” In the 1983 World Cup final, that exquisite square-drive off Roberts executed going down on a knee … timeless and heavenly … I will take that to my grave.” M P Anil Kumar on the one-man cavalry that was Kris Srikkanth.
Both Imran Khan and Vivian Richards, the skippers of Pakistan and West Indies respectively, dittoed: If we knock over Srikkanth cheaply, the Cup should be ours. Kapil Dev, the Indian skipper, was equally emphatic: If Srikkanth strikes, there’s no stopping India. With three crackerjack half-centuries from five matches, and being the top scorer of the World Championship Cup in Australia (February-March 1985), it was but natural for all three skippers to identify Srikkanth as the likely match-winner in the Rothmans Cup played at Sharjah in November 1985.
In the event, Srikkanth flopped (4 runs vs Pakistan and 6 vs West Indies) and India bit the dust. It was so typical of the man: Belying his billing came so naturally to him. But that’s how he played cricket.One could not utter consistency and Srikkanth in the same breath. Though he made his one-day and Test debut against England in November 1981, Krishnamachari Srikkanth barged into the national consciousness with three swashbuckling knocks of 57, 95 and 92 in the three-match one-day series against Sri Lanka in September 1982. The crux of his batting was that it’s so uncomplicated, built on the bedrock: You bowl, I hit!
At the crease, he fizzed with nervous energy
Gifted with a good eye, quicksilver reflexes and sharp instinct, effervescent with aggression, his buccaneerish batting enthralled Indian cricket fans for ten years. Many wannabe cricketers might not have idolised him, but I dare say every Indian cricket fan adored him. He was likened to Mad Max for his free-spirited batting! While he was at the wicket, the buzz in the stadium resonated. Much like Virender Sehwag today, he entertained and electrified the spectators. This crowd-puller brought hordes to the stadium, and boosted television viewership.
Like a revolutionary, he challenged the prevailing batting idiom of keeping the ball on the ground or skimming it. And he upturned the very concept of opening the innings. He pioneered hitting over the top, and square cutting the ball for six was no more viewed as profane! He, the dasher, became an ideal foil to the conservative opener Sunil Gavaskar. A pair like yin and yang. To borrow from Raymond Robinson, they were a pair as dissimilar as curry and rice, and just as effective in combination.
While at the crease, he fizzed with nervous energy. Every now and then, as if willed by a puppeteer, he would mosey towards the leg umpire, backtrack, screw up his muzzle, sniffle, twirl his bat, arch his legs and resume his hunched stance. That so many imitated his mannerism was an endorsement of his popularity. In all, Srikkanth played three World Cups, 23 matches, with two fifties (both in 1987). His high point was surely clobbering 38 runs to top score in the 1983 final. While the stunning running catch by Kapil Dev, Balwinder Sandhu bamboozling Gordon Greenidge and Mohinder Amarnath snaring Michael Holding leg before are signature images of the final, I never tire of watching Srikkanth hooking Andy Roberts for four first, then a six, upper-cutting Joel Garner and walloping Holding for boundaries.
Finally, that exquisite square-drive off Roberts executed going down on a knee… timeless and heavenly… I will take that to my grave.
The trailblazer whose exploits were replicated by the Jayasuriyas, Gilchrists and Sehwags.
By 1989, Wasim Akram had the measure of him. Though he revived his faltering career with couple of fifties in the historic tour of South Africa to India in 1991, he could never get going in the 1992 edition of the Cup. In fact, the way he uncharacteristically idled, laboured and let the grass grow under his feet at Wellington against the West Indies (40 runs off 70 balls), this fan knew his famed eye, reflex and instinct had withered. His time was up. Cricket pundits haven’t given him his due on two counts.
One. The opener himself being the pacemaker. Those days, the norm was to preserve wickets and to use the long handle in the home straight. As an opener, he took advantage of the fielding curfew and played the lofted shot to destructive effect. He was the trailblazer, and the Greatbatches, Jayasuriyas, Gilchrists and Sehwags just replicated his exploits.
Two. Well before the term ‘pinch-hitter’ travelled from baseball to cricket lexicon, Srikkanth had successfully experimented with one. He captained India in the Nehru Cup (October-November 1989) organised to celebrate Jawaharlal Nehru’s birth centenary. The Graham Gooch-led England set India 256 runs to win the league match.
At 65 for 2, Srikkanth took a gamble and asked Chetan Sharma to have a go at the English bowlers. Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, who was commentating then, seethed with indignation and pilloried the ‘batty’ skipper for not sending in the regular two-down Dilip Vengsarkar. It turned out to be a masterstroke. Chetan Sharma notched up his maiden ODI century (unbeaten 101 off 96 balls) and steered India to a 6-wicket victory. Srikkanth jigged, Pataudi ate crow.
The one-man cavalry of Indian cricket.
Four tons, 27 fifties, 4,091 one-day runs at an average of 29 do not make great career statistics. (Incidentally, he felled batsmen 25 times — most of them caught near the boundary! — with his off-lollies, including two five-wicket hauls; even the great Kapil Dev had just one five-for to show for his tireless toil and sublime skills!)
Pakistan, in a crucial Nehru Cup match against India, tallied 279 runs, the highest total in the tournament. Enrapturing the chock-a-block Eden Gardens’ spectators, the openers Srikkanth and Raman Lamba paced the run-chase superbly with a stand of 120 in 21 overs. Then at 132, Srikkanth attempting a second run, slipped, stumbled, and got run out for 65 runs. (The rest fell like ninepins, and India were bowled out for 202.) This Calcutta innings aptly summed up Srikkanth. He promised much, but often slipped and disappointed. Yes, belying his billing came so naturally to him. Hold on. For his ardent fans like yours truly, Kris Srikkanth was too larger than life to be captured in numbers, analysed numerically and assessed. After all, how can anyone quantify the indescribable delectation he gave his fans.
Given his natural abandon, we knew there would be more misses and less hits. The day he hit up, my word, he would be a one-man cavalry that trampled and crushed the opponent underfoot. And such a blinder was worth the wait. The Indian cricket fans must be hoping that the now goateed motormouth, the top selector, hasn’t slipped with the composition of the Indian team for the World Cup.