India and Ponting's `substitute' gripe


Ajit Wadekar was so adept at playing the 'substitute game.'-P.V. SIVAKUMAR

IT happened as England viewed Vijay Hazare's India, in the summer of 1952, as the near cricketing equivalent of `Zimbabwe Today'. As our four-Test series got underway at Headingley (`0 for 4' and all that), our team members asked skipper Hazare for a guideline. "Play for a draw!" decreed Hazare instantly. Of The Oval now (a venue where Vijay Hazare's India, then, was 6 for 5 at one stage in the final Test), Nasser Hussain has aptly written: "England can go on to win The Ashes providing they don't make the mistake of going for a draw." No way is Michael Vaughan going to countenance any idea of `Play for a draw'. Closing in for The Ashes-regaining kill, in fact, is England. Keeping satisfyingly in mind how Aussie captain Ricky Ponting lost all poise when ruled run out (for 48) as his team was valiantly venturing to close the 259-run Trent Bridge gap during that stunting fourth Test follow-on.

As Durham substitute Gary Pratt scored a direct hit, Ricky Ponting just exploded. May be the Aussie skip overreacted, since any English county player could legitimately act as substitute. Yet who shall deny that Ponting had an ICC point? Once the 14 from which a Test team is to be picked stands announced, the 12th man should, logically, emerge out of this lot. But, here now, Ponting could not quite know what was Gary Pratt's aim in life. Let's face it, this is one norm that has been consistently flouted in the game with the sporting name. Ever since the substitute law was amended. Amended by which the 12th man could field in any position. In this Test case, Gary Pratt was clearly adroit in focusing on one stump and throwing it down. So that Ricky Ponting, fighting a grim Aussie rearguard, had moral reason to feel `had'.

But when did morality ever come into the Aussie way of cricketing thinking? It is a measure of the pressure under which Ponting & Co have played The Ashes series (from the second Test on) that Ricky's implied hint (for a change in the substitute law) should have come across as mere squealing. Michael Vaughan (quietly efficient like Rahul vis-a-vis Sourav) does not look to be as ruthless a leader of men as Ricky Ponting. Yet Michael Vaughan is certainly not as mild-mannered as was, say, England captain Tony Lewis on the 1972-73 tour of India. I mean the Tony Lewis who was such a good violinist that he nearly played with the National Philharmonic Orchestra at the prestigious Edinburgh Festival. So much so that Tony Lewis came to India with the reputation of being able to play Bedi as well as Bach. Yet face the music was all that Tony Lewis did during that 1972-73 five-Test series in India.

Such a gentleman was Tony Lewis that the canny Ajit Wadekar (on his way to leading India to three rubbers in a row) exploited the substitute law to the hilt. In what ultimately proved to be the (2-1) series decider, the third (Chepauk) Test of January 1973 saw Ajit Wadekar daringly field, through the day, no fewer than three substitutes. Each manning the cover region. I mean the January '73 Chepauk Test in which Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi staged such a noteworthy comeback with that thoroughbred 73 for India when first playing under Ajit Wadekar. Tiger Pataudi was injured after that. So was Sunil Gavaskar (after scoring 20), so that two substitutes were in order.

Here is where Ajit Wadekar, without batting an eyelid, was `gamesmanly' enough to have Salim Durani, too, smugly sitting back in the pavilion. The outcome was S. Venkataraghavan, Ramnath Parkar and Abid Ali's policing the covers. So impeccable of pick-up was this triad (in nimble, supple competition) that not one shot could the England batsmen get through India's `substitute' offside cordon! In the circumstances, did John Woodcock (of The Times, London) not have a point when he came up with a rare barb directed at Salim Durani? A Salim conspicuous, through the three Tests he then played, for having a substitute fielding for him. After having batted cosily enough (4 & 53 in the Eden Gardens Test; 38 & 38 in the Chepauk Test; 73 & 37 in the Brabourne Stadium Test). To think that Salim's second 38 at Madras and his 37 at Bombay were to prove determinant in Ajit Wadekar's forging ahead (2-1) in the series and holding on to that lead in the final Test at Bombay.

John Woodcock's parting comment on this development? Salim Durani was at deepish mid-off as Tony Greig joined Keith Fletcher in the first innings of that final Bombay Test. Now Tony Greig had been a six-foot-by-seven-something thorn in India's side right through the series. So that Ajit Wadekar had reason to look up anxiously as Tony, after assuming the aspect of the Leaning Tower of Pisa in his batting stance, mishit Bishan Singh Bedi just over extra-cover, early in his innings. Our hearts stopped in our mouths as Salim fell back. Though Salim, with his rangy reach, had `fixed', in style, two steepling skiers in his two previous Tests of the series. But this one time Salim just failed to latch on, so that John Woodcock had a pithy point when he wrote: "The catch would have been made if Durani had had his customary substitute fielding for him!" As Tony Greig went on to hit 148, while adding 254 for the fifth wicket with Keith Fletcher (113), Ajit Wadekar had cause to worry. Until Salim Durani bailed him out, yet again, with that venturesome 37 during the final Test afternoon seeing Tiger Pataudi agonise through 104 minutes for just 5.

If Salim was unique, it should interest Ricky Ponting to learn that there is just no `substitute' for Kapil Dev as India captain. Take India's end-November 1983 fourth Test against Clive Lloyd's West Indies at Mumbai's Wankhede Stadium. Desmond Haynes was on 55 when he interrupted a Kapil Dev ball going on to dislodge the bails. By swiftly stooping and stopping the unruly ball with his hand. Clearly Haynes was out `Handled the ball' as Indian arms went up. Yet umpire Madhav Gothoskar stood unmoved. Indeed his decision was long in coming, so I joined reporting issue with Gothoskar at the end of the day's play.

"Your job was to pronounce Des Haynes out, `Handled the ball', the instant an appeal was made!" I remonstrated. "But there was no appeal!" came back Gothoskar. "Fielding hands merely went up, whereupon I asked Kapil Dev, as India's captain, `Are you appealing — it's a matter of sportsmanship?' To this Kapil said he certainly was appealing as he, as a bowler, badly needed a wicket! Whereupon I had no go but to rule Haynes out, `Handled the ball'. Imagine," went on Gothoskar, "India's captain didn't know that the bowler is not credited with the wicket in such a happening. But why blame Kapil alone? Des Haynes, on his way back, lamented that he had got a touch, yet I had ruled him out lbw! Haynes, like Kapil, was unaware that, if he was out, it was because he had `Handled the ball'!"