A simple soul

WHEN Javagal Srinath bid adieu to the game recently, it marked the end of an illustrious career.

WHEN Javagal Srinath bid adieu to the game recently, it marked the end of an illustrious career. His achievements are all the more creditable because he belonged to a tribe of cricketers who found it extremely difficult to survive, let alone flourish in India.

The author, K. Srikkanth, and Javagal Srinath pose for a picture during India's tour of Australia in 1991-92. This was Srinath's maiden tour. -- Pic. V.V. KRISHNAN-

The conditions are loaded against a paceman in India with the weather being harsh and the pitches favouring the spinners. Srinath overcame the odds to finish as the most successful paceman in Indian cricket history after the legendary Kapil Dev. When he entered the international scene, he was a shy, simple lad from Bangalore, with plenty of talent. It did not take long for people to notice that he had that something extra.

My first meeting with Srinath was during a Ranji Trophy match between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. It was wicket-keeping great Syed Kirmani who suggested to me that I should have a word with a young paceman from his State, who could go a long way if he received proper encouragement.

Srinath did come over to my room and I did speak to him about the need for him to believe in his ability and focus on the job on hand. He did just that as he climbed the ladder.

It did not take him long to make it to the Indian team and he was my room-mate for the entire tour of Australia in 1991-92 that was followed by the World Cup down under.

It was a long tour and I saw Srinath develop as a cricketer. Since, yours truly too has a simple outlook towards life, both of us got along well.

It was a series where Srinath bowled splendidly, but without much luck. For a start, he attracted a lot of attention due to the simple fact that he was extremely sharp.

He had a high arm action and bowled a very natural incoming delivery that posed a lot of problems to the left-handers. He could also get the ball to climb awkwardly.

There were enough indications on that tour that if groomed properly, Srinath could serve India for a long time.

It should be remembered that it was his first tour and Srinath was bowling to some accomplished performers at the international level such as Allan Border, David Boon, Steve Waugh, Geoff Marsh and Dean Jones. He stood the test very well.

I found him to be pleasant company as a room-mate. Extremely attached to his family, Srinath would be constantly in touch with them. He was a strict vegetarian those days and invitations for dinner from south Indian families in Australia would please him greatly — he could now eat rasam and rice, his favourites!

It was a tour where Kapil and Manoj Prabhakar bowled quite splendidly, giving a tough time to the Australian batsmen, and Srinath ensured that the pressure would be maintained when he came on.

It was a gruelling campaign and the five-Test series was followed by the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. Srinath handled the pressures of the World Cup well with the ball, and it was a creditable performance from one so new to international cricket. I must say he was handled well by the selectors subsequently. With Kapil and Manoj being the new ball partners those days, Srinath found it difficult to find a place in the XI during the home Tests, however, he was not left out of the squad. When Kapil left the scene after a glittering career, Srinath took over, and made an impression quite soon. He was now an important member of the Indian team.

As his bowling developed, so did his personality. Srinath, initially, was reluctant to air his views in the team meetings. But as his career progressed, I got to learn that he contributed positively in these meetings, putting across his point of view without fear, and took active part during strategy sessions. He was now a lively person with a wonderful sense of humour.

He remained an extremely popular member of the team, and the reason was not difficult to see. Srinath was always a team-man, and, more than individual contributions laid stress on collective efforts.

He constantly strove to improve, and in the second half of his career, did bring about a lot more consistency in his line of attack and length. The ball which he got to straighten at the right-handers, or leave them slightly, fetched him plenty of wickets. This was a delivery which he added to his repertoire. His achievements are tremendous. To cross the 200-wicket mark in Tests, and to claim more than a 100 Test wickets in India are indeed creditable.

A lot of hard work has gone behind his efforts. Srinath is also among those few cricketers who have figured in four successive World Cups. This becomes an even more praiseworthy feat if the player in question happens to be a paceman.

In the 2003 World Cup, he did bowl quite splendidly, inspiring the rest of the bowlers. His first spells against Zimbabwe, South Africa and Sri Lanka were quite sensational. Like most pacemen, Srinath had injury problems. However, he displayed the resolve to overcome them. A shoulder injury, in particular, threatened to cut short his career, but Srinath staged a remarkable comeback.

I wish him all the best in his life after cricket and am sure that he would continue to contribute positively to Indian cricket. Bowlers like him do not surface often.