Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Lefty Idols

As a Mumbai kid growing up in the 1970s, there's no question about who was the biggest cricketing idol - Sunny Gavaskar, of course. But being left-handed myself, I was naturally drawn towards emulating left-handed cricketers.

Think of the India team of the mid-70s through the 80s. Clearly, its strength was its batting especially after the advent of Vengsarkar and Mohinder. The batting stars however, were all right-handed - Gavaskar, Vishwanath, Vengsarkar, Mohinder, Sandip Patil, and later Azhar. The bowling didn't have any stars or even consistent performers other than Kapil Dev. The spin quartet was already on the wane.

The only lefty who stood out at the time was Karsan Ghavri, and I quickly adopted him as my idol. At one time, he was the only Indian pace bowler other than Kapil, to have 100+ Test wickets. In addition, he was a fairly competent #8 batsman, thus bordering on all-rounder status. Most importantly to me, he was a fighter who never gave his wicket easily. I had the pleasure of watching his highest Test innings, a score of 86 against Australia at the Wankhede Stadium. He had a rollicking partnership that day with Syed Kirmani, and smacked three sixes during that innings - one of which landed very close to where I was sitting (in the West Stand). What more could a fan wish for?

Another memory of Ghavri is from a Duleep Trophy game at the Wankhede. Ghavri was opening the bowling for West Zone, and facing him was Pronob Roy of East Zone. Pronob was the son of India opener Pankaj Roy, and at that time was a rising star - he soon went on to play for India himself, although he didn't last long.

In those days, Duleep trophy games attracted a crowd of a few thousand (well, maybe a couple of thousand) at the Wankhede. I was among them, this time in the North Stand. Ghavri was bowling from the Tata end, i.e. running away from us. In the otherwise silent crowd, this one guy started a chant of "Booooooooooowled" and a few of us joined in, keeping up the "ooooooo" throughout Ghavri's (loooong) runup. And wonder of wonders, Ghavri went right through Pronob Roy's defence and had the most spectacular type of "clean bowled" that pace bowlers dream about - the middle stump going cartwheeling back towards the 'keeper!

After the evening game of cricket at the local playground, I used to run back home - but not quite "run". It would be an imitation of Ghavri's runup, with left hand pumping up and down holding an imaginary ball, and culminating in the leap and delivery! In the imagination of course, the ball would always fox the batsman and crash into the stumps, or take an edge and land in the always-safe gloves of that other hero - Syed Kirmani.

In the prime of my Ghavri-idolizing days, my hero was taken away from me - he was dropped from the Indian team, and I blamed nasty selectoral politics of course! Although he hung around for a while in the Mumbai team, and later became a successful coach (he was always a street-smart cricketer), he never made it back to the limelight, sadly.

So, I needed a new lefty hero, and I found one around that time in Ravi Shastri - not quite as satisfactory, because he batted right-handed of course. But to this day, when I bowl left-arm spin, I do a fair imitation of Shastri's action! More on Shastri some other day, though...

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