As he turns 51 today it is pertinent to ask whether Javagal Srinath has got his due. Cricketers of his time – from the early 90s to the first couple of years of the new millennium – have all been showered with the encomiums they undoubtedly deserve. Think of the outstanding players of the period – Mohammed Azharuddin, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman, Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh – and their feats are recalled even today. Srinath tends to be the odd man out, the unsung hero of Indian cricket.
And yet the Mysore Express deserves to be there among the listed cricketers if for nothing else that he excelled in art and craft that Indians have traditionally been lacking in – fast bowling. Kapil Dev was of course the great path breaker but Srinath was something else in that he was the fastest bowler the country has produced with the possible exception of that pioneering great Mohammed Nissar.
With the speed he possessed Srinath was clearly going to be a success abroad which he proved time and again by performing heroically in England, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. But against all odds he was consistently among the wickets even on Indian pitches and that perhaps constituted his biggest success. For an Indian pace bowler to take 13 wickets in a Test match in this country is a feat to be written in letters of gold and that is what Srinath pulled off against Pakistan at Kolkata in February 1999. A couple of years earlier he had already proved that he was capable of running through a side even on a pitch expected to aid spin. Even as everyone expected Kumble to be the wrecker-in-chief against South Africa at Ahmedabad in November 1996 it was Srinath who was simply unplayable finishing with six for 21 and bowling India to a notable victory as the visitors requiring just 170 to win were bowled out for 105. Three times did Srinath take two wickets with successive deliveries.
Among the list of unlucky Indian bowlers Srinath will rank very high. For one thing, he could not command a regular place in the Indian team till Kapil was around even though the great man was in the evening of his career and past his best. He could not establish his place in the side till he was 25. Secondly, he suffered so badly through dropped catches or balls just missing the bat or stumps that it became monotonous. Still, he carried on gamely and in the ultimate analysis, his career figures of 236 wickets from 67 Tests at just over 30 apiece must be viewed with sympathy. He was a tireless performer who bowled his heart out frequently in unhelpful conditions. It should not be forgotten too that Srinath is second only to Kumble among Indians in ODIs with 315 wickets and one of the few to represent India in four World Cups.