Jest Not Cricket – Part I

In this two part satirical series on the legends of Indian Cricket, Rajkamal Vasu takes a light hearted look at their careers, playing style and everything and anything that makes them unique and has caused laughter by the tonnes to Cricket fans all over the world. Please do read the article with a pinch of salt and a bucket load of sense of humour.

Sunil Gavaskar

Gavaskar decided early in his career to play only the balls that would get him out and to leave as many balls as possible. This would have been a sound strategy but for the fact that he was such a good batsman that only an unplayable ball could get him out. As a result, he could only play the unplayable balls and tried to do so for the first two years of his career with catastrophic results. Wisely, he soon realised that this was impossible, and took the career-changing decision to not play any ball.

Consequently, he wasn’t the most exciting of batsmen to watch. His primary contribution has been to develop 8137 ways of not offering a shot. The only hope for bowlers was that Gavaskar would put himself to sleep which rarely happened once he got his eye in.

He is the first cricketer to have been the answer to a quiz question , the question being “Who is the first cricketer to be the answer to a quiz question?”

Gavaskar’s most memorable innings came in his debut 20-20 match. Chasing 56 for victory, he scored a glorious unbeaten hundred in 853 balls and singlehandedly led India to a famous win with 33.4 overs to spare. It was an innings that will not be forgotten by those who managed to watch it completely which, incidentally, was the attendance on the day- crowd who left in disgust- crowd who fell ill due to boredom- crowd who were evicted for throwing stones.

Old timers still mention the innings fondly, usually preceded by the words “Thank God I missed…” Some of his play outside his off stump has become legendary. Spectators recall the ball hitting the wicket keeper’s gloves with a sweet thud when he left it outside the off stump, which was most of the time.

He also played an unforgettable innings chasing 138 in a Test Match and led India to the threshold of victory. It was a testament to his ability to shut off everything but the ball. India eventually finished on 134/0. Scoring 6 runs in 107 balls when his opening partner had scored a 100 in 90 balls was a staggering achievement, but doing so when India needed quick runs was the mark of a champion. Gavaskar later said that it was very much like Bradman’s 254 at Lord’s- every ball went where he wanted it to go, to the keeper.

Gavaskar expressed delight at being unbeaten at the end, particularly because he was beaten virtually throughout the innings. Such, he wrote, are the delightful paradoxes of the game.

The only blot in his career has been accusations from animal lovers that another of his glittering knocks at Lords was responsible for the unfortunate death of Peter, the Lord’s cat, due to sheer boredom, in 1965. Gavaskar has always denied these allegations.

Staunchly proud of his country, he attacked a ticket counter at Lord’s which refused to sell tickets to Indians, accusing them of racism. He put his reputation on the line to stand up for his countrymen. It is another matter that the tickets were not being sold to Englishmen also, primarily because all the tickets had been sold out. Whichever way, it is remembered today as the most daring, and in fact only, counter-attack in his long career.

Dennis Lilee said of him- “I’d like to see him play with a stump- I’m sure he’d do okay since he hardly makes contact with the ball anyway.”

With the emergence of Gavaskar, a nation woke up to the fact that come rain or shine, cricket would always be sunny from then on- as sunny, pleasant and comfortable as a Chennai summer day.

Anil Kumble

Anil Kumble was to bowling what Dravid is to batting. Dravid redefined batting by not playing a shot, Kumble redefined spin bowling by not spinning the ball. Dravid was associated with the straight bat; Kumble with the straight ball.

It is an irony that a man named after a circle (the Anil Kumble circle in Bangalore) preferred to bowl straight. This wasn’t because he couldn’t spin the ball. One of the cleverest bowlers of all time, Kumble estimated early on in his career that a leg break- googly bowler could beat batsmen only half the time- either when he played a leg break mistaking it for a googly or when he played a googly mistaking it for a leg-break. He discovered that if he bowled straight, a batsman playing either for the googly or the leg break could be foxed.

Consequently, his leg breaks never turned. He had a variation- the deadly flipper which was bowled with the same action as the leg break and didn’t turn. In fact, it was identical to the leg break in all respects, except that he called it a flipper.

To understand how this enabled him to get wickets, one should remember again that Kumble was one of the cleverest cricketers to have played the game. Having read in his childhood how Clarrie Grimett used to snap his fingers, thus leading to the impression that he had bowled a flipper, and then bowl a leg break, Kumble used to do the same.

