India's genial giant

IT was a sunny day in Auckland, and even as he stretched out his limbs at Eden Park's outer Oval, Javagal Srinath declared — "I would give my life for India if selected to play in the World Cup.'' From a rather self-effacing, pragmatic and often understated man, these were brave words.

Then, at the conclusion of what was a disastrous limited overs series for India in the Kiwiland, but one where Srinath operated splendidly, The Sportstar caught up with the genial fast bowler again, at Hamilton.

By now, the Indian squad for the premier overs-limit competition in Southern Africa had been announced, the Karnataka man very much a part of it. This would also be Srinath's fourth World Cup, a rare achievement for a fast bowler.

Again Srinath was forthcoming, indicating clearly that taking part alone would not be enough, if the side did not actually go on to win. He emphasised, dismissing speculations in the process, that this was the most `united' Indian side he had figured in.

Indeed, there was a burning desire in this 33-year-old soldier to turbo-charge India to a World Cup triumph; after all, he as the leader of the Indian pace pack, had to inspire the much younger Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra.

And to think that Srinath and India were within one match of pulling it off. His shoddy display in the final, where the virtues of line and length deserted him, would rankle and haunt Srinath forever, but he can take much heart from his earlier performances; here he was impressive and intelligent, intense and incisive.

Indeed, along with Zaheer and Nehra, Srinath had bowled with much passion and zest as the cricketing world took notice of this bold pace force from India. Between them, the awesome threesome grabbed 49 wickets, Srinath's share being a creditable 16.

More than his rich haul, it was the manner in which Srinath went about his business, bowling an off-stump line, pitching the ball up, bringing the delivery in (his stock ball), straightening the odd one and achieving marginal away movement, that demanded attention. To top it all, he operated at a brisk pace, extracted bounce, and threw in subtle changes of pace.

Three spells of Srinath would stand out for their sheer magnificence as the senior paceman brought all his experience and craft into play. When India, under pressure to win, required quick wickets at Harare, Srinath delivered, hitting the right length and picking up the ideal line from the very beginning. The Zimbabweans were tentative early on and Srinath's idea was just right. His figures 8-1-14-2 tell the story.

He was brilliant but luckless under the lights against England at Durban and then breathed fire at the Wanderers, in a sensational spell with the new ball, knocking over Marvan Atapattu, Sanath Jayasuriya, Jehan Mubarak and Aravinda de Silva, as the Lankans, chasing a daunting 292, reeled at 40 for five. This Super Six contest was effectively over, and Srinath was the toast.

Srinath clearly was a man possessed that day, bowling fast, straight and full, and celebrating his dismissals with clenched fists. It was a very different Srinath too, you could tell that from his body language.

The World Cup had fired his dreams and occupied his thoughts, and the affable man did put in a huge effort. One bad day in the office and... that's how a few dreams die sometimes.