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'ProCricket will not lose cricket's sanctity'

July 05, 2004 19:37 IST

Anshuman D Gaekwad, 52, played 40 Tests and 14 One-Day Internationals for India following his debut against the West Indies at the Eden Gardens in Calcutta in December 1974.

Following his retirement from international cricket, Gaekwad served as a national selector and then as coach of the Indian team from November 1997 to November 2000.

Now in the United States as executive director of ProCricket, Gaekwad spoke to Tanmaya Kumar Nanda on the initiative and what it means for the spread of the game in the country. Excerpts:

What is your role with ProCricket?

I am the executive director at ProCricket. Kalpesh Patel, the commissioner, called me in India saying that, well, they want to start something like this. They showed me their plan, the amount of research they had done, their study, and then I realised that these guys were really serious about the whole thing.

Then he came to India, met me, gave me a presentation. That is when I decided it was worthwhile getting into ProCricket.

With my kind of stature, where I have been cricketer, coach, manager, selector, everything, I have to be extremely careful of what I get into. We had come to the US in 1981, and played a lot of friendly games here, with Sunil [Gavaskar], Vishy [G R Vishwanath] and all of us, and I found that there was always potential but no exposure. Not many people knew about cricket, even Asians — not Indians, Asians.

Getting that awareness was important and they have that plan. And you have global players coming here to play, and I will be part of advising them which players to get, who to play, who not to play. I think it's very interesting.

Who are the other players you want to get into ProCricket?

There's a whole lot of people, West Indians, Australians, Indians, we are also trying to get Sri Lankans, Pakistanis.

Is that in a playing or advisory capacity?

They will all be here to play, and when they are not playing, they will be providing coaching for different age groups, under-15, -17, -19, and so on. This will give them an opportunity to know what cricket is all about.

What exactly is ProCricket in its shortened form?

If you think of playing a 50 over game, I don't think anyone has the patience to really sit through the entire day and watch the game. A lot of study has been done, and they thought that a shorter version would be more popular than the longer version, and that's how they have got into it.

Do you think the market is ready for this version?

Tell you what, we are not losing the sanctity of cricket. Instead of 50 (overs), we've already got into 20 in England, in South Africa, and other places, which has been very popular. Now, from 20, we are getting into 16 and a half probably. But by doing that, we are not losing the sanctity. It's only that you will be getting a lot more action because of the shorter time.

Even in the 50 over game, you don't get action all the time right from the word go to the end. There is paced out interaction. Here the action will be all the time, through the 100 balls.

Do you think ProCricket might do to one-day cricket what one-day cricket has done to Tests?

I don't think so. Certainly traditional cricket, as under the International Cricket Council, will carry on. Test matches won't go away, they have reduced. In our time, we used to play five Test matches and may be three one-dayers, now it's five or seven one-dayers and three Tests. It might even boil down to one Test match and maybe nine one-dayers. But I don't think Tests will go in their entirety.

This format, I believe, will spread, will become popular, but I don't see where it will take over national status. This is a different kind of game.

Initially, this format will be played mostly in the West. How do you think international players from cricketing nations will balance this format with the regular one-day and Test formats?

If you see the timing of the tournaments, whatever matches you play in the US are almost always when you don't have cricket in most of the places. In India, it's off-season; Sri Lanka it rains; Pakistan and Bangladesh are the same thing. You are talking about England and Australia and even West Indies, from where you can just hop over here.

So I see no reason why the players wouldn't want to come, and the kind of response we have seen from the players has been fantastic, they are very keen on coming. As regards the format, I think it's just a switchover, it's an adaptability of the individual player which comes naturally when you reach that level.

Coming to Indian cricket, you have been involved with the national team in every capacity — player, manager, coach, selector. From that perspective, how do you rate the current team?

It has done very well, it has knit very well. I think there's no looking back now. What change I see, besides the couple of players that have got in, which has made a big difference, is that they are now going for the kill, they want to push themselves to the extent where they want to go and win a game, they won't wait for it to fall into their lap.

What difference do you see between this team and the team you managed?

There's a big difference. The older players are still there, but the players who have made a big difference are Virender Sehwag, Irfan Pathan, Zaheer Khan, Yuvraj Singh, Kaif, Parthiv Patel — these guys are more of all-rounders.

Plus, the fielding aspect, especially with Yuvraj and Kaif on the field, you see them taking brilliant catches, it makes a big difference on the ground. If you look at these 4-5 players who were not there in my time, these are the players who have mattered.

Yes, Rahul [Dravid], Sourav [Ganguly], Sachin [Tendulkar], they were there, but these youngsters have been tremendous. Thanks to the kind of performances they have given, you find it has become a result-oriented team.

To whom would you credit that change — the team, the coach, the individual players, the entire package?

I think it is basically teamwork and I wouldn't take credit away from the coach. It's not only the players that are to be given all the credit, John Wright has done a tremendous job of getting the team together and winning matches overseas — and winning convincingly.

