Tuesday, February 05, 2008

And the award goes to . . .

The man deserves all the accolades he’s got – upwards of 3500 runs in both tests and one-day internationals and more than 800 wickets between the two forms is no mean achievement. And to upstage an uncle of such calibre as Graeme takes more than just an elegant cover drive with the willow and nagging accuracy with the cherry. Yes, Shaun Maclean Pollock has to count (he may not agree with the choice of word here considering what happened in the 2003 World Cup) as the greatest all-rounder South Africa has produced, and one of the best in the world.

But there is one thing that perhaps should not have gone Shaun’s way. The reference here is to the man-of-the-series award Shaun received (albeit jointly) in the just-concluded one-day series between West Indies and South Africa. Figures of six wickets in 47 overs in the five matches and an aggregate of 43 runs surely didn’t decide the series? Of course, the man was parsimony itself, conceding just 131 runs in those 47 overs, but that’s hardly series-deciding material, is it?

The choice of man of the match and man of the series is one that can be as fascinating as it can be frustrating. Batsmen seem to have the advantage; wicket-keepers never seem to get noticed; and increasingly, a heroic performance in a losing cause doesn’t seem to attract much attention.

In the WSC games of the 1980s (as also in some tournaments at Sharjah around the same time), quite often the choice of the man of the match was made (and even announced) before the game was over. The World Championship of Cricket in 1984 tried a unique points system for deciding the man of the match. Thankfully, it was abandoned – no one outside of those who conceptualised it thought it would really work. And England still has the practice of announcing one player from each team for the man-of-the-series for test matches. (More often than not, that was the only way to fill up trophy cupboards in England, especially in the 1980s and 1990s.)

Rambling time over; it’s time for a stroll down memory lane. Here are five individual award decisions from the 1980s that stick in my mind.

The magnificently named Robert George Dylan Willis, if not for his commentary stints now, could well have become the forgotten man of English cricket. Yes, 325 wickets 90 tests in no mean achievement (especially considering he didn’t manage a single ten-for in a match), but the man seemed to be perennially battling his own demons and peers with more personality. But there is one thing Old Bob can dangle in front of his more publicity-savvy peers – a man-of-the-match award for captaincy in a World Cup game against Sri Lanka in 1983. Rum thing isn’t it, for he who was never really considered captaincy material before this game? And, as it turned out, after?

The fallacy in the points logic for deciding the individual award in the World Championship of Cricket in 1984 stood out starkly in the semi-final between New Zealand and India. Ravi Shastri bowled well enough to take 3 for 31 off his 10 overs, but Madan Lal had picked up 4 for 37 in 8 and Kapil Dev had bowled tightly as usual for figures of 1 for 34 in 10, and he had led the team astutely as well. And when Shastri holed out for a laborious 53 off 84 balls, India was left with 105 runs to get, at, if memory serves me right, close to eight an over – an unthinkable proposition in those days. May be Kapil Dev didn’t think – he just went after the bowling, finished with 54 off 37 balls, and with Dilip Vengsarkar contributing a relatively sedate 63 off 59 balls, India was home with plenty to spare. Man of the match? You got it, Ravi Shastri for his “all-round performance.” Well, he made the game competitive all right. And oh yes, he went on to pick up the man-of-the-series award as well, though that seemed a touch more deserved.

Cut to the Rothmans Cup at Sharjah in the same year. In a series where no batsman really got going, Sunil Gavaskar ended up as the man of the series. Surely 2 runs off 9 balls and 20 off 50 are not match-winning knocks? Well, the little master picked up five catches in the two matches, including four in the famous 125-87 game between the sub-contintental giants.

When Courtney Walsh picks up four wickets for 31 runs in 9.4 overs and Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes slam half-centuries in a nine-wicket rout of Pakistan at Sharjah in 1986, surely one of them should’ve been the man of the match? But a small man came in the way – Gus Logie pocketed three sensational catches (and was involved in the odd run-out as well), and the individual trophy in the bargain.

Chetan Sharma would probably rank as one of the more unfortunate cricketers to have played for India. He was the only one to take a test match ten-for in the golden tour of England in 1986, but that’s not even a trivia question in a local quiz competition. And when he takes the first hat-trick by an Indian in a one-day game (and a World Cup game at that, in the 1987 edition in the sub-continent), the victims are Ken Rutherford, Ian Smith and Ewen Chatfield, not quite tigers with the bat. And to rub salt into the wound, Sunil Gavaskar comes in and plays a thunderous innings, a one-in-a-lifetime affair, and walks away with the man-of-the-match award. But hold on, Gavaskar remembers poor Chetan’s feat, and the award gets shared. Now if only Javed Miandad had been half as generous…


RamG R said...

The M-O-M award for RGD was, in a sense, over-compensation for the one he missed out at Headingly two years back (Remember Botham's Ashes?) Though Beefy's innings was once-in-a-lifetime innings, it would have gone waste if not for a career-best 8/43 from RGD. That spell turned the momentum towards England, considering that the Aussies had to score 140-odd in the fourth innings!

Gaurav Sethi said...

Enjoyed the tangent!
When Sachin (and not Sehwag) won the MoM award at Adelaide - was I the only one surprised?
Btw that Miandad scoreboard sure rubbed it in - and why was Azhar down at No.7? To conserved energy to bowl 2 overs for 14? Barely 1 year old in ODIs, had he not checked his wrists in?