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November 20, 1999


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Lele unplugged

Faisal Shariff

All characters in the following passage are non-fictitious.

A shortish, stout man who calls himself the executive secretary of the BCCI alighted from the elevator of the Taj Palace, Delhi. My eyes lit up when I saw J Y Lele walk across the lobby and settle down on the sofa, cell phone distinctly held along with passes for the Delhi one-day match against New Zealand.

"I am waiting for Kapil Dev," he said.

What follows is a conversation with the man.

So is the matter sorted out now, between you and Kapil Dev?

There was no problem. He made a mistake and I proved my point. And you must have found out by now that the president, Muttiah, confirmed that he was not asked about Agarkar joining the team in Ahmedabad. I said that Ajit should not be called to Ahmedabad. I said that he should be allowed to play his local games and prove his match fitness. Is that wrong? They don't want to play domestic games and they want to go to Australia and other countries.

Why is Ajay Jadeja not playing in the last one-dayer at Delhi?

That is the trouble! When you are not fit just say that you are not. Why hide your injury and then play. After all, you are playing for the country. He went to Delhi from Guwahati to see some doctor and then came back to Guwahati. When you are injured you should declare it and opt out yourself. But no, here everyone wants to play each game without fail.

Why don't we ever give due credit to our heroes? Did you see how Healy was given such a warm send-off at Brisbane? And what did we do with Azhar, kicked him out.

But what can we do if he is not ready to retire. He wants to suddenly play Ranji trophy. If he retires then we will give him a very warm welcome. It is very sad though that Azhar is being dealt with in a very sad manner. But you have heard the selectors say that they are not even considering him anymore. That should be a signal for him.

Are you happy with the side which is going to Australia?

No, I am not. Ajay Jadeja and Ajit Agarkar should not be in the side for Tests.

Why not Ajay Jadeja?

Ajay is a utility player. He is not a Test player. He can't play in a Test match.

He is in the side at the expense of Azhar. You think he is a better batsman than Azhar?

I just told you that Ajay is not a Test player, then how can he be better than Azhar. Azhar is a great batsman.

What about Ajit Agarkar?

Forget about his performance. Can he promise that he will not breakdown again. Twice he has done that to us now. He is so delicate. I wonder what he will do there.

(Every time there was a mobile ring, loud or faint, Lele would look at his mobile and then ask me if it is his mobile ringing. This happened on a couple of occasions, interrupting the conversation.)

So what is your ideal team for the Australian tour?

I would have taken Azhar in the side. Besides Azhar, I think Mohammed Kaif or Martin or Kanitkar should have been the batsman. I would have taken two more spinners. Joshi would have been one of them. Why don't we understand that spin is our forte? If we had taken some more spinners to England we would have won the World Cup. But no! Everyone kept saying medium pacers. And what did the medium pacers get us - defeat. We don't have any quality fast bowlers!

(A bamboozled me) What about Srinath?

One Srinath! There are 50 Srinaths out there in the country. Srinath was a complete failure in the World Cup.

Are you happy with the fitness of the Indian team?

What fitness are you talking about? I am fit; I do not have any injury. But am I match fit? No, I am not. The players are fit, but they are not match fit. They don't have it in them to stay there for six hours.

You think things will change after Andrew Leipus has joined the team? Are you happy with his performance so far?

See, whether it is Chadda or Kokinos or Leipus, it does not matter. Tell 'em, can any one of these on the eve of a match say that X player is unfit, or, I think Y player should not play. No they can't that because they are so friendly with them that they forget their jobs. You must have the guts to stand up and say that a player is unfit if he is.

Just then a bald gentleman sitting by our side, joins in the conversation:

Mr. Lele, I am from the army. I have to ask you one thing. Our boys don't have the josh (spirit) to win. Look at the Pakistan team, they have such a killer instinct even though they don't have the same talent.

Lele at this point replies: I think that the Pakistan team is better than the Indian team in all departments. See their fast bowlers, their batsmen are so consistent. Man to man, Pakistan is a much better team than India.

I push my way into the conversation again

But do the Pakistan bowlers chuck, what do you think?

