Finding the limelight in modern cricket

Rafiqul Ameer Roar Pro

By , Rafiqul Ameer is a Roar Pro

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    It would perhaps be an exaggeration to claim that Mike Hendrik of England is the unluckiest cricketer of all time. After all, the history of cricket is full of stories of highly talented cricketers either not getting enough opportunities, or not being properly appreciated for their efforts on the field.

    In many such lists, the name Albert Trott would appear at the top. Very late in the 19th century, he performed admirably with bat and ball for both Australia and England. Yet combined between them, he just played five Tests.

    Closer to the present day we can take a group of extremely talented South African cricketers in the 1970s who got little or no chance to show their cricketing talents due to the international ban imposed in their nation.

    We can recall Clyde Butts, the West Indies off-spinner, who in 1985 had to reschedule his marriage ceremony to make his West Indies Test debut against New Zealand. The marriage ceremony eventually did take place during the rest day of the Georgetown Test, but after going wicket-less in the match he was promptly dropped.

    Another off-spinner, Ejaj Faqih, was flown in from Karachi in early 1987 to join the Pakistan team for the fourth Test at Ahmedabad. A bat a bit, bowl a bit type of cricketer, Faqih was brought in as a replacement for Tausif Ahmed, the off-spinner who was injured. Faqih scored a cracking ton but failed with the ball, and with Tausif becoming fit Faqih was dropped for the 5ht Test.

    I am sure more knowledgeable cricket historians would provide scores of similar stories from cricket history.

    Boy playing cricket in war-torn Afghanistan

    (AFP PHOTO / WAKIL KOHSAR)

    Here, however, I would like to concentrate on the Mike Hendrik case, as his case is very much related to the theme of this article.

    Mike Hendrik played 30 Tests for England between 1974 and 1981 taking 87 wickets at 25.83 each. His ratio of fewer than three wickets per Test match might not seem very impressive, but quite remarkably his bowling average is better than John Snow, Ian Botham or Darren Gough. Not to mention the two best England fast bowlers of the current era, James Anderson and Stuart Broad, with averages over 27 and 28 respectively.

    Of course, there is no reason to claim that Hendrik was a better bowler than any of the abovementioned fast bowlers. Obviously, a respectable average over a longer period of Test cricket has a far greater significance. Also, Hendrik played most of his Tests in seamer-friendly conditions; he was never tried in the subcontinent.

    But, still given all the facts and the figures, I find it quite surprising that he always stayed away from the limelight and had to struggle to keep a regular place in the England squad.

    One interesting aspect of Hendrik’s Test record is that there is no five-wicket haul in an innings. He was always happy to take three or four crucial wickets, normally in the middle of the innings.

    Statistically, Hendrik’s best bowling effort came against India, at Edgbaston in 1974, when he took 4/28 in the first innings. But even more impressive were his efforts at Leeds in the 1977 Ashes. Sharing the new ball with Bob Willis, he ran through the Aussie top order in both innings, taking 4/41 and 4/54 to set up an emphatic win for his side. This deserved great media attention, but he didn’t get it.

    Even before he had come to the bowling crease, Geoffrey Boycott had made this match his own. With a patient 191 he scored his 100th first class ton. Bad news for Hendrik, who was denied the limelight again.

    This word ‘limelight’ brings us to the main point of this article. There have been many other cricketers like Hendrik who have performed consistently for their team but failed to hold enough attention. We may say their shortcomings were that they were too consistent for their own good.

    Almost four decades have passed since Hendrik last played for England. The game of cricket has changed enormously since then. What was a shortcoming earlier has now become something like a cardinal sin.

    With ever-growing TV coverage, cricket has changed. Just like professional wrestling and boxing, it is more entertainment than competitive sport. The media these days wants news-making events from cricket matches. They want it, perhaps demand it, and at times I get the impression that they produce it. Going from zero to hero or vice versa is the story they prefer. If anyone is stuck in between, he will miss the limelight, ending up with a Mike Hendrik like career.

    Interestingly, it is not always the great performances that bring the limelight to you. If he hadn’t bowled that famous underarm delivery, Trevor Chappell would have remained a forgotten man. Sir Gary Sobers ensured Malcolm Nash’s place in cricket history by lofting him for six successive sixes.

    For all his elegant batting and brilliant captaincy for India, Sourav Ganguly is best remembered by many for his shirt waiving celebration at Lord’s. The limelight can be put on you in many different ways. At times, it may have little to do with cricket itself.

    If modern cricket is all about being in the news, then Kuldeep Yadav, the young Indian spinner, has played his part brilliantly in the first three ODIs against Australia. After taking 2/33 from just four overs at Chennai, he started nervously at the Eden Gardens. In his initial overs, he lacked confidence, trying too many things. Yet somehow, a Yadav hat-trick decided the fate of that game. His figures in the third ODI were 2/75 from another ten eventful overs.

    We can talk about Shakib-al-Hasan’s recent performances as well. His brilliant effort with both bat and ball won the Test match at Dhaka, yet it was followed by 24 and two with the bat plus two expensive wickets at Chittagong, and now he has decided to miss the South Africa tour. This again is what makes news.

    So modern day cricket is mainly for the newsmakers. A cricketer has to make news, on or off the field. Cricketing skills are still important, but not enough.

    Virat Kohli’s effortless on-drive receives rich applause from the pundits (and it makes me wonder why the same thing appeared as such a difficult art to me during my playing days) yet social media likes to concentrate more on his off-field activities.

    For better or for worse, the game of cricket has changed forever. It probably started with Kerry Packer, who first fully understood the things which bring a player to the news. Others have worked on it since then.

    At times, such performances become more important than the skills, which is disappointing, but no one can deny that such things have become part of the modern game of cricket.

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