cook and Root made 50s. Ravindra Jadeja took 3 for 52. Set 445 to win, India made only 178. Rahane made his second 50 of the match, but that wasn’t enough. Of all the people, Moeen Ali, who bowls innocuous looking off spin took6 for 67. India has this knack of making heroes out of unlikely players. England levelled the series with two more tests to go.

The fourth test found India hitting a new low, getting bundled out for 152 and 161 in their two innings. England made 367 in their only innings of the match, riding on fifties from Bell, Root and Butler. The only scores worth mention from the Indians were a vigilant 71 by the captain in the first innings and a brace of fighting 40s by Ravichandran Ashwin in each innings. But that was not enough. India lost by and 54 runs as the match ended in 3 days’ time.

In the final test at the Oval India stooped further, making only 148 in their first innings, the captain again making a valiant 82 and after being reduced to 9 for 90, adding 58 valuable runs with Ishant Sharma who hung on grimly for an hour and a quarter. In reply, England made 486, Cook, Balance made fifties, Butler made 45 and Joe Root a fine, chance less unbeaten 149. In their second essay, India capitulated for 94, thus ending the disappointing series, the only bright spot being the win at Lord’s. After this series probably, it was total loss of motivation for Dhoni to Continue leading and Playing for India in the test matches, and he suddenly announced his retirement from the format in the following Australian tour.

Yet, Indian Cricket will never forget MS Dhoni’s contribution. He was the coolest head in the team, always unperturbed, through the Best and worst. And his journey is one of the most amazing tale of self-belief and perseverance.

Starting as a small-town basher, the guy went on to become one of the most successful Indian Cricket Captain. He placed India at the top in all the three formats of the game, winning the T20 and ODI world cups, and also getting India ranked at Numero Uno in the ICC Test Rankings. A goodish wicketkeeper (wouldn’t call him one of the best), a very aggressive batsman, when he got in, and a very astute, and attacking leader, for most of his career (He appeared a bit lackluster due to loss of motivation probably, towards the fag end of his Test Captaincy career).

As a captain, we would rate Dhoni as inspiration. He never appeared to be agitated, irritated, or never did his shoulders sag in adversity. Dropped catches, bad batting displays, typically Indian bowling woes overseas, nothing could ruffle his feathers anytime when on the field. He looked like a tower of peace, notwithstanding what was going on around him. That doesn’t mean that he was off guard or unaware of his job. He did it well, most of the time. He gambled quite a lot, and also had the guts to back himself in tough situations. More often than not, he was also able to inspire his players to rise to the occasion. It is not so easy to captain a team which has a Dravid, Tendulkar, Laxman, and Kumble in it, but MSD did this with consummate ease, and to a very good effect. He didn’t like criticisms. He kept backing players like Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Ravichandran Ashwin, though they were not always consistent performers, and could extract flashes of brilliance from them, nurtured Virat Kohli’s potential, and also the senior players were not far behind in contributing.

People who go by stats, forget that by changing or sacking or blaming a captain, they are doing no good to the game or to the team more so in case of Dhoni.

Despite all these achievements, his leadership in England Tests was not rewarded with results, and though he came out as a fighting batsman on both the tours, he found no support. And this was again to be repeated in the 2018 England tour, under a different captain, who came out as the best batsman of the Series for India, yet couldn’t secure a series win for them…

Hope you liked- From CK to VK. Indian Skippers in England- Part 14. Until then, stay tuned and keep reading www.shamsnwags.com

Settling the scores-From Wankhede to Lords

If all of us suffer from ‘Brain Fade’ at some point in time, there are few moments from the lovely game of cricket that never fades off, instead, gets etched in the memories and we cherish it for ever. Be it sheer joy after victory or be it feeling of revenge and vengeance. At this point, let’s go back down to the memory lane, straight back to the 2002 Natwest Trophy’s final match in our latest edition- Settling the scores-From Wankhede to Lords.

Even in the middle of his dream, Saurav Ganguly would never have thought that he could ever do the most shocking thing in his life. Never will he will ever do this in future. I clearly recall Dada’s action as a response to Andrew Flintoff’s shameful act at Wankhede, which is considered as Mecca of Cricket in India. It all started in January 2002 when England came down to India to play 6 ODI’s. India was leading the series 3-1. One victory for India could have helped to seal the series. 5th match (at Feroz Shah Kotla, Delhi ), England posted 271/5 in their stipulated 50 overs.