The batsmen, having read the Grimett story themselves, would realise that Kumble was bowling the leg break while pretending to bowl the flipper. However, since they also knew that the two were the same, this paradox would so confuse them that they would be dazed for a while. One second of indecision against Kumble would of course be deadly.

Kumble’s moment of glory came when he took 10 wickets in an innings against Pakistan. The umpiring decisions were all correct, though one of them, that of Akram being given out leg before wicket when Younis was in fact the batsman facing, is sometimes debated.

On Indian tracks against lefthanders in the second innings, Kumble was deadly, especially if the track had stones planted on it at crucial spots. He used to call them his ” precious stones. “

Kumble is particularly noted for his dive. The dive was always like the rotation of the windmill which allows the wind to pass through. Stopping the ball was never the priority. After all, why risk getting injured when the whole team depended on you?

Never one to stand in the way of young talent, Kumble has decided to call it a day when people ask why and not why not. In an announcement that made his sacrifice and quest towards perfection abundantly clear, he said in a recent conference that he would retire after taking eleven wickets in an innings.

When a journalist reminded him that it had never happened so far, he said that that was precisely the reason why he wanted to be the first to do it. Since he had taken 10 wickets in an innings once, he hoped to be able to replicate the feat, since everyone knew that No. 11 was the easiest to get out. His logic was as sharp as ever.

A career that started with a paradox has ended in one- people wonder how this gentle giant, this non-spinning spinner can simultaneously be the proud master of world cricket while being a humble servant of Indian cricket. Such are the questions that this cricketer who had all the answers will leave for us.

All said and done, Kumble is undoubtedly the finest spinner to ever play cricket and the second best leg spinner India has ever produced.

Venkatesh Prasad

Prasad had a fascination for the theory of relativity and spent his career examining whether there was a lower limit for speed. The speed at which Prasad bowled has now been accepted as the lowest velocity possible.

Prasad had a very good record against many batsmen, especially the ones he had never bowled to. Among batsmen he did bowl to, Gary Kirsten was his bunny.

It all started when Prasad bowled Gary Kirsten in the second innings with a ball he bowled in the South African first innings. Kirsten was so bamboozled by this incident that he used to quake in his boots when facing Prasad later on.

Kirsten said once that facing Prasad was his most educative experience on the Cricket field, since he used to read the autobiographies of famous batsmen when waiting for the ball to arrive. He claimed to have read more books in this fashion than in his entire life outside the stadium.

Frequently, Prasad bowled so slow that all six of his balls in the over were in the air at the same time. This enabled India to take 6 new balls. This was his primary contribution to the team and the reason why his slow ball was considered to be such an asset.

Prasad’s batting was less of an asset. In fact, he was such a horrible batsmen that even net bowlers refused to bowl to him, saying they’d rather bowl at the stumps without a batsman.

To improve his batting credentials without taking recourse to any other bowler having to bowl at him, he devised the unique training regimen of bowling in the morning, having lunch and a siesta and returning late afternoon to face the balls that he had bowled in the morning. His batting against himself improved by leaps and bounds. However, facing himself was hardly the ideal preparation to face any bowler who bowled faster than a lethargic snail and consequently, his batting at the international stage hardly showed any signs of improvement.

He worked on his fielding to make up, and toward the end of his career, so improved his fielding that he was able to reach as close to any ball in the outfield as possible without actually being near enough to stopping it. This gave Indian cricket its second enduring image of the 90s along with the Kumble dive, that of the ball crossing the boundary and Prasad running past it just after the nick of time. The distance between him and the ball has now been accepted by physicists as the shortest distance possible.

After a glorious few years, Prasad lost his place in the side when the selectors found out that the years had taken their toll and that he had lost his lack of pace. He announced his retirement when his bowling slowed down so much that he had difficulty in getting the ball to come out of his hand.

Ajit Agarkar

Agarkar is the only cricketer to have his biography started during his playing career. However, the book is yet to be finished because a chapter on three reasons why he’s not a total waste as a cricketer is still not completed even after three months of it having been started.

Agarkar is an animal and bird lover with a particular liking for ducks. A team mate challenged him to eat duck for five meals in a row. He lost the bet, but made amends on the cricket field.

