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A bat full of dreams and runs

Barrington Rowland was downed by a bouncer, and one expected a dent in his morale. Instead, Barrington has hit back, emerging the sheet anchor in Karnataka's batting line-up. He now awaits his turn for higher honours, and the national cap is a recurring thread in his dreams.

Barrington Rowland: Dreams unlimited.

SOMETIMES A bouncer kickstarts a cricketing tale. It did for Barrington Rowland. And November 27, 1999, is a date Barrington will never forget - the day the Karnataka batsman was struck by Tamil Nadu seamer Gokulkrishna's bouncer, here, at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium.

Barrington shaped for the hook, played a wee bit early, and was hit above his right eye. And to make things worse, he was not wearing a helmet. "I hardly wore a helmet those days. Perhaps it was over-confidence," he now says, with a grin.

On that wintry day, when the sharp gash and profuse bleeding left him tossing about on a hospital bed, a grin was just a distant memory. More than the injury, it was the reaction that perhaps shaped the destiny of a 22-year-old who is now regarded as Karnataka's dependable batsman. Doctors advised rest, Barrington muttered beneath the sheets: "I want to play."

The attitude was not surprising. Barrington grew up reading the exploits of one of India's great cricketers, Mohinder Amarnath, who after being felled by a bouncer, from Malcolm Marshall, returned to hit the same bowler for a six in the West Indies, in 1983. "I was inspired by Amarnath's comeback. You could actually say it was my fantasy to get hit, and then come back, and score runs," says Barrington, with a cheeky smile.

Luckily for him, and for the State, sanity prevailed. "I was charged up. But the doctors did not want to take a chance since it was a head injury, and my mother was worried. I decided to remain in hospital. Thankfully, within a month I was back in cricket," he says, while the immediate past flits by.

A bouncer can bruise and gift self-pity, but Barrington steers clear of the "how-sad-I-got-hurt" cliche.

He emerged stronger from this traumatic experience, and now, along with Vijay Bharadwaj, forms the backbone of the State's batting line-up. He has been consistent in the three seasons following his century on debut, against Kerala, in 1999. Last season, he topped the State run-chart with 425 runs, averaging 85, and was among South Zone's leading run scorers. But the Canara Bank employee is not yet happy with his cricketing balance sheet.

"I still need to convert my fifties into hundreds (he has scored three hundreds, and ten fifties). It is not as if I am losing concentration. It is just that when the field is spread, I tend to get stifled, and make a few mistakes and get out. I need to play more strokes, and rotate the strike effectively. I need to improve on my front foot play while on the backfoot, I do play pretty well. May be I should use my feet more against the spinners, step out and drive more. I would also like to open the innings. I have always opened in all the age-group competitions I played before breaking into the Ranji side. And yes, I have to work on my physique and also sharpen my fielding. Though I have to admit that I am more than happy with my fielding at short-leg. It's a challenging position to field and I have always loved it," he says.

The B.Com graduate from St. Joseph's College of Commerce, does have a point as three hundreds in three seasons in the Ranji circuit, hardly justifies his talent. A point stressed by his mentor, Rahul Dravid. "Barrington is a good batsman. He has the required ability and the right attitude. He works really hard. He has had a good season and the coming season should be crucial for him. All he needs is to move one level-up, utilise his starts, and score bigger runs," Rahul said, when The Hindu asked the Indian vice-captain for his appraisal on Barrington.

Runs may still not adequately measure up to Barrington's talent, but he does have an ally which only the blessed have - grit. "My biggest strengths are my technique and temperament. On the field I play hard. And that's my philosophy on the game, don't expect anything easy out there in the middle and don't give anything easy too. And enjoy the game, keep it simple, somehow we have a tendency to complicate things,'' says Barrington. And grit gets a replay when he mentions his heroes. "Rahul Dravid, Michael Atherton, Steve Waugh... they are gritty players. I have always admired Rahul. Even when he gets bogged down, he never throws his wicket away," he says.

The Rahul shadow lingers while Barrington says, "people do say I have modelled my batting on Rahul. But that is not true. Every cricketer has his own technique. I have learnt a lot by watching him from the under-19 level onwards but when a bowler delivers, you cannot think at that moment how Rahul would have played that ball, all you do at that time is react, it is instantaneous."

It has been a long hard road starting with his decision to pursue cricket, rather than hockey, while he was in class eight. "I have never regretted that decision," he says. A stint at the Brijesh Patel Cricket Academy polished his rough edges, and he does remember those days juggling textbooks with the bat. "I learnt a lot at the Academy."

Soon, his cricketing highway dawned in bright colours as he donned the India under-19 cap against the visiting Sri Lankans, in 1999. "Sadly, I failed to score runs in those matches," admits Barrington. At the local level, he was a regular in the junior competitions and the league. A Ranji cap was inevitable, and he made it his own, with a fine 106 on debut against Kerala. He made headlines. Barrington Rowland had arrived.

He now awaits his turn with another milestone - the senior India cap. "I am giving myself one to two seasons to get a break at the national level. I am lucky I am playing for Karnataka, since, in the nets I have to face bowlers who have bowled at the highest level, such as Javagal Srinath, Venkatesh Prasad, Anil Kumble, Sunil Joshi, and Dodda Ganesh. And when I play them with a measure of confidence, it makes me believe I can belong to the higher league. Vijay Bharadwaj has also been very helpful. Infact, all my team mates have been encouraging. And my employers Canara Bank have also given ample support to pursue my cricketing dreams," he says.

Barrington's father named him after the legendary England player, Ken Barrington. And if another Barrington can enrich cricketing lore the World over, India and Karnataka will be proud.

Barrington Rowland is intent on grabbing his share of the sun. Hopefully, he will.

And it helps that he wears a helmet these days.


Photo: K. Bhagya Prakash

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