What was the manager doing? "The violation of the contract does not arise The fact that the manager handed over the passports and tickets to the players gives a clear-cut picture about his consent. The manager, I always have believed is the supreme authority on a tour," says Lala Amarnath.
Perhaps the most colourful and volatile personality of yesteryear in Indian cricket, Amarnath has had his brushes with authority, his quota of stardom and bitter moments. Quite outspoken in his views on cricket administration, the game and the players at various intervals, he has served the game as an all-rounder of the highest calibre, one of the shrewdest captains the country has had, a selector, the selection committee chairman and an administrator with the Patiala cricket association. Not the one to mince words, he talks about the recent crisis in Indian cricket, its ills in general and his experiences on the infamous 1936 tour to England in this interview.
How do you view the ban on the players?
Well, in this particular case, I am of the firm opinion that once a trip had been okayed by the manager the violation of the contract does not arise. The fact that the manager handed over the passports and tickets to the players gives a clear-cut picture about his consent. The manager, I have always believed, is the supreme authority on a tour, as elected by the Board and even the President of the Board, with due apologies to that position, cannot stop the action of the manager unless and until he calls an extraordinary general meeting and hands out the decision of the Board to the players.
For example, I was the manager of the Indian team in Pakistan in 1955.
Maharajkumar of Vijayanagaram, the then President of the Board, was also present there. It so happened that the Secretary of the Pakistan Board approached him and got his okay for playing the fourth Test on a newly-laid matting wicket at Peshawar and directed him to meet me on this score. When I was approached with this suggestion, I flatly refused and told them that with due regard and respect for the Board President, nobody could issue me instructions at this stage of the tour when I had been given all powers by the Board. Ultimately the match was played as scheduled at the Gymkhana Club, Peshawar.
Is the Board wrong then?
I do not know what the manager has narrated to the Board. In any case there has been a practice to play these sort of matches after a tour, which in my opinion is wrong. But in this instance I don't blame the players. The Board couldn't stop this practice when great players like Gavaskar were involved. The Board should have taken a decision on this issue long ago. In this case, at the most a fine could have been imposed and the players told once and for all that this practice should stop and the team should come back together after a tour. That would have set a precedent. I am afraid such a situation would not have come about in the first place had the manager been strong enough. He would have forced the players to come back to India and then the players could have proceeded to wherever they wanted on their own.
This is an unprecedented situation, where all the leading players have been banned after a tour. Then again if at all a ban was necessary then it should have been applied to all and not just a select few.
Don't you think the Board should have some authority on matters like these?
Yes, but the Board President has got nothing to do with it after the manager has approved the visit. If he had convened a meeting even of the Working Committee (and it can be arranged at short notice) and had the message been 'the Board wants you back' then the matter would have been different.
Is the punishment too harsh?
I personally feel, for the interest of cricket and the players it would have been more appropriate had they not been barred from all cricket. They (Board) had decided to bar them from Tests. Then why all cricket? I think it has been done in a fit of excitement. The Board wanted to take some action and the action has been taken. But it cannot wash away the poorest performance ever by an Indian team. Public memory is short and it forgets things soon. But this episode and the one involving my son Mohinder will not be forgotten quickly.
What about the contracts the players signed? Don't you think the players should honour the contracts?
I have made my position clear on this subject earlier and I will say it again. In future the contracts should be drawn up in the presence of the captain so that there would not be any ambiguities and slip-ups.
Would such a situation have arisen in your time?
I don't remember about the contracts. But in my time the managers appointed used to be people of the highest calibre; men who could command respect from the players. Here I was told the story was different. Otherwise such things could not have been bungled. The manager should have a great influence on the players.
What about discipline?
In my time there was no professionalism in this country. Everybody was an amateur. I think it was in the 50s that the Board asked the players whether anyone wanted to be a professional so that more remuneration could be paid to him. Only three players, Vinoo Mankad, Dattu Phadkar and Vijay Manjrekar, declared themselves as pros. Now, money is so much involved in the game. The players have become well to do. In my time very few players were employed by the State. We could not afford to raise our heads in the manner as the players are doing now. The publicity, the TV exposure... everything has changed the game.
