Born on October 20, 1963 Navjot Sidhu was a batsman who knew only two gears while batting – the first and the fifth. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at the career of one of the most colourful cricketers to have played Test cricket for India.
“Navjot Sidhu is a strokeless wonder,” wrote Rajan Bala after the vibrant Sardar’s debut in 1983. He had played two Tests; and though had been at the other end when Sunil Gavaskar laid the flagstones of two of his most famous innings at Ahmedabad and Madras, he had managed just 39 from three innings.
The former was clearly a case of counting the chicken before they were hatched. Rajan’s, one of the most famous Indian cricket journalists ever, made a judgmental error – much like a blind man on a new moon night during a power failure inside a coal mine.
In four years Rajan’s tone would change from the bitterness of a neem paste soaked in Angostura to that of syrupy sweetness of concentrated honey as Sidhu hit sixes as gargantuan as King Kong on an overdose of Complan in the Reliance World Cup 1987 while reeling off fifties. He had practiced hitting 300 sixes a day for four years, and that had come good at the highest level.
“Navjot Sidhu, from a strokeless wonder has turned into a palm-grove hitter,” were Rajan’s words after Sidhu’s comeback.
Indeed, this has been the story of Sidhu’s career – one that has been as colourful as a chameleon playing Holi on the set of a Yash Raj Films production – or more significantly, as the neckties that often go to match with his turban in the commentary box.
He has often been painstakingly slow – never more than during his seemingly infinite 11-hour 201 at Port-of-Spain – slow as a snail walking uphill while held back by a chain supported by weights; then again, without prior warning, he could change gears to imitate Rajinikanth on a Ferrari without brakes – as exemplified during his 124 (including eight sixes) against powered by Muttiah Muralitharan.
As the room is often the darkest behind the lamp, Sidhu’s achievements are often forgotten. We almost tend to take him for granted. But amidst all that, he never ceased to build an illustrious career where he never forgot to make the choice of tightening his belt over losing his trousers.
For example, we often overlook the fact that he averaged 42.13 in Tests and 37.08 in ODIs; it was he who first charged Shane Warne like a rampaging bull in a china shop in 1998 to pave the way for subsequent Sachin Tendulkar assaults; he opened the innings, hung around like an ant clinging on to its allotted grain during a tsunami and scored an unbeaten 134 to chase 257 at Gwalior while India lost seven wickets while trailing the series 1-3; that he was the first Indian to score five ODI hundreds; or the fact that he averages 51.81 in the ODIs India had won; or his the improvement of his fielding abilities that transformed him to a toddler in a quagmire to a cheetah on Red Bull and earned him the nickname “Jonty Singh”.
He married a woman who shared with him the same name – Navjot. He ventured into politics, and won for a second time after resigning once. He entered the commentary box, and took the world by storm. He was probably the greatest destroyer of quality spin over a sustained period of time the world has seen. In short, whatever he did, he succeeded like a sharpened chainsaw passing through a block of Amul Butter microwaved for five minutes.
A lot of players have hit sixes against spin; but who could produce an arc that mesmerisingly picturesque every time he stepped out two or three paces?
(A hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobiac by his own admission, Abhishek Mukherjee is a statistical analyst based in Kolkata, India. He typically looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – not necessarily as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the game with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a rather steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers the sport has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks and googlies in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in)