Athleticism is the name of the game these days. What used to be a splendid catch few years ago became a great catch few months back. It may well be treated as a regulation catch in the next match. No matter at what speed a batsman hit the ball to long-on, no matter how away from the fielder it was, as a matter of principles batsmen never took more than a single for that shot, never. These days, even if the ball has been hit like “tracer bullet”, straight to the long-on fielder, batsmen always try to steal an extra run (barring R. Ashwin) – damn the principles and traditions. Things are becoming too competitive, too perfect now. It’s quite like Bollywood – most of them have perfect figures and are fast becoming demigods, provided you are not Abhishek Bacchan. Gone are the days when a Sanjeev Kumar with pot belly could not only face the camera but act bloody well also. Out of 10, 8 Indians can claim to look like Sanjeev Kumar but how many can claim to look like John Abraham or Katrina Kaif? Too much of perfection kills reality.
Hence, let’s pay tribute to the imperfection, reality. Let’s pay tribute to players who, when asked “Why didn’t you dive to save that single” or “There were three in it and you didn’t even reach any further than midway, why?” will simply try to kill you with their looks. Let’s pay tribute to XI common men of cricket.
Sanjay Manjrekar - Okay, I am going to choose makeshift openers and SM would be one of them. Because the way he used to run between the wickets, it will be difficult to find batsmen willing to partner. He wasn’t a lazy runner. He wasn’t slow either. And he was definitely not too adventurous while running between the wickets. But somehow, he could never run. Or in other words, he over anticipated his ability to run – always thought he would make it walking but couldn’t even make it sprinting. Out of the 10 matches played by India in CB series-92, he was run out on four occasions. Out of 6 matches he played in WC92, he was run out in 2. 20% of his ODI dismissals came in form of run-outs. Just before the WC92, Tiger Pataudi made a remark that if India wants to win the world cup, Manjrekar would have to give up his habit of getting run-out. SM had a great regard for Mr. Pataudi hence he couldn’t have let him proved wrong – India didn’t win the cup and SM’s running remains history.
Asanka Gurusingha – Walking in his cricket gear, AG often looked a misfit to me. I mean his attire. He would be a misfit in current times when cricketers are almost expected to have six packs. AG would have been much better off in a Koli fisherman’s dress – Lungi and the rest. He possessed the densest beard in his times which coupled with chubby cheeks, made it difficult for him to spot the ball unless it was coming directly at him. Hence it impacted his fielding in the slips. With tummy big enough for Tadenda Taibu to hide inside it, he found it difficult to field anywhere else either. But he batted well, really well. That is because the ball was coming at him and his beard, cheeks and tummy couldn’t be any hindrance. Maybe he should have been a wicketkeeper who always stood tall and covered the area between leg-slip to first-slip alone – his size would have done so. His white dress could also have acted as a sight screen for the umpires as well.
Vinod Kambli – Vinod Kambli’s biggest contribution to Indian cricket remains his underperformance during 1995-96. His non selection in England tour of 1996 gave us Rahul Dravid. In return, God gave him -Kambli, Andrea. Kambli’s brilliance in the field was first seen in WC92 when he, known for his enthusiasm, consistently over ran the ball. While his batting masked his talent in the field during his second stint with the side but like Samantha Fox’s you-know-what, it couldn’t have been hidden forever. Kambli was known for his flamboyance and he always maintained it no matter what. He is still doing it. Some say, it was his flamboyance which often undid him in the field. After all, how many can adjust their earrings, take out their cap and wear it with flap in opposite direction, take out the book – 1000 ways to celebrate and select the most innovative way to do so before fielding the ball. Not many which definitely included Kambli. Quite ironically, death knell to his career came while fielding when he twisted his ankle – he was fielding as a substitute.
