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March 27, 2000


Duels in the Desert

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My hundred per cent man

Harsha Bhogle

Over the last three years, much as I have enjoyed watching the overwhelming talents of Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly, and the finely refined skills of Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble, the cricketer who has given me the greatest satisfaction is Robin Singh.

I have thought deeply about it; why, for example, do I find myself saying “two, Robin, two” when he squirts the ball through the off side and gallops for one? Why, when he picks up the ball at point, do I imagine the stumps being spreadeagled?

I think it is the joy of seeing an honest, hardworking man succeed. When Robin Singh goes out to bat, you know there is no part of him left behind in the dressing room. When he succeeds, it is a triumph for the sweat on the brow. And you know that if he fails, it wasn’t because he didn’t try hard enough; because Robin Singh will always try. When the match seems over and when most minds starts to float away in quest of other pleasures, Robin will keep trying.

In a world where extravagant talents are idolised, where the lights and the cameras trip over each other in search of genius, he is the quiet bystander. He wears his attitude on his heart and when you do that, you are often at peace with yourelf.

Attitude isn’t a widely admired quality in Indian cricket, or indeed in Indian public life, where to be a prima donna is perfectly acceptable.

In other lands, it seems to attract a higher value because the team always gains precedence over the self. Late last year, a day before the first Test in Adelaide, the manager of the Australian team, Steve Bernard, casually asked me why Robin Singh wasn’t part of the Indian team. "I guess in India we feel he is better suited to the one-day game," I said. I knew he wouldn’t agree. "Umm, he’s a good cricketer, you know. In this country, we tend to pick people on attitude. And he is a good fighter."

Bernard wasn’t the only one who was surprised. As India’s debacle continued through the one-day matches, and through a series of soft performances, the question of attitude continued to crop up in Australia. We are still waiting for that wind to blow our way.

Robin Singh turns 37 this year. It is an age when the body sends you quiet notes. But it doesn’t seem to bother him for he continues to demand as much from it. He is still throwing himself in the field, he is still diving head first into the crease in search of the additional inch that will give his side one more run and himself, one more ball to face.

It is an example that is largely lost on 23 and 24 year olds. In cricket, the crease on the trousers is meant to be lost.

It is not always known that he played those one-dayers in Australia with an injured finger; that in at least two of those matches, he could not wrap his left forefinger around the bat and that is why he was having to nudge rather than hit the ball. But typically, he kept quiet about it, accepting the situation and trying to make the best out of it. He wasn’t searching for sympathy, there wasn’t an explanation ready for a poor performance.

He has been through a lot since he came to India to pursue a masters in economics. He has seen a lot but said very little. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have an opinion for he is among the more interesting people to talk to. His views are like his cricket; straightforward and direct and in open societies, he would have much to contribute. After the World Cup he said, "If we are such a good batting side, why aren’t we batting the opposition out more often?" Very fair point, only it wasn’t a very popular one!

I often wonder how much longer he will play. I must confess there is a huge part of me that doesn’t want to ask this question because he is a fantastic role model for so many young cricketers who lose themselves trying to be people they cannot be. If you know what you cannot be, that is half the job done because you can then be very good at what you have.

And that is the message that Robin Singh can take around.

If Indian cricket was a caring corporation, there would have been a post retirement job ready for Robin. For I can think of no better cricket ambassador for our young cricketers, I can think of no one else being as committed as he is. I would pick the best twenty under 19s in the country, send them to the Academy, and make them spend three months with him there as part of a residential course. I have no doubt at all that we would have fitter, stronger men emerging from there and if even a few of them can inherit his attitude, it will be a fantastic investment for Indian cricket.

But till then, I am going to enjoy watching my hundred per cent man.

Harsha Bhogle

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