India has produced very few successful fast bowlers over the last 50 years. Yes, the docile pitches at home have contributed a lot to the dearth of fast bowlers. The end result is that India has always been known as the land of spinners in the cricketing world. Be it the famous quartet of Chandrashekhar, Prasanna, Bedi and Venkataraghvan or the more recent duo of Kumble and Harbhajan, Indian bowling has always been dominated by spinners. To become a successful fast bowler in the land of tweakers requires some doing and if we look at the history of Indian cricket, there have been very few successful fast bowlers. However, one name immediately comes to your mind when you think of India’s fast bowling department – Javagal Srinath.
Srinath – A man whose records may not be as great as Anil Kumble, but whose contribution to Indian cricket can never be ignored. In my opinion, he was one of the few genuine fast bowlers that India has produced. He was a bowler who relied on pace and not just swing, unlike many of the other Indian bowlers (his fastest deliveries were close to 95 mph). In the words of the great all rounder Imran Khan, Srinath was the one of the most underrated bowlers in the world. He was part of that era in Indian cricket when a Test series in India meant that India would play with two or three spinners and the role of a fast bowler would be minimal. In such situations also, his performances made people look up and take notice. How can we forget his match winning figures (6/21) against the visiting South Africans at Ahmedabad in the winter of 1996? (incidentally, the other Indian seamer Venkatesh Prasad went wicketless in this match)
It is said that fast bowlers hunt in pairs. Unfortunately, Srinath never had the privilege of having a stable partner with him. His partners kept on changing throughout his career. In many cases during the 90s, especially matches in India, he would be the only pacer playing in the team. Captains would ask for pitches that would assist the spinners and many a times the role of an Indian fast bowler was just to get the shine of the bowl so that the spinners could take over from there. All this never perturbed him and never came in the way of his performance.
He was not known much for his batting and was essentially a traditional tail-ender who would slog at the first opportunity. But to his credit, his batting also occasionally brought laurels to the team. His match-winning partnership with Kumble against Australia in front of his home crowd in Bangalore in the Titan Cup in 1996, when all seemed lost, is still fresh in the memories of all those who watched that game. I still remember the television in my house being turned off at the fall of the eighth Indian wicket (Sachin Tendulkar) with around 50 runs still to go. The Indian victory in that match was nothing short of a miracle and Srinath and Kumble were the chief architects of that miracle.
His career was marked with many injuries which forced him to compromise on pace in the later part of his career. The man finally bid adieu to the game after the 2003 World Cup final against the Australians. His career is a true story of a fighter who defied all odds and became successful at the highest level. Contrary to popular belief that a fast bowler cannot succeed in India, Srinath’s home average is better than his average overseas. In my opinion, it should be a source of inspiration for the youngsters in India who want to become a fast bowler.