Or should I really begin with dear Javagal , for to me there are two of you out there – Srinath , the mild mannered instrumentation engineer and Javagal , the wily , menacing pace bowler who used to outthink and outsmart the best batsmen on their day.
My first memory of you is from that titan cup match against Australia where you and Kumble fought against the odds like two clumsy circus fools finding their way through the tight rope. I think it was a few months after the 96 world cup and I had by then been firmly addicted to the siren song thats cricket. I don’t remember much about the match except for Sachin’s 88 and your partnership. I remember elders in my family joking that your families were probably chanting slokas nineteen to the dozen hoping that your luck continued to shine and took us across the finish line. I now realize that it was not luck but sheer determination that got us home that day.
My next memory of you comes from that Ahmedabad test few months later where I pleasantly surprised by the score card reading 0-2 thanks to you. I later learned that you were reverse swinging the ball that day , which is a skill thats still largely mastered only by our feuding neighbors. You became my hero after that spell but then you got injured the next year and fell of my pedestal which has been largely occupied by Rahul Dravid ever since.
I now understand that the 1997 injury was scary and that when you came back , you were not the bowler you were thanks to the Injury. At least this is what I keep hearing from peers and fellow cricket nuts at college . The next three years are frankly a blur. You missed quite a few matches but when you did play there were quite a few good memories here and there – A five for against New Zealand , the 200th wicket at Sharjah (?) and then that comeback to the Indian side for the champions trophy final against Srilanka that was rained out. I still remember your figures from that first rained out final . You went for 6 odd runs and I was like no way this oldie is going to South Africa but prove me wrong you did and in such a spectacular way that I was forced to eat my words until that day in March about a year and half ago when you and Zaheer went bust against Australia. Maybe I should not have worn that India Jersey that day. If I hadn’t may be Javagal would have come out and made the opposition cry. But Javagal didn’t come back. He pulled up his boots eight months later without bowling a single ball after that final.
I have since gone back and read about the previous games. I’ve talked to my dad and my peers who have sung paens to you and have told me how effective you were in overseas conditions. They lament that you were overworked and you let yourself be abused in such a manner for the better of the country and they hope and pray that the same won’t happen to Zaheer ( who has come back from an injury)
Today , we won a test match in Bombay and Zaheer Khan bowled 8 overs and got two wickets and that was the extent of his spell. I wonder how many overs you would have bowled had you played today. I don’t know . I had no chance of knowing because you retired less than a year ago and I guess I will forever hold it against you for not avenging that defeat to Australia in South Africa .
I guess Zaheer will have to do it for you. He is not the experienced statesman that you are , not yet anyway. He is a left arm pace bowler and you are a right hander. He was the terrific understudy and hunting partner but you were the elder statesman and the kingmaker. He leaked a lot of runs during that World Cup final and you leaked a lot of runs during that World Cup Final. However only one of you will play the 2007 world cup in the land of the calypso.
They tell me Zaheer is also an instrumentation engineer like you. They reassure me that Zaheer will grow and become better. They say that he has an abundance of natural talent that you lacked in and that they will write calypsos about Zaheer as he swings his heart out on our way to the final. That image makes me smile. I hope to god that statement comes true. I hope that Australia will make the final in 2007 , I hope and pray that we do too and in that final I hope for Zaheer to get those wickets and then thank you and say “This is our revenge” – and somewhere in the calypso that is written for Zaheer Khan , I wish for a line or two about you , praising your talent and lamenting the fact that it was recognized only when you were gone too long.
PS : Someday I hope to meet you. In my head it is always at a place bustling with people moving frantically , going about their day to day lives , like an airport lounge or a coffee shop.You would be going through your motions too , no longer the wily bowler who nearly won us a world cup . I will approach you with caution and introduce myself as a fan and then say “Thank you! Thank you for going on when the rest of us didn’t bother to acknowledge you . Thank you for going there and bowling your heart out and thank you for making sure we have fast bowling riches to be proud of.” and then I will walk away with the satisfaction of a fan who finally got the chance to acknowledge your feats and pay her dues.
PPS : Except for the postscript , this blog post was written sometime in November or December 2004 , after a test match win against Australia in Bombay . The only edits I did today was to correct the tenses used and update my dreadful punctuation. When I wrote this blog post I did know about the pre 96 Srinath, but not a lot and I did not know that Zaheer would become the great he did. I also did not know that we would fizzle out of 2007 WC the way we did. This post has been languishing in my blogspot drafts for more than a decade until a photo of Srinath shared by Sachin , nudged me along and made me revisit this . I am posting this unedited , as @ungaaya asked me to. I will probably publish a revised version later , adding to the pre-96 Srinath era that I am familiar with now thanks to youtube , ten cricket and all that Jazz. I will also edit the post for the things that have happened since Nov-Dec 2004.