This guy Rohit Sharma is totally putting me off while I watch test matches. He simply doesn’t look like a batsman who is willing to stay at the crease. Well, though Rohit’s performance at Fatullah is not exactly the inspiration I had for writing this article, but it is certainly a trigger. And a forceful one.
I am not being territorial or favoring one region, but the Indian test match teams have been over the past nearly eight and a quarter decades been having batsmen from Mumbai, and all of those (well, I now have to say nearly) known for their Khaddus attitude. Khaddus elsewhere might be an expletive, or a berating word, but when talking about batting in Mumbai cricket, it is the greatest compliment a batsman can receive. A Khaddus batsman means one who will make it as difficult as possible to the bowler to dislodge him from the crease. The batsman who knows the value of occupying the crease, and realizes that the runs only come when you are at the crease. And that is THE essential for test match batting in all situations than not. And Khaddus is a quality which will always be required for test batsmanship, be one batting at any position. It is all about spending time at the crease and surviving, before one’s batting begins to flow, and then the runs come automatically.
Just take a look at the batsmen who have been mainstays of the Indian batting lineup over the time since India started playing test Cricket in 1932.You will encounter the names of Merchant, Hazare, Vijay Manjrekar, Polly Umrigar, Vinoo Mankad, Ajit Wadekar, Dilip Sardesai, Sunil Gavaskar, Dilip Vengsarkar, Ravi Shastri, Sanjay Manjrekar, Sachin Tendulkar, Vinod Kambli, (a few might be surpised at his mention in this list, but will come to that later in the article), Pravin Amre, Wasim Jaffer, and after a big void of time, now Ajinkya Rahane.
Not that only Mumbai batsmen have been Khaddus, in Indian team, there have also been Mohinder Amarnath ( My most favourite cricketer in all the 30+ years I have been following Cricket), Anshuman Gaekwad, Arun Lal, Navjot Singh Sidhu, now more known for his verbal diarrhea rather than his batting exploits. Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman (a real Khaddus artist) Chheteshwar Pujara….. A few players who batted in the lower order also depicted this quality in abundance! Bapu Nadkarni, Ramakant Desai, Syed Kirmani, Shivlal Yadav, Madanlal, Roger Binny, Balvinder Singh Sandhu, Arshad Ayub, are a few names which come to the mind. But having experience of playing majority of my cricket in and around Mumbai, will stick to the Mumbai batsmen, and try to analyze what actually has ingrained the Khaddus mentality into the Mumbai batsmen’s’ minds right from an early stage. Let’s take a look at the structure of Mumbai cricket, to understand the point better. Mumbai, traditionally known for its batting talents (much lesser Mumbai Bowlers have represented India as compared to batsmen) the cricket is majorly played on proper turf wickets. The wickets are generally “pata” i.e. unresponsive for the bowlers. And there, when it would seem that ALL Mumbai batsmen are blessed with ideal batting conditions, the seed of insecurity gets planted in their minds. Any batsman who gets his eye “in” on these wickets can make huge runs, and then typically the batsmen batting in the middle order or lower order keep thinking, “When would we get to bat”. The competitiveness creeps in the young Mumbai Cricketers’ minds at that early age, and then whenever they get chances they have to survive at the wicket, and make big scores…. If we take a look at the junior level top scores of Mumbai batsmen who made it big internationally, one would come to know. Here are a few -Ajit Wadekar – 324, Sunil Gavaskar – 327, Sachin Tendulkar – 329, Vinod Kambli – 348 …..
Even the newest sensation of IPL, Sarfaraz Khan (originally from Ajamgarh brought to Mumbai by his dad with the sole purpose of making him a cricketer worth his salt) in UP scored 439, the record broken recently by Arman Jaffer (498) who is Wasim Jaffer’s nephew. Wasim Jaffer himself had a Harris shield top score of 403. To say the least, even considering that all these cricketers were mere schoolboys when they scored these runs, and were facing schoolboy attacks, these scores are gargantuan! And despite the quality of attacks faced by these batsmen, the sheer application, hunger and stimana to stay at the wicket and score runs shown by these players is something very uncommon. And I feel, at least the insecurity is THE element which motivates these young cricketers’ minds to inculcate these qualities going beyond their ages. But it is not the mere application, grit, and hunger to stay at the wicket makes a batsman worthy. The skills are required too.And when it comes to honing of skills of surviving on difficult wickets in difficult conditions, and still keeping the concentration going, the Times shield and Kanga league tournaments, which are typically played in the monsoon season play an important role. Typically played on the famous maidaans of Mumbai, the Azad, the Cross, the Oval, and various gymkhana maidaans like Hindu, Islaam, Police, Shivaji Park, Dadar Union, Dadkar maidaan, in Mumbai, in knee high grass growth, pouring rains, and very often multiple matches simultaneously going on in a very small place. Each player has to always “be on the ball” of his own match all the time. How’s that for grooming of concentration! It is also notable here, that majority of players travelling to these maidaan use Mumbai’s public transport, the BEST busses and the local trains. Someone who has a reasonable amount of experience of these journeys will testify, that the journey from Kalyan or Dombivali to CST, or that from Viraar to Churchgate itself saps energy from an individual, which is not less than that consumed for batting 25 overs in on a sun soaked day! Despite that, the drive for the game these players have, the energy they put in the game, and the zeal with which the game is played in the Metropolis is something to be seen for one’s own believing. No local train service holdups due to rains, no waterlogging issues, and no other circumstances deter these players from making a full-fledged attempt to reach their respective match venues in time for the match. The stories of the Kanga and times shield matches are truly ridiculous. The fans too used to watch the Kanga league (and times shield (Inter Office Tournaments) with amazing regularity and zeal. And why wouldn’t they? Most of the players were employed by some corporate, and used to be seen extremely regularly in these matches. Ones who couldn’t just afford going to a Wankhede or Brabourne stadium due to the high ticket rates here, used to please their eyes watching these players sitting on the Marine drive katas of the Gymkhanas, or standing in the Azad, Cross or the Oval maidaans. And watching players like Gavaskar, Sardesai, Wadekar, Vengsarkar, Shastri, Sandeep Patil, Ashok Mankad, Chandrakant Pandit, Sanjay Majrekar, Pravin Amre, Sachin Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli playing on these Maidaans used to be real thrilling, as I have experienced during my growing years. And for the younger lot of players, despite their average lifestyles and strenuous ways of commuting, it would be worth turning up for the matches so that they can rub shoulders with their idols, play alongside them, and pick their brains.
