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Friday, January 28, 2022

Wrong shots, long regrets: Before Pant, there were Bradman, Gavaskar, Kapil, KP and Mongia

Following Rishabh Pant's brain fade of a shot in Johannesburg, The Indian Express looks at some of the crucified shots from the past.

Written by Sriram Veera | Mumbai |
Updated: January 6, 2022 8:19:03 am
Rishabh PantRishabh Pant was dismissed by Kagiso Rabada in the 2nd Test. (Screengrab/Twitter/Youtube)

Mark Ramprakash Vs Australia, 2001

It’s a shot that he would be blamed for years and Warne would revel in his own sledge to match. England, who had yielded a five-run lead in the Trent Bridge Test, were shaky at 126 for 4 that included the key wickets of Mike Atherton and Alec Stewart. Ramprakash had painstakingly stitched out 26 runs from an hour and half of cautious batting. Near the end of that phase, Warne had started to give him the lip, urging him to come down the track. “Come on, Ramps, you know you want to,” Warne would say. The red mist continued to rise and came to a boil with just nine overs left for stumps. Ramprakash charged down the track and was stranded as Warne’s classic leg break spun past the waft for Adam Gilchrist to do the rest. Ramprakash would later say, “Throughout my Test career I’ve been accused of not playing my shots… and I will be looking to take the attacking option when I can – even if that means going down the pitch to Shane Warne… It’s almost as if in England we would rather a batsman gets out playing a forward-defensive shot than trying to take the attack to the opposition.”

Don Bradman vs England 1932-33

File Footage of Don Bradman playing a match on February 26, 1949. (Source: Screengrab)

It was in the infamous Bodyline series. Bradman didn’t feature in the first Test, which Douglas Jardine’s men wrapped up with their leg theory, triggering speculations that the Don had suffered a nervous breakdown. But much to the joy of the Australian fans, he came for the second Test at Melbourne. A dramatic ovation was given when he walked in at 67 for 2 that delayed the play for a couple of minutes. But it was all over in a blink. Expecting a bouncer, he walked right across his stumps, to outside off stump, and went for the hook. But the ball didn’t climb as much as he thought it would and he chopped the ball on to his stumps. Short pitched bowling cooked his mind. It was his first ever first-ball duck. A shocked MCG crowd sat in silence as he walked back to the hut. However, he hit a hundred in the second innings to help Australia win the game. Throughout that series, he would often predetermine his shots, shuffling here and there, often to the off side. It caused a great debate but that’s a story for another day.

Kapil Dev: Delhi Test against England, 1984

It was a shot that divided a nation. It split into two camps – Gavaskar and Kapil Dev, with the former copping a lot of heat for the selectorial decision to drop Kapil in the next Test. Even as recently as couple of years ago, Gavaskar was showing an old newspaper clipping to prove that it wasn’t his decision. Now, to that shot in Delhi. India were setting up a target in the second innings and had reached 214 for 5 when it happened. He had just hit Pat Pocock for a six when he tried going for another six next ball, only to be caught at long-off by Allan Lamb. “I have no regrets. It was stupid of them to have dropped me. Name me a player who was dropped for playing a bad shot. They wanted to make a point because we had lost the Test. In the end, to me it looked a stupid thing because someone was sitting in an important chair,” Kapil would say later.

Kevin Pietersen vs Australia, 2009

A shot that angered former England captain Tony Greig so much that he urged the captain Andrew Strauss to tell Pietersen that he could be dropped if he plays such shots. Pietersen was in the middle of a dominating innings when he decided to paddle sweep a harmless delivery, wide outside off stump, from Nathan Hauritz. Not even Pietersen’s long arms could do that without throwing up an error. The ball bounded off the inner edge, and popped off his own helmet and nestled in the palms of short-leg. “Sometimes you have to take a firm stance with these players and I think Pietersen might fall into that category, Greig would say. “It’s Strauss’s job to warn Pietersen if he plays stupid shots.” A year earlier, Pietersen looking for glory, hitting to reach a hundred had holed out to long-on in the second innings and South Africa chased down the target.

Nayan Mongia, Vs Pakistan, Chennai 1999

He had played out of his skin until then to support Sachin Tendulkar, who was in the midst of a dreamy knock even as he endured a back spasm, when Mongia combusted. On 52, he went for the good-old dirty slog across the line against a bowler of Wasim Akram’s calibre, no less and holed out to mid-off. On air Michael Holding would deadpan, “There was no need to play a shot like that!”. The coach Anshuman Gaekwad pointed that dismissal as the turning point as India fell short by 12 runs. “It hurt so much because we had come so close to victory from nowhere,” Mongia offered the post-mortem regret.

Damien Martyn vs South Africa 1994

The shot that cost that wonderful batsman Damien Martyn six years of international cricket. Australia needed only 117 runs to beat South Africa in the new year in Sydney and were cruising at 51 for 1 when Fanie de Villiers and Allan Donald scythed through to reduce them to 110 for 8. The young Martyn had scored just 6 but had battled hard for 106 minutes. With Craig McDermott for company, it seemed he would drag Australia home but suddenly, he went for a lofted shot to Allan Donald. Alas, it didn’t clear cover. Glenn McGrath fell on arrival, and South Africa won by five runs. Martyn was crucified by the media and took six years more to return to Test cricket.

“At the time I thought it was the worst thing ever, but looking at it from this age, I didn’t deserve to play,” Martyn said later. “It took me two years to get over it – about a year too long to work it all out.”

Sunil Gavaskar vs West Indies, 1983

Down 0-2, India were fighting to stay alive in the six-Test series as the caravan rolled into Kolkata for the fifth Test. Gavaskar was out for a first-ball duck to Malcolm Marshall in the first-innings as India were bowled out for 241. West Indies, 88 for 5 at one stage, reached 377. In the second innings, Gavaskar went for his shots from the start. So much so, that Wisden would offer its verdict later: “despite India’s grim situation, [he] batted in a fatally carefree fashion”. He slammed four fours, got to 20, before attempting another big slash off Michael Holding, only to edge it behind. India were shot out for 90 and West Indies won the series 3-0. The angry Calcutta crowd singled out Gavaskar, pelting the playing area with objects and fighting with the police before stoning the team bus. Even his wife, who was being interviewed together with Clive Lloyd’s wife, wasn’t spared the ire of the crowd who threw fruits.

Sunil Gavaskar. (File)

His early mentor Vasu Paranjpe too was disappointed with that shot in Kolkata and years later recounted what happened between the two. “After a dubious stroke got him out at Calcutta, he promised me he would better and asked me to look forward to next Test in Chennai, where he would make amends for his poor showing in Calcutta. He looked invincible in that match. (Gavaskar hit a double ton).

Rishabh Pant vs South Africa 2022

A daft swipe, if ever there was one. Rishabh Pant had watched Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane take body blows in an aggressive partnership before both fell, handing him the baton to carry on their work. It took him just two balls – an iffy waft and an awkward fend against a snorter – to decide that he had seen enough and had to hit out for some quick runs. Not a bad thought, considering his game on tracks on seaming conditions, but he chose the worst possible shot to try his jail break. A shot that he has often tried in the past, around the cricketing world, to no success. Off he ran down the track to Kagiso Rabada and swung for the skies but the hack of a shot didn’t connect as he hoped it might.

The skier was caught and India could well have lost the plot if not for the spectacular fireworks from Shardul Thakur and controlled aggression from Hanuma Vihari.

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