Thursday, September 2, 2010

Makarand Waingankar Scores A Bullseye

Posted by Soulberry

In today's The Hindu, Makarand Waingankar pleads the case for serious Ranji Trophy action. We have also done so on TCWJ often with mixed results. One of the reasons we began this blog was to record Ranji and other domestic games. Unfortunately we couldn't quite grab all the matches or keep up. But our promise is to recommence this blog and keep it going.

Waingankar places startling facts before us

In 22 years of first class cricket Sachin Tendulkar has played only 33 Ranji Trophy matches. In 10 years Rahul Dravid has played 100 Tests, but he has played only 10 Ranji Trophy matches. From the year 2000 to 2004 he didn't play a single Ranji Trophy match and in 2005 he played only one Ranji Trophy match. But he is not known to avoid any Ranji Trophy matches.

There's more; in 18 years of his first class career Anil Kumble has never bowled to Tendulkar in a Ranji Trophy match and Javagal Srinath in 16 years bowled to Tendulkar only in the India nets.

In 12 long years of first class career Harbhajan Singh didn't play Ranji Trophy for seven years!

So India's best bowlers — Kumble, Srinath and Harbhajan — hasn't bowled to the top batsman Sachin Tendulkar in the national championship.

and then asks

How do we then expect the standard of Indian cricket to improve?

Cynics may point to India's position at the top of the table to decry the need for Ranji and any domestic cricket at all for the cream players. They might also drop in various excuses such as crowded schedules and IPL and the like,, to argue against Ranji participation.

One of the reasons I have consistently spoken for a concise IPL as against expansion of it is precisely this. The reality is that IPL must be incorporated into the scenario. But intelligently and wisely. Otherwise, all cricket suffers.

The reason many of our young 'Stars' stutter so often is because they lack strong foundations in different aspects of the game - from skills to concentration to courage deriving from having done difficult deeds before.

It is in this regard that I rate Cheteshwar Pujara highly. He is the most completely developed young player in a very long time to emerge out of India and he hasn't played for India seniors yet! Maybe good for him after all but hopefully he isn't allowed to decay.

Coming back to Makarand Waingankar, he advocates the

Australian system

We should analyse the Australian system. In 2004, when Glenn McGrath declared himself fit and available for the national team, he was politely told by the selectors to play club and State cricket to prove match fitness.

It's perfectly understandable for a top player to give Ranji Trophy a miss during the season but some players have very conveniently avoided playing domestic tournaments citing fitness or personal problems very frequently.

The Australian System per se has been debated - suggestions that the chance existence of high quality allowed the philosophies to develop and take credit instead have been put forth - but there is nothing deniable about the importance of the best players mingling with the learners. Not only does that improve the standard of cricket from the learners, it also teaches the senior players about overcoming things they may be struggling with international cricket. Yuvraj is a case in point.

Waingankar elaborates,

In the season of 1979-80 India played 13 Tests — six against Australia followed by six against Pakistan — in India during the winter and one Golden Jubilee Test against England but the Indian players also played Ranji Trophy matches in between Test matches.

Some international players avoid playing for their companies. One of the fast bowlers of the Indian team hasn't turned up to play for his employers since the time he joined them. And hardly anyone plays club cricket.

Sunil Gavaskar, after a gruelling England tour of 1979, was in the maidan tent an hour before the start of the play in the monsoon tournament (Kanga League) in Mumbai. The former Mumbai opener Sudhakar Adhikari tied the nuptial knot at nine in the morning, and rushed to play the Ranji Trophy. He scored a century and returned to the wedding hall in the evening for his reception.

When international players take part in domestic cricket, youngsters get to learn.

Teenager Dilip Vengsarkar learned more about batting watching Gavaskar from the other end for Dadar Union than listening to a dozen coaches. Former India opener Madhav Apte, who toured the West Indies in 1953, played ‘A' division tournaments for 55 years until the age of 71, facing Mumbai Ranji Trophy bowlers without a helmet.

