INDIAN CRICKET: THE NOSTALGIC 90s.........WITH A BIT OF 80s THROWN IN

FIRST HUGGER CHEEKA

Krishnamachari Srikkanth was India's opener for most of the 80s. He was generally in & out of the test team but a regular in ODIs. He had many tics when batting. He would scratch his nose, walk to square leg, twirl his bat and snort regularly. He would also do then unconventional things like going over the infield in the first few overs. His ODI strike rate was 71.74 which seems very low today but it was really good back then. Gordon Greenidge's was just 64.92 for example. For a few years, his 4091 runs & 4 100s were most by an Indian in ODIs. Seems so comical today what with SRT having scored 18000+ runs & 49 100s.

A less known thing about Srikkanth, well known to TN cricket fans, is that wherever he might field, he would be the first person to go and hug the bowler who got the wicket or the fielder who caught the ball. You can look it up on Youtube or whenever any old India cricket match is on TV and verify this. He'll be in deep backward square leg or deep third man and Kapil Dev will have the batsman nicking the ball to Kirmani. Before Gavaskar, at first slip, could hug Kirmani, Cheeka will run faster than Usain Bolt & beat Gavaskar to the hug. Hence, the name First Hugger Cheeka.

THE KUMBLE DIVE

Anil Kumble, the leg straighter. Straighter because he never spun the ball. Kumble was called accurate, unerring, relentless and every other synonymous adjective which are usually euphemisms for sports people who are really boringly painful to watch. If the pitches weren't koththi-uttufied (dug up with cracks), Kumble was automatically neutralized. The accuracy bit becomes even more tragicomic when you realize that flamboyant Shane Warne's career economy rate (2.65) was a shade lower than Anil "Mostus Accuratus" Kumble (2.69) for similar number (~40K) of balls bowled.

Anyway, we'll discuss the merits and demerits of Jumbo another day. Today, we remember his athletic ability to dive when he fielded. Kumble was a masterful diver who had the best timing. Best timing here means to dive after the ball goes past you and you aren't fast enough to catch it but still dive anyway to show "commitment". It was uncanny. He would crouch, walk forward, anticipate and with the un-cat like reflexes he possessed, watch the ball go past him. He would immediately dive instead of chasing it and turn a potentially 1-run saving situation into a guaranteed boundary. 

JOY-SUREE-YUH & VENKY BABU

Venkatesh Prasad was probably the first Indian bowler who had a consistently good slower ball with a very good disguise. At times, dare I say, it was in the Wasim Akram league. Calling him medium fast was almost pushing the limit but it was juuuuuuuuuuuuuuust fast enough to fool most batsmen. Then, he lost pace. The "fast" ball and "slower" ball became indistinguishable and batsmen just started playing him like a spinner.

I still like Venky Babu. He always brought the goods against eternal enemies Baagisthaan Theeviravaadhees. Unfortunately, he was as bad against the guy Tony Greig used to call Joy-suree-yuh as he was good against the old enemy. This was the script followed to the T:

  • India will win the toss and bat
  • Vaas will account for Tendulkar within the first 5 overs and India will collapse
  • Jadeja-Robin Singh will bat for 25 overs as though they're trying to save a test match
  • Robin Singh will swing a couple of sixers in the slog overs to get a competitive score going
  • India will begin bowling with much hope
  • Jayasuriya will eviscerate the 0.5% chance India had in the 1st spell of Venky Babu

There are (un)confirmed rumours that the Joy-Suree-yuh-Venky Babu (one-sided) contest almost single-handedly powered the Indian Psychiatry Industry with so many 90s Indian cricket fans suffering from PTSD: Post-Traumatic-Sanath-Disorder.

JADEJA-ROBIN SINGH SYNDROME

Benoni happened exactly once. India needed 83 runs to win in around 11 overs to pip former Rhodeeshaa on net run rate and face Sathafrika in the final. SRT scored a brilliant 100 but as usual exited with the job half-done. Ajay Jadeja was joined by Robin Singh. The two men together hit just 2 fours & 2 sixes but got the job done with old school cricket: finding the gaps and making Sunil Gavaskar proud by converting the 1s into 2s and the 2s into 3s.

Unfortunately, barring a rare few instances (like Kochi for example), Benoni was as good as it got for the infamous duo. Like Joy-suree-yuh & Venky Babu above, Jadeja-Robin Singh also followed a script with the same exact (repeated) script of a Roadrunner-Wile E. Coyote cartoon sans the enjoyable animation.

  • It will be a crunch, must win match
  • India will invariably bat second, more often than after winning the toss!
  • Bowlers will give up a total at least 20 runs in excess of the par score on the pitch
  • SRT will either fail inside the 1st 12 balls
  • Other "stalwarts" will follow him quickly
  • Robin Singh will join Jadeja
  • They will go at a painfully slow run rate until the asking rate becomes insurmountable for even an amalgamated version of ABdV, MSD & Viv Richards
  • Jadeja will get out trying to hit out
  • Robin Singh will stay not out
The uncanny capability to convert a potential 200 run defeat into 100 run defeat was the speciality of our great duo Jadeja-Robin Singh. It was like Russell Peter's "Somebody Gonna Get Hurt Real Bad" routine. You knew we would lose but they'd always give you this hope. In many ways the smaller margin of defeat was much, much worse than losing the match inside 20 overs and moving on earlier.

EPILOGUE

Until the disastrous 2011 tour of England, India had lost only 1 test match where The Wall had scored a 100: 118 in the 1998 Harare test. Kids these days, having grown up on MSD's finishing abilities & regular wins and competitiveness in our away tours, have absolutely no idea what a nightmare the 90s were for Indian cricket fans. India were one of only two teams that did not win a test match in England, officially rated the worst team at the end of the 90s. The other team (Zimbabwe) did not play a test in England until 2000. Speaking of Zimbabwe, we didn't win a test in Zimbabwe until 2001, played two, lost 1 drawn 1 in the 90s.

This century, the occasional setbacks notwithstanding, has been good for the Indian team. We won both the World Cups (F50 & T20) once and made one additional final in each format. We were the number 1 ranked test team for almost 3 years. 2018-19 is one crucial period for Indian cricket. We are touring South Africa, England & Australia and culminate in the 2019 World Cup. We might struggle but remember that things could be worse. We could be back in the 90s!

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