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By Partab Ramchand
At the outset let me make it clear that I hold no brief for those responsible for preparing the dead track at the Sinhalese Sports Club for the just concluded second Test between India and Sri Lanka. For all the big scores and the huge totals the match generally was a big yawn and was hardly good advertisement for Test cricket which is under a cloud these days. Cricket surely is more than just runs and more runs and it is no fun to watch when the bat dominates to such an extent that the first innings of both sides is not completed till the fifth morning and at the end of it all 1349 runs are notched up while only 14 wickets have fallen.
Conversely I suppose it is no fun too when the ball starts to `talk’ from the first morning and batsmen are as helpless as a butterfly in a gale and everything is over in about two days playing time as it happened at Mumbai in the Test between India and Australia in 2004. Sporting tracks that give both batsmen and bowlers a chance and lead to keen contests and much high quality cricket would be ideal but these are not always available.
That said I would like to believe that bowlers take one look at pitches like the one as the SSC and adopt a fatalistic attitude. They seem to give up the moment play starts and the towel is thrown in all too quickly. Captains too decide all too soon to go on the defensive and all this makes it that much easier for the batsmen who already have everything in their favour. After all wickets are obtained largely through batsmen making mistakes and they can make errors of judgment even on shirt front surfaces. If captains and bowlers have a big heart they can work wonders even when conditions are loaded in favour of the batting side.
There have been several instances of batsmen and bowlers braving the odds and coming out on top. For example Indian pitches over the years have been generally perceived to be batsmen friendly or favouring spin bowlers. But then we have had a number of fast bowlers who have enjoyed successful days. Andy Roberts, one recalls, defied conditions not conducive to pace bowling and ended the five-match series in 1974-75 with 32 wickets. Nine years later Malcolm Marshall took 33 wickets in six Tests to spearhead West Indies’ thumping victory.
For me perhaps the best example of a bowler who overcame the conditions and came up trumps was Fred Titmus in the 1963-64 series in India. The pitches in all the five Tests were dead tracks giving no help to bowlers at all. They were tailormade for batsmen and the Indian batting with the likes of ML Jaisimha, Budhi Kunderan, Dilip Sardesai, Vijay Manjrekar, Nawab of Pataudi, Chandu Borde, Salim Durrani, Hanumant Singh and Bapu Nadkarni around was quite strong. Moreover in a needlessly defensive outlook, the Indians fielded batsmen up to No 9 in every game. And yet the stout hearted England off-spinner in a truly marvelous performance picked up 27 wickets just three less than the experienced Indian spin trio of Borde, Durrani and Nadkarni could muster up at prohibitive cost. Not overawed by the strength of the batting or the rather unfriendly conditions Titmus stuck gamely to his task and was well rewarded for his courage, skill and enthusiasm.
Similarly an enterprising batsman too could put the state of the pitch behind him, concentrate on the task on hand and by displaying courage and technical skill can get the better of the bowlers. It is clearly a case of mind over matter for if the batsman sees devils in every delivery then his stay at the wicket could well be limited to a few minutes and not many runs.
One recalls the proceedings in the Test between India and Pakistan at the Chinnaswamy stadium in Bangalore in March 1987. The ball started turning alarmingly from the first morning and with Maninder Singh taking seven for 27 Pakistan were shot out for 116. India fared little better against Iqbal Qasim and Tauseef Ahmed though they did obtain a lead of 29. The spin trio of Maninder, Shivlal Yadav and Ravi Shastri were among the wickets as Pakistan mustered up 249 the second time around. By this time as only to be expected the pitch was turning square and had eccentric bounce and the odds were stacked against India getting to their target of 221. But giving a supreme exhibition of temperament and technique Sunil Gavaskar batted 323 minutes to score 96 to bring India tantalizingly close to victory.
Ultimately Pakistan with Qasim and Tauseef again sharing the wickets won by 16 runs but Gavaskar proved that it is possible to come up with a sizeable score and bat for a longish period even when conditions were heavily in favour of the bowlers. Interestingly enough no Pakistan batsman got a half century and besides Gavaskar only Dilip Vengsarkar then in the form of his life got 50 in the first innings.
I can cite many other examples of batsmen and bowlers who have braved adverse conditions and come good. The point I would like to drive home is that cricketers should not adopt a defeatist attitude the moment they are aware that the conditions are not in their favour. A little bit of grit and enterprise can achieve a lot. Yes, when the going gets tough the tough get going.