His place in history is assured

WHEN an icon consciously fades into history the moment triggers a mood of introspection as one tries to analyse its impact.

WHEN an icon consciously fades into history the moment triggers a mood of introspection as one tries to analyse its impact. Small wonder, the quiet exit from the scene of Javagal Srinath has evoked a spontaneous response, highlighting the character, class and calibre of the man who personified the essence of fast medium bowling in contemporary cricket.

More than wondering what prompted Srinath to bid adieu at this juncture, especially on the eve of the tour to Australia, it is important to study the imprint he left on the game. Subjecting him to a cold, unsentimental, statistical evaluation hardly does justice to the qualities he possessed. He was a gentleman who purveyed pace in all its devastating intensity, but he could never be accused of displaying that hateful aggression, or even the acceptable trace of arrogance, normally associated with speedsters.

Srinath gave the impression to many that he perceived cricket as a religion, a sanctified avocation that required a note of deification and something to be approached in a philosophical vein. He was consumed by the spirit of it, and played the game with transparent enthusiasm and joy. True, he relished destroying the opposition but there was a rare dignity in accomplishing that. He exulted like any other when he felled a victim but never did he emerge as an egotist.

In this era of hype, commercialism and with all the attendant decadence of human values, which cloud cricket today, Srinath stayed clear of controversies, set achievable goals, and went after them with single-minded devotion and determination. That he has to his credit as many as 500-odd wickets in first class cricket is testimony to his patience, perseverence and pugnacity.

It is not easy to be counted as a star amidst a galaxy comprising Ganguly, Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman. But Srinath shone as brightly as anyone with his exploits on the field and earned the goodwill of everyone off it. An enduring paradox of cricket is that the encomiums invariably go to the wielder of the willow and rarely to the bowler. Barring a few like Larwood after the Bodyline series, seldom have bowlers come into as much focus as the batsmen. If someone like Kapil Dev acquired enormous celebrity status, it was more because he was an all-rounder and not a mere pace bowler, although he was outstanding in that department, too. But Srinath commanded attention as a paceman alone and carved out a place for himself as any other celebrity.

There is a persisting myth in Indian cricket that spin is more important than pace. But a close study of history proves that when India came on the Test scene it was the fast bowlers who were in the forefront. Mohammad Nissar and Amar Singh were spoken of more than anyone else when the country became an international power. Pace bowling was accorded its status in the next generation, too what with men like Gopalan, Ramji, Rangachari, Phadkar and Ramesh Divecha around. What probably shifted the focus to spin was the success of men like Vinoo Mankad and Ghulam Ahmed in the early 50s, and the first ever Test triumph against England in 1952-53. The advent of the remarkably gifted Subash Gupte almost overshadowed the strength of the pace attack. The rare grouping of a wonderful quartet of Bedi, Prasanna, Chandrasekhar and Venkataraghavan at one point of time and the phenomenal performances on designer tracks almost sounded the death-knell of pace bowling, rendering the new ball attack a farce.

Along with Kapil Dev and Manoj Prabhakar, the lithe athlete, Srinath, can be portrayed for posterity as the one who revived the faith in the pace attack. On numerous occasions, Srinath lived up to the confidence reposed in him by successive skippers. In fact, Sourav Ganguly more than once reiterated the need of a man like Srinath in the team. After a sensational debut in Ranji Trophy with a hat-trick against Hyderabad in 1989-90, Srinath has traversed a memorable path in the history of Indian cricket. For more than decade, he remained the sheet anchor, along with Venkatesh Prasad, of the Indian attack, notwithstanding the presence of such acclaimed spinners as Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh. From a mere rustic hurling the ball at the batsman, Srinath acquired that touch of grace and sophistication as the years went by. The stint with Gloucestershire enhanced his polish. He showed exemplary line and length, identified the frailities of the batsmen quickly and put them in trouble. He made them earn every run.

Behind his soft and charming countenance, Srinath possessed a will of steel that could not be shaken by anything. The manner in which he fought the shoulder injury to stage a comeback with redoubled vigour speaks for his courage and determination to fight adversities.

Indisputably, the life and times of Javagal Srinath is an eventful era that is a lesson to posterity. The Sportstar pays this gentle giant from Mysore a well-deserved tribute for his outstanding contribution to Indian cricket. Pacemen may come and go, but how many will stand in comparison with Srinath is difficult to surmise at this point.