And quietly fades the Jumbo ………

November 16, 2008

I had to read Rajan Bala’s interview with Anil in today’s Bangalore Mirror to be reminded that Anil has retired from international cricket. Compare this with the cacophony (I am referring to the Indian media) that has surrounded Sourav’s retirement and one has a very good idea of the kind of personalities that these two stalwart cricketers embodied. Dada’s Chutzpah vs. Anil’s determination. Let us run through the set of contrasts

1. Dada announces his retirement at the start of the series and Anil waits for the last hour of the last day of his last test. Talk about building up. Although not exactly the most appropriate of comparisons, I am somehow reminded of the retirement announcements of Steve Waugh and Damien Martyn.

2. One was constantly referred to as the Prince and the other was always venerated as a faithful “servant of Indian cricket”. It was only after he was elevated to the captaincy that there were some murmurs about being a Senior Statesman of Indian cricket ( I think particularly after the Sydney Test incident)

3. Shirt waving at the Mecca of Cricket vs. Gut wrenching bowling with a broken jaw and getting rid of Brian Lara, no less.

The list can go and on. What is apparent is the dignity with which Anil plied his trade for nearly two decades and on the evidence of what is on the table at this point in time, I guess this will be sorely missed in the years to come. Statistics indisputably establishes him as India’s greatest match winner and his 10-74 against Pakistan should rank with VVS’ 281 as the two greatest moments of Indian cricket.

Anil was so understated in his demeanour on and off the field that his exploits on the field did not provide enough grist for the journalists’ mills. The same can be said of Tendulkar (barring the Ferrari duty evasion controversy). But what made Anil less “news worthy” was that he was an Indian bowler and historically we have always preferred to place our batsmen above the poor bowlers. Understanding the science of bowling is much more challenging than the more visually appealing aspect of batsmanship. The problem gets compounded if the bowler is a slow bowler. Fans in India (the couch potato types, the tribe which makes up the largest segment of any target market) learn the game through the TV medium and growing up on a diet of TV cricket, it becomes extremely difficult to appreciate the subtle nuances that makes the art of spin bowling one of the most exacting ones to master. And not being an extravagant spinner of the ball, which was visually mesmerising for the viewer, made Anil even more undecipherable in the eyes of the lay viewer. Subtleties like change of pace, angle, disconcerting bounce, skid off the track, the wicked tricks that Anil relied on to accumulate wickets are largely lost on today’s viewers. He was to spin bowling what Glen McGrath was to pace bowling. McGrath was never ultra fast, relied on “boring” marginal deviations off the pitch, did not swing the ball much and his action was the epitome of economy of effort. Put this all together and it does not make for exciting television viewing. And yet batsmen around the world feared him.

Everything about Anil makes him a thinking fan’s favorite. Fans who eschew jingoism and idolation and were cricket fans more than a Team India fan or a M S Dhoni fan. In a country where the demographics are so much more skewed in favor of the sub 35 year olds, he was a middle aged fan’s favorite even when he himself was only 27. He was a Single Malt in a market drunk on lager.

I am sure you will continue to mature and improve Anil and that for you will be a continous process all your life. That has been your hallmark of your artistry on the cricket field and there is no reason to believe that Life does not imitate Art. All the very best !!


2 Responses to “And quietly fades the Jumbo ………”

  1. Vivek Says:

    I was a bit surprised Anil declared towards the end of the final day at Delhi after announcing his decision. He opened the bowling, completed four or so overs and his pitch map was atrocious. I tried reasoning with my English colleague to just offer this to the director, but he refused saying that it didn’t tell any story. He was right in the context of the innings that it was pointless, but in the context of Anil’s career, it was a bit like the end credits in old Jackie Chan movies which show all the failed shots. Those four overs in that sense were just brilliant, everything that Anil loathed bowling in his career.
    But again, another very good personal account on the retirements.

  2. Vivek Says:

    Another thing I had failed to think regarding Anil’s career was the number of times he bowled more than 40 overs in an innings. Quite a lot of these were during the time he was criticized for his lack of effectiveness on foreign pitches. I am sure Anil would have asked for the ball most times in these matches and just continued bowling, which makes it a far greater effort than having to bowl with pain in the jaw.

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