January 5, 1998
The Cricket Interview/Ajit Wadekar
'It is the selectors who need a psychiatrist!'
Ajit Laxman Wadekar -- the 'Professor' as he was known in cricket circles -- stands considerably taller than his actual height of six feet, if one takes into account his various achievements as player, captain and later, manager of the national side.
As a player, he was a stylish left-handed batsman who drove with the elegance traditionally associated with the left hander, and a power that was surprising given his very short backlift. When needed, he could turn his arm over, delivering a mixture of slow all-sorts, and as a fielder he was lethal close to the wicket, especially in the slips where his flypaper catching gave the famed Indian spin quartet of the seventies much cause to be grateful.
As captain, his achievements include leading India to its maiden series win abroad, against New Zealand (he scored his first Test hundred on the same tour), as also the country's first ever victorious series against the West Indies (a feat that the Indian team has not duplicated, either before or since, under any other captain), and again, back to back series wins against England, first away, then at home.
An example of the Indian tendency to raise victors to the skies and bury losers was afforded when, in 1974, Wadekar led India to three defeats against England in England. When he returned, he found that he had been deposed even as captain of Bombay, not to mention India -- this despite a captaincy record of four series of which he won three and lost one. When he led the country to series wins abroad, a life size statue was erected in his honour -- in 1974, however, his home was stoned, his family abused.
At this point, he retired from first-class cricket.
Besides a long stint as cricket administrator with the Bombay Cricket Associaton, Wadekar also managed the Indian team under Mohammad Azharuddin which, despite a disastrous first tour of South Africa, returned to a remarkable run of victories on home soil. A slight heart attack sparked his decision to resign the high profile, high tension job, and finally take things easy...
Excerpts, from a wide-ranging conversation with Haresh Pandya
The hot topic of the day is the absence of players like Rahul Dravid and Venkatesh Prasad from recent one-day squads. Would you care to comment?
I am sorry for both those players, they have been dropped without any rhyme or reason. Dravid has been very consistent in both forms of the game, and Prasad has just been declared, by an eminent jury, the Ceat International Cricketer of the Year. This is no way to treat such players. In our time, the selectors used to be wiser. Dravid is captaincy material, because he has got the right credentials for the job. Instead of nurturing him, the selectors have been playing with his career.
So what kind of a selection panel, what kind of selectors, would you personally like to see?
Any player who has played a fair amount of Test cricket can make a good selector. A selector should be in a position to know exactly the kind of pressures that cricketers playing at the international level experience. You come across different wickets, different climates, different environments and so on -- and only people who have actually experienced this can do the duties of selector with the required amount of insight. India is not that short of experienced former Test cricketers that we can't find five good ones to perform the job of team selection.And I think it is high time we formed a selection committee that would have the good of Indian cricket as its sole priority.
The 'pick him today drop him tomorrow' style of team selection that seems to be the norm now, does it impact on the concerned players? Psychologically, and otherwise?
Of course it does, it most certainly does. In fact, that is why I am worried about the way things are going on in Indian cricket of late. The selectors probably do not know the real cost of their deeds. Collectively, what is being affected is the prestige of the country and, at an individual level, what is affected is the confidence, the morale of the players who are picked and dropped at a whim. And the sooner the selectors realise this, the better.
While on individuals, another name that comes to mind is Vinod Kambli -- who was a member of the team when you were manager. That was when there was all that talk about his off-field problems, they were given as the reason for his being dropped. What exactly is the situation vis a vis Kambli?
Vinod is another cricketer I feel very sorry for. Another player who has been treated very badly in recent times. My assessment is that whatever he was earlier, he has attained full maturity now, both as a cricketer and as a human being. At the very least, they should play him in one dayers. There is no point picking him in the team, and then rendering him a mere passenger. As to non-cricketing reasons why he is not selected, I frankly know of none -- nothing about his behaviour off the field, in his personal life, either. And assuming for argument there is something, why should that bother anyone? The only concern should be ability, on-field behaviour, and off-field behaviour with the fellow team-members. All the rest of it, as long as it does not affect the team, as long as it does not bring disrepute to the side or the country, is none of anyone's business.
Analysts believe the Indian team is prone to crack under pressure, that this is a mind thing, that we need a psychiatrist, a psychologist, to help the players learn how to handle pressure. What do you think?
I think it is our selectors who need a psychiatrist! But to answer your question, I remember during my tenure as manager we used to have experts in psychology giving lectures to the boys from time to time, and they responded very well.
This whole thing, sports psychology, whatever, seems to be a new fad. Is it just that, a fad, or does it actually help improve performance?
It does. Especially when you are a captain or manager, it is sports psychology that is your biggest tool, it helps you understand your players, situations, better, it equips you better to cope. I certainly know many players who have benefitted.
We learn that the Board of Control for Cricket in India has appointed Bobby Simpson as consultant for the national team. What is your view about this? You were once a manager (now renamed coach), does having a 'consultant' help?
