A pleasing decade, yet not so pleasing a career

Published : Oct 13, 2001 00:00 IST


JAVAGAL SRINATH has completed 10 years of international cricket. He came into the national reckoning with a stirring performance against Maharashtra in a Ranji Trophy match at the Nehru Stadium, Pune just before the turn of the nineties. Thereafter nothing could stop the selectors from blooding him in the series against Australia in Australia. In spite of making a good impression, Srinath had to undergo an ordeal, not an unprecedented experience for fast bowlers in India.

Kapil Dev was the flag-bearer right through his career that spanned 15 years. Srinath's career did not take wings until the home series against West Indies in 1994. It was a long wait for the upcoming fast bowler. And when he had established himself and taken the role of the spearhead, a shoulder injury kept him out of action for 20 months or so.

There were times when rival captains were willing to club him with top class fast bowlers in the world. But the 32-year-old, who has taken 197 wickets in Tests and 261 wickets in one-day internationals (before the tri-series opener against South Africa), modestly said: "I was never in the class of the likes of Glenn McGrath. I am just a mediocre fast bowler."

A week before the first match against South Africa, Srinath, spoke to The Sportstar about the different phases in his career. Excerpts:

Question: It must be pleasing to complete 10 years of cricket for India?

Answer: Personally, I am not happy with what I have achieved. I could have contributed much more. There is some feeling of void which I am not able to pin point. Probably I was late to understand a few things. Maybe, I could not deliver. I look at so many things, from guidance to fitness. With regard to fitness, you always do what your predecessors did.

There was absolutely no awareness of the physiology side of it. Things have changed now and everybody is seen more or less like a professional. There are too many things at stake. Cricket is played so seriously. The changes have taken place since 1995.

We play high intensity cricket these days. We all enjoy playing more and more cricket. We cannot complain. The only thing is that the body should permit us to play so much of cricket.

* Ten years is a long time and you must have learnt a lot and made adjustments, too?

Yes, I have been part of the Indian team for 10 years. Well, when I returned from Australia in 1991-92, I had to make a few changes which I did before the first tour to South Africa. It helped me quite a lot. I curtailed my big inswingers, I didn't want to bowl those inswingers anymore, I started bowling on one side of the stumps - outside the off stump - though my stock delivery was still the inswinger. Since that tour to South Africa lot of changes have taken place to my action.

* You made an impact in that Test match at Cape Town in 1992?

I did. Well, I thought we had a chance of winning, definitely one, if not two Test matches, 10 years ago. I think the bowling attack was well balanced then with Kapil Dev, Manoj Prabhakar, Subroto Banerjee and myself. Even then we could not force a win, though we were very close to doing so in Cape Town. Probably we did not bat positively to win that game. So that's a chance missed.

* You must have found the conditions in South Africa somewhat similar to Australia?

It's similar with regard to the bounce of the pitch with both Australia and South Africa being in the Southern Hemisphere. These countries leave a lot of grass on the wicket. But we didn't find that in South Africa in 1992, or in 1996-97. The reason probably was because they were beaten in India 1-2 and hence they desperately wanted to win at home. They worked us out to some extent.

* You were the spearhead of the Indian attack in South Africa in 1996-97?

I was being groomed in 1991-92. I was learning quite a few things from these fast bowlers, the way they maintained the line and length. I wasn't a regular member of the side, that's the reason I lost quite a lot in my career. Even after winning the Man of the Match award in the Cape Town Test (1991-92), I did not find a place in the team. There were a lot of reasons for it probably.

The team was winning at home with a combination of spinners and with one or two medium pacers. I was going through a learning process, but at the same time I lost valuable time in cricket.

I was not a great bowler like Glenn McGrath then, definitely not of his class, but mediocre, if one were to measure me by international standards. That was the time for me to perform. Then subsequently, when I thought I was peaking very well, I met with an unfortunate injury to my shoulder. I was almost out of action for two years and I had to start all over again. It was in South Africa that I started getting five wicket hauls. But my shoulder injury put me back by probably two or three years.

* Why do you say you are mediocre?

I was good only in patches. That's why I said I was mediocre. Had I continued from that South African tour (1996-97), probably it would have been a different story. There was a slump. No matter, whether you are injured or out of form, you cannot bowl for your country and get wickets. That's how I see international cricket. You cannot have too much of mercy and sympathy on yourself. There has to be consistency, if you really want to see yourself as a strike bowler. And the tenure of playing well for your country has to be about two to three years. I think I had a year or so to cherish about.

* What about the great match winning spell at Motera against South Africa?

Before this Test, I had got four wickets or so in an innings quite a few times, but there was no match winning performance from me. Probably a couple of times I did not bowl well in conditions favourable to me. But I finally struck form in Motera and continued to do so in South Africa. Prasad and I bowled well in tandem. But from that series I slipped and was back to square one.

* Can an Indian fast bowler really put himself in a position of winning matches on his own?

That's been a block in the minds of the selectors, think tank of the team and the batsmen as to whether the fast bowlers can deliver the goods. In India, generally, it's been the spinners who have won matches. I don't even remember Kapil Dev's last match winning haul in India. It was Kapil who had managed to change the trend in India, but those who played during his tenure and afterwards probably did not stay longer in the team. That shows the confidence at every level of Indian cricket with respect to fast bowlers.

Things are changing now. We can see at least five to six fast bowlers here and there. Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra are new. They are bowling well and age is on their side. It's a question of both of them getting into match winning habits, which is pretty difficult. Once they start winning a couple of matches, then probably they can think of leading the attack. Ajit (Agarkar) and Harvinder are sharp and good. But Ashish and Zaheer have bowled well in Test matches and probably Zaheer is the best around.

The thing is that we must develop a pool of fast bowlers to pick from. If only the other bowlers like Ashish, Zaheer and Ajit are looked after well, they can play for the next five to six years. If the fast bowlers are not rotated well, then it will be an area of concern.

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