Javagal Srinath: The man who gave pace to India

Blog by: Sougat

Mohammad Nissar played only six Test matches, and all of those in the thirties. The current crop of cricket fans might never have heard of him or known of his furious pace.

Kapil Dev set the trend for Indian fast bowlers in the late seventies and eighties, but for the more keen observers of the game, he was simply a medium pacer with a brilliant outswinger and an even better inswinging yorker.

If anyone deserves the moniker of being a genuine Indian fast bowler, it is the man who shouldered the hopes of millions and carried the bowling attack for much of the nineties.

A man whose lion-hearted performances have led to an Indian victory many times in both Tests and One-day Internationals.

A man who was selfless enough to enable a fellow champion bowler take all ten wickets in a Test innings for the second time in cricketing history.

A man whose decision to retire from Test cricket prompted his captain to request him to re-consider.

Javagal Srinath – India’s front-line fast bowler until he hung up his boots, and the second Indian pacer to take 200 Test wickets after Kapil – was a rare jewel India were fortunate enough to have in their bowling ranks. For far too long, the world’s most populous democratic nation struggled to find a bowler with the pace to match the likes of the West Indian quartet or the Aussie bulldozers Lillee and Thomson.

Until Srinath arrived on to the international scene.

Born on August 31, 1969 in Mysore, Karnataka, the tall, lanky young lad was interested in cricket from an early age. He was an alumnus of Sri Jayachamrajendra College of Engineering, and began his cricket career as a batsman. While playing in a club match, former  Indian batsman Gundappa Viswanath spotted his talent, and recommended him for a place in the Karnataka state team.

In 1989-90, Srinath made his first-class debut for his state, stunning Hyderabad with a hat-trick in the first innings, and following it up with wickets off consecutive deliveries in the second. His first two seasons in first-class cricket fetched him 45 wickets; this was when he appeared on the radar of the national selectors, who drafted him into the squad for the Wills Trophy at Sharjah in 1991.

During his first outing in India colours, the ‘Mysore Express’ bowled with genuine pace against the Pakistanis. He sent down nine overs for 31 runs, and picked up his first ODI wicket by castling Wasim Akram. His next two outings were less impressive as India lost to the same opponents in the final of the Wills Trophy. Nevertheless, he was picked in the squad to tour Australia for a five-match Test series.

The lanky pacer took the wicket of Geoff Marsh in his debut Test at Brisbane in November 1991. He finished with 3/59 in the first innings and went wicketless in the second as Australia won by ten wickets. He played in the remaining matches without success, but won his first Man of the Match award for a magnificent spell of 4/33 against South Africa in Cape Town.

After returning to India, the youngster was kept out of the team for seven of India’s home Test matches; the spin-friendly wickets on offer were the cause for this decision. He returned to the domestic arena and plied his trade there, and was recalled to the national side for the 1992 World Cup, where he took eight wickets as India had a dismal campaign.

In late 1994, the veteran Kapil Dev, having crossed 35 and no longer the penetrative force he once was, announced his retirement from international cricket. At 25, the young Srinath became the spearhead of the Indian bowling attack, playing alongside his state-mate and best friend Anil Kumble. It gave him an opportunity to emerge out of Kapil’s shadow and show the world what he could do.

And he did it in style. The South Africans will attest to his unplayable display at Ahmedabad in 1996. Chasing 170 to win the match, none of the batsmen, save for skipper Hansie Cronje, were able to cope with the stinging pace of Srinath’s deliveries. He had added swing, off-cutters and leg-cutters to his arsenal, had greater control over his line & length and a well-disguised slower delivery. It, therefore, came as a shock to the Proteas – four of them fell for ducks to the fiery bowler, and he added two more to his tally to finish with 6/21, helping India to win by 64 runs.

Any doubts the Indian cricket-loving public had of Srinath were washed away by his spirited performances. He also improved in his batting, scoring 60 and taking five wickets against the West Indies at the Wankhede Stadium as India won by 96 runs. While Kumble’s shoulders were bearing the brunt of spin duties, Srinath remained India’s only quick bowler despite the arrival of seamers Venkatesh Prasad and, briefly, Salil Ankola and Abey Kuruvilla.

The period between 1995 and early 1997 saw a frightening increase in the bowler’s pace. He joined Gloucestershire to get a feel of English conditions, and took 87 wickets for the county, including 9/76 in a match against Glamorgan. On the return tour to South Africa in early 1997, his speeds were timed in excess of 150 km/hr, almost similar to Allan Donald or rookie pacer Lance Klusener.

It looked like everything was going great guns for the pacer. His heroics in the Titan Cup – most notably with the bat – are legendary: watched by their mothers, Srinath and Kumble proceeded to stage one of India’s greatest ODI comebacks against Australia at Bangalore, winning the game by just two wickets. Both friends even got married on the same day.

And then came the injury that would put India’s premier fast bowler out of action for a long time. A torn rotator cuff, which he had sustained in September 1996, necessitated surgery on the shoulder. Following the successful operation, Srinath re-emerged to lead the bowling again, even clocking speeds of over 140 km/hr on more than one occasion, and in the lead-up to the 1999 World Cup, he was the only bowler capable of coming close in velocity to tearaway Pakistan bowler Shoaib Akhtar.

Srinath had also suffered the agony of watching Pakistan score a come-from-behind win in the Asian Test Championship after his ferocious opening spell had reduced them to 26/6 – he eventually took 5/46 in the first innings. In the second, he did much better, picking up 8/86, but Saeed Anwar’s glorious 188 held him at bay, and India eventually crumbled to 232 all out, losing by 46 runs.

In January 1999, India toured New Zealand for three Tests and six ODIs. In the third and final Test match at Hamilton, Srinath made his highest Test score of 76 not out in a partnership of 144 with state-mate Rahul Dravid (190), in addition to his 5/95 in NZ’s first innings. He took only one wicket in the second innings as Chris Cairns made 126, but centuries from Dravid and Ganguly ensured that India escaped with a draw.

After India’s flop show at the 1999 World Cup, Srinath’s pace declined, and he was reduced to a pale shadow of his former self. Nevertheless, he took 6/45 in the first innings against New Zealand at Mohali after his side were bundled for 83 by Dion Nash. India eventually drew the match after Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid scored centuries in the second innings. He did nothing of much note in the rest of the series, which his side won 1-0.

With the arrival of young fast bowlers Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra, Srinath switched into the dual role of spearhead and mentor as he continued to cope with the workload of being the premier pacer in the side. He finally called time on his Test career in 2002, and finished his ODI career at the 2003 World Cup final, where he conceded 87 runs in his 10 overs despite bowling extremely well right throughout the tournament.

Since then, the pacer has donned the role of ICC match referee and has been appointed secretary of the Karnataka State Cricket Association, with Kumble serving as president. He has been described by former Pakistan captain Imran Khan as the most grossly under-rated bowler in cricket, and in many ways, this statement was proven true.

Had it not been for persistent injuries and the immense workload that he had to bear, Javagal Srinath would easily have played for a few more years. He may have stepped away from international cricket, but his exploits will live on forever.

Happy Birthday, champ!

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