Dinda’s Devils. That’s the name of my Fantasy League cricket team. As a joke, mostly, seeing that ‘Dinda’ has become almost synonymous for poor bowling.
Ashok Dinda runs in hard, lets fly, gets hit, stands with hands on hips, goes back, runs back in, bowls faster and shorter, gets hit harder and longer, and then it becomes a cycle, which typically ends with an economy rate of seven, eight, nine, ten, or more. I am talking only about the IPL here, of course, but that is a large chunk of cricket-watching these days.
Oh, and the jump before the delivery! ‘Leap before you look’ is the Dinda’s Devils motto. [My team has never come close to winning a thing, in case you wanted to know. We are all about the swag.]
Yet … and yet, the point is that Dinda is so much more than the occasionally mindless bowling. Indeed, by the time he finishes up, whether he plays a single Test match or adds to his 13 One-Day Internationals and nine Twenty20 Internationals or not, he could well have become one of the greats of the domestic game in India. It’s a distinct possibility.
The basic numbers first: Among fast – and medium fast – bowlers in India, Dinda ranks 11th in the list of highest wicket-takers in the Ranji Trophy at the moment. He is at No. 3 with 284 wickets in the list of active pacemen, only behind R Vinay Kumar (362) and Pankaj Singh (359), who are on top of the overall tree as well. They will both reach that status one day too and, unlike Dinda, get there without having become the butt of much unkind chatter.
All of them, interestingly, are around the same age – 32-33 – and while Vinay (one) and Pankaj (two) have played Test cricket, the chances of them getting a call-up again seem bleak. Ditto for Dinda. Which is why their exploits will continue to be restricted to domestic cricket for as long as they play. And that means more and more trouble for batsmen and continued movement up the ladder for all of them.
The best of the domestic achievers, with some notable exceptions, are people who didn’t play too much international cricket. This is more glaring in modern times, when the volume of international cricket has greatly increased, and the regulars in the national team don’t play any domestic cricket for long stretches, turning out for their teams only – or mainly – when they are out of form or favour and need some good numbers to come back.
Look at the top 40 Ranji Trophy wicket-takers (Dinda is at No. 39), for example. Right up there at No. 2 is S Venkataraghavan, at No. 5 is BS Chandrasekhar, at No. 8 is Bishan Singh Bedi and at No. 10 is Erapalli Prasanna. Leave them out, and the number of men to have played any significant number of Test matches for India can be counted on the fingertips. [That list includes, amazingly, Vijay Hazare, one of India’s great early-era batsmen and only a bit of a slow leg-cutter bowler. He picked up 595 first-class wickets in a 238-match career – 291 of them in the Ranji Trophy.] The rest of the list, led by Rajinder Goel, reads like a who’s who of cricketers with what-if and if-only careers.
The list of top run-getters is not too different, even though it is headed by Wasim Jaffer, who turned out in 31 Tests. After him, you have to come all the way down to No. 15 for the next one to have played at least 20 Tests: Brijesh Patel.
Back to Dinda then. “I am an aggressive bowler and I am always spoiling for a fight. Along with attacking using the ball, the body language should also state your intentions. After that, it comes down to your mental strength. I am not scared of anyone, and I never give up. If the batsman has a bat, I have the ball, and I have ten others on the field helping me,” he told me once.
If those Hindi film hero lines have you swayed, remember that three of the five worst last overs in IPL history have been bowled by the man. His none for 63 for Pune Warriors India against Mumbai Indians in 2013 is fifth in the list of most expensive IPL spells ever too. And yet, that same season he picked up 16 wickets too.
Seriously, though, give him the whites of Bengal, throw him the red cherry, and Dinda is a man transformed. He has run in with legs pumping, from a pretty long distance, for over after over after over, day after day, hit the often unresponsive decks hard and been at the throats of the batsmen. Aggression, mental strength, the never-give-up attitude.
The other day, playing his 100th first-class match, Dinda had to bowl just 24.3 overs to pick up 10 for 47. The opposition was only Chhattisgarh, you say? True. But it was in their backyard in Raipur. And Chhattisgarh almost beat Goa in the previous round before falling short. Oh, only Goa? Well, true again.
Doesn’t matter, though, because 10 for 47 is a huge achievement – irrespective. Only, it’s the sort of feat that Dinda has pulled off routinely for Bengal – he has 23 five-fors in an innings and five ten-fors in a match in his career so far. Vinay, who plies his trade in a stronger bowling attack, has an equally impressive 20 and four from 116 games, and Pankaj, who has played for a lesser team – bar that golden run in 2010-11 and 2011-12 – has 25 and four from 106 games. Again, very little between those three.
Coming back to Dinda, it’s been a story of long spells, often 25-plus overs in a day, unerring accuracy – unless someone takes him on and throws him off his rhythm – and a large heart; “I am not scared of anyone”.
And, amazingly, so few injuries despite a leap that can’t be doing any good to his landing leg – the right.
Dinda, oh Dinda. What a different bowler he could have been and what an amazingly different career he might have had with the sort of smarts the best bowlers in the world have. That’s the common perception about him – he isn’t canny enough; he just tries to bowl faster and faster when he gets hit. Ask someone who knows, a Bengal colleague, and you stand vindicated: “It’s in his head – he thinks he is a hero, he wants to blast batsmen away; that’s not possible against good players. But he can work hard, nonstop.”
Allan Donald once said, while with Pune (Warriors not Supergiant/s), that Dinda reminded him of himself. Was it just talk, to keep the paymasters happy? “Of all the Indian bowlers I have seen, he is right up there,” said the South African pace superstar of the 1990s and early 2000s who ended with 330 Test wickets.
If it was only talk, it was cruel to Dinda. But something tells me that Dinda, he of the comical leap and hit-me reputation, could well have been a better bowler at the highest level had he worked harder with someone like Donald for longer. He needed someone who might have been able to polish the uncut gemstone, worked on the mental side of things more.
At 33, it might be too late for Dinda to chase that big bus any more, but one day, well after he has leapt his last and celebrated an irrelevant wicket like it’s the greatest moment of his life, his numbers will prove him to be a giant of Indian domestic cricket. Hell, he already is that, isn’t he?