Sep 2000, the first ICC Knockout tournament, the only tournament besides the world-cup to feature all the test-playing nations. India v/s Aus, and after a mini-collapse the new kid on the block, Yuvraj Singh played a gem to score 84 and take India to a then respectable 265. We won that game by 20 runs. Next morning’s TOI headlines screamed “Tendulkar is King, Yuvraj is Prince”. For the curious, SRT only scored 38 in that game that included 3 mesmerizing pulled sixes off McGrath and Co. but he was in a rich vein of form and hence the reference.
India’s tour of South Africa, 2001, Day 1 of the 1st test. Asked to bat on a green-track at Bloemfontein, wouldn’t take extraordinary powers of ESP to tell India would be in trouble. But from a depressingly familiar 68/4, India ended the day at 372/7. Yes, its still 90 overs a day and that run-rate makes sense when you consider it was the test debut of a Mr. Virender Sehwag who scored 105 (173) belligerent runs. Century on debut, that too in a place where we’ve been embarassed with unfailing regularity, was any praise ever going to be enough?! Side-light, SRT scored 155 (184)…err…big deal!
ODI Series, Ind v/s Pak, 2004 and a surprise promotion for India’s wicket-keeper at Vishakkapatnam who responds with a swashbuckling 148. India score a mammoth 356 and win by 58. He goes on to slaughter Sri-Lanka for 183 in a subsequent game and India’s favorite drug is MSD!
These three, without doubt, the superstars of Indian cricket, nay, of India today. Stay on any channel for 5 mins, and see them hawking everything from haircare products to bikes. Their home cricket associations host galas to celebrate their brilliance and resulting success. Their hairdressers get print space on leading dailies and every person who might’ve shared a playground with them goes on record citing how they just knew that their ‘friend’ would make it big. All the undeniable side-effects of being a part of the national team with the greatest fan-following on earth. Nothing wrong with it all. Even my hopelessly biased views cannot claim that the cricketer I hail as the best-ever did/has not enjoyed stardom and milked it to the fullest, be it by selling everything imaginable or getting Italian Sportscars into the country for free.
The first batsman above, while having the odd match-winning performance, has genuine problems against quality spinners and bowlers of decent pace. The Second, a glaring weakness against anything pitched short and into this armpit. Owing to the recent run of scores, most reading this would readily, but it was something that’s always been there, evident to anyone who saw that backfoot move back and never across (which not incidentally is also the reason why he can play those breathtaking slashes over point and thirdman). The third, well, maybe the most popular of the lot, but for me, the least tested, with all his successes coming on home-grown featherbeds. Some very fast bowlers are waiting for him to step out of the comfort of the subcontinent, count on that.
So, whats with the disconnect between talking about their fame and dissecting their technique? Simple, cause-and-effect. Why would they be analyzing their techniques, getting expert advice on where they might be exposed and working on correcting them with painstaking hours in the nets, when they are scheduled to be guest of honor at that local shindig. When every has-been failure of an ex-cricketer who’s earning his living as a parasite on the game today, sings odes to their talent and temperament, why would they consider changing anything about that very technique. In today’s world, ‘superstars’ are constructed overnight. Instant-gratification they call it. But maybe, just maybe, not every individual is born with the temperament that lets you remain grounded when everyone around is comparing you to a certain Australian gentleman with an average shy of 3 figures by just 0.04. And all this before you have even played your first international!
The 3 I’ve mentioned above are exceptionally talented cricketers without a doubt, and they will sort out their technical flaws…atleast to an extent, but the same rigmarole awaits the new crop of cricketers…Munaf, Raina, Uthappa. And it’s essential for Indian cricket that they have some steadying influence to keep them focussed on their game, when every international coach is looking at replay after replay to identify weaknesses.
Like that quote by I don’t remember who…”You’re never as good as they say when you win, you’re never as bad as they say when you lose”