Happy Birthday, Javagal Srinath – India’s First Great “Fast” Bowler

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India has a world beating fast bowling unit today comprising of the likes of Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma, Mohammad Shami and Umesh Yadav. Such talent and pedigree has seldom been seen in India’s cricketing industry. India had traditionally always lacked the culture of fast bowling and fast bowling heroes, though, throughout its cricketing history there have been individual war-horses.

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Kapil Dev was India’s first legendary pace bowler but he was more a swing and seam bowler than a genuine all-out quick. More recently in the 2000s and early 2010s it was Zaheer Khan who emerged as India’s leading paceman. There was another. An engineer from Mysore who took a hat-trick in his first-class debut in 1989 at Secunderabad. Javagal Srinath was India’s first world class fast bowler who shouldered the burden of the country’s pace attack right through the 1990s after the retirement of Kapil Dev.

As he turns 51 today, on the 31st of August, we look back at some of the numbers that define his international career.

THE FIFTH-HIGHEST WICKET-TAKING PACER DURING HIS CAREER

Srinath was the fifth-highest wicket-taker amongst pacers during his international career which lasted from October, 1991 to March 2003. Only Glenn McGrath (699 wickets), Waqar Younis (671), Wasim Akram (640) and Allan Donald (602) aggregated more wickets in this time-frame.

THE SECOND INDIAN PACER TO TAKE 200 TEST WICKETS

Srinath was the second Indian pacer (after Kapil Dev) to reach the milestone of 200 Test wickets. He reached the feat at Bloemfontein in the opening Test of the 2001 tour to South Africa. He took 54 Tests to the landmark which makes him quicker than the likes of James Anderson, Tim Southee, Bob Willis, Courtney Walsh, Morne Morkel, Peter Siddle and Stuart Broad amongst others.

IN AN EXCLUSIVE ODI 300-PLUS CLUB

Srinath is one of only 13 bowlers in the history of ODI cricket to take 300-plus wickets in the format. The only other Indian to achieve the feat is Anil Kumble.

HIGHER BOWLING AVERAGE THAN ZAHEER IN BOTH TESTS AND ODIS

Srinath had a bowling average of 30.49 in Tests and 28.08 in ODIs – both higher than the corresponding averages for Zaheer Khan – 32.94 and 30.11. Interestingly, he has a better bowling average in ODIs than Lasith Malinga (28.87) and a better strike rate than Chaminda Vaas, Shaun Pollock and incredibly, Curtly Ambrose!

GREAT RECORD AT HOME IN TEST CRICKET

Amazingly, Srinath had a better record on the placid tracks in India than the more seamer-friendly conditions in England, New Zealand and Australia. He picked 108 wickets in 32 home Tests during his career at 26.61 apiece. During his career (29 November, 1991 – 3 November 2002), he averaged better in India than Makhaya Ntini in South Africa, Darren Gough, Dominic Cork and Andy Caddick in England amongst others. His most memorable performance came in the opening Test against South Africa in Ahmedabad in 1996.

AHMEDABAD 1996 AND OTHER GREAT TEST PERFORMANCES

South Africa were set 170 in the fourth innings to win the series opener at Ahmedabad. Srinath struck with the new ball as he saw the back of Hudson and Cullinan with the visitors yet to get off the mark. He then came back and broke a potentially threatening 31-run stand between skipper Cronje and Dave Richardson dismissing the latter for 7 before trapping Rhodes plumb in front of the wickets for nought. He ended the innings uprooting the stumps of Donald and Paul Adams to finish with a match-winning 6-21 in 11.5 overs. A very strong South African unit were skittled for 105 and went down by 64 runs.

Such was the bowling on display that it warranted these words of praise from the captain, Sachin Tendulkar, “It was one of the greatest exhibitions of fast bowling I have seen from an Indian for a long time.”

Srinath gave a Man of the Match performance in his maiden home Test against the West Indies in Mumbai in 1994. He scored a crucial 60 in the second innings batting at Number 9 before returning to pick 4 wickets including the scalps of Stuart Williams, Hooper and Jimmy Adams. India won the match by 96 runs.

Srinath’s best Test performance (in terms of wickets taken), albeit in a losing cause, came against Pakistan in the opening match of the Asian Test Championship at the Eden Gardens in 1999. He ran through the top and middle order in the first innings finishing with 5-46 in 19 overs before returning with figures of 8-86 in 27 overs in the second innings.

