Well, it was special. As if the good old 90s were back. Such was the form of Sachin Tendulkar. This post is not about that 163 but something we all know very well. If it wasn’t him, probably the game of Cricket was headed the hockey way in this country. If you ask me why, go find out the number of cricket followers in India who started following cricket since Sachin’s debut series in Pakistan in the 1988-89 season and have followed only Sachin till the Dravids, the Gangulys, the VVS’ made there place cemented in the side. Okay, there was scintillating greatness of Azharuddin or brilliance of Ajay Jadeja or brief hope of another batting great making his mark – Vinod Kambli or the great Anil Kumble. But it was Sachin who carried the entire game on his shoulders. Rest were either too small in front of him or they were generally a waste.
Here is an attempt to form a team from 90s (1990 – 2000, with a little deviation) which has following selection criterion – the player must have represented India either in ODIs or tests, it’s based totally on my memory of those forgettable defeats hence as a disclaimer you can assume that I am exercising my right to freedom of speech.
1. Debang Gandhi – Debang Gandhi hailed from the state of Bengal where it is rumoured that bowlers were not allowed to bounce a ball above batsman’s knees because of some princely orders. Fielders never chased the ball as they all were emulating their Prince.
So, when Debang Gandhi made a duck in his first test innings on a watery pitch and went on to score 75 as the pitch eased out, people should have learnt something. However, Gandhi must have thought he fell just 25 short of doing a Gundappa Vishwanath.
When he travelled to Australia with an average of 50 and hit an off drive to mid off, he did something which he had never done in his life. He actually not only saw Greg Blewett chasing a ball but also throwing it back with full power too from 100 yards. Just that he kept seeing it, did not run fast enough and got run out. He got caught on a bouncer by McGrath in such an insulting manner that he decided to quit test cricket. I mean selectors did it and he never played for India again.
Claim to fame - He still holds the record of only player in 90s team India (apart from Sachin) to try running four runs on a single shot. Just that he did not realize people can still hit the stumps direct from more than 100 yards and got run out on forth run.
2. Vikram Rathod – Jayasuriya’s penchant for Manoj Prabhakar’s bowling and Navjot Sidhu’s dislikes for any sane mind, this time Azharuddin, meant that there were lots of new faces to be introduced in India’s tour to England. After the man with densest beard in Indian cricket (perhaps only non-Sikh bearded man) Chetan Sharma bowled the most famous full toss, no one could dare to keep a beard in India. Vikram Rathod brought back that tradition. To his credit he did score heavily in domestic cricket for his home team Punjab but that was probably the only team he scored for. For some reasons, he could never play out swing bowling. However, it was discovered later that his beard blocked his view for playing away going deliveries.
Claim to fame – A beard denser than Sidhu.
3. Gagan Khoda – Since we have already flooded the team with two scintillating openers, Khoda would have to come at three. His cricinfo profile page says about him – “He was probably the best of the new openers which India had tried out. “. Well if he was one of the best, I don’t want to imagine about the rest. If you have seen Hurman Baweja’s victory, you would have noticed that Vijai Singh Sekhawat’s character was straight copy of Khoda. Both played from the state of Rajasthan and both played only two shots – a lofted on drive and a cover drive. It was alleged that he always featured in the top 16 because he knew some Rungtas. Obviously these allegations were proved baseless when he scored a scintillating 89 in Bangalore against a challenging Kenyan attack at a strike rate of 69 in 1998. However, he did not get any chances after 1998. Coincidently, list of Indian selectors doesn’t feature anyone named Rungta after September 1998 also.
Claim to fame – Once he played a square cut off Hasibul Hossain (Bengladesh) to the vacant space between keeper and first slip. He got 4 for it.