But that does not mean discipline can be compromised. It has to be maintained at all costs. Otherwise you can't achieve your objectives. In this case, as I said earlier, the question of indiscipline does not arise. The contract should have been honoured, but in the case of the present set of players it was quashed the moment the manager not only gave his consent but also decided to go with the team.
What would be the long-term effects of this ban?
How can you think of barring players at this stage when the country's prestige is involved, in the series against Pakistan? (Though we never won in Pakistan I did bring back the Indian team undefeated on the tour of 1955). The Board could have adopted other methods to resolve the issue. It was all done in haste. There are so many ways to drop a player, but no one would like to see leading cricketers disgraced in this manner.
Was the Board set-up in your time any different from the present?
It was definitely more respectable. We had eminent personalities at the helm. The first president was Grant Govan, then we had men like the Late Nawab of Bhopal, Jamsaheb of Nawanagar, Dr. Subbarayan and Anthony D'Mello. Still later Chidambaram and Baroda and so many other personalities. Out of the secretaries the whole country will agree with me that we didn't have better men than D'Mello and Pankaj Gupta.
The 1936 tour to England then; could you recall the events, was that also a disciplinary measure?
Even now whenever anybody asks me about that tour the whole picture comes in front of my eyes. I was the aggrieved party and I was treated in a very shabby manner without any concrete evidence. I was topping the batting and bowling averages during the one month we were in England. The Minor Counties match at Lord's was the turning point in my career. Mind you, I was in tremendous form then. I might have got 2,000 runs and more than 100 wickets on that tour. Perhaps even now no one has bettered my 613 runs and 34 wickets with four months still left for the tour.
When the skipper wrote down the batting order, I was at my usual No. 3 position. But I was sent in at No. 7 five minutes to draw of stumps. All the while I had my pads on and had been waiting for my turn and kept asking the skipper. In the end I remained not out on two and came back cheerfully. As I entered the dressing room I threw my bat and pads towards my kit and of course remarked "If I am not required to score then I can hit the wicket and come back." I also added in chaste Punjabi that I was not cutting grass back home and was playing cricket but this was no cricket.
I was not on speaking terms with Vizzy (captain). I think it was purely jealousy. I got about 30-odd the next morning and India won the first match of that tour. The Test was about ten days away. At the end of the day, the manager, Maj. Briton Jones, asked me when I would be back at the hotel and I told him I would be coming straightway.
The next morning, while I was sitting with my Punjabi friends he called me over and handed me the ticket to go back to India. The senior cricketers met later in the presence of Vizzy and decided that I should not go back to India. Vizzy asked me to meet him the next day and he took me to Maj Jones's room. I was asked to wait outside. After about two minutes I was taken to Wazir Ali's room and Vizzy told him that he could not afford to lose a manager and friend like Maj Jones but there could be no alternative to Lala Amarnath going back to India.
I wept like a child. I was to meet some official of the Lancashire League to sign a contract but I was hesitant to even go out of the hotel. Eventually I was thrown into a van by four porters of the hotel, for my departure from Southampton.
At the Bombay port, thousands were waving and cheering as I returned. Anthony D'Mello (then Board Secretary) came and whisked me away to the Taj hotel. I was asked to go to Bhopal to meet the President. I went and narrated the whole incident. He was convinced. I was told that I would be sent back to England. A statement appeared in the press that Lala would be back in England to play the second Test and if Maj Jones didn't like the idea he would be replaced by H. M. Hadi, Assistant Manager, and Vizzy would be replaced by C K. Nayudu.
I was given the ticket to proceed to England. But the Nawabsaab called me to his palace and over a cup of tea he told me that he had decided not to send me back to England Maybe due to political pressure. But he assured me that an enquiry would be held after the team's return.
I appeared before the enquiry committee consisting of the the Chief Justice of Bombay and Sir Sikander Hyat Khan and Dr. P. Subbarayan. I was exonerated of all the charges and the committee ruled that in future the captain should be appointed on cricket merit and not on his social status. I continued to play for India after that.
What was the court case you had with the Board?
