The element of luck

IN any game, despite all the hard work, a player needs an element of luck. The big breaks have to come at the right time.

SRIKKANTH

Both Kanwaljeet Singh (left) and K.P. Bhaskar (right) performed at a time when the Indian team was chockful of talent and there was absolutely no room for them.-Pic. K. GOPINATHAN & THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY.

IN any game, despite all the hard work, a player needs an element of luck. The big breaks have to come at the right time.

This is true of cricket, too, and a whole combination of factors needs to work for a cricketer if he aspires to play for his country. Especially in a country such as India where the population is huge and the competition intense.

We also have a multi-layered first class system, with a player first representing his State, and if he performs well here, being picked for his zone. Then comes the Irani Trophy where the Rest of India side faces the Ranji champion.

There has to be a slot in a particular position for a player to receive a look-in. There have been so many talented Ranji cricketers who have missed out on zonal selection, simply because there were no vacancies.

A name that springs to mind immediately is that of Kanwaljeet Singh, who had to battle it out with two Test off-spinners, Shivlal Yadav and Arshad Ayub for a place in the Hyderabad side itself. Kanwaljeet, who could get the ball to turn and bounce, could have achieved a lot more success had he made it to the zonal side earlier.

If you take a look at the off-spinners who represented the country in the 90s, Kanwaljeet must consider himself distinctly unlucky not to wear the Indian cap. In his case, the opportunities came late. Going further back, two excellent left-arm spinners, Rajinder Goel and Padmakar Shivalkar, went without playing a Test.

Had these two been playing first class cricket in any other country at that point of time, they might have ended up with more than 100 Test wickets each. When I faced them in first class cricket, they were at the fag end of their careers, but still good enough to demand attention.

The problem was their careers ran parallel to that of Bishan Singh Bedi, arguably the greatest left-arm spinner the cricketing world has seen. And with Bedi occupying the left-arm spinner's slot, no place could be found for either Goel or Shivalkar.

To make things more difficult for them, the presence of the other three bowlers of the famous spin quartet — Erapalli Prasanna, Bhagwat Chandrasekar and Srinivas Venkataraghavan — made it extremely difficult for the duo to break into a touring party. I can only sympathise with Goel and Shivaklar, who were both class acts. In the end, international cricket lost out on two quality bowlers.

There have been several batsmen who failed to make it by a whisker. Like Madras's Satwinder Singh, that graceful middle-order batsman of the 60s and 70s, who I felt was good enough to play Tests, but never received a chance.

In this context, I also remember Surendra Bhave, the opener who turned out for Maharashtra in the 80s and 90s. He appeared a good prospect, but found the door to big-time cricket shut on him.

Delhi's K.P. Bhaskar, who played around the same time, made tons of runs for his state and his zone, yet the bigger stage eluded him. That was a period when the Indian middle-order was extremely strong with the likes of Mohinder Amarnath, Dilip Vengsarkar and Mohammed Azharuddin ruling the roost, and Bhaskar ended his career with the great disappointment of not having represented India.

Similarly, some promising pacemen have lost out because the pitches in the country left them marginalised. They either had a limited role to play because of the surfaces that afforded turn from day one, or had to send down long spells on placid tracks, that killed them gradually.

A naturally blessed cricketer with a strong mind and body like Kapil Dev did corner glory, however, cricketers like that Haryana legend come rare. Later on, Javagal Srinath, a bowler with true pace and fire, could make his presence felt in a big way in the international arena. But then, for every tale of success, there are a hundred failures.

Maharashtra's Pandurang Salgaonkar was rated by many who faced him in the 70s as "genuinely quick", but the nature of the Indian attack in those times was such that it was extremely difficult to fit in a pure paceman such as Salgaonkar. If you look at pacemen who represented India in that period, they had a fair bit of batting ability, like a Madan Lal or a Karsan Ghavri.

Salgaonkar had a reputation of being erratic, but that aspect of his cricket could have got corrected with more international exposure. Those were very different days in Indian cricket, when spin ruled and pace was little more than an excuse to bring the spinners on.

Pacemen have continued to suffer in silence. My heart goes out to a cricketer like Diwakar Vasu of Tamil Nadu, who, at the beginning of his career, was a sharp left-arm paceman, who could move the ball around. He was a competent batsman too, with the ability to bat at the top of the order, apart from being a fine fielder. Sadly, those who took decisions did not take his performances seriously. He could have been an extremely valuable cricketer for India, particularly in limited overs cricket.

Later on in his career, when injuries prevented him from sending down pace, Vasu developed into a mean left-arm spinner, who gave away very little. Despite the disappointments in his career, he continues to play in Chennai's first division league, where, even in the later stages of his career, he is never found wanting in commitment.

The left-handed middle-order batsman Sridharan Sharath is another cricketer who must consider himself extremely unlucky not to have donned the India blazer. One of the prolific scorers in the domestic circuit, he has not received the right opportunities at the right time.

As I have mentioned earlier, it is a combination of factors that enables a cricketer to make the grade. Of course, staying alive in international cricket is a different matter altogether.