Column | Jaiswal needs to guard against complacency

Yashasvi Jaiswal
Yashasvi Jaiswal has been in sparkling form in the series against England. File photo: PTI/Vijay Verma

Two back-to-back double centuries in as many Tests, both of which played a big role in scripting the success of the national side, will be the sort of dream that any aspiring cricketer would nurse. That Yashasvi Jaiswal could do this at Visakhapatnam and Rajkot, in the second and third tests of the ongoing series against England, in vastly different conditions stand as testimony to the abundant talent he is blessed with. Jaiswal dominated the England attack so comprehensively every time he took strike that there is even talk of a 'Jaisball' style of batting, which is overpowering the Bazball spirit that has been patented by the visitors.  

It would not be out of place to point out that not only were the double hundreds scored in different situations, but the manner in which they were struck were also distinct. At Visakhapatnam, Jaiswal’s 204 held the Indian first innings together as the remaining 10 batsmen could put together only 192 runs. But at Rajkot, Jaiswal played like a man possessed, treating the England attack with scant regard, as he hit 14 boundaries and 12 sixes en route to a sizzling unbeaten knock of 214, which came off a mere 236 balls. England did not have any fight left in them after this assault. They went down meekly by a margin of 434 runs, crumbling in the last innings for a total of 122, within a couple of hours after Jaiswal had demonstrated that there were no demons in the wicket. 

In fact, Jaiswal’s pyrotechnics with the bat created demons in the last place that skipper Ben Stokes would have wished - in the minds of his players. Any respectable side playing cricket knows that it is their job to play on the pitches offered to them. Some may cringe and crib, but at the end, they admit that the same surface is used by both sides. Often, batsmen are put off when they see a wicket full of grass or a track that is underprepared and this reflects on their performance, which is the classic case of them allowing the demon in the pitch to overwhelm them. One of the successes behind Bazball cricket was that it allowed a batsman to play without any fear of failure, thus eliminating all demons. But, Jaiswal, through his superlative batting, succeeded in bringing demons back to the minds of the England players. Hence the suggestion of 'Jaisball' cricket triumphing over Bazball did not look all too farfetched, when it was bandied about after the Test at Rajkot.

It will be interesting to see how England tackles this challenge and whether they are able to bounce back. Many observers had predicted before the start of this series that the fight would be between Indian spinners bowling on helpful pitches and Bazballstyle. But Jaiswal has succeeded in adding a new dimension to this battle with his brand of batting.  

Jaiswal’s “Bradmanesque” performances brought comparisons with none other than the legendary Don himself, who had set the cricket ground afire with his prodigious run-making from his initiation to the world of international cricket. Unlike Jaiswal, who hit a century on debut, Bradman could score only 18 and 1 in the two innings of his first Test and was relegated to the role of a 12th man for the next game. Recalled after that Test, Bradman struck two centuries in two of the remaining three matches in that series and made his mark. However, he blossomed as a top drawer batsman during the tour of England in 1930, when, in addition to two double  hundreds in the second and last Tests and a century in the first game, he made history by smashing 334 in the match at Leeds. Thus, after the first nine Tests, four of which were played in Australia and the remaining ones in England, Bradman  had one triple hundred, two double centuries besides two more three figure scores under his belt. It can be seen that Jaiswal is still some way from meriting a comparison with the legend. 

However, Bradman faced a severe challenge soon afterwards when England bowlers chose to attack him with fast short-pitched balls aimed at his ribs during the infamous Bodyline series in 1932-33. He found runs hard to come by and ended the series with 396 runs from the four Tests he played. This setback made Bradman work on his technique and approach to the game as he became more of a grim accumulator after that. As Jack Fingleton wrote wistfully, “Bodyline plucked something vibrant from his art”.

