'It's not that I am finished with cricket'

K.C.VIJAYA KUMAR

FOLLOWING in Kapil Dev's footsteps is never easy. But Srinath did it with a dignity that bore his distinctive stamp.

His 232 Test wickets may pale in comparison with his mentor's 434, but in spearheading the Indian pace attack in the last decade, Srinath has done enough to book a permanent slot in the pantheon of great Indian fast bowlers with its membership restricted to Amar Singh, Mohammed Nissar and Kapil Dev.

The speedster from Mysore, known for his soft-spoken ways, indulged in hard talk as he dwelled on his retirement from Test cricket and his plans for One-Day Internationals.

Excerpts from an interview.

Question: Are you firm on your retirement plans?

Answer: Yes. It has been a hard decision but I have thought for days on it. When I don't touch my expectation line every now and then consistently, then it is time for me to analyse and take a decision. In fact I don't analyse match by match but I do it spell by spell. Losing a Test match haunts. There have been nights I have not slept at all.

"People have grossly misunderstood my decision. And there has been criticism that I have taken cricket for granted. Cricket cannot be taken for granted. I have always given my 100 per cent to the game."-K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

When I don't live up to my expectation level then my conscience does not approve and I cannot do justice to my place in the team. I was losing steam in Test matches and things like 'state of the wicket' began to play on my mind. And that is not a good sign. That was not the case earlier. I bowled on all sorts of pitches and got wickets. But now if I expect juice in the pitches, it is not fair.

However, it's not that I'm finished with cricket. There is still some cricket left in me and that can be utilised in the one-dayers. I am working on my fitness and will be fresh for the one-dayers. The World Cup is the benchmark and I will not stretch myself beyond that.

Right now I will play all the first class matches and prepare myself. And let me be honest, being omitted from the team for the one-dayers in England has not disappointed or humiliated me. I accept the decision of the selectors and the team management to nurture youth, but at the same time I would make it clear that I am available for selection for the one-dayers.

Losing consistently abroad did hasten my retirement. May be if we had won at Jamaica and clinched the Test series against the West Indies, I would have postponed my retirement plans until the end of the England tour.

Winning is special and it does change your mindset. My retirement is a culmination of both mental fatigue due to our persistent losses abroad and my inability to sustain my efficiency levels in Test matches spread over five days. And remember when we lose a Test, it lingers. But in one-dayers, there is always another match to bounce back.

There has been speculation on your retirement. Your comments?

People have grossly misunderstood my decision. And there has been criticism that I have taken cricket for granted. Cricket cannot be taken for granted. I have always given my 100 per cent to the game. If I had taken the game for granted, my team-mates would have hated me. Some people say that I pick and choose matches as and when I please. That is not true. Earlier, I skipped one-dayers so that I could recuperate and come back fresh for Test cricket.

I have said this earlier and will always say, 'Test cricket is real cricket', no player will ever ask for a break from Test cricket. And at that point in time if I had played all the one-dayers along with the Test matches, I would have broken down. Remember I was bowling nearly 31 to 33 per cent of the Indian attack. That is quite a bit of bowling and if I had played one-dayers, it would have definitely affected my performance in Tests.

But let me make this clear, I missed playing one-day matches. One-dayers are high intensity games and skipping them was not easy, but I had to since I wanted to conserve myself for Tests. But now I am no longer 23, 24 years old where I can play cricket for the sake of playing cricket. Now results matter. And losing Tests hurts. I accept the responsibility for letting the team down in Jamaica. Being a senior member of the team I should have done better.

Sourav Ganguly has stressed that he will make you reconsider your retirement plans. Did he speak to you?

Yes, Sourav did speak to me. I felt sad for him. I have taken a hard decision and I don't want to cut a sorry figure. Now there have been a few remarks that there is a misunderstanding between Sourav and me, which is untrue. Yes, there have been a few heated exchanges between us on the field. But then our motive was the same - winning a Test for India. And if we reveal our emotions to each other on the field, it only shows our frankness with each other. But people tend to speculate on what they see on television. I have known Sourav for a long time and he is a good captain. Our team has jelled well and there is no senior-junior division.

You mentioned about defeats that haunt, why is it that we still have not won a series outside the sub-continent since 1986?

Basically our pitches need to be fast and sporting. Especially at the grassroots level in domestic cricket. Our biggest problem is that we never had a third seamer. At the domestic level, all you need is one medium pacer and a few spinners. And then when we tour abroad and take an extra seamer, he obviously lacks the experience to bowl in conditions overseas. If only we had another seamer who got about 100 Test wickets, we surely would have won more matches. And I cannot talk for the batsmen but all I can say is that with our state of pitches, our batsman never get used to the cut and pull, they prefer to drive and it is but natural. Overseas, without the cut and pull, things become difficult when faced with extra bounce.

It is said 'fast bowlers hunt in pairs'. Did it hurt that you never had a settled bowling partner?

Yes, it did affect me because you end up bowling that many extra overs and your progressive efficiency as the Test wears on, gets low. But we have good bowlers. Venkatesh Prasad was good. Now Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra are coming along well. But they should be handled well. People should not expect five-wicket and 10-wicket hauls from them immediately. It is bound to happen. Perhaps this England tour should be a turning point for these lads. But let them settle down, there shouldn't be needless pressure on them. It would have been nice if I could play along with them for the next two to three years. But I am in my thirties and it is not possible.

How would you evaluate your career?

I have had my highs and lows. But ultimately we have to win. And that we did not do consistently. When I talk about victories I am talking about our overseas record. At home, we did well but then it is understood since we are born and brought up here. You could say I am 40 per cent happy and the rest 60 per cent not so with my performance. Could have done better.

What were the highs?

Winning obviously. The Port of Spain Test victory was special, also the first Test victory in Zimbabwe. And all those spells which helped our team win are special.

Any particular spell?

See in cricket, there will be days when you bowl extremely well and yet go wicketless! My best spell was in the Trent Bridge Test against England in 1996. But I did not get wickets in that spell. Yes, the six for 21 against South Africa at Ahmedabad in 1996 was special. It helped the team win, that is important.

In your debut series in Australia in 1991, Allan Border said that you were an unlucky bowler as you often beat the bat without getting the edge. As your career progressed, did your luck change?

In cricket, you always learn. I remember in that debut series I pitched a little short. But that happens to most of our bowlers who tour abroad as we get carried away. I was an inswing bowler so I could not afford to pitch it up. But remember I did not give many runs though I could have got more wickets. When I got back from the Australian tour, I was off cricket for eight months since I had to complete my engineering course. Then I went to the MRF Pace Foundation in Chennai, where I slightly modified my action. I worked on my length since my line was always okay. But I have pitched short, and that is a fault I cannot deny. Overall I am happy with the attitude with which I played my cricket. And I was a perfectly happy man when I decided to quit.

Who are the best batsmen you bowled to?

Brian Lara, Mark Waugh, Saeed Anwar, Aravinda de Silva and many more.

And the contemporary bowlers you admired?

Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Glenn McGrath and Fannie de Villiers.

What are your plans in life beyond cricket?

My career is wide open now... need to sit back and think...