Sanjay Bangar's great knock

WE all tend to magnify things and are given to exaggeration, to an extent that very often balance and sanity is lost. Take, for instance, this habit of using big words to describe ordinary things - a routine hundred in a routine match is seen as a masterly effort and every possible superlative is pulled out. No sooner a youngster plays one bright innings he is hailed as the next Tendulkar even though the guy is not good enough to carry the great man's kit bag.

But the other day, I saw something really significant - Sanjay Bangar made a double hundred (in the Ranji quarterfinal against Tamil Nadu), an innings of immense class and character. He opened for the Railways, and batting second on a track which threatened to disintegrate, he held the innings together though wickets tumbled regularly at the other end. Bangar batted two days, offered no chances, was not beaten and rarely mistimed anything - the ball magically found the middle of the bat each time. Here was a batsman in supreme control, in adverse conditions, who through awesome application won the match for his team.

Not many people expected Bangar to impact the outcome so decisively. Till now, he was regarded as a competent player who played within himself and was hugely patient. But the one month he spent with the Indian team transformed Sanjay, he acquired confidence which reflects in a more positive attitude. Instead of waiting for the half volley, he looks for scoring opportunities and his shot making is more assertive.

Apart from Bangar the rest of the game was forgettable. The pitch was low and slow, batsmen needed extra protection for their ankles, medium pacers reached the keeper on the second bounce. The bowlers were flattened by the impenetrable forward defensive push of batsmen on the dead track, which caused Madan Lal to comment that till wickets improve - and trouble batsmen - Ranji levels would remain dismally low. "Unless batsmen are under pressure here how will they take pressure in international games?" he asked.

Robin Singh, after 17 years on the circuit, agrees with this theory but only in part. "Wickets, conditions, pressure are all factors," he concedes, "but ultimately things must come from inside," he feels. A player has to show commitment and focus, he must have a strong desire to succeed, without that there is no chance.

Robin is a senior citizen of Indian cricket, along with Utpal Chatterjee and Sanjeev Sharma he goes through the grind year after year, competing with players half his age. "I enjoy the thrill," he says. "It gives me immense satisfaction." This positive attitude keeps him going and passing years, and advancing age, have not diminished Robin's enthusiasm. "I can't understand how anyone playing for India can complain about too much cricket or about getting tired. International cricket is luxury, everything is laid out - domestic cricket is tough. Also, at that level, why do you need anyone, a coach or a senior, to buck you up? That is a shame. A player should do it willingly.

"If players were self driven fielding standards would immediately improve. This is simple," he says, "because fielding is directly related to effort and fitness , if someone is not quick and strong he will be a problem in the field." Robin thinks fielding is still not taken seriously and wonders why only Indian bowlers can't throw from the deep or why we conduct fielding sessions before a net. Best to do it afterwards because it is easy to field when one is fresh. The real test is when one is tired.

Robin is a thoughtful, intelligent and an articulate cricketer, he symbolises grit and honest effort and is an outstanding example of what John Wright terms the right work ethic. Robin invariably gave his best on the field, competed hard yet never crossed the line of decency and gentlemanly behaviour.

In his opinion, aggression and emotion are integral to sport but he feels excessive gamesmanship is a distraction and a waste of effort. What concerns him much more are declining standards in Ranji because quality bowlers are missing and, as a result, batting is increasingly simple. If the wicket is doing a bit, the batsmen panic and the team collapses for a low score.

This is exactly what happened to Tamil Nadu in the Ranji game. The wicket hindered strokeplay, it was not life-threatening but demanded patience and application from batsmen, who seemed in a hurry to get on with it. Harvinder bowled with spirit keeping the ball up from a nice, smooth, athletic action. Kartik was assertive, he put batsmen under pressure by bowling a nice line and not gifting free runs.

Oddly, of all places in India, cricketers are looked after well in Chennai. While jobs have dried up in most centres, Chennai supports a vibrant - and highly commercial - club culture. With top corporates actively involved, cricket is competitive and players receive several benefits, most significant of which is regular employment. This ensures young talent is attracted into the game, the latest example being Balaji who is raw but has a smooth action and natural swing.

Ramesh had a disappointing season, his ordinary run with the bat hardly did justice to his enormous potential. For most part the top order failed and it was left to the tail to bail out the team. Ashish Kapoor bowled well but was not decisive enough to influence the outcome. He is crafty , knows his way around on a cricket field and is one of India's most mobile cricketers who has shifted from TN to Rajasthan ( twice ) and also turned out for Punjab in between.

Actually we need tough, cunning, skilled cricketers who will compete hard and won't wilt at the first hint of adversity. Talent is aplenty, what is missing is character and the will to fight and absorb pressure. Which is why Robin Singh is an inspiration and Sanjay Bangar such a fine example . Unlike others who merely lucked out or rose due to good fortune Bangar sweated it out for a decade in Ranji before hitting the top league.

He made a stunning double hundred to win this one, but many times in the past has done his bit quietly without much reward. Yet, he kept on, certain in his mind that somebody would take note some day and nod his head in approval.