Like a lot of things this board does, I would say the appointment is knee-jerk, panic-oriented. As to Simpson, well, we have in India the world's highest century-maker, the world's highest Test wicket-taker, and many many more former players of international stature fully equipped to instruct the players of today about every aspect of the game. We have players like Vishwanath, Gavaskar, Mohinder to teach batting, bowlers like Bedi, Prasanna and Chandrashekar to teach spin, bowlers like Kapil Dev to coach our pace bowlers, we have so many former captains to provide inputs, I am not sure why we need to import a foreigner, Simpson or whoever, as consultant.
Do you then favour the appointment of a full time foreign coach? The argument here being that they are more abreast of current developments in sports psychology and medicine, even tactics, than we are?
I know this is being suggested for quite some time now, but I seriously don't think we need a foreign coach, I do not believe that a foreign coach, if appointed, would do something extraordinary. India is a vast country with different languages, cultures and religions, our psyche is not homogenous, it differs depending on where each particular player comes from, what his background is. Why a foreigner, even an Indian coaching the national side finds it difficult to understand players from a part of the country different from himself, so imagine the plight of this foreign coach, how can he understand all the players well enough?
So okay, we say that an Indian should be coach, or manager, or whatever you want to call it. Are you then in favour of the present system of one-year appointments, to be reviewed at the end of that period?
No, I am not, and part at least of the reason is what we were discussing above. As I was saying, it takes time for a manager, given our diversity, to even get to know players -- and by the time he manages to do so, and builds a rapport with them, he finds his tenure is over. Which I think is pretty stupid, you can't produce results in such a situation. I believe a manager should be appointed for a longer term.
Another burning issue of the day concerns Rajesh Chauhan, what are your views about him and the chucking controversy?
In the first place, Chauhan should not have been singled out on the charge of chucking. He made his international debut under my managership. I have not seen anything wrong with his action. No umpire, including the likes of Steve Bucknor and S Venkatraghavan who I rate as the world's best at the moment, has ever called Chauhan. And he is easily the best off spinner in India today, he is in fine form, we need him more than ever now when the Aussies are due, they are traditionally weak against off-spin bowling. When two experienced cricketers like Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev have cleared him after scrutinising his bowling action repeatedly, why is there any need to put Chauhan on a trial again? It is not fair. And I think the Board should have backed him, fought for him and picked him in the side.
You have managed the team when Srinath was a member. Do you think he should be bowled in Tests and ODIs at the rate he is being used? In South Africa, there seems to be a policy decision to rest Donald and use him only for important games -- should we similarly be conserving Srinath?
First, there is no doubt that Srinath is our main strike bowler, and one of the best quicks in world cricket today. And that being the case -- more so because he is just recovered from a crippling injury -- I don't think he should be played in every one-dayer, like for instance recently against Bangladesh. Or even against Pakistan in the league, once we were sure of making the final what is the need to play him? I think he needs to be nurtured by all concerned -- the captain, the coach, the selectors. Yes, the South Africans have been taking extreme care of Donald, they play him only in select one dayers, preserve him for bigger occasions like important ODIs and Tests -- and they even pay him for the matches they don't pick him for. The BCCI bigwigs I think should realise that treasures are not to be wasted, but should be conserved, preserved, and valued highly.
Pitches these days are causing more controversy than even the players -- first Indore, then Sabina Park in Kingston...?
Well, I am not exactly against the decisions taken by the umpires in both instances. But I must admit we have played on worse wickets than those two. But I must add that times have changed -- we used to play on much worse wickets than those two, without a complaint, today's players are rather pampered.
So do you foresee another long innings for Mohammad Azharuddin?
Well, I think, in the first place, that reinstating him was inevitable, the selectors really had no option. Even at 34, he is the fittest of the lot. He is a good captain, and I think he should be leading India in the coming World Cup in England. Of course, Sachin Tendulkar was not a failure either as a batsman or as a captain -- it is the entire Indian team that has been going through a lean patch. The selectors made things worse, for instance they had no business instructing him where to bat, or who to take in the playing eleven. It is not just Sachin -- once a captain is given the team, it is his business to decide all else. By what they did, the selectors put extra, undue pressure on Sachin the captain and Sachin the batsman.
The Aussies are due here and they are spearheaded by Shane Warne -- would you see him as being a major threat here, as he has been against all other teams?
Actually, I don't think so. Our batsmen are known to play leg-spinners well, I doubt if Warne will find wicket-taking as easy against the Indians as against other countries.
Another big one concerns Manoj Prabhakar and match fixing, what are your thoughts on the matter?
I don't know if I could answer this question. Why don't you ask Prabhakar himself? Or Justice Chandrachud, who said Prabhakar's accusations are baseless? Personally I don't think it is possible to fix an entire team for a match. You may bribe a player or two from either side, but you cannot fix a team, and thus decide the result of the match. No, I don't think that is possible.
How do you rate Prabhakar as a cricketer?
Very competitive. He was capable of utilising to the full his all-round talent. He was very aggressive because he was a true fighter. He would go all out to earn laurels for the team, for the country. He was one of those players a team, a captain, a manager could always rely on. A true team-man, in short.
As manager, how was it handing such a firebrand?
Actually, not as difficult as you think -- all you had to do was fire him up a bit, play on his pride in himself and his team, and he would go out there and outdo himself. A very very good man to have around.