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September 28, 1999


The Rediff Interview /Chandu Borde

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'You have to remember that Kapil is coach, not selector. Our job is to choose the team, his job is to coach it'

What stands out in your memory, from your first term as chairman of selectors? What would you say was your finest moment?

Mohammad Azharuddin The 1983 World Cup victory, as also the World Series Cup in Australia were milestones in the history of Indian cricket. But I reckon that the selection of Mohammad Azharuddin in the Indian team for the Test against England at the Eden Gardens was the best moment in my career, so far. Azhar was such a delight to watch; I had seen him play in Hyderabad against the English team in a practise game, and I realised we had found a player who could serve us for years to come. And how right that assessment proved!

I remember an incident on the eve of that match, when Sunny (Sunil Gavaskar), captain of the side, came to my room and said, "Chandubhai, you think this young man will be able to withstand the pressure of making a debut in front of the huge Eden Gardens crowd? Maybe the situation will prove too much for him, it will overawe him..."

Sunil Gavaskar I told Sunny that the boy had so much time to play the ball, a lovely eye, a fine, wristy game with a wide array of strokes. "Even if he fails tomorrow, I will play him in the next Test as well, I think he has potential," I told Sunny. Azhar came good in that first Test itself, with a century, and Sunny came to me, shook my hand and said, "Chandubhaiya, you got it right!"

Since you were responsible for his induction, what is your reaction to the present state of Azhar's career, the brickbats that have come his way? Do you think the woes of captaincy have taken a toll, or do you see him coming back to the squad?

You have to remember that Azhar was not dropped, he himself asked that he not be considered because of his shoulder injury and operation. I suppose his injury has not fully healed as yet, he hasn't submitted a fitness report. I know he is playing in domestic cricket now and got a good score in a game at that level. If he recovers and his form is good, then there is no way he will not be considered for selection. But when he himself says that he is not fit now, how can we consider him for selection?

Yeah, he just scored a fluent 96 in the Moin Ud Daulah tournament. He has said he still can't throw strongly from outside the 30-yard line, but is that a problem? I mean, players like Srinath and Prasad have for years now been under-arming the ball back from the line...

Both those players have had problems for a long time, they are shielding shoulders they need for bowling and therefore they throw underarm when they can, to protect their shoulders. Azhar's injury is more recent, we don't know what his fitness level is now and besides, we can't start with a handicap. You also have to remember that besides his batting, it is in fielding that Azhar contributes most to the team, so you have to assess that aspect very carefully.

The whole issue of Azhar's possible comeback could be controversial, don't you think? Just a couple of weeks before becoming national coach, Kapil Dev had issued a statement that Azhar should gracefully retire from international cricket. Since Kapil has a voice in selection, won't this influence you?

You have to remember that Kapil is coach, not selector. Our job is to choose the team, his job is to coach it. And whatever statements he made before becoming national coach were made in a personal capacity, as his individual opinion. But once you are appointed to do a job, personal opinion is put aside.

Look at Pakistan -- isn't Aamir Sohail playing under Wasim Akram, after all the allegations Aamir made in the press against Wasim? Professionals have to forget their personal differences and perform to their potential.

When you pick new players, it will be with an eye on their domestic performances, but India's domestic standards have slipped drastically. What do you think?

The main reason is that star players are missing in action. Thanks to the overloaded international cricket schedule, the big stars don't play the domestic circuit, and therein lies the root of our problems. Younger players have to play alongside the stars to fully realise their potential, it also helps us to better assess a promising youngster's abilities. When I captained the Maharashtra side and traveled to Bombay to play them here, even in friendly matches, I used to feel the inferiority complex that some of my less illustrious teammates suffered from. But as they played them time and again they got over their complex. In fact they also managed to beat them a couple of times, and that made all the difference in their attitude and in their confidence level. How many domestic players have recently faced Srinath or Prasad? How many Ranji bowlers aspiring for bigger things have tried going up against a Sachin or a Rahul Dravid?

Another factor would be the nature of our wickets...

