One of the most amusing stories I stumbled upon during the last Ashes Test at Trent Bridge was Shane Watson calling up Simon Hughes on Saturday night to ask him if he had some information for him.
The Middlesex bowler turned analyst (television and print) first thought that Watson must be calling to point out something objectionable he may have written. As it turns out, Watson just needed some dope which could help him convert his starts into big scores.
Now, Watson could have turned to his team coach Darren Lehmann, who is one of the leading run-getters in Australian domestic cricket, but he chose Hughes, probably because the Englishmen has seen and analysed a great number of players through his job.
Anyway, Hughes was forthcoming and Indian cricket lovers would be delighted to know that the examples of Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid (among other players) were given to Watson. Here’s what Hughes emphasised to his caller: “Sachin Tendulkar planned his innings meticulously, calculating what shots were feasible against a particular bowler on a particular pitch, rehearsing those shots carefully and sticking to them throughout the match.”
And Dravid, “cleared his mind of everything after the delivery, and took two deep breaths, just before the bowler turned, to refocus.”
Players seeking advice on tour is not a rarity. The great Vinoo Mankad was having problems coping with Ray Lindwall’s yorkers on the 1947-48 tour of Australia. At the end of the second Test, he had been dismissed by the paceman on four occasions.
At close on the opening day of the third Test at Melbourne, there was a cocktail party organised for both teams and Mankad decided to tackle the problem head-on. “Could you tell me if I was doing anything wrong,” Mankad asked and Lindwall appeared more than happy to help. He had also reckoned without Mankad’s brilliance. Mankad was told that he was coming down on the yorker late and was advised to adopt a slightly less back swing. Mankad carved out 116 off 187 balls the following day.
In his book ‘Flying Stumps’, Lindwall mentioned that he had advised Mankad while in an ‘expansive mood’ and the great Indian ‘thanked me in his usual courteous way’. Mankad also asked Lindwall during the innings as to whether he had cut down his back swing’ sufficiently to suit me.’ Some character this
‘Flying Stumps’ provided Lindwall an ideal platform to express his regret over advising Mankad, who scored another Test hundred on the same ground in the fifth Test, but Lindwall epitomised sportsmanship in the truest sense and there was no trace of regret in those pages.
He was also one of the few Aussies who supported Mankad running out Bill Brown in the second Test in a way that has come to be known as ‘Mankaded’.
Lindwall reckoned Mankad was justified in running Brown out at Sydney for backing up too far.
He also stressed the point that Mankad had indeed warned Brown, not only in that Sydney Test but also in the tour game held a month earlier.
Back to Watson. He’s too good a player to keep failing in terms of conversion. He may also help himself by going up to the honours board at Lord’s and look out for Vinoo Mankad’s name — 184 as opener and 5 for 196 vs England in 1952. And Rajasthan Royals’ Watson may also like to know that Mankad represented Rajasthan as well.
Like Mankad in 1952, Watson has his share (going purely by the latest grapevine) of Doubting Thomases in the team.
Of course, the big Aussie won’t be hoping to say what Mankad said to his skipper Hazare while pulling off his sweater after the Lord’s Test was lost despite his all-round heroics — “sorry Vijay, I couldn’t do much!”