He carried himself remarkably

I HOPE Javagal Srinath spends the next 40 years of his life believing his decision to quit Test cricket was the correct one. There is no more difficult decision than choosing the moment to say good bye to something that has defined your life for 15 years. A part of you dies when you retire and however carefully a man may have weighed his options, there is always a feeling of being unprepared when the moment comes.

Invariably it is an irreversible decision. A man may quit his job as a journalist or as an actor or, ever so often, as a politician and he may return with little or nothing lost. But a sportsman shuts the door on his life as a performer forever. To have to do that in the mid-30s, sometimes earlier, is cruel for that is often the only thing he is good at. It is something we need to consider when we pass judgement on the lives of people who are still young in this world.

Javagal Srinath announcing his decision to retire from Test cricket, in Bangalore.-K. GOPINATHAN

Almost inevitably there will be days when Srinath will wonder if he did the right thing. That feeling can come as early as the day after and if it is not rebuffed firmly can become a stubborn virus. Far too many men grow cranky and frustrated and allow themselves to be blanketed by thoughts that they were done in, or that they might have produced another moment when the stadium stood to applaud their deeds. That is why Srinath must be convinced that he did the right thing. That resolve needs to stand firm. I wish him well because he is too nice a man to suffer turmoil.

This wasn't a hasty decision for he has been dogged by injury and a consequent lessening of strength. On more than a few occasions in the past, he has contemplated retirement and told me in South Africa that he was close to giving it up. It surprised me greatly because he had looked sharp and bowled beautifully in the Tests. Then he told a few friends before he left the West Indies that he would make an announcement from Bangalore. It wasn't the announcement some of us were expecting.

He left the West Indies a tired, frustrated man; a victim of the mindless, insane policy of playing three Test matches back to back. He has always been a proud man and I have no doubt at all that his inability to seize the moment after Sourav Ganguly won the toss and chose to field at Kingston contributed to it. He knew what he had to do, he said, and he urged his body to do it. But coming on the back of three days in Antigua, bowling on a pitch that was designed to destroy Test cricket, it refused to follow the dictates of the mind. There can be no greater sense of frustration for a man who believes he deserves a place in the side by right.

But a good night's sleep, and the fragrance of home, can soothe the most troubled of minds. I thought that once Srinath had allowed the fatigue to ooze out of his system, and once he had studied the itinerary on the tour of England, he would have opted to stay on. I thought he would have pulled out of the one-dayers, played the four Tests, nicely scheduled from his point of view with nine days between each, gone on the tour of New Zealand and said good bye after the World Cup in South Africa where he has always done well. Instead, he chose to pull out of Test cricket, his stronger suit.

My first instinct was that he had got it the wrong way round. But only a man who has been in that body will know what it feels like and I do not believe anyone else has a right to sit in judgement on it. That he would have earned his place for the Test matches in England is beyond doubt and to that extent he has quit when he was still needed. On those frustrating, cold days of self-doubt, Srinath can take heart from that.

And he can be proud of what he did. In an era when every fast bowler became a medium pacer who could bat, Srinath continued to bowl fast. The tracks Indian cricket laid out were designed to kill those like him. Don't forget that when you assess his career for it is a brave and ambitious man that rises above the walls planted in his path. "At last my gloves are stinging," Kiran More told me once and for the first time in my memory, an Indian bowler consistently had the opposition batsmen on the back foot. That is a huge achievement in itself when you consider that India's new-ball history was made up of a motley crew of opening batsmen, wicket-keepers and anybody who could bowl the ball faster than he could run.

Srinath wasn't just brisk, he was fast. I haven't seen an Indian bowl quicker than Srinath did at Capetown in 1993, in return for which he was left out of the Indian team for the next few months. He kept going though and I thought 1996 was his best year. He bowled with great heart in England and won India a memorable Test match at Ahmedabad. In doing so, he showed that an Indian could bowl fast in India and I don't think we gave that achievement the degree of respect it deserved.

He was bowled into the dust after that and once a bowler has had a shoulder injury he never bowls as quickly as before; not as much because he cannot but because he fears he will get hurt again. That preyed on Srinath's mind and sometimes people believed he wasn't trying hard enough. In reality, he was bowling within himself, aware that another injury would spell the end of his career. It didn't help that he kept breaking fingers and losing the ability to play the stubborn innings. Towards the end he was backing away and I sometimes wonder if that contributed to his decision as well. It wasn't a pretty sight and Srinath knew it.

I actually thought that he was bowling really well in the last 18 months. But that wasn't good enough for him and we must live with that. He leaves behind a very respectable career, notable for a big heart and outstanding demeanour. He carried himself remarkably and my final memory will come from the last Test he played. Frustrated and disappointed in Jamaica, he produced a big outside edge from Chanderpaul and you could see the relief on his face. "Not out" said the umpire. It was cruel but Srinath gathered himself, went back to his mark and ran in again. I thought it was a wonderful display of control on a cricket ground and a great way to play the game.

He did well for India and when he started out, that is what Javagal Srinath would have hoped to do. Not many men can live with that satisfying thought.