PAST & PRESENT
My friend, the enemy
The way to go ... Ashish Nehra and Dennis Lillee.
WHEN Wasim Akram passed on a few tips to Irfan Pathan in Australia, he was sharply criticised by the coach of the Pakistan team, Javed Miandad. Since India was soon to tour Pakistan, complained Miandad, the lessons learnt by Pathan would be applied with force against Akram's own side. He thus stood accused of that most unpatriotic of acts "helping the enemy".
There is, in fact, a long tradition of cricketers from one country advising cricketers from another. The first such instance that I know of dates from the summer of 1930. The Australian cricketers were visiting England, and early in their tour were invited for a leisurely luncheon at the palace of the Duke of Norfolk. Where the other guests had their eyes on the food (and drink), the young England leg-spinner Ian Peebles had his ears cocked to the words streaming out of the mouth of the Australian veteran Arthur Mailey. After the meal, while the others lounged on the grass, Peebles and Mailey repaired to the edge of the lawn. There, with the aid of a cricket ball commandeered from the staff, the old man taught the young boy how to better conceal his googly.
The Australia-England cricket rivalry of 1930s was akin to the India-Pakistan rivalry of our own time. Naturally, there were colleagues of Mailey who thought he had let down his side. These criticisms were to gather force when, later in the summer, Peebles got Don Bradman out more than once, with the googly. Mailey's answer to those who thought he had done the wrong thing was to point out that "Spin Bowling is an Art, and Art is International".
Many years after reading about this incident, I was sitting in Bangalore watching a Test match in the company of Bishan Bedi. Shane Warne was bowling to Navjyot Sidhu. After Sidhu tonked him for one huge six, Warne changed to bowling round the wicket. "The Indians will pad him away till the cows come home," said Bedi. "Why doesn't the boy bowl over the wicket, flight the ball, and let the (fourth-day) pitch do the rest? I will talk to him this evening."
And talk to him he did. For that night I had dinner with Bedi, and when I went to pick him up from his hotel room I found Warne had been there before me. The evidence was in the two empty cans of baked beans left behind; this the only food the Australian googly bowler consumed on his trip to India.
As a class, modern men are poorly read. And modern cricketers are less literate still. I doubt whether Wasim Akram has heard of Arthur Mailey's book 10 for 66 and All That (where the meeting with Peebles is recorded). But he might have heard, by word of mouth, of Bishan Bedi's work with Shane Warne, or indeed of the Sardar of Spin's coaching sessions with the likes of Danile Vettori.
However, when Miandad accused him of being disloyal, Akram lamely answered that he had not taught Pathan the real tricks of the trade. (Such as how to scrape a ball with a bottle cap, an art mastered by Sarfraz Nawaz, passed on by him to Imran Khan, and in turn to Waqar and Wasim). One wishes that Akram had the guts to squarely state: "Swing Bowling is an Art. And Art is International."
As it happens, the Akram-Pathan exchange was not the only example of trans-national coaching to take effect in that series. Months before the tour began, the Indian captain, Saurav Ganguly, flew down to Adelaide to consult with the old Australian batting great, Greg Chappell. The last time he had toured Down Under (in 2000-01) Ganguly had a dreadful time in the bat. He was dismissed for a series of low scores, typically caught at the wicket, or in the slips.
This time, Chappell advised the Indian to get his left foot back and across, and to allow balls outside the off stump to pass through to the wicket-keeper, rather than flash at them. By these methods Ganguly compiled an assured 100 in the first Test of the series. This innings much emboldened the captain's men, men such as Dravid and Laxman, who went on to score bigger and better hundreds in later Tests. Throughout the series, India played on level terms with the mighty Australians. But had Ganguly keeled over early on, so would have his side. In that case India might have lost the rubber by three or four Tests to nil, rather than drawing it one-one.
Australians, as we all know, play their cricket hard and mean. The meanest, according to legend, were Greg Chappell and his contemporaries Dennis Lillee and Rodney Marsh. This trio made their Test debuts together, and retired together. On the latter occasion, they were the subject of an affecting portrait by that fine English sportswriter Frank Keating. "Forthcoming Australian cricket," wrote Keating, "will be distinctly odd. No Test side will ever again be Chappelled, Lilleed, and Marshed." For 13 years this threesome had shown that "they didn't care at all for Pakistanis; they pitied little Indians and provincial New Zealanders; they snarled back, glare for glare, at West Indians... But it was Englishmen they loathed".
This was written in 1984. Who would have thought then that Dennis Lillee would train countless Indian seam bowlers at the MRF Academy in Madras? Or that Greg Chappell would help an Indian captain score a crucial century against Australia? Or, indeed, that snarling Rodney Marsh, that famous Pommie-basher, would become an official selector of the England cricket team?
These gestures of comradeship could scarcely have been anticipated by us. It is in character that Bishan Bedi, known in his playing days for the sportsmanship and generosity, would advise spin bowlers regardless of nationality. And it did not come as a surprise when, on India's last Test tour of Pakistan, in 1989, Mohammed Azharuddin went for a coaching session with Zaheer Abbas, another cricketer of sunny temperament and a transparent friendliness. But Chappell, Lillee and Marsh? That this terrible trio should pass on their knowledge to non-Australians is proof that it is not just spin or swing bowling, but cricket itself, that is international.
These trans-national influences can be personal and direct, or they can be indirect, transmitted by learned intermediaries. Sunil Gavaskar once wrote of how, as a boy, he was taken in hand by the legendary Bombay coach Vasu Paranjype. In teaching Gavaskar the basics of batsmanship, Paranjype urged him to model himself on Hanif Mohammad. Now Gavaskar had never seen Hanif bat, but fortunately his coach had. "When Hanif Mohammad played forward defensive at the Brabourne Stadium," said Vasu to Sunil, mimicking the stroke as he talked, "You could hear the sound of the ball hitting the bat at the Churchgate Railway Stadium."
And thus it was that the career of a great Indian batsman was influenced and shaped by the example of a great Pakistani batsman. This story brings me to what is my own hope for the current series in Pakistan. It is not that cricket shall promote peace for that is the job of politicians. Nor is it that we should win the Test and one-day series for I am not a cricketing nationalist. Rather, my hope is this that, just as Hanif influenced Gavaskar, and Akram has aided Pathan, this tour shall allow some young Pakistani batsman to watch, admire, and be inspired to emulate the strokemaking of that encrusted little jewel of the modern world, Sachin Tendulkar.
Ramachandra Guha is a historian and writer based in Bangalore. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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