Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Three debuts, one highlights package

Three men made their Test debuts at Old Trafford in 1974.The first of the three to make an appearance on my TV screen was Madan Lal, running in earnestly as he would do throughout his career, attempting in vain to dislodge the feisty John Edrich.

Edrich, unlike his fellow left-hander David Gower, bats beautifully in highlights packages that I happen to watch. On this day he made 100 not out, cutting, pulling and picking off his legs with strong forearms and defiant lower jaw. This being a highlights package, and Madan Lal happening to go wicketless, all I saw of his bowling were military-medium long hops.
Set 296 to win on the final day, India was dismissed for 182, with 15 overs left.
Early in India's innings, Mike Hendrick, England's debutant, took a fantastic low catch, diving to his left from backward short leg to send back, appropriately, Eknath Solkar.

Hendrick then took another, much simpler catch, off the shoulder of Gavaskar's bat. Until Chris Old got one to rear in a distinctly ugly manner at his throat, Gavaskar had looked serene and undislodgeable - his 58 contained a couple of superb cuts, one late and one square, off Derek Underwood, and the best shot I've ever seen him play - Bob Willis bowled a fast, full inswinger on off stump, and Gavaskar waited, his feet perfectly still, until the ball pitched next to his right toe, and directed it just wide of gully for four.
Gundappa Viswanath made 50, an innings that the commentator, as was customary in those days, termed 'a brave little knock'. No one says that anymore. And no one calls a Test cricketer 'the Yorkshire skipper' anymore. 

"That brought a big smile to the face of the Yorkshire skipper," the commentator - I'm not sure who - drawled, after Geoffrey Boycott caught Abid Ali, running towards the boundary from square leg with the ball dropping over his shoulder.
Before that, India's debutants had displayed a frightening level of Test match newbieness in the manner of their dismissals. First up, the massively-moustached Brijesh Patel swished at Old without moving his feet from their initial position in his crooked, exaggeratedly side-on stance - the ungainliest, most restricting stance I've ever seen, especially viewed next to the relaxed compactness of Gavaskar's stance or  the potential energy of Viswanath's crouch, perfectly sprung to uncoil into that square cut of his.

Then, Bob Willis bounced Madan Lal, who turned his head away and flailed his bat at the rapidly-rising delivery in the hope of connecting. He managed that, but fell onto his stumps in a disorganised heap. Even tail-enders today look reasonably assured while facing the short ball - this ball must have scared the wits out of the helmet-less Lal, facing someone as quick as Willis for the first time in his life.
What do debuts reveal of cricketers? For Mike Hendrick, this was a Test pretty much like any in his career - four wickets in the match, precious few runs conceded - topped off by that brilliant catch.

Madan Lal proved a durable, if prosaic, international cricketer with averages of 23 and 40 the wrong way around - his batting and bowling will be forever associated with euphemistic adjectives like hard-working and honest.
For Brijesh Patel, this was the dunking in ice-cold water after domestic cricket's lukewarmness that has shocked so many Indian batsmen. Patel ended his career averaging five runs more per innings than Karnataka teammate Viswanath in first class cricket, but twelve fewer in Tests. 

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