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February 3, 1998


The Cricket Interview/Sunil Dev

'I told Dalmiya either Azhar's wife leaves or I leave'

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I meet Sunil Dev at his office, S L Dev & Company, in Lajpat Nagar, New Delhi. We exchange cards, and the first thing I notice is that his card has no designation on it.
''My younger brother is the managing director of the company, not me,'' says Dev, laughing. ''I just work here.''
Why is that, I ask. ''Because I am a blabbermouth,'' he admits cheerfully. ''I don't think of consequences, I say whatever comes to my mind, whatever I think is right. So my papa decided that my younger brother would head the company and do all the interacting with others -- but he also insists that everything be checked with me first.''
We spend almost three hours chatting -- and even within the first few minutes, I have enough evidence that Dev's father is right. When it comes to talking, Dev is pretty much a loose cannon, inclined to speak his piece without bothering too much about consequences. In fact, at times during our chat, one corner of my mind goes, oh heck, can't write that because true or no, there is no way to prove it so under the laws of the land,
Rediff On The NeT will end up in a libel suit.
The former Ranji Trophy player (he kept wickets for Delhi) turned administrator (Dev is now sports secretary with the Delhi District Cricket Association) is in fact a journo's dream -- you don't get the cliched 'no comment', you don't run into the typical stonewall, not even when your questions are inconvenient. So what was intended as a short, crisp interview ends up being a very broad-based discussion of various matters cricketing.
Excerpts, from an interview with
Prem Panicker:

Your report (a link to the full report is provided at the end of this interview, for those who may have missed it) at the end of the South African tour must be one of the strongest-worded statements ever made by team managers. Was it particularly rough, that trip?

Well, there were a lot of issues that needed to be raised, and I raised them. As to the report being strongly worded, I have never believed in pulling my punches, I like to tell things as they are.

Let's look at specifics -- that thing about blazers and shirts, for instance, you take it up quite strongly?

That. I thought the whole situation was disgraceful. How can you have a team, all the members of which are wearing different shirts? When the Indian team goes abroad, they go representing the country, as our ambassadors. The Board makes so much money, shouldn't it at the very least see that they are outfitted properly? Instead, what we get are ill-fitting blazers, mismatched shirts, and we don't have time to alter them because they are delivered at the very last minute -- the funny thing was, my own tour blazer was handed over to me, at Delhi airport, by a DDCA official the day the team returned from the tour. Have you ever seen anything more stupid? So I wrote about it quite strongly in my report.

What was the Board's response to your recommendations?

Complete silence.

You didn't have any meetings, discussions...?

Nothing. The report was submitted. What happened to it after that, I don't know -- no one ever got back to me, for all I know it is lying in the wastepaper basket.

To return to the contents of the report -- you say that no army should have two generals. Obviously, the reference is to the presence of Mohammad Azharuddin -- so what make you come up with that statement? What was the problem with Azhar being in the side led by Sachin Tendulkar?

I firmly believe that in a team, a captain should be supreme, his authority should be unquestioned in all things. And from various incidents, I realised that this was not the case with the Indian team -- Tendulkar was the captain, but his authority did not extend to the senior players, especially Azharuddin. And that is very bad for a team, you cannot have two power centres.

Could you give me an example?

For instance, the Indian team was about to take the field one day, and I noticed that some players were not wearing the official shirts, with the sponsor's logo on them. That is against the rules -- you are expected to sport the logo whenever you are playing, that is part of the reason the sponsor is paying good money for. So I pointed it out to Sachin and asked him to ensure that everyone's shirt had the logo. But later I found that Azhar alone didn't have it, so I asked Sachin and he replied, 'He is my senior, how can I order him to do anything?' Finally I had to talk to Azhar and get him to wear the right shirt.

This is a small instance, but it indicates what I mean. A captain has, at all times and in all ways, to be supreme. Rules have to be the same for everyone. To cite another instance -- at the end of the South African leg of the tour, the wives were supposed to be sent back. When I checked, I found that tickets had been got for all the wives except Azhar's, so I asked and was told that he had got special permission. Now, I was the manager on the tour -- how can a situation exist where a player goes over my head? So I called up Jagmohan Dalmiya (the BCCI secretary). Dalmiya told me, you submit a written report, we will discuss it and decide.

So I told him, by the time I submit a report and you discuss it and all the rest of it the tour will be over and it will all be pointless. Either Azhar's wife leaves with the rest of them, or I will leave and hand over the manager's post to her. So then her ticket was bought and she too went with the rest. But the point is, all this controversy arises because the line of authority is not clear. And that sort of situation is not good for a team.

Azharuddin, however, was at the time, and still is, a great batsman, so how then can anyone moot his being dropped from the side?

Yes, Azhar is a brilliant batsman, one of the best. In South Africa, when he and Sachin mounted that incredible display of batsmanship in the second Test, you should have heard the greats of the game raving, some of the greatest players of all time were sitting there saying they had never, ever, seen batsmanship of this kind and hearing that, it made you proud to be an Indian and the manager of such a side.