The solution is simple. Like Australian cricket, make playing domestic cricket mandatory irrespective of the stature of a player. Sadly the stalwarts seem to have forgotten that when they were teenagers they benefited immensely by playing with cricketing icons.

The juniors in the Indian team are struggling because they haven't played with the seniors in club or State cricket.

I agree with plenty of that. I myself have opined along those lines. There is the argument of IPL crowding out domestic cricket, but if it is, then steps must be taken that IPL doesn't push out all domestic cricket. IPL must not be the Koel which pushes the pigeons eggs out of the nest, but can be a beautiful songbird in a chorus of others varieties.

I agree with plenty of that. I myself have opined along those lines. There is the argument of IPL crowding out domestic cricket, but if it is, then steps must be taken that IPL doesn't push out all domestic cricket. IPL must not be the Koel which pushes the pigeons eggs out of the nest, but can be a beautiful songbird in a chorus of others varieties.

Having seen the better days of Ranji and participated in its viewing as one of a crowd, I understand the nurturing role Ranji Trophy played to foster essential cricket in India.

Let us make Ranji THE selectorial point for Tests. It doesn't have to be how many T20s you have played or how many ODIs you have played. Rare exceptions may find their way via these routes, but that should not be the norm. It is in the overall benefit of the player and the game of cricket in India to have a sound, well-rounded game honed in a testing, competitive Ranji environment. Also, grounds and pitches must be such that they foster good cricket and allow expression and polishing of all skills - batting, bowling and fielding -while employing them in a fiercely contested match.

Domestic cricket would help develop the temperament required for all situations in international cricket. Of course, when basic material of quality is present, international cricket further hones it. But 95% of the temparement is already seeded-in in the distance between cradle at home and the outer lip of domestic cricket.

Imagine the sad irony if Rohit Sharma plays ahead of Cheteshwar Pujara in Tests!

Rohit may eventually play and play well, but anybody can see he is learning basic stuff on the job and struggling to do so. Something which a dedicated couple of seasons could have helped develop more usefully and less damagingly. But paisa and limelight are strident mistresses...

In a previous posts here, for example in Karsan Ghavri, we have also sought to recall and bring forward the excitement of Ranji matchplay and the benefit accrued by all from them. One recognizes times have changed - one has always been an advocate of allowing necessary hanges to happen which accommodate the needs of time - and therefore structures must change too. I agree, as long as they are beautifully balanced and encourage complete,overall development and also provide maximum opportunities for a satisfactory career in cricket.


Karsan Ghavri

Posted by Soulberry

In a recent conversation with Samir Chopra of Eye on Cricket, Karsan Ghavri's name cropped up from my side. That triggered a few memories - pleasant ones - in me. I thought I'd reord them in this journal before they are completely erased.

Karsan Ghavri was a southpaw. He blasted with the bat as an elegant lefty and bowled left-handed too. It was Ghavri's bowling which brought him into the aforesaid conversation. He could bowl everything - from left arm medium pace swing, equipped with a mean faster one when he was younger, to slow left arm orthodox. He wasn't very tall, but had broad shoulders, wide chest and a huge heart beating in it for his team. There is one curious fact about Karsan Ghavri: he partnered young Kapil Dev in about 27 Test matches in an opening combination and together they never once allowed a century partnership to happen. Now how's that for an effective opening combo? Also, he was the first Indian left arm pacer to pick up 100 Test wickets. But I'm getting ahead of myself here.

