Friday, January 27, 2012

Zaheer Khan's atrocious shot deserves a sharp rap on the knuckles

This post by the author was published on Cricket Country on 27.1.2012 - the fourth day of the Adelaide Test between India and Australia

Quietly floats the Don?

For most of his life, Adelaide had been the home of the greatest batsman the world has ever seen.

From 1934 until his death in 2001, Sir Donald Bradman lived and worked in the city. As a cricketer and cricket administrator he spent thousands of hours at the Adelaide Oval, while running his stockbroking business nearby and raising his family in the suburb of Kensington Park.

Perhaps his spirit still hovers over the ground where every blade of grass whispers his name. That same spirit might have sat back in the stands to watch the on-going Test match, eagerly anticipating the delights on offer from the celebrated Indian batting. Perhaps another unceremonious surrender by the tourists had managed the impossible of inflicting physical pain on a departed soul, so much so that the said soul had not been able to passively withstand the massacre any longer. As Ravichandran Ashwin trudged back from the crease, perhaps the ghost of the great man had summoned his willow-wielding prowess and entered the body of the next batsman who walked in, Zaheer Khan.

It seems the only way one can explain the atrociously-ambitious stroke the Indian pace bowler played the first ball he faced to throw his wicket away. The ball itself was harmless enough, wide outside the off-stump, screaming to be left alone. The situation called for discretion, young Virat Kohli at the other end was quickly running out of partners, having done all the hard work and batting on a fantastic 91. And Zaheer Khan, with a decade of Test match experience behind him, tried the expansive backfoot drive, his mind’s eye watching it disappear to the cover point boundary, and ended up edging to his great friend behind the stumps.

A Sachin Tendulkar at the top of his form would scarcely have attempted such audacity while starting an innings. Same holds true for Ricky Ponting. A Virender Sehwag might have, but that is because of the way he plays and there is a distinct difference between the batting credentials of the opening batsman and the opening bowler of India. 

Character and the lack thereof

What grated on our sensibilities was the immense disregard for the magnificent work of Kohli at the other end. Here was a greenhorn, advancing to his maiden Test hundred – that too a special one against Australia in their backyard. Already at Perth, he had run out of partners and ultimately lost his wicket for a hard-fought 75. One could expect a man of Zaheer’s maturity to approach the innings with discretion, the intent being to stick around as long as possible, to allow the young man to get to his ton, and some more thereafter, to make India’s tottering position a wee bit more stable.

No one expects Zaheer to work wonders with the willow. It is unreasonable – ridiculous even – to expect him to score the runs that Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Virender Sehwag could not.

At the same time, he is hardly a mug with the bat. He has three Test half centuries under his belt. His immense experience has been acquired over 83 Test matches. Could he not have made an effort to not give his wicket away with the generosity of a billion dollar donor? If only out of respect for the remarkable job done by Kohli?

Even Chris “The Phantom” Martin had hung on for a quarter of an hour to help Trent Boult put on 23 pivotal runs for the last wicket when New Zealand upset Australia at Hobart immediately before the current series. Danny Morrison, another Kiwi tailender, the accumulator of 24 ducks and an average of 8.42, had batted nearly three hours to save the last Test match that he appeared in. Courtney Walsh, the archetypical old fashioned rabbit, had survived 72 minutes and 24 balls as Jimmy Adams had guided West Indies to a one wicket win against Pakistan at Antigua.

These illustrations do not outline solid defence or elaborate strokeplay, but bring to fore the admirable display of character by men with less than ordinary batting prowess. Zaheer – whose ability with the bat is significantly greater than the three gentlemen discussed above – has shown little application or character in recent times, the one ball effort of Adelaide being the veritable nadir of apathetic approach.

One recalls the infamous Delhi Test of 1984 against England. On the fifth afternoon, Ravi Shastri had been stonewalling effectively at one end. Kapil Dev had walked out with India 96 runs ahead and five wickets in hand, the need of the hour to bat for half a session and ensure a draw. The six balls he played in that innings led to his being dropped for the next Test on disciplinary grounds. Scoring seven with one six and a single before holing out off Pat Pocock – thus triggering a collapse that led to an English victory – he rubbed the team management the wrong way by trying to send every delivery he faced out of the city and farther.

Of course, Kapil Dev was an all-rounder – one of the best in the world, and expectations from his bat were vastly different. Yet, given Zaheer’s seniority and augmenting it to the irresponsibility displayed at the wicket, a sharp rap on the knuckles will perhaps not be a bad idea.

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