When he started his career, Kapil Dev’s majestic career was coming to an end and people kept on thinking, who would carry on the legacy of the great man! But Javagal Srinath stepped up to lead the pace attack of team India!
Over the years, Indian fast bowlers have received a lot of flak for their inconsistent performances even in conditions assisting them. However, under Virat Kohli, that impression is changing the recent tours to South Africa and England has proved that they too can compete and win. No doubt India has seen some great fast bowlers like Kapil Dev, Zaheer Khan, etc.. Being the fastest Indian bowler is a huge distinction in itself and it was Javagal Srinath, who once upon a time had that honour. Srinath was never the one to hog the limelight, yet went about his work efficiently. As his career progressed, he added many more skills to his repertoire and became one of the best bowlers in the world.
His pace dropped a notch, but his accuracy and guile with the ball did not elude him right till the end of his career. Until Zaheer Khan (311) and most recently Ishant Sharma (249) surpassed him, Srinath was second only to Kapil Devin being the leading wicket-taker in Tests by a fast bowler (236). As far as the ODIs are concerned, he is the second highest wicket-taker with 315 scalps in the format, behind Anil Kumble, who is leading the way with 334 wickets.
As a batsman, he did not live up to his potential, but he was often sent up the order as a pinch-hitter, just like Agarkar was sent on many occasions. It paid off at times, but more often than not,the move was not that successful. Regardless, Srinath was a gritty tailender and has a total of 5 international fifties to his credit.
Stint at MRF pace academy
After a couple of good seasons at the domestic circuit, Srinath was roped into the Indian team in an ODI against Pakistan in October 1991 in the Wills Trophy played in the UAE. Srinath managed 3 wickets in as many matches, but was in the Test team that flew to Australia soon after that. Being the fastest, Srinath made that trip, with Manoj Prabhakar and Kapil Dev being the other fast bowlers. Srinath did trouble the batsmen with his pace, but a year later, he lost his rhythm, having not bowled a single delivery for six months due to his engineering exams.
In Karnataka, every second person you run into will either be an engineer or pursuing his engineering. Srinath was studying to become an instrumentation engineer. After making his India debut, he was preparing for his exams, six months before the Buchi Babu tournament. In those days, the Buchi Babu tournament was a 3-day affair, where both the teams will be given 90 overs in the first innings and 40 overs in their second. Srinath conceded way too many runs for his liking in that game and to find his groove he teamed up with Dennis Lillee at the MRF Pace Academy in Chennai.
Srinath explains how Lillee’s words encouraged him initially. “I said I had exams for almost six months. I went to college, where there were no proper practice sessions,” Srinath told ESPNCricinfo. “Lillee said nobody in the world could bowl better after a six-month break. ‘You need a lot of practice, that’s all. There is nothing wrong with you. Just keep bowling more and more and you will get better.'” Lillee’s words were just the encouragement Srinath needed and he got better with every delivery he bowled. His rhythm and accuracy returned and he would then go on to give his best for India.
Srinath constantly bowled at pace in and around the 150 KMPH, making him the quickest bowler India has ever produced. Hailing from the state that produced great cricketers like Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble Roger Binny, BS Chandrasekhar and Gundappa Vishwanath to name a few, Srinath too went on to cement his own legacy.
Srinath will always be remembered for the marvellous spell he bowled against South Africa in a dust bowl at Ahmedabad. It was a low scoring affair, on a surface where batting was never going to be easy. Needing just 170 to win in the fourth innings, Srinath produced a magical spell that he can look back with great pride. In the subcontinent, especially in India, the wickets are more often than not made to assist the spin bowlers. Under such circumstances, it is always heartening to see a fast bowler run in all day and deliver.
That’s exactly what Srinath did in that game, helping India to a 64-run win. Srinath finished the series as the leading wicket-taker in the series with 17 scalps. Since that series, Srinath maintained a steady pace, constantly clcking in the range of 150 KPH. However, in March 1997, he had to undergo a shoulder surgery and the question of whether he will ever bowl again started doing rounds.
Speed guns were introduced for the very first time when Australia visited India in 1998. Australia’s fastest Glenn McGrath was injured for the tour. It is believed that Srinath 148 KPH, well ahead of McGrath, who clocked just 141. India went on to win the seires 2-1, but Australia emerged victorious in the tour that consisted of hosts India and Zimbabwe. Srinath managed just 8 wickets in the series – His first after the shoulder injury. The good news for India was that he was still bowling quick. Srinath was in fact on par with the likes of Allan Donald, Lance Klusener and also Shoaib Akhtar.
In the 1999 World Cup, Srinath was just behind the Rawalpindi Express Shoaib Akhtar when it came to speed, clocking 149.6 KPH compared to Akhtar’s 154.5 KPH.
Before the 1999 World Cup, Srinath bowled anther ferocious spell, this time against Pakistan at Eden Gardens. He bowled his heart out in the match, finishing with 13 wickets in the match to give India a real chance, but Pakistan proved to be too good and managed to defend 278 in the fourth innings.
Drop in pace and World Cup heartbreak
With time, Srinath’s pace dropped and he started to focus more on swing, leg-cutters and off-cutters, especially in the 50-over format and disguised it cleverly. Srinath continued to be in India’s plans despite the emergence of young fast bowlers like Ajit Agarkar, Ashish Nehra and Zaheer Khan. His experience was vital in taking India forward. India seemed to have a balanced side going into the ICC World Cup 2003 in South Africa.
Srinath had already announced his retirement from Tests in 2002 and the main was to focus on ODIs, keeping one eye on the World Cup. “I have some cricket left in me. I want to play objective cricket and channelise it properly (for the World Cup),” Srinath said, according to PTI.
India had a fearsome pace attack consisting of Zaheer, Srinath and Nehra. Srinath thrived in South African conditions. He managed to pick up 43 wickets from 8 Tests in the Rainbow Nation and also had a decent record in the ODIs. Srinath played a second fiddle to Zaheer in the World Cup finishing with 16 wickets at 23.06 from 11 matches – Two wickets behind Zaheer and one more than Nehra.
After doing all the hard work, India managed to reach the final with some blistering performances against Pakistan, England, Sri Lanka and Kenya. They were up against the mighty Aussies in the final – The same opposition that thrashed them by 9 wickets earlier in the tournament.
India captain Sourav Ganguly had elected to bowl first after winning the toss in the big final as he thought that the wicket was damp and his fast bowlers could get some purchase early on and rattle Australia.
Australia started to attack right from the beginning, taking the fast bowlers apart. Srinath finished the match with figures of 0-87 from his 10 overs, which was his most expensive spell in ODIs. India took a battering once again. They scored just 125 in the group stage against this side and now they had lost the final by 125 runs. It was heartbreaking for the Indian fans, who thought they will lift the cup after 20 years. This is the last game Srinath played for India and he certainly would have wanted to bow out with a better performance. But, he could certainly be proud of the way he led the bowling attack for well over a decade.
A successful match referee now, Srinath has left behind a rich legacy as a player. Pakistan great Imran Khan once referred to Srinath as an under-rated bowler. Imran thought Srinath bowled at a great pace on the Indian pitches, which was a notch different from other bowlers. In fact, in India, the fast bowlers used to bowl just till the shine went away after which the spinners would take over. Srinath does not get enough credit for clocking around 150 KPH on Indian pitches and troubling the batsmen with sheer pace. How many Indian bowlers can really do that? Not many for sure.
Srinath retired when he was 32-33 and many, including his teammates, felt he had a few more years left in him. But with a serious dip in pace and emergence of other fast bowlers, Srinath did not want to stand in their way, which eventually turned out to be the right call for him and for his country.