Inzamam-ul-Haq – During last two decades, Pakistani batsmen didn’t fear Courtney Walsh or Curtly Ambrose. Glenn McGrath was a worry but not a fearsome scare. They played Warne with ease. What worried them most was – what if Inzi comes as a runner? Rumor has it that Inzi is behind Afridi’s 16 retirements – “Inzibhai bolte hain ki mujhse ek baar to apni running karwa lo. Ab bhai ko mana karo to unka dil dukhega, na karo to apna record thukega. Isse accha retire hi ho jao. Na rahega baans, na bajegi baansuri” (Inzi often asks me to let him act as my runner, at least once. If I refuse, he gets hurt. If I don’t, my record gets hurt. It’s better to get retired. If there is no bamboo, no one can play flute)
If Manjrekar was Honda City of run-outs, Inzi was a supersonic jet. He wasn’t a slow runner but the laziest one can ever see. Very often he started to take a run and stopped after a few steps as if he was saying “Hat saala, Itna kaun daudega?” (Move brother-in-law, who will run this much?). It was often said that Inzi was a bad communicator but I disagree. Every time he got run out, all of us saw how well he communicated his thoughts about his partner’s mom and sis. It was also said that he was an awful example for running between the wickets. I disagree – he was perfect. In life, it’s important to know what you should do but it’s more important to know what you shouldn’t. God sent Sachin to score runs. God sent Murali to take wickets. He sent Inji to get run out.
Mohammad Yusuf – Yusuf’s athletic ability was displayed by his running on the ground. Whenever a batsman mistimed his stroke, he ran after the ball, then ran with it and very often beat it before the ball could cross the boundary line. Many a times, he gave it a handicap – allowed it to pass through his legs and then chased it before finally winning the race between him and the ball. A modest man that he is, he just never boasted of this ability of his. His record of beating the ball in its race to the boundary for maximum number of times has totally gone unnoticed in the record books. Running between the wickets was another of his talents. Just that he did a Rahul Dravid – born in an era overshadowed by a bigger legend. Nonetheless, watching Inzi and Yusuf bat together was always a laugh riot for the viewers and a nightmarishly busy time for the third umpire. At least these two made sure that third umpire wasn’t gifted but earned his salary.
Arjuna Ranatunga – Till the time Russell Dwayne Mark Leverock had taken that breathtaking leap of faith to dismiss Robin Uthappa in WC07, Arjuna was the roundest cricketer ever known. 92.78% of Arjuna’s non-boundary runs came while walking, 7% while strolling and rest while jogging. Only once he was seen sprinting and the referee had to abandon the match because of craters left by Arjuna on the pitch. ICC decided to celebrate that day as National Runners Day and requested Arjuna to never run more than the speed of 0.89 centimeter/minute. While fielding, Arjuna would stand upright, legs apart and arms crossed. If the ball went to his left, he turned left and saw it reaching its destination. If the ball went to his right, he turned right and saw it reaching its destination. If it came towards him, he kicked it back to the batsman with vengeance – “How dare you hit it towards me? I am here to lead the side and not to field, you moron. Hit it to my subordinates”. Once during a net session in Kolkata, Arjuna dived full length to take a catch. Japan felt the tremors.
Kamran Akmal – After an hour of pressing my mind, digging out cricket websites, discussing with friends, I couldn’t find a wicketkeeper who would even come close to replacing Akmal in this side. Replacing him with Parthiv Patel would be like asking Nitin Gadkari to replace Usain Bolt. Asking Courtney Browne to replace Akmal would be like asking Guddi Maruti to dance in place of Katrina Kaif in the song “Sheila ki Jawani”. Such is the legend of the man. The man is such a legend. Only reason for me to follow WC11 India-Pak semifinal on cricinfo, even though I was watching it on TV, was to read Kamran Akmal jokes. The jokes about his keeping I mean. This was the reason I followed Pakistan-Zimbabwe match on cricinfo - to read Kamran Akmal jokes. The reason was no different when I followed the match between Kenya and Zimbabwe - to read Kamran Akmal jokes. Such legendary are his keeping skills that if he had started charging for every joke made on him, he would have singlehandedly bailed out his country’s economy out of doom. The rate at which he drops them is phenomenal. God forbid but if ever there is a war between India-Pakistan, I pray to God that entire Pakistani army is injected with Kamran Akmal’s DNA – they would drop all the bombs as soon as they touch it, on their own soil I mean.
