Duck or sway out of the way

Commentator-player Mohinder Amarnath therefore should be the supreme exemplar to Sourav now. In the matter of just playing within one's hooking limitations and getting there.


THE one is up against the spot problem of seeing that he is not, yet again, bounced out of the India XI. The other is a terrestrial commentator — a player who came, ultimately, to masterful grips with the same bouncer dilemma in Pakistan. If they now have indeed `done a Nagpur' afresh and studiedly sent Sourav Ganguly on the Pakistan tour to face the Shoaib Akhtar chin music, Mohinder Amarnath is the Wagah border-crossing example to cite on the approach that Dada here should be adopting to prove his traducers wrong. For Mohinder started out, in Pakistan, confronting the same mindset problem Sourav is likely to encounter now. How thoughtfully, courageously Mohinder overcame his fast-bowling trauma, in Pakistan, to go on to bat even more impressively, there, than Sunil Gavaskar represents a saga in Indian cricket.

A seasoned enough performer, by now, is Sourav to be able to determine how to spend effective time in the middle. Such time Sourav was certainly seen to be spending as, in the controversial Kotla Test vs Marvan's Sri Lanka, this fluid left-hander proceeded to graft 40 (off 129 balls) and then craft 39 (off 115 balls). That Sourav could not conceivably be dropped, after such a die-hard showing against overwhelming personal odds, is a point well made by now. Yet the point remains — and Sourav as India's finest-ever teamsman-helmsman would see third eye to third eye here — that Ganguly's 40 & 39 meant only half the job done from Rahul's India-leadership point of view.

The underlying reason for the clanger-drop of Sourav from the Ahmedabad Test, then, was not that Dada had not settled a score or two in the litmus Kotla comeback Test. It was that neither in his Kotla knock of 40, nor in that follow-up 39, was Sourav viewed to be on the verge of seizing the initiative from the Sri Lanka attack. In fact, the moment Sourav attempted an aggressive shot in the Kotla second stanza, Murali had the inside edge on Ganguly. Sourav not calling the shots after 40 (off 129 balls) and 39 (off 115 balls) is obviously not the Ganguly that all India knows. And here's the Rahul rub! Sourav himself would be the first to concede that Rahul, as successor-skipper, displayed super touch in fashioning that Kotla Test second-essay 53 (off 69 balls: 6 fours). In fact, if Rahul here had not run himself out, India's neo-captain could well have gone on to lend a different dimension, altogether, to the gut issue of Sourav's comeback. By which all I mean is that Sourav, at Kotla, would soon have been under `Lord's peer' pressure to match Rahul stroke for stroke.

Sourav in Pakistan, therefore, very simply has to be seen to be batting in the style he brought to that December 2003 Brisbane Test 144 under the guiding eye of Greg. In truth, it is Chappell II's team duty, now, to ensure that Sourav steps out to confront Shoaib Akhtar & Co with the very gumption Dada brought to Brisbane-tackling Brett Lee and his Aussie breed. Here is where the Mohinder factor should come as an eye-opener to Sourav. Mohinder first went to Pakistan for that late-1978 `grudge' series. With Mohinder, on the same fateful 1978 tour, was elder brother Surinder. With Lala Amarnath, too, there to offer spot counsel to one son after another — as Pakistan's special invitee commentator! For all that, Mohinder ran into no end of worries, negotiating the bouncers hurled by the Imran Khan-Sarfraz Nawaz combo in Pakistan. Mohinder's series scoreline of 4 in the Faisalabad Test; 20 & 7 in the Lahore Test; 14 & 53 in the Karachi Test, proclaimed Jimmy to be a compulsive hooker who could not always manage to come `inside the line'. A hooked six by Mohinder off Sarfraz, during his near-reckless 53 in the Karachi Test, barely cleared the fielder on the ropes. "Nothing wrong in Mohinder's persisting with the shot," Lala Amarnath later told me, "the stroke comes naturally to the boy."

But India's selectors were far from impressed by Mohinder's habit of mind, so that Jimmy virtually went out of National reckoning after that late-1978 three-Test series in Pakistan. In fact, but for India captain Sunil Gavaskar's shrewdly calculating insistence, Mohinder might not have made it at all to our team touring Pakistan for a six-Test series in 1982-83. The series in which Imran Khan played havoc with a return of 40 wickets at 13.95 runs each. The series in which Imran Khan, alongside Sarfraz Nawaz, so reverse-swung the ball that a virtuoso of G. R. Visvanath's bloodlines was never ever really able to come to terms with the last-second movement. Vishy's series scores (he did not bat in the fifth Test) of 1; 24 & 0; 53 & 9; 0 & 37; lastly 10, witnessed such an all-time artist's being jettisoned forever by our selectors.

It should interest GRV to know how the Imran-Sarfraz duo accomplished such fabulous reverse swing in the context of Wasim Akram's still seeking an apology, from the English, for doubting the Pakistan opening attack's bona fides in this `direction'. Observes Imran Khan in his Autobiography: "Sarfraz always seemed to know which ball would swing more than the others. As a result, Sarfraz would always make the choice when the umpires presented a box of new balls to us, just before we went out on the field. Sarfraz taught me more about swing bowling than anybody."

Confidence-shatteringly as Sarfraz-Imran swung the ball in that 1982-83 series, Mohinder was equal to all the tricks of their trade. Mohinder metamorphosed himself in Pakistan by the simple expedient of eliminating the hook altogether from his armoury. Here is where Mohinder could be an object-lesson to Sourav in Pakistan. Sourav, by now, knows that he is no longer truly capable of consistently coming `inside the line' to attempt the hook. So that Sourav should be abandoning the hook shot altogether — like Mohinder did.

Look how Mohinder's 1982-83 Pakistan scoreline so stands out that Sunil Gavaskar hit the ball on the red when he averred that there was no better Indian `judge of line' than Jimmy. So meticulously, now, did Mohinder, his eyes pinpoints of concentration, focus upon Imran-Sarfraz's line that his 1982-83 Test series punchline read: 109 not out; 5 & 3; 22 & 78; 61 & 64; 120; 19 & 103 not out. Compare that with Sunil's tally — 83; 8 (run out) & 42; 12 & 127 not out; 17 & 60; 13; 5 & 67. For once, Visvanath did not chip in where Sunil failed to score big. This meant that, for all of Mohinder's bravura, Sunny's India was never really in the series picture, as Imran Khan's Pakistan avenged, 3-0, that nation's 2-0 rout by Gavaskar's India (1979-80).

Commentator-player Mohinder Amarnath therefore should be the supreme exemplar to Sourav now. In the matter of just playing within one's hooking limitations and getting there. It is a Test series that is going to separate the men from the minnows. That he is no minnow, yet, is for Sourav now to demonstrate. Inside Pakistan.