Before Kapil Dev launched himself from an Indian cricketing outpost, the philosophy of Indian bowling attack revolved, for some reason, around spin. There was a tendency to reduce opening bowlers to mere ball shine-removers. Rarely were pacers given a complete chance to express themselves with the complete range of skills at their command, especially in Tests played at home. Yet the tribe didn't die out - they simmered like hot embers in the domestic set up and a few of them flared occasionally on the international stage when the wind was just right. It was in such a scenario that Karsan Ghavri played his cricket. Mohinder Amarnath and Madan Lal were his regular partners in the Indian team before Kapil arrived. However, it was mostly musical chairs for the pacers, with spinners claiming first right to bowling slots. So when batting needed to be strengthened, out went a pacer and Amarnath or even Gavaskar doubled up as shine-removers for the odd over or two before spin set in. Those were peculiar times when spinners even opened the bowling for India with a bright red shiny cherry. Today, such a one-eyed philosophy of attack would be considered outrageous...even foolish.

Ghavri's bowling was complimentary to Kapil's, and often the spinners. He may not have picked up international wickets by the bushels but he had a mean faster one...usually a deceptive bouncer...with which he used to rein in the best of the adventurous batsmen who fancied an advance towards him down the pitch. He could swing the ball both ways and when the conditions were favourable, he'd be more dangerous. His career is one where the couple of wickets he'd pick up would be key wickets and at just the right time. Who can forget the role he played in the Melbourne Test in 80-81, which India won to square a Test series in Australia for the first time. His performance in that Test was overshadowed by more spoken about events such as, the Gavaskar Walk upto the boundary line and Kapil Dev's steamrolling of the Aussies despite being in fever. In that match, when Australia needed a mere 143 runs to win, Ghavri came up with twin strikes of John Dyson and Greg Chappell. It need not be emphasized that Greg Chappell was the best batsman of that line-up and Dyson could be a stodgy customer. Kapil Dev then finished up the rest for an Australian total of 83 and a series levelling victory for India.

His other asset was his batting. Not only could he drop anchor usefully to partner in a rearguard action, he could also step on it if required. With Syed Kirmani he formed a doughty lower order unwilling to quit easily. Talking about his batting takes me back to a 1977 Ranji match between Bombay and Delhi at Ferozeshah Kotla which I had the opportunity to watch.

Joga Rao was a good friend of my father. Bombay were coming to Delhi to play a Ranji match. He was due to comment for AIR. Those were the days when the copuntry's best participated in Ranji trophy and took great pride in performing well for their teams. Of course, I understand times have changed and perhaps it may be difficult for newer generations to recapture the excitement cricket enthusiasts used to feel during the Ranji season or understand the same. Ranji matches were fiercely competitive, well attended...I have seen laathis used by securitymen at Kotla during Ranji matches and even minor stampedes when the gates were thrown open for the day. Being a member of a cricket club perhaps was also responsible in bringing the Ranji experience closer to me. There was much discussion on various aspects of all players and collective opportunities were sought for a club excursion to watch the matches. But I also had a cricket loving father and his group of cricket frenzied friends as well. So domestic season was as important as the international one.

There was some needle between Bishan Bedi and Sunny bhai before this Ranji encounter. At least the media was leading everyone to believe so. There were murmurs about some Indian players and their likely Kerry Packer interests. By some quirk of media reporting, Sunnybhai was cast in the role of a potential mutineer and Bedi was said to be leading the traditionalists. Another media angle, a more muted one, suggested that both Sunny and Bedi were contemplating. One doesn't know what the truth of the matter is, but Sunnybhai wasn't one to let down his country and neither was Bedi. But that's how the media was painting things to be.

Normally, Delhi-Bombay encounters always key up the players and supporters. Under the prevailing rumors and in the light of the upcoming India tour of Australia, Delhi was waiting to give a 'warm reception' to Sunnybhai. The media had done just enough whispering to allow the impression to gain ground that Sunny bhai was on the verge. Another thing, Sunny was still remembered for his Prudential Cup '75 innings.

