Monday, 21 April, 2008

The selectors were right, in hindsight

That hoarding went up when Ajay Jadeja was not picked in the test squad touring South Africa in 1996-97. Back then, he was my favourite cricketer, the man who came in at the death during the one-dayers and played nerveless, wristy strokes with the batting equivalent of a lazy drawl.

His stance was one-of-a-kind. Most batsmen tap their bats as the bowlers run in. Jadeja, chewing gum as he crouched low, did this with exaggerated motions of loose wrist and elbow, the bat going up and over his shoulder and back down again repeatedly.

Initially, he’d play with soft hands, dropping the ball square on either side of the wicket and turning the strike over, or, if he hit to a sweeper, walk between wickets, chatting with opponents as he did so.

He had the gift of timing, displayed in on-the-up drives through the covers with a diagonal bat-swing, and glides to the leg-side off his toes, as he sauntered across the crease. He often went the other way, giving himself room to slice the ball behind point.

What made him a delight to watch, however, was his six-hitting. He lofted with neither the power and authority of Tendulkar, or the whippy wrists of Azhar or the full, regal follow-through of Ganguly. He seemed merely to chip the ball, having skipped down the track to get to the pitch, and the cameras hurried to follow its parabolic arc. He hit sixes off spinners and fast bowlers, down the ground, over midwicket, and even behind point off full-length deliveries, with insouciant ease.

While facing genuine pace and swing bowlers in tests, with slips backing them up, his jauntiness seemed to disappear, to be replaced by loose, indecisive play. He played just 15 tests, scattered intermittently among his 196 ODIs.

Amul’s opinion of India’s selectors was shared by a 9-year-old boy in 1996. That boy modelled his street/terrace/backyard cricket stance on Ajay Jadeja, chewed a lot of Big Fun bubble gum, and collected the cricket cards, with pictures in front and – usually, ODI – statistics in the back, which came free with the gum.

Jadeja progressed from being a bronze card in early 1996 to a gold card in late 1999. The year after that he was banned due to his alleged nexus with bookies.

I don’t know if Big Fun bubble-gum is still available, or the cards that came with it. The gum was excessively sugary, and the cards full of inappropriate splashes of garish colour; a lot like limited-overs cricket.

I now truly enjoy only test cricket, and find the shorter versions repetitive and tiresome. However, I have to acknowledge that a one-day specialist making his debut, running 20 yards from mid-off and diving full-length to dismiss Allan Border at the 1992 World Cup, kick-started my love for the game.


sanjuayyar said...

Oh! so it was Jadeja who was your hero is it? I always loved him for the energy he used to bring along on the field, and who can forget the bangalore WC Quarterfinal where he smacked waqar for 22 & 18 in two overs at the death. Twas wonderful! I had my 12th Standard Board exam the next day and as expected, I scored a meagre 40-odd out of 100. But hey, I love limited overs cricket and even the 20-20 format. Cant afford to follow tests big-time now, but that will remain an all-time favourite. Maybe, post-retirement, I can take up test-match viewing as a full-time activity :-)

Ghanshyam Nair said...

I see you're in the process of starting a blog!
The 2003 World Cup final happened the day before my final Physics exam in my 11th standard... I scored 40-odd too, if I remember right, but unlike you, I didn't get to watch a great match... It also gave me the sort of dull headache that can only come from watching every ball of an abject Indian display, lying down with the side of your head on a wooden sofa armrest.

sanju said...

been through the headache experience umpteen number of times watching india put up a spineless performance like a amrutnagar XI side. (we used to play godrej XI at the godrej ground in the night on a flood-lit ground that had a brilliant, even pitch and lush outfield with bondary ropes and the works. in fact, they had dug-outs back then even before the word dug-out was probably invented. as far as my memory goes, we won just one match out of 250 odd matches that we played. but what the heck, playing in whites on a flood-lit ground was more important for us than winning. and everytime we put up a spineless performance. the headache types)
what makes you think i'm in the process of starting a blog? i dare not attempt it with less than par skills. you guys rock. i love the jalsa jilpa guy. he's got some real humour in his DNA. keep blogging da!

Chillpilgrim said...

That one great catch... One great catch... The rest fades into oblivion...