In his latest Willow Talk column distinguished former first-class cricketer and coach of international players Dr V. V. Giri, who conducted High Performance coaching sessions for MCA last year (and made a huge difference to the performances of the Academy’s fortunate youth players), selects his own top-ten Indian batsmen of the “TV era”. For more on Dr Giri, check out MCA’s Profiles page.
WALL OF FAME
Maybe it is inappropriate at this time, when the whole world is in T-20 mood, to talk about correct batting technique and tight defense, but I really wonder nowadays what a coach would teach a schoolboy about playing a good length ball. Is it going to be: stretch well forward, with bat and pad close together, head bent, and with a soft hand block the ball so that it drops dead in front of the bat? Or, to the same delivery, play a ‘reverse sweep’ over short third man? If you teach the defense, the boy is certain to tell you that he watched his favorite player, David Warner, playing a reverse sweep to a good length delivery.
Well, this is going to be a big headache for all coaches. I think when we talk about correct technique we think of ‘test’ cricket in the first place. I feel that perfect technique is also required, to some extent, in the ODIs, where it can play an important role. But there is nothing like watching the tussle between the ball and the bat in a test cricket.
When we talk abut top Indian batsmen, even though statistics speak louder, they mean nothing to me. There are lots of difference in scoring runs against weak and tough opponents, playing on slow wickets in India or on lively, bouncy tracks in Australia, South Africa, the West Indies, or yet in seamy conditions like England and New Zealand.
There were many good batsmen in India in the pre-TV era – Merchant, Mankad, Hazare, Nayudu, Manjerakar, Umrigar, Borde, Hanuman Singh and others, who played terrific innings for India, in India as well as outside. Remember, in those days, the wickets were not covered and there was no protective gear to give security to the batsmen. But I am not going to discuss the pre-TV era, as most readers wouldn’t have seen or even heard about our ‘golden oldies’. They may not even like that era. But let me tell you, some pre-TV cricketers (ie, before 1975) were technically very sound and had more talent but less opportunity than those who followed.
After 1975, India had very few batsmen with perfect technique. Those who scored tons of runs with poor technique do not stay in the minds of cricket lovers, whereas G.R Vishwanath’s 97 not out against a hostile bowling attack in 1975 at Chennai is still rated as one of the best innings played by an Indian and people enjoy talking about that even now.
Today Virat Kolhi is doing well right now, but it’s too early to consider him and other youngsters. They need to prove their technique further.
Let us start with the darling of the Indian crowd, the batsman who is feared by all the bowlers in the world – Virender Sehwag. He is the only Indian cricketer who has scored a triple hundred, not once, but twice. He has scored lots of runs against all countries in all venues. He is a fearless batsman who plays in his own way. But when you look at his technique, he is a typical example for “how not to bat”. Absolutely terrible technique and the less we discuss it, the better. God only knows how he has been able to score so many test runs with that batting technique. He is, as they say, a ‘hand – eye coordination’ batsman. His idea is: see the ball well and hit it. It is surprising India has batsmen like Tendulkar and Dravid playing alongside Sehwag and Dhoni.
Mohammad Azharuddin scored many runs, but people never rated him as a top batsman. He had too many flaws in his technique. He, like Laxman, was predominantly an ‘on’ side wristy player, but Laxman, in contrast to Azharaddin, could drive on both sides. Azhar’s grip was not perfect, with his right hand dominating so much that he could never play a cut or square drive on the off side. Besides, he was helpless when the ball was pitched short and no one wants to to remember the way he handled bouncers. Critics used to brand him “very strong below the waist”!! In 1989 in the West Indies his captain Vengsarkar was very angry with him and openly commented on him running away to the leg side when the fast bowlers operated. Not that his captain was any better. He was also a chicken when it came to short pitched deliveries. Dilip Vengsarkar’s failure rate was so high in his initial stages that God only knows how he managed to play so many tests with such drawbacks. In my opinion, both Azhar and Vengsarkar are not perfect batsmen.
The next pair of players who come to my mind are Mohinder Amarnath and Ganguly. Ganguly was suspect in the initial stages against deliveries aimed at his chest, but I can certainly say that he improved his game considerably, countered all his deficiencies, and, when he retired, he was a complete batsman and as good as any one.
