A stunning transformation

"I don't know what brought about this transformation but I'm far more focussed in playing my role of a match-winner," said Javagal Srinath. He has come to realise late in his career that the essence of good bowling lies in enjoying the job, writes VIJAY LOKAPALLY.

JAVAGAL SRINATH has rediscovered himself and is immensely enjoying his cricket at the fag end of his career, assuming that he would like to call it a day soon. The team, however, would be too happy if Srinath wishes to extend his career. After all, it is only now that he has come to understand his true potential and also the course he needs to follow in Test and one-day cricket. He has been accorded the status of a senior statesman in the Indian cricket team by his mates.

"Indian cricket has been very dear to me," says Javagal Srinath, who has set aside fatigue and personal problems to be at the service of the team. — Pic: V. V. KRISHNAN-

A bowler with a mission to carry India to victories, he has emerged as an invaluable gain from the ICC Cricket World Cup. If India wins the Cup, Srinath would have played a stellar part in it.

The two stalwarts of Indian cricket, Sachin Tendulkar and Srinath, have brought about a transformation in the attitude of the team with their personal deeds. In the case of Srinath, it has been an amazing turnaround of a career which had been prematurely cut short — by the announcement of retirement — at the end of a disappointing tour to the West Indies.

The retirement was an unwise decision taken in haste and the subsequent events have proved that the fast bowler was driven by emotion more than reason. Srinath was seen as bowling below his best when India went to Zimbabwe in 2001. The defeat in the second Test at Harare left him crestfallen and I could see the pain on his face when we met on the day of his departure.

"I let the team down," he told me, and this willingness to accept responsibility for failure threw light on his sterling character. This was a Srinath not known to us. It needed a lot of guts to stand up and say, as a senior, that he had not bowled at his best. "I should've bowled better and I would like to take the blame for the defeat," he insisted, obviously feeling shattered at not being able to exploit a helpful pitch at the Harare Sports Club.

The second occasion came at the Sabina Park in Kingston. Once again, on a responsive pitch, Srinath sprayed the ball and let the opportunity pass by. It was indeed a poor display as he pitched short and came in for punishment when he ought to have sent the batsmen packing. Once again he felt he had let the team down. And there were no two opinions about it. Srinath had looked off-colour.

It had been a combination of too many factors. The lack of motivation was his biggest worry and personal problems contributed to leave Srinath a disinterested soul. He packed his bags, chucked his bowling shoes into the attic and decided to say "thank you."

But Srinath could not convince one man, the skipper, Sourav Ganguly, who forced him out of retirement. This time Srinath told himself that he needed to serve the team better. If he had the potential, it was better to use it in the interest of Indian cricket. And he put his best foot forward, much to the delight of Ganguly, who said with pride and joy, "I told you he had much more cricket left in him."

Srinath has remained an enigma really. "I don't know why he failed to realise his potential. It was just a matter of minor adjustments," was Kapil Dev's opinion. In fact, Kapil, who always maintained that Srinath was an underachiever, worked hard with him during his tenure as the team's coach, but could not get him to strike the line and length he desired. "It's strange that I'm asking him to bowl line and length, which is the basics of bowling," Kapil lamented. But Srinath simply could not inspire himself.

So what was it that saw Srinath bowl so splendidly in the World Cup? He became the key bowler and his keenness to help Ashish Nehra and Zaheer Khan has been an outstanding development in his overall approach to the game.

"I don't know what brought about this transformation but I'm far more focussed in playing my role of a match-winner," said Srinath. He has come to realise late in his career that the essence of good bowling lies in enjoying the job.

Having teamed with Kapil Dev and Manoj Prabhakar in the early part of his career and then bowling along with a number of bowlers, Venkatesh Prasad being the best partner, Srinath came to imbibe all the qualities that contribute to making one a successful bowler. But there were many occasions when he failed to deliver.

To Srinath's credit he has remained a shining example of discipline. Despite a few niggles, his knees aching from the heavy load, he has carried on bravely, bowling his heart out on docile tracks but never complaining. It was only recently that he began expressing his disgust at the standard of pitches in India. "That was essentially for the benefit of youngsters. I didn't want them to suffer like I did, bending my back on dead tracks," explained Srinath.

He has grown into a mature bowler no doubt but Srinath has impressed more as a responsible member of the team, willing to play the lead role in the renaissance of Indian cricket with Tendulkar as the partner.

"It feels nice when the team looks up to you. I've never enjoyed cricket like I've been doing now," confessed the humble Srinath even as he gave more credit to Nehra and Zaheer for changing the face of the Indian attack. The bowling is now more incisive than it was two years ago and has looked more composed when dealing with tough situations.

Srinath has shown as much enthusiasm as any other youngster in the team. His thanksgiving act to the crowd at the Centurion after beating Pakistan was a refreshing change in his attitude. Previously, he would just keep to himself and retire to the comforts of the dressing room. And then his sprint to join the huddle at the fall of a wicket speaks of the man's spirit and involvement. "It's different and I like to be a part of it," he said.

To expect Srinath to change overnight would have been unfair but then he has adapted to the new scheme of things in the Indian camp. He is far more involved in the tactics and is seen as a senior statesman now. That, has been the biggest gain from the World Cup. Apart from Tendulkar's return to his opening slot, it is the progress that Srinath has made to emerge the senior statesman that has made a big impact on the overall attitude of the team to challenges.

Srinath's brilliant bowling has contributed immensely in the most important area — taking wickets. Even as he makes the breakthroughs, Zaheer and Nehra pick up the cue and make life difficult for the opposition. If Srinath had any conflict with himself, trying to motivate himself into a wicket-taking bowler, he showed no signs of it in the World Cup, which saw him at his best, if not at his peak.

"You learn with time, and I've learnt with time. I've learnt to be patient and give my best under pressure," commented Srinath as he reflected on his performance after returning from retirement. Pitching the ball in the right area with a clever change of pace has made Srinath a complete bowler now. He has passed his wisdom to his mates too and this quality to be a selfless bowler shows the Srinath's commendable character.

"Indian cricket has been very dear to me," says Srinath, who has set aside fatigue and personal problems to be at the service of the team. He has great regard for Ganguly. "My captain," is how Srinath refers to the man who played a key role in giving a new thrust to his cricketing dreams. Some of them still remain unfulfilled even as Srinath trudges the difficult path, in search of his cricketing nirvana on the greatest stage — the World Cup.