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April 13, 1998


Spin, and other turns

send this story to a friend Amrit Mathur

The big point of debate is Shane Warne, and his fruitless search for strike power on this Indian tour.

The bowler himself turned, immediately, to India's erstwhile master, Bishen Singh Bedi.

The two caught up with each other in Bangalore, during the third Test. And Bedi taught Warne some cricketing lessons -- with an orange taken from the hotel room's hospitality supply.

There was, apparently, no ball around at the time -- so Bish, ever innovative, merely marked a seam on the fruit, with a pen.

The basic lesson Bishen was attempting to teach was that a spinner must be patient. No bowler, however good, takes six wickets in six balls. Bishen feels that Warne is a bit too impatient, not prepared to wait, to think out a batsman, Warne continues to attack without pause for thought.

This, Bish told Warne, ensures a steady supply of loose deliveries for the batsmen to put away.

To make matters worse, Warne tends to choose the wrong line. Bishen believes the best place for a leg break is middle and leg, not outside the leg stump which is a waste, the batsman getting the option of stepping back and hitting against the turn while outside off is equally pointless since the turn takes the ball away from the stumps giving batsmen room to free their arms and hit.

Bishen, himself a master craftsman, believes that Warne is peerless, an astonishingly talented bowler and a wonderful artist whose continued success is good for the game. "People come to the grounds to see him bowl, like they come to see Lara and Tendulkar bat," says Bish.

Interestingly, another bowler to benefit from Bishen's impromptu coaching camp was Gavin Robertson. Apparently Bish felt that Gavin's grip was wrong -- so he altered the position of the offie's fingers over the seam. Robertson, much impressed, promptly grabbed a sheet of hotel stationery to jot down points.

When I suggested that Bedi was a bit of a traitor for helping the "enemy", the great spinner laughed his head off, in characteristic fashion. "I am always willing to help anyone, with the proviso that the other person is willing to listen and learn. Here," he added, "the trouble is no one wants to learn, they think they know it all. Spin bowling is an art, you evolve, you grow and mature, the day you think you know it all is the day you stop developing."

One bowler Bish says he is impressed by is young Harbajan Singh. "The lad has superb temperament, he is not afraid to toss it up even if it means taking punishment. Besides, though he is very young, he did not look in awe at all. But Raju," adds Bish, "was a disappointment, his foot goes too far across to the edge of the box when delivering. He must turn the ball more, a mere roll of the wrist is not enough. If you can't spin, at least you must use the seam, do something," says Bish, sounding rather disdainful.

Bishen believes a spinner needs encouragement from a sympathetic captain. "If Azhar believes the days of flight are over, then there is a problem for the younger bowlers especially, if they are forced to push the ball through and bowl to defensive fields, wicket taking options get reduced," says the erstwhile ace. Today, instead of probing, our spinners play a passive role, waiting for mistakes to happen."

As he says this, Bish makes no effort to hide his disappointment. Ask him about Anil Kumble, and Bish says he spots a major change in the leg spinner. "Partly it is a matter of being fresh, he is enthusiastic and keen after a break from day to day cricket and that is important, because nobody can peak all the time. Also, it is a question of his having rediscovered his rhythm, that elusive, impossible to pin down quality that enhances a player's performance."

Kumble, thinks Bishen, has now become slower by a shade, the dreaded loop and bounce are back, and that is what is causing uncertainity in a batsman's mind. "Also, he is much better balanced, earlier his shoulder was opening, he tended to fall away at the point of delivery; now he is more upright, therefore his direction has improved, his bowling is more wicket to wicket, and fewer balls drift down leg. What this means is that there are fewer free hits for the batsmen, and the lack of free runs begins to put pressure on them and that in turn leads to mistakes."

Normal players bat -- what Sachin Tendulkar does is something else.

The man is utterly abnormal, his astonishing skills making him superior to all others. Who else can effortlessly thump a quick bowler back over his head off the front foot? Or smash a legbreak from the bowlers rough, against the break, against all canons of batting, to mid-wicket?

The difference between Sachin and the others is that his defensive shots go to the boundary. Very often, he just gets in line to push - and the ball screams to the fence. And in such form, Sachin is unstoppable. Bad balls get hit, so do good balls. "He is amazing, amazing, amazing," stuttered a player, struggling for words to appropriately describe Sahcin's savage assault, "he must be the greatest butcher of all times."

That might be debatable, but the real question is: is he at his best? Can he, possibly, improve? Will he get better?

Sachin has limitless potential, feels Sunil Gavaskar, someone who has followed Sachin from the time he first wore pads and arrived at Shivaji Park. "we'll now see a transformed Sachin," predicts Sunil, "because he realises now how valuable his wicket is, he won't give it away for less, and this means bigger scores, more hunger for runs and lots of bad news for bowlers."

Gavaskar thinks Sachin has the ability, and the desire, to become the greatest batsman ever.

"It is only a matter of focus, of mental tightening, of setting sights firmly on a target," feels Ravi Shastri. "Sachin has charisma, he is truly the all-time great Indian star with a following the world over, everyone is in awe of him. As far as I remember, only Kapil, after the World Cup win in 1983, evoked this kind of aura, not even Vishwanath or Gavaskar has rivalled the magic of Sachin's name. He scores at will, plays breathtaking shots and runs his singles at Olympic speed even after he is past his century, which is why he is so bloody special!"

Shastri thinks that Sachin is at his peak now, that there is no way he can play any better. "It is a bit like Hillary -- once you have climbed Everest, life loses its challenge. The only thing now that can stretch Sachin is the quality of opposition. If there's a challenge, like Shane Warne, he goes into overdrive to prove a point, otherwise he seems to get bored," feels the former all rounder turned television star.

Bishen Bedi, another staunch admirer, disagrees, and firmly believes Sachin has much more to offer. This optimism, says Bish, rests on two factors -- for one thing, Sachin does not appear to have let his class go to his head, at every given opportunity he is still learning, still eager to add to his repertoire. The other problem, says Bish, is Sachin's youth and a resulting tendency to play in fast forward all the time, whether in Tests or ODIs. "Sachin always played fast, now it is like he is trying to play faster than himself even, this is not right, he needs to stay there longer and if he does, then the sky alone is his limit," feels Bish.

Gavaskar rounds off the debate by saying he hasn't seen anything like Sachin on a cricket field. Still he won't get into comparisons with other players because eras the different, each phase has its own nuances, methods and compulsions, just as Gandhi (Mohandas, the Mahatma) and Gandhi (Rajiv, son of Indira) are different so are player though the normal tendency is to think the latest, the most recent, is better.

Amrit Mathur

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