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September 28, 1999


The Rediff Interview /Chandu Borde

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'A player should be a trier, above all he should be sincere'

The phone just doesn't stop ringing. Messages keep pouring in, ditto visitors.

Chandrakant Gulabrao Borde 'The number of calls that I have received has been more than the number of runs that I have scored in my life,' smiles Chandrakant Gulabrao Borde, the man who, just last week, took over from Ajit Wadekar as chairman of the senior selection committee.

It's not virgin territory for Borde -- he's been there, done it, bought the T shirt and worn it too. This is his second stint in the hot seat, having chaired the selection committee earlier, from 1984-'86.

Life has certainly come full circle for the man. In 1993, Borde was tipped as a certain bet to become coach of the national team, just prior to the tour of South Africa -- and then he was pipped at the post by Ajit Wadekar. Now, it is Wadekar's turn to experience the vagaries of cricketing life -- axed as chairman of selectors before he had completed even half his term, he now finds himself replaced by, who else, Borde himself.

Starting off as an all-rounder, Borde scored 3061 runs in the 55 Tests he played in, leading the side just once. He also took 52 wickets with his leg breaks till a shoulder injury limited his bowling and forced him to concentrate exclusively on his batting.

Now 65, Borde takes fresh guard, at a critical period in Indian cricket. And when you meet him, you think maybe it's a good thing, too -- there is something very calming and reassuring about the man, who comes across as soft-spoken yet articulate.

Faisal Shariff interviewed Borde at length, immediately after the appointment was made public. Excerpts:

You are probably the only cricketer other than Ajit Wadekar to have represented India as player, captain, coach, manager and chairman of selectors. Which of those hats was the hardest to wear?

That is a very tricky question to ask first up. (*smiles*) As a player, I was baptized by fire as they say. I made my debut against the fearsome pace bowling of the Windies. I will be lying if I said that I was not nervous. But the fact that I was representing my country fills you up with fighting spirit, helps you get the courage to stand up to the pace. During those days, the pitches were uncovered, we had no protective gear, and even the regular gear we used to get was sub-standard. When I think back to those days now, I find myself wondering how I survived.

I guess it was my fighting spirit. Whenever I was hit, I became more determined to stay there, to score runs. I love a challenge, that is what inspires me; pressure situations arouse me to do my best. My best performance was when Polly (Umrigar) and I both scored hundreds to help defeat the Australians, at the Brabourne Stadium, on Dussera day. Also when we played Pakistan and saved a Test against the tricky offbreaks of Asif, if I'm not mistaken, on a turning track.

Handling pressure is the toughest job of all, irrespective of which hat you are wearing. At the same time, when you succeed, it is also the most satisfying experience. I think my stint as a player was the toughest, and yet the best of the lot. When I went in to bat, I was all alone, I had to fight my own battle, there was no one to assist me.

You chaired the selection committee which picked the team for the 1983 World Cup, did you not? What was the single most important factor you had to keep in mind when picking that team?

The conditions in England were the most important thing on our minds when we sat to pick the side. We stressed on including all-rounders in the side. We knew the weather conditions in England. Bedi, especially, made a point that the conditions would help the bowlers and hence that we needed to have bowling all-rounders in the side.

You see, Madan Lal, Roger Binny, Mohinder Amarnath and Kapil Dev were the players who could bat, bowl and also field well. The key to picking a good side is to find players who can contribute in more than one department. Kapil of course needs to be given all the kudos for motivating the side. Each player contributed, cooperated, and that produced a collective team effort that won us the World Cup.

Leading from which, what in your view was missing in the Indian World Cup squad this time round?

Saurav Ganguly I reckon that the team had individual contributions, contributors. We have some terrific performers in Sachin, Dravid, Ganguly and Jadeja, but that's not what the team needs most. The team needs a collective effort, the team has to learn to play together, as one unit.

There was a certain amount of staleness arising from the excessive cricket that was being played. During our times, there were very few matches. So we were all keen on playing and making the most of the few chances we got. There would be three or four Tests in a year, the rest were all domestic games. So we were fired up to do well in the domestic circuit to keep ourselves in with a chance for selection, and when the chance to play international cricket came along, we would be fired up and enthused, and keen to do well.

I thought that this time, there was not enough of a collective effort shown by the players. Our bowlers were unable to control the ball, they could not make optimum use of the helpful conditions, they gave away too many extras in wides and no balls, they failed to control their line and length. What upset me the most about this aspect was that once they were taken for runs, they would immediately stop attacking and go on the defensive. That gives the batting side the initiative.

