Sportstar archives: G.R. Viswanath shares his journey from player to selector

Former India batsman Gundappa Viswanath stresses on the need to produce seaming wickets, the role of observers in domestic cricket and more.

Former Test cricketer G.R. Viswanath shares a light moment with Mohammed Azharuddin at the TNCA) Diamond Jubilee celebrations in Chennai in 1991.   -  THE HINDU ARCHIVES

He was a delight in his heyday. A master of the square cut. But he doesn't believe in cutting corners. A sterling virtue, which he is putting to good use a selector. G.R. Viswanath watches each and every match assigned to him from the first ball to the last and even talks to the players before forming an opinion. Recently, he spoke with P.R. Viswanathan in Bangalore on all things cricket.

Some 30 years ago, a man called B. N. Chandrasekhar, a cricket promoter through a private club, was watching a match at the Fort High School Ground, Bangalore. He was fascinated by the exploits of a pint-sized boy. After the game BNC told him, "You come and play for Spartans Club." The little boy thought that the man was just joking.

When the Spartans skipper saw the lad he asked BNC, "Do you want to kill this poor kid? Don't you know that our opponents of today possess a couple of good fast bowlers?" However, BNC won his argument and the boy played that match and scored 30-odd runs. A wonder-struck captain then told the lad, "I am really sorry for that comment. Hereafter you are going to play for our club and our club only."

Thus began one of the greatest careers in Indian cricket. Both BNC and the Spartans skipper would not have realised that they were nurturing a boy who would come to be known as the "Artist of artists," "Pocket-sized genius" or just "GRV" or "Vishy". The other day, when talking to Sportstar, the great man, now a national selector, remembered that match he played at the Fort HS Ground where his glorious career began.

G.R. Viswanath padding up for a practice session.   -  THE HINDU ARCHIVES

 

When we approached him for an interview he was playing a league match for State Bank of India. Yes even today, when he is in town, Vishy plays for his Bank. This season he has been scoring 40s and 50s quite comfortably. A 90-minute stint at the badminton courts is a must for Vishy every day. "But I really miss this when I am touring on assignment," he says.

"We selectors are not supposed to give interviews..." he started. But when assured that nothing that might sound unethical would be discussed, he agreed. This is one of the most appealing qualities in Vishy for which he is admired and respected.

Ever since he became a State selector he has been watching a lot of matches, be it a club level or juniors or seniors encounters. He would sit through the entire match, talking to the players about their abilities.

During one of the State junior tournaments, Vishy was not to be seen at a match till lunch. He then arrived with the dismaying news that one of his pet dogs had bitten him very badly. "I was playing with one of them and the other got angry," he explained. And that was the only period of that tournament which Vishy missed.

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Even if he doesn't witness the matches, nobody would dare question him.

But then Vishy is Vishy. For him, it is a job entrusted with great faith. If you cannot do it, do not take it up, he says.

When asked about the difference in watching a match as a player and as a selector he said, "During the initial stages of my career I used to watch every ball of a match. That was my attitude for the first 30 or 35 Test matches. Then slowly I started to move around, and began to watch only when something dramatic was happening or when somebody was building up a big innings. After becoming a selector I am watching every ball. Initially, I found it a strain. But soon I began to enjoy it. I think it is worth it. Watching 600 and 700-run innings, I got used to it," he quipped with characteristic humour.

Hectic travelling is involved in a selector's life too. How does he feel about that? "In 1981-82 when we toured Australia it was really hectic. You have to be very much fit mentally and physically. My first assignment as a national selector was the Nehru Cup, during which I used to pity the players too. Most teams felt exhausted. For a selector, it was terribly tiring. You had to travel every day. One day watch the match, strain yourself mentally, pick the team for the next match and leave that place for the next venue. It was really a bad experience."

What is the remedy for this, since most of the time a domestic programme clashes with an international series? Vishy explained, "The previous Chairman of the Selection Committee came up with a good suggestion. We then introduced observers for all the zones and made them serve a feedback. It worked well I think we must continue with that. After all how can the national selectors, who are busy watching Test matches, know what is happening in the domestic scene?"

Then came the age old question: What do you think of the zone-wise system that is being followed to form a national selection committee? "That has been there for a long time. So I think they are following it. But I personally feel that a three-man committee would be ideal. Those three may not be from different zones. After all you are selecting an Indian team. The various State selectors can provide the trio the feedback. Here I think reintroducing the observers would be of great help."

Vishy also said that the senior selection committee doesn't get a feedback about the performances in the national level junior tournaments. "Suppose a player in the under-19 or under-21 group performs exceedingly well, we come to know about it only through newspapers. We must adopt a foolproof method to streamline the whole structure, so that selectors of various levels can meet quite frequently to exchange views.

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On coaching camps: It is very good for the aspirants. In fact they are blessed that so many former players are running such camps. But here I want to emphasise one point. There is no point in conducting one camp of a short duration and leave it at that. That would only confuse the boys. See how Brijesh Patel is doing an excellent job for the last three years. There is consistency and above all he is improving his methods and facilities. This time he has brought Ashok Mankad to the clinic. That is very good thinking.

In a vast country like ours even cities are expanding. So it will be good for our cricket if former Test and State players, who are willing to train boys, start a small, but permanent coaching clinic for lads residing in their respective areas. In certain cases the coach can even admit boys from nearby areas considering the distance involved. In Bangalore,  A. V. Jayaprakash is also conducting such camps, in his area. Then there can be inter-camp tournaments to provide the much-needed match-temperament for the trainees. Inter-State tournaments for the campers can also be arranged if more sincere players come up in various States.