Widely panned for being short and wide all the time, he once bowled eighty balls without even one being short and wide. This was particularly impressive when you consider that all of them were either short or wide. He went for 137 runs, but not before he had demonstrated his point.

As a bowler, his variety was bewildering. His arsenal included bouncers outside off and down leg, full tosses, overpitched deliveries, no balls and wides. He is the only bowler to have achieved the quadruple (the feat of bowling at least one wide each down leg side and outside off stump to both lefties and righties in the same match) 50 times.

He used to practise with a red carpet laid out on the entire pitch. He used to be able to pitch the ball anywhere outside the carpet at will, in keeping with the great traditions of Indian fast bowlers. This used to be called Agarkar’s red carpet welcome to batsmen.

Sachin Tendulkar

Though considered to be among the modern greats, Sachin Tendulkar has many weaknesses.

For example, he is particularly susceptible against fast bowling. Once, Shoaib Akhtar bowled him with a ball faster than the speed of light. Some attributed this to the fact that at those speeds, the mass of the ball becomes infinite, making it impossible to play. Sachin himself came up with the lamest of excuses saying that he had been unable to spot the ball.

His second weakness is a complete inability to play the unplayable ball.

But causing most concern to his fans is that he looks totally lost against both Shane Warne’s doosra and Murali’s googly. In the Adelaide Test match of 2003-2005, Murali bowled him thrice in an innings with a googly. Warne went one better by taking a rare hattrick- he had Sachin bowled, lbw and caught in the deep all in one ball.

Tendulkar’s other main weaknesses are listed below:

1. Can’t play spin

2. Can’t play left arm medium pace

3. Can’t play incoming ball from the right hand medium pacer

4. Can’t play outgoing balls from the right hand medium pacer

5. Can’t play short/full length balls/ yorkers.

Also, he has a tendency to be caught behind when playing on the off side, lbw when playing on the legside and bowled when playing straight.

It is a mystery how he has scored so many runs, one that has baffled analysts for long.

He cannot play under pressure- his matchwinning innings at Sharjah were due to the fact that a sand storm had reduced the atmospheric pressure.

Contrary to poplular belief, he did not play well in the crucial World Cup Match against Pakistan- the Pakistani players are even worse under pressure.

Tendulkar has had a colourful career. His contests with leading bowlers have made compelling viewing though most of them have got the better of him, sometimes using unconventional methods.

Famously, McGrath came up with the ace strategy of bowling to him with an invisible ball. Tendulkar had no answer to that delivery which McGrath insists was an inswinger and was trapped in front of the stumps. It was a victory for the bowler, who prior to the delivery had asked Tendulkar to hit it if he could.

Umpire Buckner was involved in this controversial dismissal. In his autobiography, “A law unto himself”, he mentions that “Tendulkar played down the wrong line”, was “palpably plumb” and that that was “the best ball that he had never seen.”

Tendulkar’s bowling has proved to be very useful. He counts Inzy Ul Haq among his bunnies, a fact which was immortalised in a recent newspaper heading, “End-UL-HAQ kar?”

Such complimentary headings cannot hide the fact that Tendulkar has himself been the bunny of many bowlers- McGrath dismissed him 540 times, which forms a major proportion of his 500 Test wickets. Razzaq, Pollock and Kumble have also had a lot of success against him at the international level.

Surprisingly, Buckner has dismissed him more number of times than even McGrath. What is stunning has been that Buckner has dismissed him in every way possible- many times lbw, equally as many times caught behind, a couple of times for obstructing the non striker, thrice for handling the bat, four times for obstructing the sun, seven times bat before wicket, twice for running on the pitch and once for beating Lara to 10,000 runs.

Buckner has also given him out once, since he predicted that he would show dissent when being given out. Tendulkar promptly protested, thus completely vindicating Buckner’s decision.

In addition, he has also got him out in modes that are too ridiculous to be discussed here.

Rajkamal Vasu

3 thoughts on “Jest Not Cricket – Part I

  1. I quite liked the satire. Is there something on cards about the “swimmer” Mohanty, “gentle giant” Kuruvilla, “no pace” Harvinder. I like these guys because these are the resources Sachin had as a captain. Poor guy Sachin, Murphy’s law always seemed to work for him.

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