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February 3, 2000


India Down Under

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Mirror, mirror, on the ball....

Armchair Expert

A few of you might have seen the movie Being John Malkovich. For those who haven't, put very simply, it's a film about getting inside the actor John Malkovich's head. Literally. A terrific, futuristic comedy about living inside somebody else's head. And very relevant to the discussion on hand.

Glen McGrath Speaking of getting inside somebody else's head, couldn't help wondering what goes on inside McGrath's head before every big match. What is it about his thinking that makes him come up with an outstanding performance almost every time it matters? How does McGrath so successfully manage to target the best players from every team? How does he consistently motivate himself to give that something extra in a final? Or in a crucial Super Sixes' match? Or in an important series?

He said he was looking to target Brian Lara in the series against the Windies. He got Lara more often than any other bowler in the series. Australia plays India in an elimination match of the World Cup Super Sixes -- and he takes out Tendulkar, Dravid and Azhar in the space of three overs and settles the issue. Needless to say, in Australia's favour. India's fragile batting order revolves around the fortunes of Sachin Tendulkar. He gets Sachin in the second innings of the recent series' defining first Test.

He did it again in the Carlton and United Series against the Pakis. Decided the match in the first fifteen minutes. In his first three overs. By taking out the top three Pakistani batsman for next to nothing. Two runs between the three of them to be precise. Nobody has managed to deliver these crucial match-winning performances with as much consistency in the recent past as McGrath.

And, he's not the fastest bowler in the world. He doesn't pepper the batsmen with short-pitched stuff. Bad language, yes. But not short-pitched stuff. He's not the master of reverse swing. He doesn't have a big out-swinger. In fact, he doesn't swing the ball too much. So what does is it about McGrath that makes him, perhaps, the best big match bowler in the world?

Javagal Srinath Cut to Srinath: Srinath isn't the fastest bowler in the world. He doesn't swing the ball too much. He's not the master of reverse swing. He doesn't bowl too short. He's even got a ball that straightens. In fact, he's a lot like McGrath. But he is not McGrath. Unfortunately. And therein lies the mystery. Why can't Srinath do for India what McGrath does so regularly for Australia?

India needs a big performance from Srinath during the World Cup matches. He doesn't deliver. But he does go on record acknowledging the fact that he didn't deliver. Unfortunately, his performance Down Under hasn't been too inspiring. He's been good. But not inspiring. He hasn't had the intimidating effect on opposition batsmen the way McGrath has. As a result, McGrath successfully targets key batsmen from our team. While Srinath -- well, he just bowls well. At no one in particular.

So where does the answer lie? As always in introspection. Inside Srinath's and McGrath's head. Which is also reason for hope. At least the basic skills are there.

Put simply, all Srinath has to do is become like McGrath is be a little more aggressive. A little more disciplined. A little more inclined to pitch the ball up. Just a bit. A little more hardworking. A little more disagreeable towards the opposition batsmen. And a lot more adept at thinking them out.

Both Srinath and McGrath know more than a thing or two about good bowling. The difference is McGrath thinks a lot more about how to get batsmen out. Not just on the field, but how to get to them psychologically. McGrath knows, much more than Srinath, that cricket is today very much a mind game. That the battle doesn't always start and end on the field. That what you say off and on the field goes a long way in helping you achieve goals. In helping you set high standards. Set your target aloud. Say it with conviction. And the pressure/passion/conviction will make you practice harder. You'll start hating the obstacles that come in the way of your stated goal. And your approach to the game will change. All it takes is shifting a gear up in the mind. And, as always, what sounds so simple is the least likely to get done.

Followers of the series Down Under would have noticed that when it came to beating the bat, Srinath and McGrath were pretty much even-stevens. But, when Srinath walked back to the mark his face said "Hell, what have I got to do to get him? I'm never going to get him out." While McGrath's said, and not while walking back but to the batsman's face, "*****ing @$%#%#%! You got away this time. But I'm going to get you. You're not going to be there too long... blah... blah... %#$@&%^&@blah!"

You can well imagine which bowler the batsmen must have felt more comfortable facing.

No one looks forward to facing a foul-mouthed bully whose bowling is even harder to stomach. But Srinath. Well, Srinath is Srinath. When he beats the bat in vain, you can be sure he's thinking "Ah, today's not my day." And the batsman's saying "Today is my day. I'm playing India. It's going to be a lot easier, playing this guy. He'll probably give me a loose one a couple of balls down the line."

