Srinath's retirement comes as a surprise

JAVAGAL SRINATH announcing his retirement from Test cricket took me by surprise since I felt he had a couple of years left in him. He will go down as one of India's finest pacemen.

After Kapil Dev faded away, Srinath slipped into the role of India's senior paceman with ease, and relished the challenges that went with the job.

I have fond memories of Srinath, he was my room-mate on India's four-month tour of Australia in 1991-92. That was the first major overseas assignment for Srinath and he did bowl extremely well on that demanding trip.

I remember him as a simple young man with a burning desire to win matches for his country. He was disciplined and committed, and has continued to stay that way. He still is such an easy person to get along with and has that inborn sense of honesty.

He is the ideal role model for the youngsters, for his work ethics and the amount of effort he puts in. Hailing from a South Indian Brahmin family, Srinath may not have seemed ideally suited for the hard job of a fast bowler, but he surprised a lot of people.

I have some special memories with Srinath in Australia. Among them was hunting for rasam and sambar, not very easy to find Down Under! However, so persevering were we in our efforts that we soon had plenty of invitations for lunches and dinners at the residences of South Indians settled in Australia!

That was an eventful tour for Srinath. He castled Mark Waugh with a lovely inswinger on his Test debut and went on to bowl with fire in the entire series. He was easily our quickest bowler.

At his peak, Srinath was the fastest Indian paceman I have seen, and could really make the batsmen hop around. He was one Indian paceman capable of 'giving it back' to the opposition.

Probably Kapil could have bowled as fast, if he had wanted to, but then he chose to be a different bowler. Srinath's speed certainly added a new dimension to the Indian attack.

He has matured much as a bowler over the years. Srinath began as a tearaway who could send down the big inswingers, however, with experience, learnt to straighten the odd one, and this made him more effective.

In his later years, Srinath wisely cut down on his speed, concentrated in the corridor, and his bowling in India's last two tours, of South Africa and the West Indies, was impressive even if the figures did not always reflect the quality of his bowling.

He has bowled India to victories in crucial Tests, and his blistering spell against South Africa some years ago in Ahmedabad springs to mind. He invariably provided the early breakthroughs and set up quite a few wins.

Srinath also has the habit of catching the big fish, and he frequently scalped Brian Lara, opening up the left-hander with his pace and natural inswing. His value to the Indian attack was immense.

Srinath has also been a source of inspiration for the younger generation. After the departure of Kapil Dev, Srinath and his pace partners ensured that the Indian pace bowling continued to be treated with respect.

He has always gone out of his way to be helpful to the youngsters. The manner in which he encouraged Venkatesh Prasad is a fine example of this trait in Srinath. Not for a moment did he feel that Prasad could one day emerge a potential rival for a place.

The fact that he ended up with 232 Test wickets, over a hundred of them at home, indicates his enormous contribution to Indian cricket. Even in the Indian conditions, where there is little help for the pacemen, he managed to strike because of his speed in the air.

He also showed the resolve to bounce back from serious injuries, and always put the team before him. Srinath's bidding adieu to Test cricket is another example of his total honesty with himself and his team.

Srinath, however, will still be very useful for the Indians in the ODIs, especially away from home, in England, and South Africa. He is now a elder paceman who bowls with a fair amount of control, and it is important for the team to have Srinath in its scheme of things.

Now that he has revealed his intention to continue playing in the ODIs till the World Cup, I am sure Srinath will stretch every sinew of his to go out in a blaze of glory. The World Cup will be a fitting finale to his career.

Meanwhile, the Indian side took the Test series setback in its stride to win the ODI series in the Caribbean 2-1, after the first two matches were washed out.

There were some positives for the Indians from the series. The standard of fielding and catching was excellent for most part, and this provided a definite edge to the Indians in the decisive moments of the series.

Youngsters like Yuveraj Singh and Mohammed Kaif certainly lifted the levels of fielding and others like Ajit Agarkar and Harbhajan Singh were sharp as well. This is a welcome sign.

Tinu Yohannan, forgotten for a major part of the Caribbean campaign, bowled extremely well in the first ODI in Bridgetown, but was smashed around the park in the next game in Port of Spain. This is how it sometimes goes in sports. Tinu is young and should gain from the experience.

Dinesh Mongia, another man who had very little to do for a major portion of the Caribbean tour, came up with an entertaining half century in Bridgetown, an innings where he pulled the pacemen over the infield with ease. He is a good competitor, and appears sound temperamentally.

However, I would be much happier if Sachin Tendulkar opens the innings with Sourav Ganguly. The two are the world's best opening ODI combination and it is important to have them together for the World Cup.

Similarly, India should go into the big event with a specialist wicket-keeper. Rahul Dravid donning the big gloves has to be a short term option, at best. The Indians can be threatening in the World Cup, but they will have to pick the right side. The series and tournaments leading up to the big event will be crucial.