Anil Kumble – If you misfielded off his bowling, Kumble would kill you with stare and glare. If he was fielding off your bowling, you might have preferred to kill yourself. Whenever the ball came to him, he would bend down on his knees, put his arms on the ground and grovel. In a way, he made a bridge from his body below which the ball passed. Sources say that Bandra-Worli sea-link was modeled on Kumble’s epic position. No wonder it took a decade to be built – not easy copying something which was perfect. Once the ball crossed him between his legs and arms, he would lie down flat. That was his dive, the legendary Kumble dive which we fondly called Chaupaya. To all his greatness in bowling, Kumble was extremely ugly in his other cricketing skills – batting and fielding. Once, during India’s 2001-02 NZ tour, he tried ducking a knee high full toss and when he saw ball was about to hit the stumps, he did it himself. He was out hit wicket as if he was saying “I am the master of my life, death and stumps behind me”. But the Marilyn Monroe moment in his running-between-the-wickets-career came during a test match in Bangladesh when he could have been run out on both the ends and there was an appeal for both batsmen being run-out at their respective ends. Yet he survived. Or shall I say Bangladeshi fielders were so much caught up in the comedy that they forgot to do their bit in time.
Javagal Srinath – In his days, the biggest prayer by the batsmen was “Oh God, let him field at forward short leg. I can just drop it and run two”. Srinath was a born bowler. He would bowl, bowl and bowl. Even when he was fielding, he would bowl instead of throwing. If he didn’t bowl his throws, he would throw them underarm - from long-on, from deep cover, from deep mid-wicket. I always loved the way he took catches, occasions came far and few though, and the way he ran oscillating to celebrate his achievement. NatGeo often shows some of his fielding moments under the topic – Believe it or not. But the desert to his seven course meal fielding epic was his expressions when he missed the ball. And the desert was served more than the actual meal, much more. We even made a poem for his expressions – as if he was saying
What can I do, I am and stand tall
Look at this cherry, it is so small
Go jump if you think to stop it, I would fall
Why don’t you watch Jumbo and let’s all do a LOL
Monty Panesar – Finally someone from outside the subcontinent makes it to the team but pay attention to the roots, will you? Even if England was bundled out for 15 and opposition was piling on the agony with a score of 800/2, only thing which brought cheers to Barmy Army was the ball being hit in Monty’s direction. Monty the Jhonty as they often called him, was left-handed in every sense – bowled left-handed, batted left-handed, threw left-handed and even ran left-handed. I mean his body was always tilted towards his left side. Maybe it had got to do something with aerodynamics – tilted body is expected to cut air faster than straight body. Just that his efforts for fielding stopped then and there. To Monty, fielding was all about his facial expressions. If Mark Waugh remained cool as ice during brilliant exhibition of his fielding, Monty’s expressions were exactly opposite – maybe hot as Sunny the Leone. His skills weren’t restricted to stopping the ball. He threw as if he was throwing javelin. Someone once asked his coach about Monty’s fielding
Someone – He isn’t the best of outfielders, maybe worse than Phil Tufnell. But how is his catching?
Coach – Excuse me?
Venketesh Prasad – Prasad was the third pillar of Indian bowling attack during late 90s. This means he was the third fielding stalwart his captain needed to hide in the field. He was the tallest in the team. Hence it was quite difficult for him to get down and stop the ball. To his credit, he proved that it wasn’t difficult at all. Rather, it was impossible for him. Ball almost always enjoyed its journey between his legs. We all know about his slow bowling – some of the balls he bowled are yet to reach the batsmen. Only thing which could beat the pace of his bowling could be the pace at which flyovers are built in Mumbai. But his throws gave a tough competition to his bowling as well. If Prasad stopped a ball at the boundary, SRT with his strong arm would run up to him from first slip and throw it back to the bowling/keeping end. This was quite regular scenario in late 90s. If everyone waited for Prasad’s throw, umpires made sure that they took the drinks break between Prasad throwing and his throw reaching the destination. After all, it was their responsibility to see that match gets over in stipulated time.
Ladies and gentlemen, with such a team, entertainment is as guaranteed as death in life.
PS: Pun intended. None of these players were as bad as I described them, barring maybe Kumble. But what’s life without sarcasm and humor?