4. Hrikesh Kanitkar – Well, may be S Somasunder would have made it in place of him by some distance. But how many openers, with Gagan Khoda being best of the lot as claimed by cricinfo, we can have in one team. In addition, Somasunder got only two chances that too against bowling attacks of SA and Australia. Kanitkar, as Ravi Shastri would put it, announced himself to international cricket with a thumping boundary in Dhaka to win India the final against Pakistan. India, not being a thankless nation, paid him back with 34 ODIs and two tests. A left handed batsman who averaged a boundary higher than Zaheer Khan (18 against Zaheer’s 14, may be it was that famous boundary which game him the edge), decent fielder and an off spinner who once got Steve Waugh stumped, Kanitkar did play 2 tests a well in Australia although his expression against Warne and McGrath were – Please forgive me, I am forced to be here.
Claim to fame – Apart from the famous boundary, he did score 45 in a test in Australia. Shane Warne might have bowled batsmen out between their legs, but he could not get Kanitkar bowled even though Kanitkar did throw a challenge to him by keeping his bat and pad at least 3 meters away. Only time I have seen a top order batsmen more so helpless against a bowler was when Alan Mullaly bowled to S. Ramesh in 1999 world cup. But to Ramesh’s credit, Mullaly was a fast bowler.
5. Vijay Bharadwaj – Such was our fixation with Kapil Dev that any one who could score a few runs and role his arm over was immediately compared with him. It still holds true. Vijay Bharadwaj, as Ravi Shastri would put it, announced himself to international cricket with a Man of Series Award. Soon, he was seen as next Kapil Dev. Hey but Kapil Dev bowled medium pace and Bharadwaj was an off spinner. So what, people said, with age the pace has died down and new Kapil Dev is an off spinner. The faster he came, the faster he went to the place he truly belonged i.e. domestic cricket. And to his bad luck, he came in 1999-2000 and things started changing after 2000. So he never got a second chance. Well if things were a little better, he might not have got the first one also. His staggering physique made serious challenges to Venkatpathi Raju’s world record of being world’s thinnest cricketer alive.
Claim to fame - His looks almost got him an offer for a movie in Kenya. Okay, I cooked this up. He hit a six in a match against Kenya and people thought someone had thrown the ball into the crowds because Bharadwaj wasn’t visible from the distance of 75 yards. Even field umpires had to wear magnifying glasses to see him.
6. Sunil Joshi – After recording astonishing figures of 10-6-6-5 against SA, Joshi spent more time in watching the videos of those match like a retired colonel watches his old medals. He was criticized for being too slow in the air, a criticism Harbhajan would die to get and having no stomach for fight. Well when you travel 40 miles up and down in childhood for practice, you shouldn’t be criticized like this. I travel 35 KMs up & down everyday for bread earning and how I wish if I could do without a stomach. Joshi looked like as if he is pleading for retirement in his very first match. He was the last decent batsman left when Sachin got out in Chennai and India needed only 17. When entire country was following Sachin, Joshi decided to do the same - to follow Sachin to the pavilion. India lost by 12 runs.
Claim to fame – Joshi did get an offer to play in t20 IPL for their test side – Royal Challenger. While fielding on sweeper cover, he looked like a retired professor in Lage Raho Munnabhai who comes to collect his pension but is made to run by the babus.
7. MSK Prasad –In the decade in which India tried wicket keepers after wicket keepers after their ace keeper was alleged to be involved in fixing matches, MSK Prasad is a name which must feature in this line-up. He broke the myth that wicket keepers need to be short. He also broke the myth that wicket keeping means you must catch the ball. Sachin Tendulkar was blessed to have a gem like him behind the wicket and MSK has the credit to bring the worst out of Sachin on camera. Once MSK missed a gentle throw from Sachin at mid wicket and missed a run out chance when both batsmen were doing a middle pitch smooch. Sachin was caught on camera with such an angry face that we could all make out the words he was shouting. Obviously, I cannot write them here. But yeah, it was deliberate from MSK’s part to show people like me – “See, your God is not a God. He is also a human and does lose temper. And he does talk about my mother“
Claim to fame – He took 15 catches in his carrier. What is so special about it? Well for him, even one would have been his claim to fame.
