Ideas and Action for a Better India
by Rammohan Khanapurkar
On one sleepy afternoon, Star Sports was showing vintage footage of the West Indies side touring England. Emperor then (though exiled now), West Indian team prowled like lions in the African savannas, ferociously confident, unchallenged and of course, invincible. At the crease was Rohan Kanhai, who displayed artistic mastery over elegant shots like pulls, sweep and drives. He was like an artist swiftly moving his brush on the canvass. Though, the hall of fame moment came, when a short-pitch ball came speedily, aiming at Kanhai’s throat. Up on his toes and with 180degree rotation, Kanhaihooked the red cherry to a delectable six. While the ball was disappearing in the stands, Kanhai loosened his body, and fell on the pitch in the same rhythm, with a featherlike ease. At that time, he looked more like an artist sculpting space around him than anything else. Since then the time has taken its toll. Kanhai became Sir Rohan Kanhai and retired. But just like that old footage, hook shot has been on the verge of extinction.
Cricket is a gentleman’s game, except a short ball or bouncer. With ICC’s rule curbing today’s fast bowlers with one bouncer per over, current generation is deprived of yesteryear’s bodyline war. Therefore, it would be worthwhile to pay an ode to the ‘hook shot’, by narrating some adrenaline moments from the history of the game.
Year 1981, Ashes series between England and Australia. On the wackiest pitch of WACA ground, Ian Botham played one of the fearless innings of his life, challenging hurricane Lillie on every bouncer. Without a helmet, Botham effortlessly dispatched Lillie’s bouncers for massive sixes. A split seconds miss and ball could have easily disfigured helmet-less Botham’s face; the way it did with Mike Gatting. In the year 1987, a lethal bouncer hurled from Malcolm Marshall broke Mike Gatting’s nose. When Marshall picked up the ball, he was horrified…a small piece of bone from Gatting’s nose got enmeshed in the rocky season ball. Next day’s tabloids in Britain ran headlines, ‘Lucky to be alive’. This is a bouncer and its devastating aftermath; a damn bloody affair if not played properly.
Invention of sturdy helmets with iron grills prevents direct collision these days. But despite this solid protection, contemporary batsmen refrain from playing hook; they prefer to duck instead. As they duck our yesteryear’s heroes stand tall. India too has produced great batsmen capable of executing daring hook shot. Among them, Mohinder ‘Jimmy’ Amarnath was the colonel of highest rank. He was the one who sort of created ‘on the pitch manual’ of playing a hook shot, while playing in the 1982 test series in Pakistan. Imran Khan was at his peak then and breathed fire against its arch enemy, India. Wars which could not be won by Pakistani soldiers in 1965 and 1971, Imran and his bowler’s army attempted on the cricket pitch. They won in terms of outcome of test, though brigadier Mohinder Amarnath fought every inch of it till the end. Even his staunch detractors would agree that courage displayed by Jimmy Amarnath in hooking Imran Khan was unparalleled in the history of the game. Then we had Little Master, Sunil Gavaskar. With a 5.5ft short frame, Sunil Gavaskar- without a helmet- faced hurricane like deliveries throughout his cricketing career with delicate aplomb, comparable only to any prima ballerina. Each and every one of those deliveries he faced was potent enough to blast little master to smithereens. There was also indomitable Vishy, Gundappa Vishwanath. The way Gundappa Vishwanath and Sunil Gavaskar negotiated with the fiery red cherry convinced most of the cricket buffs, that to be a great hooker height was rather a disadvantageous attribute. Another Indian cricketer, Sandeep Patil dazzled before Australian spectators with his epic knock of 151, full of terrific hooks. In this act, he was almost done in when a speedy delivery from Len Pasco hit hard on his temple. Never to forget our bygone heroes, M. L. Jaisimha, Dilip Sardesai, Eknath Solkar, who were active members of the daredevil contingent of Indian cricket, during the helmet-less days of Cricket.
In the 1976’s Barbados Test match, West Indian fast bowlers camouflaged beamers as bouncers and hospitalized several Indian batsmen. Brijesh Patel almost went in the ICU. Once again, amidst the mayhem, Mohinder ‘Jimmy’ Amarnath hooked the West Indian bowling quartet with deadly courage.
Today, with only one short ball to play in an over, batsman prefers to duck and play safe. Massive numbers of One-day games and T-20’s at the expense of Test cricket have resulted in this meek attitude of today’s batsmen. With second bouncers ruled as a no-ball in one-day games and warning in a test cricket, the game is failing to prepare contemporary batsman in negotiating with the hook shot.
In the year 2000, triumvirate of Bret Lee, Glen Mcgrath and Jason Gillespi wrought havoc on jaded Indian batsmen. It was the most forgettable series India ever had in Australia. Though, in the last test at the Sydney Cricket ground, V.V.S. Laxman pulled, drove and cut superbly. In the act, he also revived the forgotten art of hook. His fearless hooks made cricket lovers nostalgic about the black and white era. It was also a gusty statement from him that if there is a will there is a hook!