So when Bedi came on early and bottled him up quickly, nearly all hell broke loose at Kotla. On lithe sardar with a black turban near me was ready at the staricase leading from the ground to the pavilion, ready with some Punjabi fun topoke at Snny as he'd walk up the stairs. Sure enough, that's ow it happened and to the surprise of of all of us, Sunn bhai, instead of ignoring the provocation, stopped and turned dangerously to face the the surdy boy, with a dare to say things on his face. Naurally, surdyboy there leapt back with alacrity. I did say he was lithe. So that was an indicator of the level of interest, competitiveness and involvement of eveybody. It's another matter that Sunny again was dismissed cheaply by Bedi in the second innings and there wasn't so much fuss then.

Delhi itself foundered against Ghavri, Madan Lal fighting to inch Delhi as close to Bombay as possible. Shouts of Maddipa! Maddipa! rang around the Kotla whenever he scored a run and bhangra would break out whenever he boundaried. Maddipa scored 41 valuable runs with Surinder Khanna, the Delhi and India keeper, and the portly Rakesh Shukla, the veteran Delhi leggie who also played one Test for India and was an able batsman as well.

Ranji Trophy had great presence back then and full houses were quite frequent on all days of play. India players took great pride and enjoyed playing for their teams. Especially when teams such as Karnataka, Bombay, Tamil Nadu or any of the Zones were visiting, the crowds would be following on and off the ground, transistor radios to their ears.

Earlier, Surinder Amarnath and Chetan Chauhan had laid the foundation for a total but Hari Gidwani (who later migrated to Bihar and Bengal I think), Jimmy Amarnath, Venkat Sunderam (the long-serving Delhi opener) couldn't quite contribute. It was actually Vinay Lamba, Delhi's middle order batting all rounder who began the fightback, but he too fell after a start.

Coming back to Ghavri, he took six Delhi wickets, constantly pegging Delhi back with critically timed wickets with his wickedish left-arm pace, but Madan 'Maddipa' Lal had still brought Delhi to within 26 runs of Bombay's 317. It was stirring stuff and the crowd was in good, uncynical spirits again. The match was on even keel again after Delhi appeared to have let it slip following Bombay's first innings dismissal for a struggling total. Maddipa had taken three and Bedi, four. Delhi needed to do one better than they did in the first innings and bowl Bombay out to win the match. Batting fourth on the pitch against the likes of Shivalkar would be hellish anyway.

Delhi's spinners struck - between them, Bedi, Chauhan and Shukla snared all but one Bombay wicket. Suresh Luthra snared the one that got away with his medium pace. Bombay were pretty down at one time, regularly losing wickets to be five down for just about a hundred-odd runs. The stands were ecstatic, anticipatory...Delhi were on top. In stepped Karsan Ghavri at six-down, with only a limpid Bombay tail to follow - and he batted!

If there is any innings I reember of anyone, it is this Karsan Ghavri knock. Not just because I had to take swift evasive ation whenone of his sixes thudded into the chair behind me through a trajectory which might have gone dead centre of my face, but because it as singlehanded commandeering of the innings with brilliant farming of the strike. His 70-80 odd came next to no time and I guess his partners didn't score five together! Bombay were living again!

The 200-odd Bombay scored second with the 26 run lead from the first was formidable runs when you consider that Shivalkar (as good or better than Bedi) would be bowling to Delhi in the fourth innings. Covering of the pitch wasn't yet the norm those days and wear and tear made itself felt in the match. Delhi had a solid line-up, but it hadn't clicked....and on top of it, Ghavri was on a high.

Just two blows more Ghavri struck - Chetan Chauhan and Maddipa - Delhi's two Test class players and in-form batsmen, dismissed or a single each by Karsan Devjibhai.

Padmakar Shivalkar feasted on the rest and Delhi was minced meat on theirown skewer and roasted to perfection over coals of anguish.

If I remember Karsan Ghavri for anything, it is this match. It was the highest quality of cricket played and so thoroughly competitive that you could be forgiven to think it was an international match of the calibre of India-Australia or India-Pakitan. Such was the glory of Ranji Trophy at one time and such was Karsan Ghavri.



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