Plus, the potential of the players has come up. The biggest difference is the trainer: we didn't have a trainer in my time, we just had a physio who was working as a trainer also. Now they have a specialised trainer.

Another thing that has made a big difference is that they have a guy who sits on a computer throughout the day and gives you the analysis at the end of the day; what I had to do was take a video cassette, give it to the TV company in the morning, they would tape it and give it back to me in the evening, I would see it, I would do the noting on the ground, call the players to my room in the evening, show them where they were wrong. You don't have to do that anymore.

So why did you not ask for these facilities when you were manager?

Well, you can say that, in fact, I had asked for it, I had asked for a computer guy who can analyse because all the teams were carrying one around with them. The BCCI [Board of Control for Cricket in India] said they would look into it. I asked for a sports psychologist also, which is a very, very important aspect in today's game. Your mental toughness is so important, especially when you are playing teams like Australia or you are playing Pakistan in Pakistan.

I think it's very important and I felt it's where our boys were, sort of, going to an extent and stopping there, not going beyond that, which they are doing now. All these small things do matter a lot.

When John Wright was hired, both you and Kapil Dev had reservations on the issue of hiring a foreign coach. Has there been any change in your thinking?

No, I would say the same thing. No denying the fact that John Wright has given results — but with so many other advantages, facilities that are around now which were not there earlier. So you never know, if you had this kind of talent, these facilities, specialised trainers, this kind of computer analysis, you know, all that could have made a difference in our time too.

If you were to come back, what would you do differently?

Oh well [chuckles]! I know these boys for donkey's years now, except the new guys who have come in, but Irfan, all these people I know from childhood because they are from Baroda.

You can't sit outside the boundary or sit in your room and say 'I'll do this, I'll do that'. You have to get right in the thick of things because a lot of water has flowed under the bridge. You don't know what kind of systems are prevailing now, how things are.

Are you looking to come back as, say, national team manager?

No, no. No. I've done my bit, there's no question of going back. In fact, I was called back after Kapil left, but I wasn't keen on taking it up.

Why?

Because they [the BCCI] were the ones who removed me saying I was no good. And they wanted me back? How is that? And I told them the exact thing, I told the president of the BCCI, 'Sir, you are the one who has thrown me out, and you are the one who wants me back. It doesn't matter whether it is one series or two or three. Isn't it bad for me to accept? People will think that he was thrown out and he's now accepting for money.'

But that was when the match-fixing thing was happening. They requested me saying, 'You have been with the team, you have been around in international cricket for so long, if you are there you will make the boys comfortable. They will be followed by the press, who will ask them what went right or wrong. You can handle the press, talk to them properly, and keep them satisfied.' I thought of all this and decided, ultimately, it was not about me, it was about Indian cricket, so I did it.

It was during your tenure that match-fixing became headline news. What's your take on what happened then, and since?

I was pretty surprised when these things happened. Even today I for one do not agree that there could be a match fixed.

Possibility is individual fixing, of the kind where a player says, 'I will not get 50 runs today or I will not get 10 runs'. But match-fixing, as I understand it, basically you have to get your top players involved, it cannot be done by one man or two men, it has to be two-three top batsmen, one or two main bowlers, then it can be done.

Did you at any point suspect something like that might have been going on?

Well, I got a call! We were playing in Sri Lanka, I was the coach, and I got a call from Delhi saying, 'What's happening for tomorrow?' We were playing the final against Sri Lanka and I said, 'We should be winning, who's calling?'

'I am calling from Delhi.'

'What's your name?' I asked him.

'Why do you want to know my name?'

Then he said, 'You are going to lose tomorrow, it's been fixed.'

I was very upset. A similar call came to the manager of the Indian team, maybe from the same man. The manager called me and I told him not to worry about it. 'Let's wait and watch,' I told him. And we won hands down! Three hundred runs plus!

So what is your reading now? Do you think the sport has been cleaned up, or is there something that still needs to be done?

See nobody knows — who's going to know? Can you say it is clean, or it was there? How much has been proved, leave aside Hansie Cronje? Nothing concrete has come out, it is all speculation.

Given that, was the BCCI right to suspend Mohammad Azharuddin and Ajay Jadeja?

I really don't know. Ajay is now playing.

But that is after two years out...

Probably. It's like Abhijit Kale. Has the BCCI been in a position to prove that Abhijit gave money or he proposed to give money? No. But they have banned him till December. They say because he influenced the selectors he has been penalised. But they say nothing about the money.

That is how it is. Nothing is known for sure. The best thing to do is, the Indian team has gotten over that cloud, let us not get into it again. It's not good for cricket, not only for Indian cricket but for the children who follow these cricketers. We don't want to make fools of those children, or give them the feeling that this cricketer or that match was fixed. That is bad for cricket anywhere in the world, so now that it is cleared up, it is best to let it lie.