Saturday, May 28, 2005

Cricketing what ifs...

Courtesy Amit, I was linked to a brilliant article by my favorite cricket writer, Dr. Ramachandra Guha in the Telegraph. Three out of the six scenarios he put forward struck a chord.

1. What if Duleepsinghji and the Nawab of Pataudi, Sr. played for India in the inaugural test in 1932 vs. England?
I dont know if Dr. Guha was too imaginative in conjecturing that with Duleep and the Nwab on the Indian side, we might have won that Test! But we sure had a fairly decent team, bolstered (to use a much cliched term) by the frontline attack of Amar Singh and Mohd. Nissar.
Both Duleep and Pat (as Dr. G referred to them) served Indian 'interests' in their own ways later in life, with Pat captaining the Indian team to England in 1946 (rather unsuccessfully) while Duleep served as the Indian High Commissioner in Aus and NZ.

My what if: If Amar Singh continued playing for India into his 30s (he died at a very young 29!). The Englishmen had nothing but praises to sing, when it came to Amar Singh. Len Hutton said "There is no better bowler in the world today than Amar Singh" in 1970, a couple of decades after he had faced Amar Singh first! The unforgettable quote comes from Wally Hammond, who memorably said:"he came off the pitch like the crack of doom''. Coming to conjecture time, I guess India would have been less of a punching bag for the other teams, and it would have been interesting to see a team containing Merchant, Hazare, Mushtaq Ali, Vinoo Mankad, Amar Singh, Lala Amarnath playing against Bradman's invincible Aussies.

2. What if Mushtaq Ali and Vijay Merchant had played against the Aussies in 1947-48?

I guess I went off on a tangent to this in the point above! The entire situation due to which Mushtaq Ali was unable to make the tour was sort of poignant, and reflected the times prevalent then. Though Dr. Guha's article seemed to suggest that Vijay Merchant cried off, I am sure his reasons were good and he would never have let the Indian team down.

On a personal note, Mushtaq Ali is the only cricketer from the pre-Independence era whom I have met. It was in 1993 at the Brabourne Stadium just after the Windies-SA Hero Cup game. Most of the folks hanging around the clubhouse after the game saw Sunil Gavaskar talking to this tall ramrod straight elderly gentleman (at that time I admit, I did not know who he was), and naturally went towards them hoping to get Sunny's autograph. Sunny was quite surprised, and said "Arrey, Mushtaq-saab ka autograph bhi lena!!!!". Only then did some of us realize that we were standing next to one of the greats of Indian cricket.

3. What if Ravi Shastri had become captain instead of Azhar!?
Dr. G is quite correct in saying that Raj Singh Dungarpur and his "bunch of jokers" went for the quieter man, though I suspect Azhar would still have fallen prey to the lure of mammon which would ultimately lead to his downfall. Azhar, like Cronje had everything going for him, and needlessly went and ruined his life. I always was a fan of both of them, especially Cronje, and to see them fall from the pedestal I put them on was disgusting to say the least! Cronje paid a very heavy (and unfair IMHO) price, and it remains to see what Azhar has to say. His silence says it all, despite the muted protests (there's surely more to this than what meets the eye). Selling your country's pride and honor is plain pathetic. What scares me is the possibility that other folks might be involved!

I think Shastri captained India in just one test against the Windies at Chepauk in 1987-88. Cricketing cliches aside, I'd say he has one of the most astute cricketing brains, and would have made an excellent captain, probably much better than Azhar. It was also unfortunate that he had to cut his career short at just 30!

My collection of what ifs:

What if Sidhu had not walked out on the Indian team on the England tour in 1996?
I suspect we might not have seen either Dravid/Saurav or both making their debuts....

What if Raman Lamba had played the second (??) Test of the Pakistan tour in 1988-89?
Azhar was going through a nasty patch out of form, and Raman Lamba was supposed to replace him for the Test at Faisalabad(??). For some reason (I think due to illness), Raman Lamba had to pull out and Azhar played the game and cemented his place (another cricketing cliche) with a century. (While searching for the tour index, I was thinking of the folks who made their debut on that tour, and could only think of Vivek Razdan! I had conveniently forgotten that Mr. Tendlya also made his debut on that tour!).

What if Dhruv Pandove hadnt met his end in that unfortunate accident in 1992?
Dhruv was spoken of in the same breath as Sachin Tendulkar, and met with a fatal accident in 1992 while returning from a Deodhar Trophy game. He had even broken Sachin's record for being the youngest Indian to make a first-class century. I would like to believe that he would have been a cornerstone of the Indian batting lineup today, but that probably would have meant that we might not have seen the best of Laxman/Ganguly/Dravid!

Jeez these "what ifs"....they sure have their flip sides too!

So that's that!


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