That I managed to play quite well was a shock to everyone, including myself. I got 100 runs against the West Indies at the ripe old age of 18. Further, I managed a healthy first-class average of over 40. This annoyed my cricket association who did not even know that I existed till I played international cricket, without having represented the state itself.
Enough about me. I can talk about my life story some other day. But, more important is what is happening currently.
Sunil Gavaskar has gone on television to state that coaching in India is abhorrent. The players at the top have forgotten their basics. Grounding your bat when you slide into the crease or stopping the ball in a particular way whilst fielding or anticipating where the batsman is going to play and moving accordingly were issues that were addressed at the school level itself.
But today, we see our top players running with their bats in the wrong hand while waving them in the air like lances. They have forgotten to treat them like delicate instruments that caress careers into stardom.
Till the 70's and the early 80's, the game was played as a battle fought in the players' minds. When you batted against bowlers like E A S Prasanna, Bishen Singh Bedi or Venkatraghavan, you were always wondering where the next ball would pitch. Would it go straight, jump, turn or simply drift away? And even if you hit them for a four, they would look at you and smile. The boundary was according to plan...part of a deeper plot to knock your stumps off the ground.
I remember a story related to me by the gurus of the game. India was playing Australia in India. Ian Chappell, Doug Walters and Redpath were among the big names that made the Aussie batting lineup a deadly combination of dour defense and tearing attack.
The Indian team arrived at the stadium to find EAS Prasanna at the nets bowling his heart out. The Nawab captain, Tiger Pataudi, walked up to him, and did an extra 10-minute stint.
When the match began, at the fall of Australian wickets, Ian Chappell, the best puller of the ball in his time, walked in. The first ball from Prasanna was a short delivery and Chappell rocked onto the back-foot and hammered it over mid-wicket for four. Pras (as his friends know him) applauded the shot with his usual impish smile. The next ball was a good length delivery that spun in. The great batsman played it down softly, straight back to the bowler. The next ball was a drifter and Chappell acknowledged the ball with a slight nod and allowed it to pass to the keeper.
The next one was a long hop and a delighted Chappell again rocked onto the back-foot to hammer it away for another boundary...only to see his off-stump knocked out of the ground.
The ball hit the turf and skidded low at terrific speed to catch the great player completely unaware. He walked past Pras and acknowledged the bowler as the victor in this game of strategy and planning, by touching the peak of his cap with his ungloved hand. Pras knew that he had got him this time, but for the next round, he would have to think of another ploy. For Chappell was too great a player to fall for the same ruse twice. Today, they are the best of friends and have immense respect for each other.
Today, the game is all brute force...you kill or get killed. There is no finesse in the battle. The issue of calling a batsman back because he was wrongly given out would be considered a crude joke and the captain could well get sacked.
Earlier, even at the school stage, when we went to the nets, the coach started us off with 200 forward defensive shots in the air. He set our basics right though we had not yet crossed the age of 12, not allowing the mistakes to persist. Today, when I go see my sons at the nets, everyone is involved in matches. But the coaches have not bothered to teach the children the very basics of the game.
When you get older, then the learning process only becomes that much more difficult.
I feel that it is time for our great cricketers of yore to be given an incentive by the Indian cricket board to instill in youngsters the basics of the game and the greatness of the sport.
How can one play cricket for the country when the financial security created for players allows them to comfortably retire after a couple of seasons?
The motivation no longer exists. But if it does, it is there for the wrong reasons. We can well see what happens if players are incensed into doing well. Azharuddin, one of the greatest artists that the game has produced, told another friend of mine, Maninder Singh, that he would get a hundred in the Bangalore Test and that he would get it in a glorious manner. That he got a great ton does prove what jokers we Indians have been for dropping him. But it also proves my theory that a situation was created wherein the great player put his head down and played a magnificent knock. So now we know that if he wants to do it, he can. Then why can't the BCCI create a situation wherein every player in India would want to do what Azhar did every time he goes out to represent his country?
With people like Brijesh Patel getting involved in the administration of the game, I feel that there is still hope. All is not lost if we change our objectives and create within the player a desire to play for the country and not just to make money.