Skipper Hussain missed out on his half century by one run while Nick Knight got run out at 105 Runs. Flintoff scored a quick fire 52 of 39 deliveries. In reply to England’s total, India fell short by 3 runs even after a good start at the top order. Flintoff managed to get rid of Dinesh Mongia.

England had won the 5th game and the last match was at Wankhede- Mumbai. Harbhajan Singh was on a song and took a Fifer, restricting England to 255-10. Indian openers Sachin and Sehwag out early. The match was evenly poised and results could have been in favour of either of the teams. Skipper Hussain brought Freddie Flintoff toward the 39th over. He was in good form and his luck with the batting had made him confident. He was charging down and his body language was very different. He dismissed Mohammed Kaif at 20, who was trying to build his innings. Ajay Ratra and our very own Bombay Duck- Ajit Agarkar got out in quick succession. He didn’t manage to trouble the scorers and went off for a duck.

Settling Scores - From Wankhede to Lords
Andrew Flintoff celebrating after victory in Mumbai

England needed 3 wickets. The stage was set for Freddie Flintoff. The only way he could salvage back pride for his team was by taking wickets and winning the game. He managed to dismiss Bhajji in the 48th over. India needed 11 runs of the last over with 2 wickets remaining. Hussain had saved Flintoff for the death overs and possibly for the last over. Freddie was pumped up and raring to finish off the Indian innings. From the looks of it, it gave a feel that he was on some energy enhancing substance.

Anil Kumble was on strike and Hemang Badani was on the non- striker’s end. First ball, Kumble hit towards the extra covers. The ball was traveling quickly towards the boundary until the Ashley Giles gathered it. It fetched 2 runs for Kumble. Badani was still not on strike. Next Badani sent him back.

8 runs needed of 4 balls. That was the equation for India. Badani was on strike. There was some hope left. He stepped towards the off side and hit the ball on the leg side towards long on and scampered through for 2 runs. Now then, India needed 6 runs of 3 deliveries. It could have been anyone’s game.

Hemang took strike. Flintoff came charging in. Badani missed and the ball went to the keeper. Kumble had made it half way towards the pitch. The keeper tried to throw the ball on the stumps and missed. Flintoff was clever enough to gather the ball in his follow through ran towards the stumps and threw himself along with the ball on the stumps before Kumble could cover his ground. The umpires were in doubts and hence called for third umpires decision. The replay confirmed that Kumble was run-out by a mile.

The score card looked 250 for 9 with India wanting 6 runs of 2 deliveries. In came Javagal Srinath. Flintoff had planned to bowl him an in-swinging Yorker. Srinath went towards the offside and tried to glance it through leg side, ended up getting yorked. The entire Mumbai crowd went silent. Flintoff was running towards the keeper, removed his T-Shirt and propelled it in the air and was running on the ground. It was the most shocking and heart-breaking scene on the cricket ground for the Indians and it certainly didn’t go down well in the minds of the Indian players and supporters. Many a times, people don’t remember what was outcome of the series. The only thing they remember certain moments and actions happening on the field. The series was tied yet they were under shock after the Flintoff’s T-shirt incident feeling as if India had lost the series.

Later in the year in June, India were traveling to England to play the Natwest Series. Out of the 5 matches till the finals, India had lost only one match, and one match was washed out. The expectations were high to win the finals.

It was 13th July 2002 in Lords, India were up against the host in the Finals of the Natwest 2002 Series Naseer Hussain had won the toss and elected to bat. Marcus Trescothick and skipper Hussain had taken the complete measure of the Indian bowlers and compiled good partnership. Andrew Flintoff scored a quick fire 40 of 32 balls. Captain Hussain was in complete control and was guiding the team to a big total in the big final.

Settling the scores- From Wankhede to Lords
Saurav Ganguly- Settling the score at Lords

England managed to score 325/5 in 50 overs. This was a highest total for a team to chase back then in the ODIs. In reply to England’s innings, India were at 314/6 and needing 12 off 16 balls. In came the big Freddie steaming from the bowling end. The memories from Wankhede were still very fresh. He had already created scars in the minds of the Indians with his act in Mecca of Indian cricket- Wankhede.

