The new-look Javagal Srinath

GIVEN that irony is one of the defining elements of Indian cricket, it shouldn't raise too many eyebrows if I say that the real find of the tour of the West Indies so far is a man who many thought would not be playing Test cricket at the moment. In his eleventh year of Test cricket, Javagal Srinath is bowling better than at any point in his career and I think there is a great lesson there for young men in a hurry.

Having seen a few things in life myself, I am convinced that success in life is about understanding yourself and the new-look Srinath is a product of a lot of introspection. He knows what, and how much, his body can do at the age of 33 and he has accepted the passage of time very gracefully. Sometimes we look upon time as an enemy that eats up the present and takes away the opportunity that only today can bring. That is the voice of youth, full of energy and impatience. Srinath spoke that language too but time has mellowed and refined him. It has smoothened his edges and made him a more complete person. Becoming a more complete bowler was merely an inevitable step forward.

He doesn't charge in and hit the deck anymore, doesn't have the ball buzzing around the ears too often either. But he does better. He bowls a fuller length and moves the ball from that uncomfortable spot on the pitch. And he waits. Patience is a great virtue to possess and sometimes it infects people too late in life. Srinath has it now and you can see that in his movements. He looks, and talks, like a man at peace with himself and his cricket and at a time when his successors are still raw he is providing valuable years to Indian cricket.

The new look Srinath is all about doing the simple things well. Smooth run-up, steady line and great length. It is a combined challenge to the batsman and it is then upto him to react to this offering by choosing to defend or attack. This is how cricket was always meant to be; a very simple contest between what the bowler offers and what the batsman chooses to do with it. If the batsman chooses to do little, it doesn't seem to bother Srinath anymore for he knows that if he continues with this combination long enough, the batsman will have to take the initiative. And in doing so, lay his defence open. It is almost a spinner's way of thinking and yet, a lot of medium fast bowlers over the years have bowled like this. The great success of Glenn McGrath and Shane Pollock is based on this very simple premise. If you cannot blast a batsman out draw him into a mistake and Srinath has done that in the first two Tests here in the West Indies.

It was interesting talking to Michael Holding about this. "Fast bowling is a very difficult thing to do," he said because "by the time you understand it fully, it is too late to bowl fast!"

Srinath isn't bowling fast anymore, at least not by the accepted definition that classifies anything over 145 kmph as fast. He now bowls in the 128-135 range and just occasionally slips into 137 or 138. That is also the speed McGrath and Pollock have adopted and that is the speed he must retain for another couple of years ideally for that should allow the likes of Ashish Nehra and Zaheer Khan to acquire greater maturity and consistency.

I actually believe it would be a good idea for Srinath, who has now started to speak about his experiences in cricket, to talk to his team-mates about his transition from a quick but erratic bowler to one who does the simple things in life very well. Indeed, that is what a winning side does and that is precisely what India did at Port of Spain. There were no million dollar shots, there was very little edge of the seat batting and, except for Harbhajan Singh, there wasn't the old obsession with bowling magic balls.

Martin Crowe was right when he told me many years ago that since New Zealand did not have the great ball skills of the Asians, no brilliant wristy batsmen, no classical spinners, they had to do the simple things in the game very well. That meant running, stopping, throwing and catching brilliantly, bowling a tight line and length at all times and batting doggedly. There must be some truth in that because New Zealand are at number four in the Test ratings and India are struggling at number eight. New Zealand have only two flair players really in Chris Cairns, who misses as many games as he plays, and Nathan Astle. It might make for boring cricket but it is amazing how often, when you start doing the simple things very well, you start to grow in confidence and do the difficult things better.

And so India must build on Port of Spain (this is being written a couple of days before the third Test). The fielders must make opposition run-getting difficult, the last three batsmen must bat in the nets and set themselves small targets, maybe even five or seven each, and every man must hit the stumps.

Really, sport is like a high school mathematics exam. If you know the basics well, you will always get 80%. If you are brilliant but erratic you will get a full hundred one day but more often, you will end up with 60%. That is what India have been doing so far; solving the difficult theorems but letting the simple proofs go by. Now Javagal Srinath has shown the great value of following the other path. I will be very interested in seeing if the Indian team emulates him.