Way back in the early 1970s, Royal College had three left arm leg spinners. Incredibly, they all played together in certain matches. There was Samuel Lawton (who captained in 1974). There was Jayantha Amarasinghe, who went on to play for Sri Lanka. Sarath Weerakoon was the third.
Sarath played in the 95th Battle of the Blues. In fact he played for Colts while still at Royal. He has remained a keen student of the game, updating himself with new techniques by keeping in touch with over 200 coaches. His involvement with the game, however, is limited to mentoring talented young cricketers. ‘Limited’ can give the wrong impression. Mentoring can be of critical import. It can turn an average cricketer into someone special. Proper guidance can help someone in a slump recover and reach greater heights.
This is not about mentoring, although it is inspired by a message he had sent some of the boys he advises and was kind enough to share with me. It’s something that the great West Indian opener had written about scoring.
‘When you come to bat, ensure you play straight. Get your first 25 runs in the ‘V’ from mid-off to mid-on. Then, for the next 40 runs, slowly open the arc on both sides, say from extra-cover to mid-wicket, point to square-leg and then third-man to fine-leg. After that, for the next 10 runs, begin to close the gap from both sides, and for the next 25 play in the arc again. Then complete your hundred.’
Sarath has something to add.
‘That’s all you need, apart from choosing the right things to do, responding to the length of deliveries. Master the basics. Your natural flair will come through once you’ve got your basics in place.’
And what are these ‘basics’? Sarath explains, ‘the aim of the batsman is to show the maximum face of the bat to the bowler (which minimizes the risk of missing the ball).’
Hunte played for the Windies from 1957 to 1967, scoring 3245 runs at an incredible average of 45.06 including eight centuries and 13 half-centuries in 44 Tests. The game is very different from the 1960s of course. ODIs and T-20s have impacted technique and temperament. New rules have demanded new approaches. Different ‘greats’ have probably come up with strategies of their own. The key matter here is ‘strategy.’
You need to have a plan. Talent and instinct might result in a gem of an innings, but such efforts are typically sporadic.In general, those with a plan tend to fare better than those without one. The ‘basics’ will be the foundation. Constructing the edifice will necessitate a consideration of the environment, for example the bowling attack one has to contend with, the status of the match, the nature of the wicket etc. Even then, there has to be a plan. Like Sachin Tendulkar against the Australians in 2003 refusing the drive on the on-side (as he had previously with dire results) to score 241*. However, Sachin had the basics right. The temperament. The discipline. The technique. The full complement of strokes around the wicket. The cricketing brain honed to read the bowler and the opposition, and of course to take stock of the way the wicket was behaving.
Hunte’s plan was all about getting one’s eye in. It was about being patient. It was about incremental assessment of the conditions.
Cricinfo has the following note on Hunte: ‘As a batsman, Hunte could match anyone stroke-for-stroke, especially on the leg side, if he wanted. But he subdued his attacking nature in Test cricket to let his team-mates play their shots, a decision which was vital in making the West Indian side of the early 1960s one of the most complete of all time. It was an early signal of the determined thoughtfulness that was to stamp his whole life.’ Yes, keeping ‘team’ in mind is also basic. It has to be factored into the plan.
Plan. A keyword. Sarath always knew and that’s what he does and teaches.