Knowing cricket in the true sense

COMMON perception says cricketers fear gyaan, they dread people jumping on them to give all types of advice. Point is: Test cricketers are experts, they have reached where they have reached because they know.

AMIT MATHUR

COMMON perception says cricketers fear gyaan, they dread people jumping on them to give all types of advice. Point is: Test cricketers are experts, they have reached where they have reached because they know. They understand how things work and realise what works for them. Players, therefore, don't need basic education. As highly skilled professionals they can look after themselves.

Geet Sethi is an inspirational figure to the followers of the green baize sport. — Pic. K. BHAGYA PRAKASH-

But a problem arises when outsiders, like you and me, watching cricket from a distance often with remote in hand, assume the role of experts. In India, maybe elswhere too, all of us are gurus, we think we know all there is to know about this uncertain game.

Such is the level of interest and curiosity about cricket that a youngster in Mumbai will tell you the price of desert in Sachin's restaurant. What Sourav eats for breakfast, or whether he eats anything at all, is also not a secret. We all live on a steady diet of cricket trivia and as a result the lives of cricketers is, to use a cliche, an open book.

This might be so (how do we know these bits of information to be correct?) but it would be a mistake to think that everyone knows cricket in the true sense. India has the world's highest number of cricket followers, many with incredible statistical knowledge; champions exist who know amazing details which even escape the players' attention. Did you, for instance, know the number of times Dravid taps his bat as McGrath runs in? Or the grips the Indian captain puts on his bat? Or some thing equally crazy.

It is bizarre that strangers walk up to top players and conduct free cricket tuitions. Sachin has people telling him to grip his bat higher on the handle, change the weight of his bat, correct backlift and alter foot movement while driving to mid on.

Faced by such a flood of advice, harassed players build protective walls around themselves. Some, wanting to halt this intrusion, become rude and dismissive, they ignore unwanted lectures and openly advertise their disinterest. Others, more polite, hear but don't listen, they nod their heads at the right time and look for the first opportunity to escape.

Still, to think that players have closed minds or that they don't need help is wrong. Everyone, however big, requires to check things from time to time because cricket needs minor corrections to iron out flaws. But while gyaan is needed, what matters is quality — who talks and what is said is crucial.

When Narayanmurthy or Ambani talk of success and what it takes to build and sustain a world class brand, one listens carefully. Likewise, when Ramgopal Verma holds forth on modern cinema and assembly-like production in a film factory, one stops switching channels. Geet Sethi and Prakash Padukone, world champions in individual disciplines, tigers who became the best overcoming enormous odds, are inspirational figures, terrific examples for others to follow. When they share their experiences, speaking in a language sportsmen understand, cricketers pay attention.

That is why it is a treat to listen to SMG comment on Trescothick's batting technique, the angle at which his bat comes down and the sluggish foot movement which causes problems to balls slanted across him. The master could see in a minute what others fail to detect in a full five match series because his eye is trained to spot nuances, his mind tuned to see beyond the obvious.

Badminton ace Prakash Padukone sharing his experience with Aparna Popat. — Pic. T. A. HAFEEZ-

Of course, on TV, the mechanics of delivery, of being able to say your bit precisely, is very important. SMG has perfected this art, he is articulate in a crisp, measured manner, direct and forceful. Also, his opinion is always backed by reason, insight and a vast amount of solid experience.

This was also abundantly evident when he spoke in a classroom situation with the Indian players in Bangalore. Twenty-odd batsmen got a valuable lesson on batsmanship from him in the indoor nets at the NCA, the boys (including Sourav, Sachin, Dravid ) squatting in a semi circle on the synthetic surface. They listened carefully as Sunil, bat in hand and standing in the middle, dwelt on various aspects of batting. This, surely, was some lesson!

Often the greats say the same things as others less accomplished. Which is bound to happen because, reduced to basics, the truth is the same irrespective of who is looking or doing the talking. Moreover, it is difficult to be profound about everything all the time — if a batsman plays horribly across and loses his off stump, or someone drops an absolute sitter, the matter is pretty much straight forward.

But in sport the truth is never absolute, there is a reason for the player's poor shot, and for the bowler to overstep or drift towards the pads of batsmen. The expert comes into play here, he searches for shades not immediately visible, for angles which are not seen on the surface. These shades and angles make all the difference, the extra insight and crucial observation lift the quality of analysis.

This was evident in the chat Kapil paaji had with young pace bowlers. Again, much that was said was routine but what opened everyone's eyes were minor suggestions and small tips that, added up, made a huge impact. Take, for instance, the issue of looking after the ball and shining one side. All pace bowlers do this, but real skill, said, Kapil, lies in shining the ball correctly.

Essential things to do:

Always hold the ball on the left hand which is relatively sweat free. Don't let the palm touch the leather.

Keep the seam hard and dry at all costs, this is absolutely paramount.

A pace bowler must land the ball on the seam but if the seam is wet or soggy with moisture/sweat the delivery loses zing and won't carry. This gives batsman crucial time to adjust.

While Kapil held forth, transmitting valuable gyaan, one interested and impressed listener was the SMG himself. His reaction: Paaji was simply brilliant!