What I advocated was not the sacking of Azharuddin. My point is, if he is captain, then he should remain captain as long as he on merit is worth his place in the side. All I am against is this practise of dropping a senior player as captain but having him in the side -- and it has nothing to do with Azhar in particular, I think it is true for anybody. Look at the best sides in the world -- a Mark Taylor becomes captain only after an Allan Border quits. Gooch quits, Atherton takes over. When Cronje becomes captain of South Africa, he doesn't have a former captain playing under him. (This interview was done while I was in Delhi, during my recent holiday -- at the time, Brian Lara had not taken over from Courtney Walsh as West Indies captain.)

Only in India and Pakistan do we have this business of teams having one captain and two or more ex-captains all playing together, and I maintain that kind of thing is not good for a team. The first thing a team needs is a strong centre of authority -- and there should be only one authority.

You have also made some veiled references that seem to suggest that the hospitality extended to the team in South Africa was less than perfect -- something about doctors, and practise facilities, and so on?

It is not about hospitality exactly, more a question of facilities. Like for instance, the team didn't get any practise bowlers before the first Test at Durban; when we asked, we were told that no advance notice had been given and therefore no arrangements had been made. So the boys didn't have bowlers to practise against, you can't tire your own bowlers out making them bowl all day in the nets, even Madan Lal had to bowl. For instance, when teams tour India, we make sure we have dozens of local bowlers on standby, to bowl to the visitors, no one has to ask us to provide these things, we do it as a matter of course. But that doesn't happen when we go abroad.

Again, when foreign teams come here, three, four doctors are always on standby. But on this tour, I found, if one of the boys had some small problem, I had to go out and find a doctor by myself, and pay him immediately -- these things, the respective boards have got to organise all the details before a tour, you can't function in such a haphazard fashion. In India, we go out of our way to ensure that visitors get what they want, but it is not the same when we go abroad -- so, knowing this, the board should ensure that all these things are properly discussed and spelt out with the board of the host country.

Another major grouse of yours appears to have been against Barry Jarman...?

Why mince words, I said Barry Jarman was biased, and I maintain it. You look at the evidence for yourself. I have mentioned the respective incidents, concerning Ganguly, concerning Cronje pushing Srinath, Donald abusing Dravid, in my report.

In fact, even the neutral commentators on television were talking about the incident involving Donald and Dravid, when the bowler abused him not once but twice and the cameras and stump mikes picked everything up clearly -- but when I asked Jarman what action would be taken, he said, 'The player was only muttering, only mumbling, there is no need to take action'. When I asked to be shown the tape based on which Ganguly and Dharmani were fined, he said the tape was not available.

The funniest thing was, when Jonty Rhodes took that catch of Sachin Tendulkar, the commentators were the first to point out that his hand holding the ball had touched the ground in such a way that the ball had come in contact with the ground. The commentators said that, and asked me for my opinion. I did not say anything about the particular instance, I did not question the umpire's decision or anything; I only said, and it is all there on record, that in my view, the third umpire can be called on to adjudicate in the case of close catches. I mean, why do we ask the third umpire to rule on close run outs? Because neither umpire is in a good position to really see it. The same way, if a diving catch is being taken at gully or point, neither umpire can tell for sure if it was fair.

So I suggested referring such catches to the third umpire. And what happens? I was publicly reprimanded by Barry Jarman. And yet, at the next meeting of the ICC technical committee, they pass a rule saying that close catches can be referred to the third umpire. Arre, you reprimand me for saying something, and within a couple of months, you make my suggestion a rule?!! Where is the fairness here?

Other than the issues you have raised, is there anything else about the tour you would like to discuss?

Oh, there are lots of things, we could discuss them for the rest of the day. But to mention one other important point -- what is the point of having a manager and a coach, and asking them to file reports, if these reports are not even discussed, let alone acted upon, by the Board?

For example -- the captain, the manager which is me, the coach, we all thought that Dodda Ganesh bowled with a lot of promise. He was raw and untried, but so was Srinath when he made his first tour. Ganesh is a good, hard-working boy, we all thought he had a lot of promise and potential, and the coach and captain mentioned it in their reports. But what happens?

The selectors drop him, saying that he was found not suitable, that he had shown no sign of improvement. Then what is the point of our filing reports, if the people sitting here say exactly the opposite thing? We should remember that when we send a young player abroad, we are investing a lot of money in him. If we simply drop him, dump him, then we have wasted that investment, we have lost all that money without getting any return on it, is that sensible? It is not just one Dodda Ganesh -- there are so many such instances. Noel David. David Johnson. And so on.

These boys, they come into the team with so much of hope, so many expectations, and we behave heartlessly towards them. I remember, our first day in South Africa, I was going in to breakfast when I saw Dodda, so I took him along and when the cheque was brought, the boy, poor chap he doesn't know about these things, he took some money out of his pocket and extended it to me, I had to explain to him that he didn't have to worry about these things... these are the kind of young, inexperienced boys we take abroad on tour and then dump without even an explanation....