It is the done thing in every country to prepare wickets that suit their own strengths. We have always produced the best spinners in the world, so it is neither surprising, nor wrong, that we produce spinning wickets. Don't the Australians or the South Africans prepare wickets to suit themselves? Look at the wicket that they prepared when we went to South Africa last, and got bundled out for some 66 runs. How come we didn't talk about that? Why do we talk about doctored wickets only when teams come here, not when we ourselves go abroad?

But that is exactly the point I was making -- in South Africa, we were sitting ducks for the short lifting deliveries. Shouldn't we have wickets here that will help our players prepare for such conditions abroad? I mean, the last time we won a Test, let alone a series outside the subcontinent, was in 1986!

You have a point there. But tell me, which team has won away tours on a regular basis?

Australia, South Africa, for that matter even England which pulled one back in a lost series in Australia...

Don't talk about England, it is not a Test side. Some of our Ranji sides will be able to beat this England side.

But since we are talking of wickets, let me tell you this, Sachin, Rahul and Ganguly will enjoy the bouncy tracks in Australia, they will do very well there, the ball comes on to the bat nicely and they are the kind of strokeplayers who enjoy those conditions. And besides, now that I am chairman of selectors, I have some time before picking the side for that tour, I hope to go searching for fresh talent in the meantime.

We have played three tournaments after the World Cup... do you see any positive signs emerging from those?

Yes of course. I think the most positive aspect has been the captaincy by Saurav Ganguly against the Windies in Toronto. The team looked like a unit. They all wanted to play hard and win. You know, there was a spring in their stride, there was about them a look which suggested they would win even if the odds were against them. They were without their stars, but yet they were all triers, sincere players and they did what was expected of them.

I think the boys believed that they could stand up to the best and prove their mettle. Nikhil Chopra's bowling has been a revelation. I think the lad has a bright future and will serve India in the long run.

So now we have three options -- Sachin, Ajay Jadeja, Saurav Ganguly. Who would you pick as the best man to lead India?

Sachin Tendulkar Sachin without a doubt, if fitness is on his side. I mean, that boy is a genius and has an astute cricketing mind. He is the best batsman in the world and commands the respect of his entire team. I think once Sachin is back, he is the man best suited for the job.

Which raises the risk that under Sachin, the team will have too many wannabe-captains. In the 1992 tour of Australia, we had Srikkanth, Vengsarkar, Shastri, Kapil and Azhar and we know what happened, are we looking at a similar situation here?

No, I don't think so. It depends on the individuals, really. We played the West Indies at Madras in the 60s with four captains in the squad and managed pretty well. The team had Polly Umrigar, Vinoo Mankad, Hemant Adhikari and myself, and it didn't affect the team at all. It all depends on two things -- one, if the captain has stature as a player and earns everyone's respect and two, on the kind of man manager he is. If he can take every member into his confidence, he will have no problems.

You have been a leg spinner in your time. Why do you suppose our supply of quality leggies has dried up?

I don't know the reason. But now that I'm here, I intend to go searching for a good one and hopefully, I will find a player of promise who can be groomed for that slot.

Who are your favourites in the current squad?

Rahul Dravid I think Rahul Dravid is one of the finest we have, along with Sachin Tendulkar. I am very impressed with Rahul's technique and temperament. Then there is Sachin, of course, for reasons we all know. I also think that of late, Saurav Ganguly has blossomed into a fantastic all-round cricketer. Earlier, he had a problem with strokes on the leg side, but he seems to have done a lot of hard work on that, now he has a good array of legside shots as well. He also contributes with the ball, gets wickets when we need them, I like the way he manages to move the ball in any kind of conditions. I think though that his fielding could do with some more effort, he needs to put in some hard work in that department.

And your favourite of all time?

Without a doubt, Vijay Hazare. With due respect to the many class players I have played with, Hazare was in a class all his own, he could play against any attack on any kind of wicket, his shots would be right off the middle all the time. He had an abundance of patience and a wide range of strokes. And I had the good fortune to have played with him.


Mail Faisal Shariff