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|March 6, 1999||
The Rediff Interview /Krishnamachari Srikkanth
'My best moment was when I smoked on the Lord's balcony!'
You don't waste time introducing Krishnamachari Srikkanth -- you just sit back, close your eyes, and relive those incomparable cricketing moments he has provided the Indian cricket fan, during the course of his colourful career.
Imagine yourself at Lord's, on the morning of June 25, 1983 -- the final of the 1983 World Cup, with no-hopers India taking on two-time champions West Indies.
Andy Roberts, seen as the danger man for the Indians, at the top of his bowling mark. Srikkanth on strike, tossing the bat up, twirling it, tossing his head, snorting -- trademarks of the Indian opener at the crease. Roberts races in. 'Count four for that!', says the commentator -- as the crowd erupts to the sight of 'Cheeka', down on one knee, square driving the ball through point, leaving the field standing.
When he played, there were no rules. He brought with him the fresh breezes of unconventionality, sweeping aside the cobwebs that covered traditional cricketing thinking.
It is hard to sum up Srikkanth's cricketing character -- but one instance, from that same match, indicates the maverick nature of the man. Again, Andy Roberts the bowler. Under fire from Srikkanth's sizzling strokeplay, the Windies spearhead produces the bouncer. Srikkanth swings into the hook. Four.
'Ah!', says the commentator of the moment, 'This is when Andy is at his most dangerous -- you watch, the next ball will be another bouncer, Andy follows up the slower bouncer with the quicker bouncer.'
We watch as Roberts steams in again. Sure enough, another bouncer. Sure enough, this one is quicker. And -- who else but Srikkanth would produce such a moment? -- the batsman hooks again, for six this time.
Silence in the commentary box...
Srikkanth the batsman was a figure always admired, never emulated. Srikkanth the skipper, unfortunately, passed unhonoured -- despite being the only Indian who managed to lead a side to Pakistan and come back with honours even. Politics, not performance, saw his ouster from both captaincy and team -- a sad commentary on the state of Indian cricket.
Lately, Srikkanth -- 'Cheeka' to his admirers -- has been back in the news, as coach of the Indian juniors. And from this vantage point, he has been exerting his own influence on the national squad, for it was Srikkanth's glowing recommendations that saw the entry of Harbhajan Singh, Ajit Agarkar, Sadagopan Ramesh and now, Laxmi Ratan Shukla, into the senior team.
Faisal Shariff caught up with 'Cheeka' in Bombay, during a lull in the game between the Indian and Lankan colts. And found that the former Test star's speaking style mirrored his batting -- cheeky, unconventional, yet full of cricketing wisdom. Excerpts:
The 19 probables for the World Cup have been shortlisted -- what did you think of the selection, at this stage?
Actually there is not much to chose from. About 11 players pick themselves, in the pool. You know, the slight dilemma lies in picking those remaining 3 players who give the team a strong bench strength. We have a good bowling side, which could be what makes the difference -- the bowling could give the team the edge, by complementing its batting strength.
You were part of the 1983 team that won the World Cup in England -- given that experience, how do you read the conditions we will be playing in this time?
In the early part of the summer in England, the ball does a lot. It seams a lot, it moves in the air a lot, and the ball also comes nicely on to the bat. Batsmen like Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar will enjoy the ball coming on to the bat, the movement in the air is the thing to watch for, though.
Pakistan, in 1992, landed in Australia a month ahead of the competition to acclimatise themselves. Do you think India should do something similar this time?
But, my friend, if you remember, we did not go to England a month ahead of time, in 1983 -- and yet we brought back the Cup. I believe about two weeks is good enough to acclimatise. The players are all professionals, they know the demands of the game and will adapt to the conditions. The bottomline is, if you apply yourself, you will play and make an impression, whatever the conditions.
There is some debate on whether Sachin should open the innings in England -- since he tends to hit on the rise, the seaming ball could bring about his downfall, is the argument. What do you think?
Sachin is too good a batsman to let these things worry him. True, he plays a lot of shots in the air, but I think he is the smartest brain in the cricketing world today. He has it in him to adjust, get his game right, suit the conditions and then improvise. If you notice, he recently said that this World Cup will be won in the last 25 overs and not the first 25 overs, so that shows he is thinking along the right lines. I think suspecting the caliber of this man is unwarranted.
You seem to have a knack for picking up outstanding young talent -- you recommended Harbhajan, Agarkar, Ramesh, Shukla...
It's nothing, really. Maybe I have the knack of spotting guys with fire. Look, the basic thing is that you need to have raw talent. You understand what I mean, you have to have that basic talent, the potential. That is what I look for, not runs or wickets. Once you have that, then its only polishing that is required. And the guys that I have picked out are good -- they are the cream of the lot. They have the potential, and are long term prospects. Ajit Agarkar, S Ramesh and Shukla are very good cricketers, they have talent and potential and above all, they are quick learners.
The Indian side not so long ago had problems with its openers. Now that this problem seems solved, the middle order begins to crack -- do you think we will ever get our whole act right?
The opening pair has always been a very dicey matter for India. We have never really found a great opening pair. I think these matters can be sorted out, though, it is not as bad as you make it sound. You know, if we had lost by big margins to Pakistan, it would have been reason enough to press the panic button, to rethink our gameplan. But you see, its just a little bit of tightening up that we need to do, and that's it. I think our side is very talented, it only needs a taste of winning overseas and then things will fall into place. As to the openers, Ramesh is a great prospect, and so is Laxman although he is not not in the best of form just now. Together, they make a good pair, they need to settle down to their job, then sustain it.
You've been with the Indian juniors for a couple of seasons now. Any ambitions to go for the top job, as coach of the senior squad?
This is for you guys in the media to write about, this question of whether or not I can be good for the senior side. Yes, I have been with the guys and know them pretty well. I have worked a lot with the guys and have developed a good rapport with them. Lets see how things go -- but yes, if I am offered the job, I would love to do it, it would be an honour to coach the national squad.
Do you see any of these boys from the Under-19 side as major prospects for the national side? Players like Ritender Sodhi, Mohammad Kaif...?
I think it is a little early for these guys to make it. They should wait; their time will come. This will be an experience for them.
But doesn't it get a bit worrying when players are taken on tours, then discarded without having played a single game, without getting any opportunity to perform?
Actually, I think it is very important that players are taken on three, four trips before actually being baptised into the big league. Youngsters have to learn to be patient, to keep performing, to bide their time. See, if someone actually deserves a place, he will get it. True, some unlucky blokes haven't got their due, but then this is one of those things you can't help.
To flash back to 1983, what one incident or occasion would you say wsa the spark that got you guys believing you could win the World Cup?
It was that win against the Windies in Berbice in Guyana that gave us the confidence that we could beat any side in the world. We followed that up with a victory in our first game against the Windies, this time in the World Cup campaign itself, and that gave our entire campaign a fillip, we didn't look back after that. You know it is very important to win the first match of any competition. If you recall, we lost the first match in the next two World Cup campaigns, and ended up unable to repeat the 1983 performance.
Which would you say was your most memorable moment in the 1983 World Cup?
My best moment was when I smoked in the Lords' balcony. (laughter). No, just kidding, I think that square drive I played off Andy Roberts, in the Cup final, I think that was my most memorable moment.
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