That was in 1949. Some reports had appeared in the Press about my abusing the set-up of the Board. I was expelled. I was barred from playing all types of cricket. (Yes, something like the present situation). I filed a suit against the Board for defamation in the Calcutta High Court, claiming one lakh rupees. Niren Dey, then an advocate and later Attorney-General of India, was handling my case. An emergent meeting of the Board was convened. I did not represent Patiala cricket association as its secretary, but sent Niren Dey to represent my association. He went and told the meeting "gentlemen, get ready to pay one lakh to Lala Amarnath."
The Board was divided on the issue.
Many felt that D'Mello had not taken them into confidence and I had not been given a chance to explain. Ultimately the matter was settled out of court. I was asked to give a statement which read "I regret for the allegation, if any, made against the Board."
What are your views on Mohinder's brush with the Board?
Leave aside the fact that he is my son, the matter could have been tackled in a wiser manner by the chairman of the selection committee after the first Test team was declared. Ranbir Singh (Board Secretary) is a friend but he is the main culprit in the whole episode, if one is to go by what Raj Singh (Chairman, Selection Committee) had to say later on. While announcing the team Ranbir was quoted as saying that Mohinder was dropped on cricketing merits. Raj Singh should have come out with a statement then and there, instead of giving his version about Mohinder being dropped to try out youngsters and all that later on.
I don't think Mohinder would have uttered a word after that. The Board has fined him Rs 20,000. I don't know whether he has paid or whether he is willing to pay that amount. Had the Board permitted his lawyer to sit with him during the enquiry the matter could have been settled easily. In my case a lawyer did go to the Board meeting.
Would you have reacted in the same manner as Mohinder?
I would not have given a statement straightway. But then he was upset so much and he still feels 'joker' is not an abusive word.
Your action in England in 1936 contradicts your views now...
I was 'raw' then, a young man of 24, on his first tour. Mohinder is a matured person now.
Do you have anything to say about Vengsarkar's reported comments about his team-mates after the West Indies tour?
First of all a captain has no locus standi to criticise his own players in public. Such reports could have been given in confidence to the Board. I am really surprised by the Indian captain's comments. Before leaving for the West Indies he was quoted as saying that he was satisfied with the team selection and now after a disastrous tour he feels dissatisfied. That shows his attitude towards the game. I always believed that the quality of a captain is in his ability to get the best out of the worst. He should never lose his temper on the field and should always encourage his mates. In my whole career there was just one captain who possessed all these qualities, Wazir Ali, the man who won both the unofficial Tests he captained against Ryder's team in 1935-36.
What can be done or what needs to be done in the present crisis borne out of the ban on the leading cricketers?
In the interests of the nation, some amicable settlement should be arrived at and I do hope the Board and its president will find a solution. I have already suggested that all the captains of India should assemble under the chairmanship of the Board President to discuss the matter which may prove beneficial to the game of cricket.
There has to be give and take in any such situation. A policy of forgive and forget must be adopted by the Board if cricket is to be played in the real sense of the word. Who suffers ultimately by these actions, the country alone.
Do you foresee changes in the selection committee?
We have had enough of a joke. The selection committee must consist of top Test players and I am in favour of three selectors and not five, even if they come from the same province . The selectors have to be from among those who have not served in the panel already. I can straightway give six or seven names out of whom three could be chosen, Abbas Ali Baig, Nawab of Pataudi (Mansur Ali Khan), Ajit Wadekar, Nari Contractor, Prasanna, Mushtaq Ali and Ashok Mankad. The selector should not only be a good Test cricketer he should have a personality also.
Would you advocate any other changes in the set-up?
The whole constitution of the Board needs to be changed. There is no point in having five vice-presidents. They will unnecessarily bring in politics to secure their own positions in the sub-committees where they do not fit in but are accommodated as they have some votes with them. To clean up cricket in this country it is necessary to remove this atmosphere. Have just one senior vice-president who can take over from the President when his turn comes. The sub-committees should be set up according to the requirements.
For example, you should not have non-technical men in the technical committee or people who know nothing about the game in the coaching committee. There are so many superfluous associations which do not field teams in the Ranji Trophy but are eligible to vote in the Board meetings. The CCI, Bombay, All India Universities and the National Sports Club of Calcutta come under this category. They may be asked to field teams in Ranji Trophy failing which they should be disqualified as members of the Board.
This interview was first published in Sportstar magazine on 28..08.1989
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