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The Rediff Special/Deepti Patwardhan
'Sachin is special'
April 04, 2006
The silver lining on a dull, rainy second day of the Mohali Test was listening to David Gower speak on some of the best batsmen of the era, and what makes them so special.
In his playing days, Gower made batting look like a ridiculously easy art; now he has developed into one of the most articulate speakers on cricket.
Asked about the class acts in world cricket today, the first name that came promptly to Gower's mind was Ricky Ponting.
"Ponting's record over the last 12 months might be a clue. He is one of those players who don't seem to be worried by that odd bad day. He has been brilliant recently and when he gets runs he gets them quickly. Drives well, cuts well, pulls well. He is one of the batsmen to be bowled at today. Ponting is a sort of a guy I enjoy watching."
"He is not very elegant, but there is a fluency about him. I am lucky I don't have to, but if it came to that, I'd pay to watch him bat," said the former England skipper.
Gower, who brought the phrase lazy elegance into vogue in the eighties, believes grace is only an accessory.
"Ten minutes of looking good ain't enough," he said, with a lopsided smile.
"There have been very good players who have looked awkward. It is the luck of the draw if you are a very good player and a good player to look at too. However good you are to look at, you should be making runs."
Though Gower who turned 48 on Saturday, April 1 -- in India on commentary duties for the ongoing England team's tour -- doesn't regard elegance as a vital virtue for batting, he is one of the best men to talk about it.
He was the original master through the off-side before Sourav Ganguly drew heavenly comparisons during the summer of 1996.
"The image that the batsman has more time to play -- that's what the whole thing about grace is," said Gower, who carved out 8,231 runs in 117 Tests during a 14-year career.
"It is not that you really do have more time than the others, but it is the illusion they create because of the fluid motion. There is no rush at the end. The pick up of the bat, the extension of arms, the positioning of the head is all timed to the extent that it looks easy."
And, yet, it is not essentially the beauty in batting that enthralls the crowd.
"The game is marketed on the Pietersens and Flintoffs of the world, who are big hitters of the ball.
"Even people like (Kevin) Pietersen are very good to watch. There is always a feeling with him that something's going to happen. He is a strongly-built player, a very intimidating player.
"The grace Mark Waugh brings doesn't come very often. In order to play like him you have to be less muscular. When you know you don't have that strength you don't try to belt the ball at all and rely more on the timing."
After including Mohammed Yousuf and Damien Martyn ("he's shown you can be elegant even if you're an Australian") in the list of batsmen he enjoys batting, Gower set out to analyse two of the best batsmen of the generation: Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar.
Over to Gower, who has followed their careers right from the first Test.
"Brian Lara is an exquisite player. I have always enjoyed watching Lara bat. I have seen both his record-breaking knocks. He has scored some big hundreds on good, flat batting pitches and then again he has scored a lot of runs where conditions have been more favourable to the bowlers."
"It is when conditions are tougher that you see the hidden ability. And I would rate his innings of 277 (versus Australia in Sydney) better than both his record-breaking scores."
"Mind and body automatically change when you play over such a long period."
"The ability to pick up the ball changes. What we are talking here is not a big change, but that of a fraction of half a second. It then depends on the players how well they adapt to the change."
"Sometimes such players show signs of weakness to assure the watchers that they are human."
"The same thing is happening to Sachin Tendulkar. He has played 17 years of international cricket and he is still only 32. For most players 16 years of international cricket is enough. Things do change. It is physically and mentally impossible not to change, to pretend that the years haven't passed by."
"In the last session in Nagpur, when the Indian chase was still on, Tendulkar hit a reverse sweep, an orthodox sweep and a lofted cover drive to (Ian) Blackwell. They were all exquisite cricket shots. To play those shots deliberately in such quick succession, off almost similar deliveries, was genius. That was a little jewel, just those 3-4 minutes."
"It reminds you how very few people are special. It was a case of great thinking and good technique."
Though more famous for his blond curls and neat off-drives, Gower was a sensitive captain. Mike Gatting will tell you that.
In his autobiography, Gatting wrote that one evening, at the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai, changed his career.
During that 1984-85 tour, Gower asked Gatting which batting position he would like to play in. The next day, 'Gatt' went in at number three and slammed 136 runs, his maiden Test hundred.
Gower could not recollect that fateful evening for Gatting at the Taj, but said, "My philosophy has always been: try and give players responsibility for their destiny and take responsibility for them on the field."
"I always wanted players to be comfortable in which position they were playing. Do the right things to help players move up a level."
"(Graeme) Fowler told me during the tour that it was the first time someone had treated him like an adult. I took that as a great compliment, because often captains and management treat players like children. If you do that players will continue to behave like children."
Incidentally, England were hit with several injuries on that tour too and yet it remains the last time they conquered India in India.
"It wasn't technically the best team we toured with," said Gower. "But it was similar to this one (the current England side), we had the same sort of spirit."