No, Shoiab does not chuck. If Muralitharan does not chuck, then no bowler in international cricket chucks. I have been an umpire myself. I have umpired 19 Ranji games. I know who chucks and who doesn't. Who can catch these guys? Not me. No one can.

You think India is playing too much of cricket?

Australia and West Indies played more cricket than us this year. This is an excuse. You tell me, which player will agree to rest for two months from the game.

At this stage P. M Rungta joins in the animated conversation and shoots off. I say to my self: 'Welcome aboard Rungtaji!'

Rungta: You go and ask any player if they are ready to sit out or rather rest for two months. We will rest them. They won't because they will lose out on all the money. They will say in interviews that they think too much cricket is being played but they want to play themselves. Tell me one thing, why do they go and play masala matches if they want to rest so badly?

I ask Rungta, as Lele feels neglected and stretches, well aware of the camera crew standing in front with the camera focused on him:

Sir, Rahul was dropped from the one-day side a couple of seasons ago. You think it was a mistake looking at the fact that he is India's number one batsman today?

I think Rahul is better than Sachin today. And I don't think that it was a mistake that I dropped him. If I would have not dropped him then he would have never figured out why he was not getting the runs. He worked on his credit after that and the result is there for all to see.

Rungta excuses himself to entertain some pass aspirants for the one-day game so I get back to Lele.

Mr. Lele do you think that the players are being distracted because of the advertising assignments that they are doing. Some of them have more ads than runs in matches.

What they do after the game is their business. The board does not interfere with that. But what can you say these guys.

So you think we will do well in Australia?

We will be wiped out 3-0. You watch, they will win all three games. India doesn't stand a chance. The wickets there will not help the Indians at all. There is so much bounce. Besides Sachin, Dravid and Ganguly there is no one else who can bat there. And if one of these three is injured then we are finished. There is no depth in the middle order.

What about Ramesh?

Ramesh is an opener. He is a good batsman and he will do well there. People keep talking about his bad technique but atleast he is scoring runs. He is the most consistent in Tests besides Rahul.

What about Laxman?

He is a good middle-order batsman.

Why is he being asked to open?

When there is no place in the middle order then he has to be made an opener to fit him in. I think he is a very good middle order batsman but he will open in Australia.

Lele shoots off again

All these guys want to do is model and make money. We have no problem with that. But after making so much money these guys ask for the laundry bills to be paid by us. They are given Rs. 2,000 everyday for their food and laundry. It is called the meal-and-laundry-allowance. But they want to save that and expect the board to pay for that as well. It was decided with them. The coach comes to us, then we sit and decide the allowance after talking to them. So I say - 'morning tea- Rs 75- okay, done'; next they say laundry Rs 300-400 - okay done. Next lunch - Rs 300-400, I say 'make it Rs 500 done'; next snacks in the evening - Rs 100 - done, next dinner - Rs 500, done. So when you add up it comes to Rs. 1600. I say 'let's make it Rs 2,000'. So what do these guys do? In the evening they start searching for invitations to dinner so they can save that money. I mean, you are getting this money come on use it and don't live like beggars.

You know Dilip Vengsarkar, Sandeep Patil, Gaekwad and Madan Lal were great guys. They never bothered about money. They lived like kings. And I think that is the way to be. If you have got money to eat then bloody eat food with it. Don't try to save that money.

And our dear friend P.M Rungta steps into the frame again.

I have been in the board for the past 48 years. I have seen all the fanfare and all the happenings here. I know how the players behave.

Sir, don't you think that the players should be asked to play in domestic games?

Yes, they have to. When I was incharge I saw to it that they took domestic cricket seriously. The players had to give a written explanation as to why they are not participating in the games. If it was not considered valid they were taken to task. Even Azhar, when he was not captain was taken to task when he missed a game.

Then why was it that for all these years he didn't bother playing these games? Did you know that last year when Haryana was playing in the quarter-finals, Ajay was in the same city playing golf at the local golf course?

I cannot comment on that. I think if players ignore domestic cricket they should be penalised and warned about it. Strict action should be taken against them.

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