Flintoff had taken 2 quick fire wickets dismissing Bhaji and Anil Kumble in the 48h over. The score didn’t move. India still need 12 runs of 13 balls. Kaif was playing sensibly and positively and was not missing a single opportunity to grab a single. India still had to score 6 runs of 7 deliveries. Defeat was staring at India’s feet. A wicket there would have been the final nail on the coffin. It was 49th over and Darren Gough was running quickly to finish off his over. Kaif tried hitting the ball towards Mid-off but it took an outside edge and went up in the air towards the boundary at the third man region and Flintoff could not cut it off. It was a sigh of relief as

India needed 2 runs of 6 balls. Zak (Zaheer Khan) was on strike. The situation in the dressing room was very intense. Dada was standing at the famous balcony of Lords biting his nails. Like in the last match at Wankhede, Flintoff came to bowl the final over. He was charging towards his bowling mark-up He had already created a dent in the Indian innings by striking twice in the his last over (48th over). It was as if he had come out to rub salt over the injury. There was something else running in Saurav Ganguly’s mind. Freddie came steaming towards Zak. He wanted to bowl a Yorker, ended up bowling a full toss. Both batsmen ran for a quick risky run. It was a throw and a miss and Kaif had to dive and stretch full length to cover his ground. Kaif got up and charged back for another run as it was an over throw. India managed to chase the highest total back then. Ganguly had glued his eyes on the victory run. As soon Kaif took the second run, he took off his T-shirt, propelled in the air and of course gave a mouth full and returned the insult done by Flintoff in India’s Mecca of cricket- Wankhede.

Hope you liked- Settling the scores-From Wankhede to Lords.Until then, stay tuned and keep reading www.shamsnwags.com

The Grim Immovables!

95 days gap between two consecutive tests, since the last test (March 5th in Cape Town) is the longest absence of Test Cricket that doesn’t involve an ODI World Cup since 1973…!

It has been a real long wait for the ones like me, who actually love to follow the TEST Cricket. In the frenzies of the T20 world cup and the IPL, it appeared that all the cricket lovers had just forgotten the existence of this vintage form of the game, and were lost in the blitzkrieg T20 format.

The game is all about asking for nothing, giving nothing away, and hanging in there till you break the opposition.

And that is why it has got its many qualities and names….

The great leveler, the game of uncertainties, Chess played on the field, the mind game, and what not.

And now, that brings me to the subject of this article.

When any cricket follower is asked to name the all-time great batsmen of cricket, the list will inevitably consist of the names of Trumper, Clem Hill, Wally Hammond, Sir Don Bradman, Neil Harvey, Sir Len Hutton, Peter May, Tom Graveny, Sir Garry Sobers, the 3 Ws, Clive Lloyd, Sir Viv Richards, Ian & Greg Chappel, Doug Walters, Sunil Gavaskar, GR Vishwanath, Zaheer Abbas, Javed Miandad, Mark Waugh, Mohammed Azharuddin, Brian Lara, Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting, Jaques Kallis AB D’Villiers……

All of them, either very attractive stroke makers, or explosive batsmen who could tear any bowling attack apart. No doubt, that they all have been greats of the game, very attractive to watch when they batted, and had a very long lived consistency of performances to go with it. Yours truly is in no less awe of these names, then anyone of you ardent cricket lovers are!

However, looking at the more recent test matches (more recent would mean the ones which took place since the start of this millennium it has been observed, that a breed of batsmen, which are not the ones to be the apple of the eyes of the spectators, appears to be on the way to extinction. They are called the stonewallers, the one who fight tooth and neck to save their wicket, concentrate amongst the frustrated bowlers and fielders of the opposition and would even wither body blows and still hang in there, but not get out. They are the guys who are actually the glue which holds the entire woodwork of an innings together. They may not be attractive to watch, they may not be scoring always at a brisk pace, but the mere presence of these guys at the wicket makes the opposition feel that they have no chance of getting a wicket at their end. They were the epitomes of concentration, resilience, grit, and the never say die spirit, which actually are essential ingredients of good test cricket.

And in this list would feature a lot of batsmen, who don’t have a bad record, either, in terms of the runs scored, batting averages, and centuries and fifties (if they are any measure of greatness). The batsmen of this variety are, Bill Woodfull, Bill Ponsford, Jack Hobbs, Ken Barrington ( who, in the mid fifties was described as the most attractive stroke maker in 1955, and then in 1962, as the slowest crawler on the cricket field), Bill Lawry, Conrad Hunte, Basil Butcher, Chris Tavare, Geoffrey Boycott, Mohinder Amarnath, Allan Border, Steve Waugh (whose career also progressed much like Barrington), Rahul Dravid, Shivnariane Chanderpaul, Gary Kirsten….. All dour, boring, hard on the eye, but very difficult to get rid of !