Vinod Kambli
Former Indian batter Vinod Kambli, centre. File photo: AFP/Narinder Nanu

Another comparison which took most of the followers of the game by surprise was the one with Vinod Kambli. Like Jaiswal, Kambli too was left -anded, came from humble surroundings and had an explosive start to his Test career, when he struck two double centuries and two hundreds in his first seven matches. The home series against the West Indies in 1994-95 exposed a deficiency in his technique against the short, rising ball, which was exploited by the West Indian fast bowlers. This was a clear message that he needed to put in further hard work to survive at this level. But  unfortunately, Kamble let success go into his head, refused to pay heed to the warning signals and did not put in efforts to improve his game. This attitude, the flaw in his technique and an inability to be amenable to discipline, all contributed to his career being cut short, despite the immense talent he was blessed with. It will be a tragedy if Jaiswal were to go the way of Kambli. However, that appears extremely unlikely as the life and career of Kambli itself will serve as a strong message to all up and coming players of what not to do when one scales the peak of stardom.

Between these two extreme examples of Bradman and Kambli, there stands a model that is homegrown, is worthy of emulation and whose early years in international cricket bears some similarities to that of Jaiswal. This is Sunil Gavaskar, who is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest Indian batsmen of all time. Gavaskar too was an opening batsman who came through the grind of Mumbai maidans and he too had a glorious start to his career in test cricket. The early years of Gavaskar in international cricket will provide a great lesson for aspiring cricketers in adjusting to the demands of the game at the highest level and coping with the pressure of expectations from the public.

Sunil Gavaskar
Indian legend Sunil Gavaskar. File photo: IANS

Gavaskar, like Jaiswal, made his bow in Test cricket in the West Indies during the tour of 1971. He missed the first Test due to an injury but made his mark in the next one at Port of Spain, by hitting a half-century in each innings. He followed this up with hundreds in the next two Tests and topped a brilliant run by scoring a century and a double ton in the last match. A whopping tally of 774 runs in four tests at an average of 154.80 catapulted him straightaway to stratospheric heights in the eyes of the fans of the game in this country. Comparisons with Bradman also followed with many pointing out even the legend did not have such a glorious start to his career.

This euphoria vanished during the next eight Tests that Gavaskar played over a period of two years. In the glow of a series win against the West Indies, the fact that this side did not have a world-class bowler was conveniently overlooked. When India went to England in 1971, he was confronted with the likes of John Snow, Derek Underwood and Ray Illingworth, who were all bowlers of great skill. A tally of 144 runs in six completed innings with only two fifties appeared measly. But even worse was to follow during the series against England at home in 1972-73, when Gavaskar could score only 224 in five Tests, without reaching the three figure mark even once.  

However, when India toured England in 1974, Gavaskar was one of the few who could emerge with his reputation enhanced. He scored a century at Manchester in conditions difficult for batting and played with confidence and aplomb for most part of the series. There was no looking back after this and he gradually scripted his way to becoming one of the top batsmen in contemporary cricket, who won respect from even the meanest of opponents. He scaled heights that few batsmen had reached before him and finally exited the game at a time of his choosing when he still had plenty of cricket left in him.

The moral of the story is that Gavaskar learnt his lessons about the challenges of batting at the highest level and about the vicissitudes of life during the three years since February, 1971, when he he found runs difficult to come by. He put his head down, ironed out the deficiencies and overcame the crisis of confidence brought on by the bad run through dint of hard work and dedication to his craft. Similarly, Bradman also used the poor run in the Bodyline series to make adjustments to his technique to tackle short-pitched balls aimed at his ribs. Both these great players used the “troughs” in their careers to improve their game and emerge stronger. With the benefit of hindsight, one can state that Kambli failed to do this, with disastrous consequences.

It is only natural that law of averages will catch up with Jaiswal as well, at some time in his career. When that happens, he should not lose heart or feel disappointed; instead, he should use it as an opportunity to tighten his technique by making the necessary corrections and improvements to come out as a better batsman, in the manner of Gavaskar and Bradman. He will also do well not to fall for phrases like 'Jaisball' style, as the same critics who have coined this and are singing his praises today will be in forefront to rubbish him and ask for his head. 

In cricket, as in life, it is more important to maintain a balanced head on one’s shoulders and keep the feet firmly on the ground. Those who forget this dictum invariably do so at their own peril.

(The author is a former international cricket umpire and a senior bureaucrat)

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