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In the wake of giants...


PRASHANTO BANERJI | Issue Dated: December 8, 2013, New Delhi
Tags : Washington |South Africa |Australia | West Indies |Ganguly | Kumble | Laxman and Dravid |cricket |

Question: How does the forest look when the Washington tree falls?
Incidentally, the Washington tree, the second largest tree in the world, a giant sequoia, collapsed partially after lightning struck and the resulting fire partially burnt the 255 feet tall giant down and then a snow load in 2005 ground it down to about half its once gigantic stature.
Answer: In the Giant Forest Grove (which is where the once colossal, now diminutive Washington still stands), where every other tree is a towering 200 ft plus sequoia, whether seen from the ground up or from the heavens above, the forest still looks pretty much the same.
Come December, when the Indian team sets sail for South Africa without its own towering ‘T’alisman, question is, how would they look? Look at Australia and the West Indies. When their cricketing giants put up their feet and rolled over in their hammocks, their heirs struggled and juggled with the crown till they dropped it down a bottomless pit. But the four great sequoias (Ganguly, Kumble, Laxman and Dravid) whose shadows lengthened over the Indian plains over seasons past, and the greatest of them all who walked away last, are not walking away from a forest stunted by the blinding brilliance of their greatness but from one where they have sown their greatness. And from those seeds, I suspect will grow even taller sequoias to take their place.
This tour of the moment’s greatest Test playing nation, on hard bouncy wickets against sea-fed winds and the most lethal bowling attack on the planet will truly test if these boys will grow into giants. It is this tour that will prove if this forest that Tendulkar is leaving behind will be engulfed by the fire storm called Dale Steyn & Co. or will they emerge as the giants their fans believe them to be, giving away little by way of comparison to the stalwarts that have gone before them.
It isn’t just the fast bowling that will prove to be a challenge for Virat, Shikhar, Pujara and Rohit, India’s young sequoias in waiting. The South African batting might prove an even greater challenge for the inexperienced bowling attack. AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla own four of the most skillful hands to have held a bat and their will to impose their presence on the opposition has made them into modern day greats. And with them stands another giant who could well take on our very own Sachin Ramesh for the mantle of the greatest cricketer of our times – the unmatched allrounder – Jacques Kallis.
Be that as it may, I have a strong feeling that in terms of attitude, skill, toughness and mental preparedness, this might well be the best Indian team to take on the Proteas in their backyard.
Also, this team, save for one glaring omission, is also the nucleus of the side that will last for the decade to come and might also become India’sbest ever Test team. Will that team also be good enough to be the best in the world, like it has threatened to be, and leave behind an all-conquering legacy like the Australian and West Indian teams of old? I do think so…
So let’s look at the team of tomorrow, which is pretty much the team of today, and see how they hold up against the greats of the past.
Flouting convention, lets start at the business end of a Test team – the tail. In this respect, test teams are like scorpions. The head might make an impression but it is the tail, the lethal weapon, that gets you respect.
India’s hopefully lethal weapons, their bowlers have come in for a lot of flak lately but this attack is quite different from the one that conducted affairs in the ODI series against Australia. And truth be told, it’s not like Mitchell Johnson and the band fared much better. So who will be the leader of the attack in the matches and years to come? Who will take the new ball and make those early inroads like Kapil Dev and Javagal Srinath and Zaheer Khan once did…er, in case of the last named, does…?
With discipline and skill, that viper like darting swing and innate cricketing intelligence, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar will surely become a name that rival teams would prepare and plan for in the seasons to come.As a swing bowler, he may lack the pace of an Akram or a Steyn but as I have mentioned in previous columns, I remember batsmen from backgrounds as diverse as the Barbadian Desmond Haynes who honed his skills against the likes of Malcolm Marshall, Joel garner and Sylvester Clarke and Sanjay Manjrekar who learnt his cuts on the Mumbai maidans saying that the by then medium paced Richard Hadlee was still the best bowler they had ever faced because of his control over line, length and movement off the seam and in the air.
I’m not suggesting that ‘Bhuvi’ is going to become a Hadlee. I’m just saying that lack of pace needn’t hold him back and he has the skills and the acumen to become the sword arm for India.
And if you say it was another era, well I remember Glenn Mcgrath dismantling entire line-ups with deliveries no quicker than the low 130s. The key for these past greats was control over line, being able to read which length to use on what pitch against which batsman and the ability to move the ball late and enough – skills the bowler Bhuvaneshwar Kumar is evolving into will surely posses as the tours go by.
Complementing Bhuvaneshwar’s incisive seam bowling with his nippy pace, heavy effort ball and devastating reverse swing is the consistent and diligent Shami Ahmed. He isn’t frighteningly quick but swings the ball at pace, is consistent in his lines, has the heart of a lion. He has courage and character for though he has often spent long months just waiting in the wings, he has never let nerves spoil his party and has grabbed his opportunities with performances that have strong, steady and at times spectacular. His approach to the game reminds me of the solid workhorses – from Alec Bedser and
Brian Statham to Courtney Walsh and Shaun Pollock.
These bowlers are steady in length and pace with the ability to slip in a real quick one every now at times. And they can move the ball off the seam or in the air. When there is something in the pitch or the atmosphere, these guys know how to extract the most out of it. And if there’s nothing happening, they can just plug away in the corridor, keeping things tight. Young Shami is in the same mould and with his hunger and passion for making his mark fuelling his performances, there is every reason to believe that he will be bowling will sting, irrespective of the conditions. And like Sourav Ganguly said in an interview “I have played Waqar Younis at his tearaway best, and Shami’s reverse swing is good as anyone else’s.”
Space and time will not permit us to run through the rest of the team this week. So we’ll save it for next time. But before I go, I would like you to meditate on one name that should continue to be a part of this team for the next five years to come. His name is Gautam Gambhir and he should have been on the boat to South Africa. As things stand, he didn’t quite make the cut. But never mind, he’ll be back soon enough, as would I with the rest of the team…
Until then, enjoy the cricket..
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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017