Just to dwell a bit on what value these batsmen brought to the table, without being essentially entertaining, and many a times boring the spectators to sleep, a few things come to my mind. And thinking about this, what surprised me is, that how close these qualities are, in order to achieve success in life too. If were to look at these qualities ..

Hanging in there: These batsmen, come what may, would hang in there. They may be beaten repeatedly, get edges, offer  chances, be hit on the body, be sledged at, be the constantly ridiculed by the media, but when on the field, what mattered to them was only the red cricket ball coming towards them. It could be bouncing awkwardly, could be spinning viciously, swinging wildly or hurrying them for pace, these batters would simply stand there with the primary motive of keeping it out of their wicket. And thereby, provide their team with immense assurance, that at least at their end, wicket won’t be lost. They were keen on surviving.

Looking at the broader picture, and not brief flashes of Glamour: These batsmen never had a problem playing the second fiddle to their more entertaining partners. When a Sehwag was blazing all guns at one end, you would essentially see a Dravid grafting, and making sure that he doesn’t lose his wicket, and thereby relieving Sehwag of any pressure that would curb his fearless stroke play. Same applies to many Great partnerships between the pairs like Lara and Chanderpaul, Tendulkar and Dravid, and many more. If you would go into the match situations of many great partnerships over the nearly 140 years of  test cricket, you would see that in many a partnerships, Bradman wouldn’t have able to dazzle like he did, without support from Jack FIngleton, Ponsford, Woodfull, Sid Barnes all of whom were stonewallers. The fact that the stonewallers batted that way didn’t essentially mean that they were incapable of strokeplay, instead it meant that they were able to curb their rush of blood in the interest of the team most of the times. You can’t say that Rahul Dravid couldn’t play attractive strokes and score at a brisk pace, just take a look at his ODI record and strike rates. Similarly, Chanderpaul’s 69 ball hundred in the epic chase of 418 for West Indies against Australia belies the man’s reputation of being dour, uninteresting and ugly. Also not to forget the replies the normally sedate Mohinder Amarnath gave to the bowlers, when bouncers were hurled at him. However, exceptions to the stonewallers always putting the team’s interest before their glory do exist in Boycott and Barrington, who were dropped from the England side for “selfish batting” while eyeing personal milestones. Boycott, incidentally had scored  246 n.o. against India, and was dropped in the very next test.

Resilience: Many of the innings off these batsmen have been match saving innings, rather than match winning ones. This  would show that, these were the guys to rely on, when the chips were down. They would not give their wicket away, and due to their cool heads, would have the best chances of averting defeat, and if they then would see any light at the end of the tunnel, scoot along to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. The  example of innings of such quality is the 180 and 281 scored by Dravid and Laxman on the Eden Gardens against the mighty Australians in 2001. They first batted to save innings defeat, and then went on to build an innings for India, where they could only win, on that turning Kolkata track.

It has also been seen that at least a few of the batsmen featured in the above list of flamboyant stroke makers, as their game matured, and they grew older, had come to value their wicket more, than playing to the galleries. They did open up and please the eye, but only when they were well set. They realised over the time, that to thrive, one must survive….. Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar, Jacques Kallis are very good example of that. A few of the innings which come to the mind of these players are, the 9 hour 172 scored by Gavaskar at Bangalore in 1979 to tire the Pakistan Attack of Imran Khan, Sikander Bakht, Abdul Qadir, and Iqbal Qasim into submission, Sachin Tendulkar’s 241n.o at the Sydney Cricket ground, And Kallis’ twin centuries in South Africa against India in 2011.

This proves a point, that whatever these batsmen did, was of big, lasting value for their teams. And hence, I wouldn’t make a request of sparing a thought for the contribution of these guys, but would ask people to recognise what these people have done for their teams and the flamboyant stroke players therein to flourish….

And yes, in the new breed of batsmen too, there are guys of this variety turning up for teams. There are Ken Williamson, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Hashim Amla, on the scene, who, in spite of being capable of exquisite, explosive strokeplay, are prepared to scrap, hang in there and provide security to their teams’ batting line ups.

To conclude, I would borrow and modify a line from James Henry Leigh Hunt’s poem Abou Ben Adhem, which was a part of my school curriculum and say,

“May their Tribe Increase…..”

They are extremely essential for the survival and growth of test cricket, and cricket as a whole….

Amen….

 

Special thanks to Sanjeev Sathe , who is an avid cricket fan and a dear friend of ours for contributing this wonderful article.