Words of wisdom

S. DINAKAR

File picture shows Hanumant Singh giving tips to a few youngsters. "Use of the crease is lacking because of too much one day cricket," feels Hanumant.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

AMONG the joys of being on the road with the cricketing caravan is the opportunity to converse with some glittering names from the past. The meeting with Hanumant Singh in Jaipur proved enthralling.

Among the finest players of spin of his time, Hanumant, of twinking footwork and scintillating strokes, drips with cricketing knowledge. And he is willing to share it for a smile.

"We had to use our feet to get to the pitch of the ball to drive it. The modern cricketer lofts the ball from where he is. The game has changed," he mulls.

Hanumant believes deception is on the decline in spin bowling. "People are bowling the straight ball in a different way. They are over-spinning it, bowling top-spinners, some of which go the other way, which only Prasanna used to bowl in my time. But the subtleties of pace variations are definitely not as good. This and the trajectory go together. Use of the crease is lacking because of too much one-day cricket."

Pras is the best: Legendary off-spinner Erapalli Prasanna is the finest spinner he has faced. "He had plenty of variations and there was no limit to his repertoire and his imagination. How he bowled depended on what you did. It was a constant battle of wits."

One of those hissing deliveries from Prasanna has stayed in his mind. "We were playing on a bad turning wicket in Madras. There was a cross breeze from the Marina beach and he was bowling from the Southern End. He went around and bowled a flighted delivery. The ball floated out. I planted my front foot too soon. Then the ball drifted in. The foot remained there but the bat was dragged away towards the ball creating a gap. The ball pitched, turned and went through the gate."

Prasanna, he says, worked on a batsman psychologically and would attempt to create an illusion. "Prasanna had a very short bowling stride. He would bowl over the wicket. But he would come across and deliver the ball in front of stumps and run away quickly to change the angle."

Hanumant is convinced that the doosra cannot be bowled with a clean action. "It is impossible to do that. Once the elbow leads, you cannot keep it straight. If you bowl with the inside of your elbow nothing happens. If you turn your elbow and point it at the batsman you cannot keep it straight."

Simple solution: He has a simple solution to the chucking conundrum. "They say it is only after 15 degrees that the eye is first able to see a throw, then that in itself solves the problem. The moment you see it with the naked eye, you call it."

For Hanumant, Subash Gupte tops among the leggies — all time. "Most of the batsmen could not pick him. He had two different types of googlies. The first googly he bowled with the full palm. For the second googly, the index and the second finger would be close to each other. The first one was more deceptive, the second more accurate. He bowled at the great three Ws with a silly mid-off and a silly mid-on in the first over. They were murderous players."

The key to spin bowling lay in getting the batsmen on to the front foot to drive. "You cannot allow them to go on the back foot. As Vinoo Mankad said when a batsman goes back, it should be because of a mistake, not because a spinner has bowled short."

He then turns his attention on the art of playing on spinning tracks. "You got to know the tricks a bowler has, the ball that spins, the arm ball. A leg-spinner is not difficult to play because he is liable to be erratic. A left-arm spinner to a right-hander could be difficult to handle. The ball will be spinning away. At least against the off-spinner you can play some shots in the air."

The sweep, he says, can unsettle a spinner on such surfaces. "You normally sweep a ball on the leg-stump which you cannot drive. This virtually means that you are hitting a good length ball."

Hanumant underlines the importance of playing with soft hands. "That is another thing that the modern cricketer doesn't do because he likes to punch the ball. The bats are such. Sunil Gavaskar played a great knock on a turning track against Pakistan in Bangalore during the 80s."

He throws further light on handling a spinner on a mine-field. "You need to judge the length to perfection. You need to know how to smother the spin. You must have a wide range of movements, front foot and back foot. You must be able to smother the ball and also go right back to the crease."

His technical brilliance is evident as he speaks about keeping the close-in catchers at bay. "If you play by the side of the pad, then the silly point and the forward short leg come into play. But if you start playing slightly in front of the pads, then any inner edge, which you also smother, goes down into the ground."

Hanumant has an exceptional cricketing mind.

Media's woes: India swept to a series triumph in Pune. There were celebrations all around. The journalists went through a nightmarish time. There was not a single computer terminal and the Press Box was no Press Box really — just a line of chairs where anybody could walk in. There is nothing amiss in BCCI allotting international matches to the smaller venues — cricket needs to spread its wings in the country — but the Board should ensure that adequate facilities for the media are provided. Pune was in one word — Pathetic.

Different strokes: Murali Kartik sports coloured hair one day, next season it is curly, soon we see long straight mane adorning his head. Ask the Indian left-arm spinner about his changing hairstyle and his response is — "I want to try out everything before it is all gone." Kartik reveals that going by the evidence of his father, his uncle and a few other close relatives, he might not have too much hair left 10 years hence. Hence, he wants to fulfill all his desires before it is too late. In Ahmedabad he had snipped off the extra bit. He was now closely cropped. Perhaps, it is the Rahul Dravid influence.

Dust bowl: Dust is Ahmedabad's sovereign element. And the Motera Stadium is the quintessential sub-continental dust bowl. Even when the lights are switched on, you can spot layers of dust moving across the ground. Tillekeratne Dilshan and Russell Arnold can see clearly though. They orchestrate Sri Lanka's face-saving victory from the brink. A section of the nearly 50,000-strong crowd at this well-constructed stadium does not conduct itself well, jeering some of the cricketers.

And when the Lankans reach the target, hardly a handful of spectators are present to applaud the islanders. This is truly disappointing. One thought cricket travelled beyond the boundaries.

Tight security: The team hotel close to the airport is a virtual fortress. The place is swarming with cops. There are also some in plainclothes, the distinguishing factor being a revolver slung on their hip. Ahmedabad is considered a sensitive venue and the police personnel are taking no chances. For a change the hotel lobby is virtually empty despite the presence of the cricketing superstars; the screening is tight. One also spots N. S. Wirk, one of ICC's anti-corruption officers. He is not allowed to speak to the media, but goes about his work in a quiet but efficient manner, often coordinating with the local intelligence for any leads.

Cricket is a passion: They were there in hundreds from morning to evening. Bearing the heat and the dust just to catch a glimpse of their favourite stars; the buildings facing the team hotel were also filled to the brim. Cricket is a passion in the country and Rajkot is no exception. Big time cricket travelling to a small town has its own charm. The fans get an opportunity to watch their heroes in flesh and blood and cricket in the region receives a fillip.

Former Board secretary Niranjan Shah is confident that the Madhav Rao Scindia Stadium will be packed despite the series having already been decided. Next day, he grins from ear to ear during his visit to the Press Box.

One of the small town boys — Rudra Pratap Singh from Rae Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh — walks away with the Man of the Match award. A bright young talent from Rajkot could emerge the key player of an international contest sooner than later. In the field of dreams, anything is possible.