That's the difference between a very good bowler who consistently beats the bat but is 'desperately unlucky' not to get his man. And a very good bowler who consistently beats the bat and eventually gets his man. Obviously there are lessons to be learnt. And fast. Because otherwise, Srinath is going to remain the great bowler he never quite became. A fearsome proposition that never quite happened. And this is not an argument for bad behaviour. Just a plea for the need to be more aggressive.

Not obnoxious. Just aggressive.

When Srinath burst on the international scene, one of the things that stood out about his bowling was a tendency to make batsmen hop with uncomfortable, short-of-a-good-length balls that darted in sharply and regularly beat the bat. When Srinath bowls today, one of the things that stands out about his bowling is a tendency to make batsmen hop with uncomfortable, short-of-a-good-length balls that dart in sharply and regularly beat the bat. Not surprisingly, most batsman still play him pretty much the way they used to. And with pretty much the same degree of success. It's no surprise that Srinath's career strike rate hasn't improved dramatically over the years. And that he's 'highly regarded' as 'very dangerous.' But not a proven match-winner.

Sure, he's added the slower ball to his armoury. But he doesn't have the confidence to try it often enough. (Obviously, due to lack of practice.) He also has a ball that holds its line. Only problem, his length is, most of the time, just a bit too short for it to be played at often enough by the batsman. He still hasn't developed the ability to bowl yorkers regularly enough at the death. He hasn't learnt to use his bouncer intelligently. (Especially when it comes to when to bowl a bouncer, what to follow a bouncer with and what to say and bowl at batsmen who get hit by his bouncers.)

There are so many little things that Srinath can learn from McGrath. A bowler who started life at a similar time. Who, also, has had one serious injury. Who is not extravagantly talented. And who didn't have a great start to his international career. The similarities couldn't be more similar. But given a choice which of the two, who would you have in the team? Ever wondered why?

Why do two very similar bowlers have such different records? They are similarly built. Similarly skilled. Carry similar responsibilities. Face similar pressures. And have diametrically different approaches to cricket. Which is not okay.

No one is asking Srinath to copy McGrath. There's a lot about Mcgrath we can do without. Like his batting. But there's a lot we can learn from him. I mean, here's a guy who just as well-endowed as you are, it's about time we understood why the last few years have seen him so much more successful at his craft. The global reasons, everybody knows. Like the 'Men in blue' (thanks Abhilasha for that one), captain and the coach never tire of saying, together -- "We fielded badly. We batted badly. We bowled badly. We didn't take our chances" -- yes, yes, yes -- we need to improve in all departments of the game. But there are also individual lessons to be learnt. From people who seem like us but, thanks to the little differences, are in a league of their own.

It's all very fine to say Srinath is one of the most unlucky bowlers in the history of Indian cricket. But has anyone ever wondered why it's only our guys who end up being unlucky? Or why it's always the others who bowl the deliveries that make the difference?

It's got to be more than luck. It's not about luck. It can't be about luck. The world's oldest cliché is true. The good people make their own luck. Or something like that.

The point is, Srinath is not unlucky. Ok, he is a bit unlucky. But he's also a little daft. And perhaps a trifle lazy. And certainly not as hungry.

Not acceptable. The whole world can see that Srinath needs to pitch the ball up a lot more consistently. The whole world knows the ball swings when it is given those precious extra seconds between 'short of good length' and 'good length.' The whole world knows the bouncer is a vicious weapon if used intelligently. And, thanks to Channel 9, the whole world now knows that it's not speed and strength that makes McGrath that much more fearsome than Srinath. We can now safely say that McGrath is no superman. He's just a proud, disciplined, fast -- not express, fast -- bowler who works very, very, very hard at his craft.

Cut to future: The point is you've got want it hard enough. You've got to show that you want it hard enough. You've got to be disciplined. You've got practice very hard. You've got to keep telling yourself that it's not okay to be an 'unlucky but very good bowler.' You've got to be that bowler who knows that all it takes is one ball to see the batsman back in the pavilion. And whose only aim is to try to get as close to that wicket-taking delivery as possible, every single time.

The sad part is, every time I see McGrath, I see what Srinath can be. But is not.

Armchair Expert

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