8. Noel David – His off spin spun so fast and sharply that selectors though he would be the best option to replace Srinath’s in-cutters. So he was sent to West Indies when Srinath got injured. He is the only off spinner to have ever replaced a pace bowler. He nearly missed the flight to West Indies because he thought it was a prank played by someone regarding his selection. It was only when saw the captain on TV, Sachin Tendulkar asking a reporter – “Who is this Noel David that they are sending?” Noel boarded the flight. He played a few ODIs and more than bowling or batting, it was his fielding which hogged the limelight. Well, he was misfit in a team boasting of Venkatesh Prasad, Kuruvila, Siddhu, Kumble and Ganguly hene could not have stayed just because of his fielding.
Claim to fame – He made it to the Indian team. Is that not enough? Okay, he was the strangest selection ever in a cricket side, especially Indian.
9. Nilesh Kulkarni – He is the only Indian to have taken a wicket on his very first ball in test cricket. Just that the second wicket came after 4 years which was his last wicket. Nilesh Kulkarni, a veteran in domestic cricket, looked like right out of Sunil Joshi’s leagues – asking for retirement in the debut match. He was so tall that he should have been a fast bowler. He was so thin that everyone wondered how he could even bowl and make the ball cross 22 yards. But he did well in domestic circuits and he should have remained there. May be he is still playing. May be he will still be playing when Suresh Raina retires.
Claim to fame – He made the biggest contribution to India’s most famous series win. He got Matthew Hayden out in Chennai test in 2001 and bowled 30 overs from one end so that Bhajji could take 8 wickets from the other end. Doesn’t matter how he bowled. Someone had to bowl and Kulkarni did.
10. Bhupinder Singh – Time for some pacers in the side. Bhupinder singh makes easily into the side beating the likes of David Jhonson, Kuruvilla, Thiru Kumaran, just because of his unique action which was stranger than Noel David’s selection. He used to run in a bit faster than Mohinder Amarnath, spread his both legs at the crease, moan as if he was getting some orgasmic pleasure and deliver it gently. I mean bowl. He was never given a chance after he got hammered in his second match against Pakistan in Sharjah. Thank god he always bowled from wide of the crease. Had he got McGrath like close to the stumps action, a mistimed jump with open legs could well have taken him onto the stumps. Ouch!!!! “Go back and try again” is what his captain would have said.
Claim to fame - Only bowler to bowl with legs wide apart - Really wide apart.
11. Prasanth Vaidya – The second pacer spot goes to Pranasth Vaidya, a player who doesn’t seem to have given enough to cricinfo to write in his profile page. The gist of the page is – “Yeah there was someone by such name. We cannot recall clearly. But he did play some tennis ball cricket.” Okay, international cricket. But I remember him clearly. He was the one who exposed MRF pace academy’s training standards when he regularly surprised batsmen at the international arena by never ever pitching the ball on the seam. BCCI acted on Vaidya’s sting operation and made MRF work the way it was supposed to. Improvements followed and Vaidya disappeared like a silent well wisher.
Claim to fame – He was once sent as a pinch hitter at number 3 against SA. And he did strike 2 4s. That was the only time he batted in that spot. Actually may be that was the only time someone thought he could bat. That ‘someone’ even surprised Vaidya.
Missing out –
Venkatesh Prasad – a medium pacer who bowled so slowly that batsman had to go to his end to hit the ball. In addition he was such a great fielder that even Anil Kumble looked like Suresh Raina in front of him. But Prasad has been CEAT cricketer of the year once and has given some wonderful performances. So he is number 12 purely on the basis of his fielding.
Pravin Amre – A likely candidate but he has a ton on debut in Durban against SA - so not in the side.
Ajay Sharma – Well, he couldn’t fix his place here.
There were a few more.
Most of the players have terrific record in domestic cricket. Most of them didn’t enjoy today’s policy of persisting with players and were dropped even after one or two outings. May be they were better players if given sufficient chances. But this is my space and my thoughts.
Its a work of fiction plus facts and aim is to incite humour. Any sentiment hurts are regretted.