Srinath’s match-haul of 13-132 are the second-best figures for a fast bowler in a Test match in India after Ian Botham’s 13-106 in Mumbai in 1980.

CONTRIBUTION IN WINS

Srinath took 68 wickets in 17 victorious Tests during his career. His average improved to 20.3 and strike rate to 48.7 in such Tests for India – an indication of how crucial he was to their success in the 1990s. His bowling average in Test wins is higher than the likes of Gillespie, McDermott, Lee and Vaas amongst others during his career.

It was a similar story in ODIs where his strike rate of 31.7 in victorious matches for his country was better than Pollock, Ambrose, Walsh and Fanie de Villiers amongst others.

LEADING WICKET-TAKING PACER AGAINST SOUTH AFRICA DURING CAREER

South Africa were the second-best team (after Australia) in terms of win-loss ratio during Srinath’s Test career. Srinath was the highest wicket-taker (amongst pacers) against South Africa during this period. He aggregated 64 wickets in just 13 Tests at an average of 24.48 and strike rate of 51.7 against them.

He had a better average and strike rate against South Africa in this time-frame than Glenn McGrath, Darren Gough and Jason Gillespie amongst others. Four of his finest five bilateral series performances in terms of wickets taken, average, strike rate and quality of opposition came against South Africa.

1996-2001: SRINATH’S BEST PERIOD IN TEST CRICKET

Srinath had a great run for a six-year period from 1996 to 2001. During this time-frame he picked 170 wickets in 39 Tests at 27.92 apiece at a strike rate of 55.7. His strike rate during this period was better than greats like Ambrose, Akram and Walsh amongst others. 9 of his top 10 bowling performances (in terms of wickets taken in a match) came in this period.

SRINATH WAS REGULARLY CLOCKING ABOVE 150 KMS PER HOUR

During his peak years (1996-1999), Srinath was amongst the quickest bowlers in the world and regularly clocked above 150 kms per hour. He is believed to have reached a peak of 157 kms per hour in an ODI against Zimbabwe at Paarl in 1997. Srinath reached a maximum speed of 149.6 kms per hour in the 1999 World Cup and was only behind the ‘Rawalpindi Express’ – Shoaib Akhtar who clocked 154.5 in the tournament. The speedster from India had rightly earned himself the nickname of the ‘Karnataka Express’!

ONLY THE 2 Ws WERE AHEAD IN THE PACK IN THE 1990s DECADE

Srinath was the third-highest wicket-taker in ODI cricket in the 1990s only behind Akram and Waqar. He picked 237 wickets in 174 innings at 28.21 apiece. 1993 (average 19.02, strike rate 27.1), 1998 (22.02, 28.3) and 2003 (19, 30.5) were his three outstanding years in ODI cricket.

A FAVOUR FOR KIWIS AND A WORLD RECORD

There are two non-Kiwi bowlers who feature in the top 20 ODI wicket-takers’ list for pacers in New Zealand. Srinath had an outstanding record in New Zealand where he picked 43 wickets (number 14 on above list) in just 22 matches at 17.44 apiece at a strike rate of 26.8. The other outsider at number 20 was Wasim Akram.

Srinath has the second-best average (after Akram) amongst all pacers with a minimum of 30 wickets in New Zealand. 6 of his 20 best bowling performances came in New Zealand. Perhaps his finest was when he returned with 3-13 in 10 overs in a nail-biting one-wicket win in Auckland in 2003 – which remain the most economical figures by an Indian pacer in ODI cricket (min. 10 overs bowled).

Srinath picked 18 wickets in 7 matches in this series at an average of 11.16 – it remains the highest aggregate for a pacer in a bilateral series in ODI history!

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THE JOINT-HIGHEST INDIAN WICKET TAKER IN WORLD CUP HISTORY

Srinath is the joint-highest wicket-taker (with Zaheer Khan) for India in World Cup cricket history. Overall, he is at number 8 on the list.

He gave his best in the 2003 World Cup in South Africa where India ended as runners-up. He took 16 wickets in 11 matches including a Man of the Match performance (4-35) against Sri Lanka in Johannesburg.

Today, when India boasts of one of the best fast bowling attacks in the world, the contributions of a certain Javagal Srinath from a time in history when spin dominated in the country, are largely forgotten.

In many ways, he is the torchbearer for fast bowling in Indian cricket.





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