In fact, when I retired, I was nurturing the idea of starting such a clinic. Even when I was contemplating, I became the national selector. There is no point in having a camp in your city, when you are not in a position to be in the city for the most part of a season. So I have been shelving the idea. At present, I can say that it is one of my future plans.

G.R. Viswanath plays a shot during his century against England on day one of the fifth cricket Test match at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium in Chepauk in 1982.   -  THE HINDU ARCHIVES

 

There is one more point which I want to stress. The parents who are sending their children to such camps; that is camps which are run with a high degree of dedication; must be very very serious about cricket. "Oh, I have sent him to the clinic of a famous player. He will look after him"; this should not be the approach. Any parent will ask his children whether they have done their home work. In the same way see that your boy does his home work given by the coach of a cricket clinic too. Watch his progress, see whether he is really interested in cricket. Assess his regularity and punctuality at the clinic. Why I say all this is because in our days such things were not there. And then, most parents, (rightly so) were emphasising on building an academic career. In every home, it was studies and certainly not sports, that enjoyed top priority. Now most parents have begun to treat both equally.

On the dearth of bowlers in India: Preparing docile wickets and waiting for effective bowlers to arrive is a fruitless exercise. Hard and fast pitches should be prepared if you want results. India has reached a stage where we must start producing medium pacers.

This is the time when I see and hear of a lot of excellent material in this department. If we fail to change the nature of the existing wickets, the good opportunity to produce medium pacers will be lost. Now most teams are capable of scoring 600 and more runs and yet not feel safe. This means we have only succeeded in producing good batsmen in almost every State and in almost every age-group. So I strongly feel that this is the time when we must do something to encourage bowlers. If the present trend continues then even in the lowest level we will start coming across boys with no great willingness to bowl. That will be tragic.

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Supposing we prepare a green top for a particular match. Early wickets would certainly fall. But then most of the teams are blessed with a strong batting line-up and a recovery-act would not be impossible. So I do not know why we should stick to these types of pitches for so long. We must also accept the fact that the chances of seeing good spinners are very remote, unless the boy is genuinely good. This trend has crept in because of limited overs cricket.

Adapting to both the longer-duration and the over-basis games is not possible for all the spinners. Moreover, with one-day cricket having come to stay most countries, States and clubs are only concentrating on their medium-pacers. So, let us prepare good wickets for a bright future.

On the players' approach: Cricket has changed a lot. It has not only been commercialised, it has also become highly competitive. So naturally, the fear of being replaced is there. When you fail and if you are replaced it is a long process to make a comeback.

Thus the players' temperament has undergone a change. Sledging has become a part of the game. The psychological pressure is tremendous and, naturally, the umpires too find their job a bit difficult. So they must make full use of the powers they enjoy. If someone says that some of the umpires suffer from inhibition when a seasoned player argues with them, I will say it is 'shameful.' No umpire worth his salt should do that, and, no reputed player, who is really great should ever indulge in such behaviour.

Viswanath before leaving for the tour of Australia in 1980.   -  THE HINDU ARCHIVES

 

A sudden rush of blood is only to be expected. But still, I feel, umpires can and must control things when there are signs of a situation going out of control. Nobody would dare to question or argue with a courageous umpire. Now former players are donning the white coat. It is really an encouraging sign. I wish more former players think in terms of becoming umpires.

On age and comeback bid: Age need not be the criterion. If you feel that a man is still good what is wrong in playing him? Suppose a player had last represented his country five years ago. But if he continues to play first class cricket and if his record is impressive then why not play him? In the late 70s Australia recalled Bobby Simpson when it was badly hit by the Packer series. Simpson was not playing then. But he knew about it quite early and was in a position to prepare himself to score nearly 500 runs in that series. I am not talking about such comebacks. I am talking about men like 'Jimmy" Amarntah. He had been active throughout and so when he staged a comeback he turned out to be successful. We can encourage such comebacks in any sport, leave alone cricket.

On sports and job opportunities: That is a great thing which has happened to Indian sports. But I feel sad when some sportspersons lose interest in their chosen sport the moment they obtain a job. This is very very bad. After all, you got that job mainly because of your talent in sport. You should not insult sport. Some of them become disinterested the moment they realise that they cannot play for the country. This does not mean that you must ignore the company which had given you the job. The banks and industries hire sportspersons with a great purpose and the recruits should realise this and function with dedication and devotion.

Some private companies take sportspersons on a bond, say a five-year bond or a three-year bond. That, I think, is a very good idea. But such things cannot happen in banks. Government institutions and public sector industries. So, it is the players who should realise that they must do justice to the institution that had given them the job.

Would he be "walking" had he been a present-day cricketer? See, I am a man who has been playing this game out of sheer joy. Even today I play whenever I am in city, and the other day too I "walked." You had seen that. So I am sure I would have been doing that even if I were playing big cricket now. I have played 91 Test matches and enjoyed every moment of my first class cricket career. I have no regrets. Perhaps sometimes I feel that I could have scored a couple of thousand more runs and a few more centuries. But that is not a big thing to worry about. I enjoyed my playing days. Now I am enjoying this job watching matches and talking to younger cricketers. So I am still with the game and I will be with it in some capacity or the other.

That is really a great blessing.

This article was first published in the Sportstar issue dated April 27, 1991.

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