In one of your previous e-mails, you had asked:
“… who are the cricketers you thought were the next big thing but whose careers never really took off? And what about vice versa? For instance, after watching Sehwag play just one ball against Shoaib in Chandigarh, I was absolutely convinced that he wouldn’t play for India again. I think that’s my worst call of all time.”
The first is a never-ending list… so better I pick a couple of players who fell short of my expectations in spectacular fashion.
I still can’t believe Michael di Venuto played just nine ODIs. I remember his 89 in Johannesburg in 1997 and how I announced to everyone that he was going to be the next great batsman. Such a clean hitter at the top of the order. And someone who could score at a rapid pace without having to improvise much. YouTube has a clip of his 63 (64) he made for Australia A against Pakistan. Some memorable shots against Wasim, Waqar, Saqlain and Mushtaq. He seemed like such a perfect fit for them back then. He made another fine 77 against New Zealand (where he had a splendid 150-plus stand with Mark Waugh while opening). Then two low scores in two games. After which he was dropped, never to make a comeback. Yes that was a very strong Australian side but I thought di Venuto ought to have been given more chances to succeed.
The second biggest disappointment for me is Sairaj Bahutule. Based on just one match – the 1995 Challenger Trophy final between India and India A in Calcutta. India had lost Prabhakar early but Tendulkar and Kambli put on 70-odd for the second wicket. Bahutule was the fifth bowler to be brought on but what an impact he made! Four for 26 in his 10 overs. And some mighty wickets those.
Tendulkar – caught by Dravid at slip (if I remember right); Azharuddin (caught off a leading edge); Jadeja (caught and bowled with a ball he held back beautifully).
But the most devastating wicket of all was that of Kambli: a Blue Whale of a legbreak that pitched waaaaaaaay outside off and came back to knock back the stumps. Kambli wasn’t even interested to begin with. He ended up making an ugly attempt to parry it in the last moment but stood absolutely no chance.
Now the context: a year earlier, Kambli had shredded Warne in the semi-final of the Austral-Asia Cup in Sharjah. India were chasing a tricky 245 and Australia had a bit of a sniff when Warne got Sidhu stumped. Kambli came in and went berserk with a 17-ball 28 (with three fours and two sixes). I mean, he pummeled Warne, plain and simple. There were deliveries when he was down the track even before the ball was bowled – or at least that’s how it is in my memory. Everyone talks of Sachin v Warne and Laxman v Warne and Lara v Warne (even Amit Pagnis v Warne) but I don’t think Warne has been so badly manhandled as in those two overs he bowled to Kambli.
So to see Bahutule bamboozle Kambli with that legbreak….and then to see him dismiss Tendulkar, Azhar and Jadeja was to herald the arrival – at least in my imagination – of the next great Indian spinner. India A would go on to lose the game – another legspinner, Kumble, would take 3 for 34 in the second innings – but I remember the commentators talking up the prospect of the two of them bowling in tandem for India. Two vastly different legspinners who could lead the attack for years to come. One teasing with flight and loop, another pegging away with relentless accuracy. Sainil? Kumutule?
As for cricketers who I didn’t rate when they started out… that list too is long. The first name that comes to mind is Jimmy Anderson. I didn’t expect him do much beyond English conditions and took it that his career would be done after a few Tests. Simon Jones, I had high hopes for. Chris Tremlett was another bowler who I assumed would go far. But Anderson was just too one-dimensional for me early on. Lacking in pace. Lacking in reverse-swing. Lacking a slower one. Something about him spelt ‘classic English fast-medium who will get a couple of five-fors at Lord’s and Headingley and disappear from memory’. And all these years later, the guys is still at it. And he will likely end up with 650 wickets or so. Madness!
PS: these initial biases keep cropping up from time to time even now. For instance, when people compare Anderson to Lillee my first reaction is one of vehement disagreement. This is not a ridiculous comparison at all, still it takes a highly persuasive argument for me to be convinced that Anderson is in the same league as Lillee. Of late, though, I try and filter out these personal biases before making any judgement calls on a player.