Ian Bishop is one of those who’s career ended prematurely © Getty Images
Ian Bishop is one of those who’s career ended prematurely © Getty Images

 

By Rajesh Ramaswamy

 

In this piece, I’m casting my mind back to the ’80s and remembering some players who I thought promised a lot, but faded away – either victims of capricious fate, or burnout or selection blunder.

 

More importantly, they were players I rated highly and would have been proud to have in my XI. I’m starting with someone who wasn’t anybody’s poster boy, but was a personal favourite:

 

1. Neil Foster: He was tall, decidedly whippy, and could bowl huge out-swingers and in-dippers at will. I loved the fact that someone so lanky and unathletic could generate so much nip and tuck, and smile at dropped chances off his bowling, instead of snarling and mouthing off. Sadly that same lanky body had the final say and he never went on to the heights he’d hinted at. For a while though, he looked like what Jason Gillespie went on to become: someone who did the simple things brilliantly well.

 

2. Graeme Labrooy: I doubt if any outside of Sri Lanka remember him, but for a time I thought he’d be the next big thing. He had a lovely action, some pace, swung it both ways and delivered a heavy ball. He also had ‘model’ looks and could bat better than most of his top order colleagues of the late ’80s. He had some outstanding performances and I was looking forward to Lanka’s first all-rounder Superstar. Sadly, he faded away, a victim of his own inconsistencies and the politics in the board.

 

3. Chris Lewis: Had all the talent in the world, but that streak of rebelliousness and indiscipline that was ‘cute’ initially, wore thin when his performances didn’t consistently match up to the promise. He was a perfect athlete with a lovely throwing arm in the field, and buccaneering ways with the willow like his West Indian forbears. But it was his primary tool – fast-medium swing bowling – that was the first victim of his wicked, wicked ways, as it rapidly lost bite and venom. The man many tipped to be England‘s first Black poster boy and potential captain faded away and is said to be cooling his heels in prison nowadays. What a criminal waste of talent!

 

4. Bruce Reid: I absolutely adored his bowling…he was the antithesis of the big, muscle-jock fast bowler prototype that was so embodied in peers like Rod McCurdy. He got steep bounce and moved the ball both ways, and late enough to confound the best. Unfortunately, his career, too, succumbed to injury. And my lasting regret is not watching him pit his wiles against the Brian Laras and Sachin Tendulkars of the world.

 

5. Laxmanan Sivaramakrishnan: He was quite simply the most talented cricketer I’d seen in a long, long while and the most disappointing as well. Today, he’s a commentator who has the knack of stating the obvious with relish and grating on the nerves with his cliché-ridden spiel. But back then, he was the wonderboy that I dreamt of emulating. He was a leg-spinner who had more tricks than Houdini. Humungous turn allied to loop and flight and venomous bite off the pitch, coupled with a fabulous top-spinner and a serviceable Googly had him running rings around David Gower’s English team in his debut series.

 

He also was perhaps the cutting edge in the bowling attack that made India the Champion of Champions in the 1985 World Championship of Cricket in Australia. But after that, he began to slide downhill. First to go was a sense of proportion as he began to party hard and not practice enough (forbear to our IPL starlets?). Second to go was the loop and flight, especially the arc that made a flighted ball land a few inches short of the batsman’s perceived trajectory. The ability to spin the sphere remained for at least a decade more, but the control had gone, and with it his mojo. In just a couple of years he moved from the world stage-to a support role as a batting all-rounder at domestic level. The bubble had broken….as had my heart.

 

6. Patrick Patterson: He was quick… frighteningly quick. I thought the mantle had passed into the right hands from Andy Roberts, Michael Holding and Joel Garner era to an equally-talented brigade where Patterson was the destroyer and Ian Bishop was the calculating lynchpin. But “Big Pat” flattered to deceive, and after scaring several international batsmen shitless, meandered into doddering fast-mediumhood after a few years – much like a battle-tank becoming an SUV. Sigh!

 

7. Ian Bishop: He had all the attributes to succeed Mike Holding – an athletic run-up, a beautifully side-on action, the pace and the swing (if not the seam), and a thinking head. He was scarier than Patterson because he sustained his pace through his spells, and as a batter, you knew he didn’t depend on muscle but in thinking you out. If Holding was the Rolls Royce, he was the potential Bentley. Unfortunately, injury cut short the career of someone who could have been an all-time great. Today he’s followed Holding into the commentary box where his delivery is as smooth and refined and incisive. Well, almost – there can be only one ‘whispering death’!

 

8. Sadanand Vishwanath: Like Sivaramakrishnan, he was outrageously talented and equally self destructive. He shone at the same stage as the former, for around the same period of time, and burnt out as fast. He was the standout ‘keeper’ at the World Championship of Cricket in Australia which India won in 1985, and should have, in time, gone on into the pantheon of greats. Such was his talent and pitch presence. Unfortunately, he had his bad days, and was a touch too flashy for the powers that be. So, when he slipped (as eccentrics are wont to), he was shown the door. And there was no way back.

 

9. Greg Ritchie: If cricketing spirit in the non-Asian world is all about fighting hard on the pitch and sharing a beer off it, this man looked the epitome of flannelled bonhomie. While Boon was amply proportioned, he was crisp and compact. In Ritchie’s case, though, people stopped laughing at his waistline when he unfurled those gorgeous drives. He was pure silk, when on song, and promised a level of athletic aesthetics that his frame didn’t even begin to hint at. However, it remained an empty promise as he began to speak less with the bat and more with a mouth – as ample as his waist. And as lax. And before he could even begin to scale the heights that his talent deserved, he was gone…kicking and screaming, but not making enough noise with his willow to silence the critics.

 

10. Colin Croft: He didn’t have the longevity, stature or charisma of the Calypso greats of the ’80s, but to me he was perhaps the most dangerous. He was as quick, if not quicker than the other greats in the line-up, and in a short career, caused more opening batsmen to think of alternate careers. He came in from wide of the crease and homed in on the batsman, rather than the stumps. It was almost like the very sight of a man with pads on his legs and a wooden club in his hands, was an insult he couldn’t stomach. He came into the game like a gale force and left like one: rapidly, leaving a wake of battered bodies and egos. It’d have been enthralling to watch him bowl to the front foot champions of today. But, again, maybe the modern pitches would have neutered him too.

 

(Rajesh is a former fast bowler who believes he could have been the answer to India’s long prayer for an ‘express’ paceman. He regularly clocked speeds hovering in the late 80’s and occasionally let fly deliveries that touched the 90’s. Unfortunately for him, the selectors were talking ‘mph’, while he was operating in the metric lane with ‘kmph’. But he moved on from that massive disappointment which resulted from what he termed a ‘miscommunication’, and became a communications professional. After a long innings in advertising as a Creative Director, he co-founded a brand consulting firm called Contrabrand. He lives in Chennai and drives down to work in Bangalore…an arrangement that he finds less time consuming and stressful than getting from one end of Bangalore to the other)