Don't Pitch It Up Boys!
On Dec 09, 2014
The first India-Australia Test starts today, instead of December 04.
I don't watch cricket on TV like I used to. So I vaguely remember seeing Phil Hughes. Phil and I, like millions of others, are connected by cricket's umbilical cord. Of late emotions have runneth over. You Tube shares. Cricket bats at rugby grounds. Bats resting with cricket caps on. Arm bands. Declarations. 63, 64, 408 are not mere numbers anymore.
Yet, strange as it may seem, most from my generation would be nudged into remembering Raman Lamba each time someone mentioned Phil. Such has been the tragedy and the many similarities.
Lamba's century against Australia was seen by pundits as a fluke. How could he - someone with dodgy technique - do it against the World Champions? Eventually Lamba turned out to be the man of the series after the final game in Rajkot. He was a national hero. The triple centuries in the domestic circuit didn't help Raman get a permanent place in the Test squad while a certain Anshuman Gaekwad would certainly be amused by that.
When the West Indies visited Trivandrum, my hometown, for their last and seventh ODI - a dead rubber - in early 1988, I was doing my rounds as a junior state cricketer. Viv Richard's team were leading Ravi Shastri's 5-1. The tourists spent time catching the waves in Kovalam while a few Indians slogged at the net the previous evening. Srikkant, Kapil, Mohinder, Maninder, Shastri, More kept Windies company. After all their bones and muscles needed rest.
The bench warmers and the not-so-happy players from the Indian team were at the University Stadium for a net in the afternoon. As young and upcoming cricketers, some of us were asked to do the honours. Bowl at some of your heroes and get bludgeoned.
Sanjay Manjrekar was all poise. Azhar came on next. Any 17 year-old would try his best to impress this prince of Indian cricket. We sent down all that we had and Azhar toyed with them.
Javid, my team mate, induced a few edges out of that great batsman's willow. Later Azhar praised Javid - something that meant "you should be in the Kerala side, if you aren't as yet". Javid took nothing to heart and left for Florida almost straight away.
With some local fans watching us in action, we were all geared up to give our best. In fact some onlookers were known to us too. Azhar shifted gears and kept driving us straight. After all he had to face Patterson and company the next morning. So he ordered: Boys, pitch it up!
And pitched up is what we did for the next 30 minutes like well-behaved school boys. Each of the drives whizzed and hissed past us to the boundary. I still remember clearly how the partisan crowd booed every time Azhar smacked us. Once or twice we tried to bowl a shade better but that was instantly followed by a "c'mon boys, pitch it further up".
The options were either to stop bowling to the emerging star of Indian cricket or continue to get the treatment. Naturally, all of us willingly chose to get the treatment.
Once Azhar stopped, Lamba was seen practising his leg side shots. The media had strongly criticised Lamba's penchant for the off. (I wonder why, if he could get a hundred against the Aussies). Here he was asking us to throw the ball so that he could master the chappathi shot - a mongrel of a shot, in between a flick and an on-drive. Twenty minutes of chappathi shots into square leg, mid wicket and nothing else.
Next day, on 25 Jan 1988, Lamba perished for 8. Azhar for a fluent 36 while Srikkant made a typical 101. Phil Simmons made 104 n.o. India lost as if it had an evening flight to catch. Greenidge's 84 off 76 balls was perhaps the knock of the day for me.
Phil Hughes was born roughly about ten months after this ODI. What connected Lamba and Phil wasn't just that the cricket ball did the ultimate damage ... it was also that both of them were awesome off-side players and relatively weak on the on. What a strange coincidence!
Sean Abbot may not know Mehrab Hossain, whose shot ricocheted off Lamba's unprotected head. After that incident, Hossain took a break from cricket and returned to score Bangladesh's first ODI hundred. Look at the positives, Abbot ... you have the Indians in your backyard? So, you really don't have to pitch it up!
Aside: Many many years ago, I remember playing a game in Hyderabad. Against Hyderabad. When you play under-19 against some of these teams, you can be assured of playing a 'senior' side. Except for a few, most were above 19. A '19 year old' named Siraj Benjamin was 'recruited' only to get our heads. The Kerala eighteen year olds had only one helmet in their side. This must have been 1988 or thereabouts. One helmet and someone was trying to hit on our fragile heads. It was the final day and Hyderabad had a first inning lead and hence assured of a win. Sundar at one end was playing with his helmet. So out went the 12th man to request the Tamil Nadu players (playing in the adjacent ground) if they could lend one of their helmets. Our man came back empty-handed. Apparently the joke was on this 12th man from Malappuram who apparently asked the T Nadu boys, “Can we have helmet for brain?" Each time someone mentioned helmet, we guffawed ... maybe not anymore.
Also from this writer: Something Sachin Tendulkar's 'Playing it my way ' missed ...