Interestingly, you have raised the issue of payments, suggesting it should be on the basis of seniority, that members of the playing eleven should get more than the reserves...

That's right, that is something I strongly believe in. Elementary sense of justice should tell you I am right -- the members of the playing eleven sweat it out for five days, out there in the field. The reserves sit inside, nice and cool and comfortable, reading the papers and chatting and having fun. If both players and reserves get the same amount, is that fair?

But the reserves, too, fill an important role in the side -- they are there in case something goes wrong, they help out in the nets, and so on....?

Yes. I didn't suggest that they shouldn't be paid at all -- I only said, they should not be paid the same amount as the ones actually in the eleven. If they get paid for just sitting there, then where is the motivation for getting into the playing eleven, for fighting for their place? Once they make the list of 14 or 16 or whatever, that's it, they are sitting pretty.

In fact, I would go further and suggest that players should be paid based on their seniority, their experience. There should be one base pay, for all players in the squad. Then those who actually play in a match should get a fee for playing. And further, the experienced players should get a further amount, based on their experience. Again, it is unfair if an Azharuddin with 250 games and a Dodda Ganesh with one game earn the same amount.

But logically speaking, don't a veteran and a rookie both have important jobs in the same squad?

Yes. Like, the general manager and the assistant manager both have important jobs in a company -- so do we pay them the same amount? Of course not. The general manager, like the senior cricketer, contributes not only his ability, but also his greater experience, and that should be taken into consideration when payments are being made.

One question that has caused a lot of debate among fans and commentators alike is team morale. How united is the Indian team, really?

Actually, that is another issue, though I didn't refer to it in my report. See, part of the problem is, the team doesn't behave like a team. In the sense, when two South Indians get together, they speak in their language even when there are other players around. The same with the others -- they form little cliques and keep talking in their language. The first time I noticed this, I pulled up the players concerned. 'Are you abusing me?' I asked them. They said no, they were just chatting. 'Then chat in English or in Hindi,' I told them.

It is not a question of not respecting regional languages. See, maybe when you are alone together you can talk in your mother tongue. But when your teammates are around, it is not good, not polite, to talk in a language the others don't understand. We are going there not as South Zone or North Zone or whatever, we are going there as Indians, as the team representing all of India, I think it is only fair that they behave like Indians and not like Tamils or Telugus or Maharashtrians or Punjabis or whatever.

You have mentioned a lot of issues here. According to you, where should the search for a solution begin?

Simple -- the solution lies in ensuring professionalism. In Indian cricket, the players are professionals, but no one else is. The manager is 'honorary', the board officials are 'honorary', everyone is 'honorary'. Now see, 'honorary' ideally means you do something for the love of it, there is no money involved -- but that is not the case here. Everyone, all these 'honoraries', they all get paid -- but because on record they are 'honorary', they are not accountable for results, nobody is accountable. We look at the wins and losses of our paid cricketers, do we examine the records of our managers, our administrators?

This is why our cricket is run so badly, why nothing works, why the simplest things involve huge headaches. See, the thing is, nobody cares for results, nobody cares for the cricketers... like, I remember, when Rahul Dravid heard that his father was to undergo a major operation, he came to me, asked for permission to go home after the one-dayers in South Africa, to skip the Zimbabwe and Bermuda leg of the tour. What harm could that have done? But Dalmiya said no! I actually had to fight with him to get Dravid the permission --- which, if the Board had the least regard for its players, should have been granted as a matter of course!

Or take that whole Bermuda business. Whose bright idea was it to make this tired team, after a demanding tour of South Africa, go first to Zimbabwe and then to Bermuda? I mean, Zimbabwe had played the triangular with India and South Africa, so why go immediately after that to Zimbabwe and play more one-dayers against them? And why Bermuda? Look, if you want votes, fine, you canvass for votes -- but why should the Indian team be pawns in that game? You make them play all over the place without rest -- and that too, the even tougher West Indies tour was just coming up -- so you can please some nations and get their votes? Is that the right thing to do?

Even that Bermuda thing -- the boys didn't want to go, they were physically tired, mentally low after the South African tour. I had to fight with the board, make calls to Dalmiya, before the tour was finally shelved. And then came the hassle of rebooking our tickets -- in South Africa, the locals didn't give us anyone to help with that. If it was India, half the Board would have been running around, going out of our way to make sure the visitors got what they needed, but there we had to do it all ourselves.

And what happens? Some idiot books us the wrong way round, we fly halfway around the world to get here, touching London for no reason I could see when we could simply have flown Zimbabwe-Nairobi-Bombay. Like I said, there is absolutely no professionalism, no accountability, in any aspect of our functioning...

The Sunil Dev interview continues

The full text of the Sunil Dev report.

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