Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Some good from a dead rubber

The Duke of Wellington is said to have remarked, after the Battle of Waterloo, “The saddest thing after a battle lost is a battle gained”. Sometimes I feel that way about a series win in one-day internationals. For nothing feels quite as pointless as a couple of one-day internationals after a series has been decided. Dead tests can be harder on the players though, which perhaps explains why so many teams go down in dead rubber games. Still, these are international games, and pride, and some national honour is still at stake. For the Indian team in this set of games, there is time to carry out the inevitable rotations and experimentations. And to my mind, nothing is more interesting than the potential return of Balaji.

I have often gotten my calls on players wrong. A classic case is Ishant Sharma, who I couldn’t stop dissing before his debut in Australia. Another one was Balaji. I disliked him from the get-go. Something didn’t seem right. His action seemed all lope and no thrust. He seemed a bit too languid (thus sending the unkind thought through my mind that he was just going to be another Ranji trundler, a bloody sifarishi come to warm the benches for a few games before being sent back to the boonies). I was castigated for my lack of faith in him by friends whose judgment in cricket I trusted, but I refused to listen.

Of course, it was the tour of Pakistan in 2004 that changed my mind. The six off Shoaib in a one-day international, and his fine bowling (the most important being the 4-fer on the first day of the third test). And from being seemingly all shamble and shuffle he seemed lithe and athletic.

One wicket, more than any other, did it for me. It was the first wicket of the 4-fer in the third test at Rawalpindi. Ganguly had put Pakistan in, and I fretted. Yes, I was still fuming over the World Cup final. And on that day, I saw no reason to have put Pakistan in. I wanted India to bat again, to try and do a Multan all over again before pressing on for a series win. And we were coming off a loss in Lahore. What was Ganguly doing? When Umar and Farhat had put on some 30 odd, I was getting nervous. And then Balaji got Umar with a beautiful delivery that straightened and trapped him in front. In the next over Nehra got Farhat and the slide was on. In the second innings, as Pakistan tried to deal with India’s gigantic lead of 376, Balaji struck the first blow by getting rid of Farhat, and then the next day, took the all-important wicket of Inzi.

Even till 2005, I was writing in emails to friend, “If Balaji ever decides to build up some upper body strength, he could becomes express; with his current loping run and smooth delivery he regularly hits the mid 130s.”

Sadly, he went the other way, injuring himself and falling out of favor with the selectors on his way back. But now he’s around, and perhaps he’ll get a game in the remaining two fixtures. Dhoni has already indicated his desire to experiment. And so perhaps I’ll get a chance to relive some of the memories of 2004. Has it already been five years?


Blogger Megha said...

Ah the Pakistan series...seems like yesterday when we were yelling "Balaji, Balaji!" in front of the television in my hostel :D

Hoping that both Balaji and Pathan get a chance to play in the remaining matches...

11:42 AM  

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