However, these hardships were viewed always as challenges, and not deterrents by the Mumbai young
players. My dad remembers having met Bapu Nadkarni in a second class local train compartment frequently in spite of after Bapuji being an Indian regular test player, and not complaining about the meagre money paid by the BCCI to the test cricketers then. So much for the cricketers and the way cricket is played in Mumbai.
Coming back to the reason behind most Mumbai players being Khaddus at crease, let’s look at the chances they have got (and even created at times) and the way they have grabbed them. The first one I saw on our new television set, was a lanky left arm spinner coming in at 6, albeit surprisingly, despite his dismal batting performance in the last three Ranji seasons and the only 3 tests he had played till then from number 10. Rising to the occasion, Ravi Shastri made a defiant 33 and surviving 133 balls, and then India had discovered a batsman, who would put his life on the stumps, and spend all the time at the crease guarding it. Shastri then went on to open for India, and became a batsman of some distinction, making an impact in the shorter form of cricket as well.
A fairytale debut which would come to mind, is, an opener, who went as a rookie to the West Indies tour in 1971 and was surprisingly hailed by none other than Vijay Merchant, as “ … though he is the youngest member of the side, all the senior batsmen would do well to take a leaf or two of this man’s book as far as batting technique is concerned. The guy missed the first test of the tour due to a freak injury, made twin fifties in the second that India won, and the rest, as they say, is history. Enter Mr. Sunil Gavaskar to the arena of test cricket! It is well worth for readers to go through the careers of Vinoo
Mankad, Eknath Solkar, Pravin Amre, Vijay Manjrekar, Vinod Kambli, who did come from a bit of underprivileged background, but made their mark in Indian cricket. But this article is not for such stories.
Another point I would like to make is, that the Khaddus attitude was not only seen in the players who came from middle, or lower middle socio economic backgrounds. Even players who came from influential families, like Vijay Merchant of the Thackersey’s and Madhav Apte from a very well placed family owning a textile business, had the same attitude. Having had an opportunity to interact with Madhav Apte, I was astonished at the down to earth approach he carried to his game. He said, “Mumbai
Cricket was, and to a large extent, still is Meritocracy my dear boy! If you won’t have that Khaddus attitude, won’t grab all the chances that come your way with both hands, you will be chucked into oblivion. The family which you come from, and your talent can’t earn you a permanent place in the Mumbai side. !” It was also an astonishing uncertainty of Indian cricket revealed, when Mr. Apte was inexplicably out of the Indian Test match team after a series in west Indies in which he had made 460 runs in 4 tests at an average of 5 1! Dropped like a hot potato after playing 7 test matches in Toto…
The Khaddus nature, also has a lot to do with Mumbai’s psyche as a city, I’d think. Mumbai, this city does come across as a mean place where one just can’t let go of anything he has earned / achieved. There is enough competition in every walk of life, even to the level of getting in the queue for the ticket to catch a train in time to get to office, you will find people jostling and furiously fighting for their place or space! So once a place is earned, may it be in the local train, or in a bus, or in a team, or at the crease, a Mumbai man won’t just leave it. Will cling to it tooth and nail! HE would do everything within his powers, to make sure that his place is secured, and won’t give it away easily. You would see, that Steven
Waugh is considered as an equal (if not better) by Mumbai cricket connoisseurs to Mumbai’s very own Sachin Tendulkar. TO them, the fact that Steve Waugh won’t give his wicket away easily is a quality which laces him at par with Tendulkar, who was head and shoulders above Waugh in the department of talent. Not a quarter given, not a quarter asked for, is an attitude highly respected in Mumbai Cricket, and that has reflected in the nature of their batsmen. Khaddus! You will find many a cricket fans still angry over Dilip Vengsarkar’s habit of throwing away his wicket almost instantly after he used to reach the 3 figure mark in his early days.
Hence this chap Rohit Sharma irritates me. Hopefully he’ll learn quickly, because a man of his talent and
artistry is too difficult to condemn.
Special thanks to Sanjeev Sathe , who is an avid cricket fan and a dear friend of ours for contributing this wonderful article