Okay, a hypothetical question -- if you had picked the 1999 World Cup squad, what would it have been?

I don't want to take names in a hypothetical case like this -- let me put it this way, I would have been looking to pick players who could contribute in more than one area, to the team effort. There is no point picking a batsman who can score 50 but gives away 20, 25 runs in the field -- I'd rather have a player who can score 30 and save 20, that is the kind of guy who contributes to the team's cause. India's fielding let the side down in England, there was just no effort being shown.

I don't want to make definite statements this early, since I have been away from direct involvement for some time now, all the cricket I have seen lately has been on television, so I don't at first hand know how good the upcoming players are. But now that I am in charge, my first priority is to go travelling around, looking for new talent.

In recent times, accusations of zonal bias have accompanied every selection exercise. From here on in, you are the person who has to deal with all this -- so what are your thoughts? Is there a solution? Should we do away with zonal representation on the selection panel? Is a three-man system preferable to the present format?

Chandrakant Gulabrao Borde The problem with having a three-member team is that already, there is a problem, the five members are not able to watch all the zonal games and are therefore not properly updated on young talent. If we cut that number down to three, then the problem only increases. How can three selectors manage to watch all domestic games? And without actually watching the games, how can you evaluate a young player?

You are right, there are allegations of zonal bias and it has to be addressed. One solution I have in mind is to send a selector from one zone to watch matches played by another zone -- the south zone selector, for instance, could be sent to watch north zone games. This could go a long way towards eliminating bias. Also, it will give the selector a chance to evaluate a player without allowing his own bias, or the needs of his zone, to interfere with his thinking.

On being named national coach, Kapil Dev promptly asked for a voice in selection. What are your views? Should captain and coach have an equal say in team selection?

The coach and the captain always have a say in the selection. At least, that was how it was when I was chairman of the selection committee the last time. We gave importance to the views of captain and coach and were definitely guided by them.

It is different today, there have been instances of captains in recent times walking out of selection meetings because they were not being listened to. There was the instance of Sachin being asked to bat lower down the order, during his first tenure, though that was against his wishes. Is a selection committee justified in such interference? Isn't the job of the committee simply to pick the 14, and leave the rest to captain and coach?

When was this? I am unaware of it. Who was the selector then? Anyway, I have never ever given instructions like these to the captain or coach. Our job is to hand over a balanced squad to the coach and captain and then let them take over from there. We can make suggestions, mind you, but they are only suggestions.

Kapil Dev Like if, tomorrow, Kapil sends an opening batsman at number eight, I will definitely ask him for a reason, an explanation, because as chairman of selectors I need to know whether it was because of the situation, or because there is a problem with the player. The coach should have a good reason for such moves -- but if he does, then it is his affair, we are not going to dictate what the captain and coach should do.

Does having been a player help when you become a selector?

It depends on the individual -- in my case, it has helped me a lot to have been a former player myself. I better understand the pressures of a player trying to break into the team, or even trying to hold on to his place in the side. All of us in the selection panel now have been through the process of feeling tense about our own selection, we have all known what it is to be dropped, we know how it can prey on the mind of certain cricketers and force mistakes. You know, sometimes when I see a player make a mistake out of pressure, I tend to forget I am a selector, I react like a player and want to help him, tell him what is going wrong with him. This game is all in the mind -- once you learn to play, the rest is about how you feel, your confidence, your inner strength.

I think in selection, when deciding to retain or drop players, we have to be very watchful. If a player on the borderline gets out for a duck, for instance, I would want to see the dismissal -- if it was a very good delivery, an unplayable one, the kind most batsmen would get into trouble against, then I would definitely want to give him another chance, it would not be fair to drop him. Next time, if he gets out to another good ball, I will give him another chance. It is only when glaring technical errors surface that I tend to re-evaluate a player and think about dropping him.

For me, when deciding to pick or drop a player, the main factor will always be that he should be good at his speciality, batting or bowling or keeping, whatever, but should also be able to contribute to the team effort in at least one other department as well. And once I pick someone on that basis, I don't mind giving him an extended try -- if he has class and ability, then he will come good sooner rather than later, the trick is to pick ability. Another key for me is that a player should be a trier, he should be sincere.

You know, once Mohinder Amarnath was not picked by us in the original fourteen, I don't remember which year. But then we went to the nets to see him bat, and then we picked him in the team. He failed, but we persisted and finally he came back with some big scores.



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