Published on August 7th, 2012 | by Pradeep0
In my all too brief cricket career, unfortunately cut short by a dismal period of form in Zoology and Sanskrit in my 12th grade, I had a brief spell of state level cricket. I come from a particularly non athletic background and I was never one to court attention in class, out of class, anywhere. I was, in other words, an off spinner through and through.
One needs to understand that to want to be an off spinner in the early 90s required an absolute bare minimum level of motivation. Here’s a quick list of off spinners who played for India in the early 90s – Gopal Sharma, Saradindhu Mukherjee and Rajesh Chauhan. Not exactly bedroom wall poster material. One needed to have a potent mix of mediocre ambition, mediocre skills but the ability to land up every morning at 6 am and bowl right through the net session. I had it all.
In ’93, I made it to the second round of the Karnataka Under-16 team trials, one of about 200. The captain of the team made his way round the ground, familiarizing himself with the players. He walked up to me.
“What do you do?”
“Off spinner and late middle order bat”, I said rolling back my sleeves to shake his clearly 18-year-old hand.
His face sank.
“You are the 81st off spinner I’ve met today. And I’m not even through yet. Four leg spinners, 81 off spinners. Satyaanaash”
I took one look around. You could tell who’s an off spinner by looking at him. We always wore full sleeved shirts with the optional sweater. If you really had to be taken seriously, you needed to have plastered your index and ring finger. The umpire would always make you remove it before you bowl, but till then, lazy leg spinners gaped in jealousy at the testament to the number of overs you got to bowl. Your fingers hurt, but once the ball got old, the captain was your bitch. You were the guy who always ended with figures of 30-2-66-2.
Liberalization changed everything for everyone. As a kid, of course, your worldview increased (and grades decreased) with the entry of Cable TV. As a cricket nut, it was awesome. I saw the entire ’93 Ashes ball by ball and loved every second of it. Except, in hindsight, it destroyed my career.
After years and years of searching for my spin hero, I found mine in the Old Trafford Test. He was blonde, lithe and remarkably brave against men who had seen the best the 80s had to offer. When he got one of the better batsmen against spin bowled through the gate, I knew this was my hero. He was going to play 100 tests and finish with 400 wickets. I would of course make my debut against England and tell him about how I dreamt of this exact moment as a kid.
You do know I’m talking about Peter Such, don’t you?
Peter Such bowled remarkably well on debut and finished with 6 for 67. It was classical off spin puppetry. The action was well oiled, the ball always landed a foot outside off. It turned, it bounced. The number of times the ball caught the top of the pad, ooh. Magical! Peter Such played four tests in all including this one. He is now a motivational speaker.
At 6 am, the next session, I did not get a bowl first up. The coach tossed the ball to the immensely indisciplined leg spinner instead. He bowled short, he bowled full tosses. Hell, I batted and swung him to square leg half a dozen times. But he bowled right through the morning. When he beat the bat, the wicket keeper’s face lit up. He was more talkative than I had ever known him to be when I bowled. It was depressing. There were too few left-handers as it is. Shane Warne had ensured the tide was turning the other way, literally.
For the next three years, I stepped my game up a notch, learnt the arm ball, and bowled for hours. All these years, the off spinner was happy being the bridesmaid, because there was no bride. Now, you bowled two dozen overs against the wind, while the leggie would bowl 12, concede 50 and still pick up 4. Captains did not remove the slip after two fours through the covers. Even at the Under 16 level.
My cricket career ground to a halt in ‘96/’97. Peter Such came and went, but I retired with the knowledge that the future of my trade was in the magical hands of Saqlain Mushtaq. An off spinner, who the right handed batsmen could not wake up in the middle of the night and milk to square leg for a single. The doosra gave off spinners a reason to exist. We did not need to hide our limitations under plasters or full sleeved shirts anymore.
A couple of years later Harbhajan came along and clean bowled Greg Blewett. It is 13 years, and he is still around. Ashwin opens the bowling regularly, and Swann is an off spinner who was actually allowed into a rock band. Saeed Ajmal keeps up the blue collar, full sleeve tradition, minus the consuming embrace of mediocrity of course.
I guess what I’m saying is – The next time you diss any of these guys, back off. You have not seen what I have seen, and the days of tilling land for daily wage could come back any time for the off spinner. This is a great time in cricket when the artisans have the paintbrushes and they churn out the occasional masterpiece. Enjoy it while you can.
Image Credits: http://www.teamtechnology.co.uk/tt/g-photos/peter-such.jpg