Same goes with Jimmy Amarnath. He was a fine player of both fast and spin bowling. His problem was the dilemma: hook or duck a bouncer. He was a great hooker, but the situation of the side wasn’t conducive to hooking every bouncer when he was playing.. Many times he got hit due to indecisiveness and was branded otherwise. Both Amarnath and Ganguly were great improvisers. The number of ‘come backs’ they made proves this point.
Next in my list are GR Viswanath and Laxman. Both were very talented, stylish, great caliber, and, on their day, could win the match for India. These two had good technique, but played too much on their plus points. If Viswanath was a god on the ‘off side’, Laxman was, and still is, on the ‘on side’. They played some breath-taking shots and terrific innings for India, leaving the opposition gasping. Their problem was inconsistency. When they were going great guns, they used to play some novel shots that would send them back to the pavilion.
Now comes the little master Sachin Tendulkar. I have absolutely no doubt that this man has enormous talent, the best technique, perfect delivery judgement, and is a complete batsman. You don’t find any major flaws in his batting. He may not be as fluent as Ganguly on the ‘off side’ or Laxman on the ‘on side’, but he is a versatile player and his stats speak for themselves. There were some occasions where we saw him unable to leave the ball and thus get into trouble, but, on the whole, he is a top-class batsman. His problems are not in technique. It is his mindset, which lets him down most times. We have seen time and again Sachin attacking all the front line bowlers, but all of a sudden going into his shell, giving unwanted respect to ordinary bowlers and thereby losing his wicket. He got out many times in the nineties defending unnecessarily, after a fluent knock. At one point in his career, this problem became such a big issue that people began to question his ability.
That leaves only two batsmen to discuss for the top spot. The great Sunil Gavaskar and the Wall, Rahul Dravid. Both were pillars for India. No amount of words would be enough to describe the services rendered by these two for Indian cricket. They have played some epoch-making innings to save the side, and I consider that as more valuable than any personal achievements.
If playing a variety of great instinctive shots is a talent, leaving those tempting deliveries aside is a greater talent, especially when your side is in trouble. These two were experts in that area and were the world’s best. It is not an easy job. It needs tremendous concentration and extraordinary ability. Batsmen with greater strokes (Viswanath and Amarnath) failed in this respect.
Gavaskar, adjudged universally as the world’s best batsman in his day, was very good against fast bowling as well as spin. The wickets were lively and the bowlers were superior during his time. He negotiated all short pitched deliveries with authority and he was a master batsman when it came to facing spin bowling. The 96 in his last test against Pakistan at Bangalore on a paddy field wicket was rated as one of the finest innings played in such difficult conditions.
Dravid, who is as good at leaving the ball, played fast bowling with authority. His on side and off side strokes were flawless and equal to Sunny’s. But Dravid, in my opinion, struggled a little bit against left arm spin bowling. When you look at his dismissals, he was out, caught in the slips to left arm spinners too often.
Gavaskar, meanwhile, had a problem with slightly over pitched deliveries. He was basically a back foot player with excellent body balance. Since he was short, he couldn’t reach well forward to kill the swing and turn. For spinners, he always used his feet, walked out and met the ball.
Both these batsmen judged the short pitched delivery very well and they never got hit in the head. They never used to duck either. Great batsmen do not duck, they sway away. Both Sunny & Rahul were great hookers and never got out hooking.
On a bouncy wicket Gavaskar was often hit on the fingers because of his height. In this respect Dravid scores over Gavaskar. We have seen Dravid stretching well forward fearlessly to reach for any thing close and prevent it from swinging further.
Rahul Dravid is an excellent hooker of bouncers and he always kept them down to the square leg umpire. But the situation always prevented him from playing the hook shot. He is a terrific team man and has saved his country from defeat more times than any other player. He is undoubtedly a most likable person and a man of great character and composure. He is soft in nature and at the same time determined. In my opinion, he is the most complete and the greatest cricketer India ever produced. He was the “protective Wall” of Indian cricket.
My Top Ten are:-
10) Virender Sehwag
9) Mohd Azharuddin
8) Dilip Vengsarkar
7) Sourav Ganguly
6) Mohinder Amarnath
5) V V S Laxman
3) Sachin Tendulkar
2) Sunil Gavaskar
1) Rahul Dravid
Your comments are appreciated.