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The all-rounder we ignore
February 11, 2003
As a nation of a billion people invests all its hopes on eleven boys, a thought crosses the mind: what if Gandhi were part of the Indian squad? Yes, the very same Mohandas Karamchand. Would Sourav Ganguly have had a better chance of bringing home the Cup that all of India so covets, if only he had the skills and services of Gandhi to fall back on?
Don't let the Mahatma's exterior fool you: as the finest Indian 'spinner' of all time, Gandhi was well equipped to take on the best of the cricketing world. And in South Africa, he would have clearly had the 'home advantage' that is now only Shaun Pollock's; after all, Gandhi cut his political teeth on the very soil that the 'Men in Blue' are out to conquer.
But Gandhi had a lot else going for him as a cricketer, on and off the field. At the crease, he had the towering physical presence to throw his opponents off-guard. And, off it, he had the moral and ethical integrity, to keep the grey forces beyond the boundary. But, above all, he had an established record and reputation coming into cricket's biggest tournament.
That's not all. He would only have had to remind the English team to 'Quit' South Africa to make things easy for his team in Pool A. And, although he never believed in an eye for an eye, he would have stood and sledged back at the Aussies, and his impeccable logic would have so confused them that they would have exited in the first round itself.
Perhaps, his only point of weakness would have been in the game against Pakistan, but he could have been 'rested' for that game.
Once into the Super Six, Gandhi's unorthodox, low-tech tactics would have further rattled the lap-top toting rivals. By insisting that more black players be taken in the South African team, he would have caused internal turmoil in their camp. And for a man who milked goat with ease what challenge would a herd of sheep from New Zealand have posed?
But the biggest impact Gandhi would have had in South Africa was not just on the Opposition. It would have been on his own colleagues, Ganguly downwards. He would have demonstrated the courage required to bat on pacy wickets. If you have been hit by a swinging 'lathi' without flinching what is one little white ball thrown from 22 yards?
But, the big question is, would Gandhi have found a place in contemporary India's team in the first place?
There can be no doubt about his cricketing abilities and acumen. Gandhi would have made a great batsman, especially in one-day cricket. He was an excellent timer, who had the ability to wait till the last moment to maximize his actions. And with his brisk footwork and giant strides, he would gladly (and unselfishly) run sharp singles and rotated the strike.
As the greatest 'striker' in the world, he would have electrified millions. Sure, once in a while, he also had the tendency to yield to showmanship. But which organiser (or sponsor) would have disliked that? But, above all, what makes him an automatic choice for the team is this: he would have loved to dispatch the "white" ball all over.
This much is clear: Gandhi would not have been a left-handed batsman. Lefties think they are God's gift to cricket. They bat with arrogance and walk with a swagger, and are in love with every shot they make, even if they are bowled in making this shot. Running between the wickets is a workmanlike chore and they would rather stay put in the crease self-admiring the elegance of their shots.
All this is very un-Gandhian. Definitely not a left-hand bat.
Gandhi would also not have been a good wicketkeeper. A 'keeper has to be very flexible, sitting down and getting up every ball. As the "Father of the Nation" he may also not have liked to dive or roll on the ground. Not only does a 'keeper have to shout encouragement to his mates but also it is desirable that he should abuse his opponents. Given Gandhi's obstinacy and inflexibility at times, and his dislike for saying nasty things behind a person's back, it is clear he would not have been a 'keeper.
It is also clear that as a bowler, he would probably never have attained the heights of a Brett Lee or a Shoaib Akthar in South Africa. Certainly, he had a strong work ethic. But he would have found pace bowling too aggressive for his liking. You cannot imagine him bowling a short-pitched ball and following-through all the way to the batsman to glare at him. How could a man who made forgiving an art have been a fast bowler?
But then Gandhi was also a man full of guile, who constantly enticed his opponents to "charge" at him and make mistakes, trapping them into momentary indiscretions. He also had the capacity to take stick and still come back at you. There can be no other conclusion: Gandhi would have made a great spinner.
Left or right arm? Given his secular nature it is reasonable to believe that he would rather have bowled a chinaman than a googly.
For all these reasons, Gandhi would have been the ideal all-rounder we are desperately looking for. The problem would not have been in selecting him but in convincing him to wear the ugly dress of the Indian team. When the Queen could not get a pair of trousers on him, would a game of cricket succeed?
Indeed, given his stellar qualities, some may perhaps think that he would have been an appropriate choice for captain. Alas, they would be sadly mistaken. Gandhi would never have agreed to be skipper of the ship- not as long as there is a Nehra or Patel in the team.
Sundar Sarukkai is a fellow at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bangalore.
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