Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Indian game a delightful throwback

Those of a certain vintage, like me, will recall when the cricketers of India were a delightful ingredient of the English summer.

Farokh Engineer was the trailblazer, giving wonderful service to Lancashire as they became the standout one-day side of the 1970's. He was followed by the likes of Bishan Bedi, he of the wonderful, lissom action that is still a model for everyone, Sunil Gavaskar, Ravi Shastri and, for one summer only, the great Sachin Tendulkar at Yorkshire.

They were all wonderful players and Derbyshire, of course, did well from their Indian imports. First there was Srinivasaraghavan Venkataraghavan, an off-spinner of guile and considerable talent, who would have been all the more valuable in a side that gave him something to bowl at. We rarely did and although his partnership with the less-exotically named Fred Swarbrook was hugely effective, we won relatively few matches in his time at the club.

Then came that wonderful stylist, Mohammad Azharuddin. If I was given half an hour to watch one Derbyshire batsman once more I would choose, after considerable thought, the former Indian captain. He was a batsman of such wonderful touch and timing and the extraordinary elasticity of his wrists made a mockery of line and length. Good length balls on off stump would be whipped through mid-wicket and when he was on his game there appeared no way a bowler could get him out until he got bored. While the word 'genius' is overused in professional sport, there is none more apposite for the Indian maestro.

Last came Mohammad Kaif, another player of delightful skill who had only a handful of games in our colours and didn't score the runs that his talent warranted. Yet those who saw him will recall a player with time to play his strokes and  plenty to choose from.

Next week's game against the Indian touring side is like a throwback. Not just because some of the greatest players in the world will be playing but because it represents an all-too-rare opportunity to see them in the flesh that is there only every four or five years. It is quite likely that, as an elder statesman of a young team, we may never get another opportunity to see Mahendra Singh Dhoni (pictured) on a Derbyshire cricket ground.

When I was a youngster, the playground chat in the summer revolved around who was coming to play us that weekend. It might have been Garfield Sobers, Mike Procter, Barry Richards, Clive Lloyd or a host of others. With cricket an occasional thing on television, we all wanted to see the players whose names adorned the sports pages and whose feats captured our imagination, like nothing before and very little since.

In this modern media-heavy era, you can see players all the time on Sky and can follow the Indian Premier League from afar, envying the huge crowds and the extraordinary atmosphere at matches. But you can't see the top Indian players in the flesh. The exclusivity of their IPL deals prevents them playing in twenty-over competitions elsewhere, while the vast  rewards on offer mean that they simply don't need to.

The likes of Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma and, of course, MS Dhoni would grace our domestic game and put thousands on crowds, especially in places with large Indian communities. Who wouldn't want to see such players in the flesh? It is the cricket equivalent of a red carpet film premiere, choc-full of players we might dream of playing for us one day, but tinged with sadness at the realisation that they never will.

It is a game that deserves to do well and, although the tourists will want to make a positive impression, there's much to enjoy for the Derbyshire players, many of them young and eager to learn. The same goes for supporters, a number of who will cheer on their Indian heroes, while the club loyal will naturally root for our boys and hope for a positive impression.

It reminds me of the young Neville Cardus, ahead of a Test match between England and Australia, in something of a quandary ahead of his night time prayers. After giving the matter some thought, he came up with what he felt was a workable solution to a dilemma.

"Please, God" he prayed, "let's bowl out Australia for 150 tomorrow, But please let Victor Trumper get a hundred..."

We may see something similar next week. But with the galaxy of talent in this Indian side, the team tally may need to be raised to 450, just so we get to see them all...


Tim, Chesterfield said...

I saw Azharuddin make two wonderful big scores for Derbyshire. In his first spell (and I can't think why we went) my Dad took us to Leicester where he scored a fantastic double hundred. At least that's what I remember, though I was only just out of primary school.

Three years later (DeFreitas home debut?) I saw him do similar to a mediocre Durham attack at Queens Park. Days of cricket, with no other worries, got little better in those days.

Peakfan said...

I saw that Queens Park last day innings mate and although it was a mediocre attack the track was spinning and Graveney caused many problems.
Yet he scored a hundred before lunch and close to another before tea. Astonishing innings by a wonderful player!

Graham said...

I went to Northampton's County ground with my late father for a Sunday League game in '94 where 'Azha' carted the Northants attack for 8 sixes, at least one of which exited the ground not to be found if I recall correctly! I was smitten.
Happy days...

jasper said...

Unfortunately, not remembered solely for his cricketing ability.