Talking cricket with Dilip Doshi is always fun. The former India spin wizard, who featured in 33 Tests and took 114 wickets, takes you on a journey and doesn’t mince his words while explaining what is wrong with spinners in today’s times.
Despite hailing from a generation that revered Test cricket, Doshi has his own set of ideas about the game.
In a free-wheeling chat with Sportstar , the 72-year-old talks about his playing days and reveals his apprehensions about Indian cricket now.
Q. You belong to a time when Test cricket was considered the ultimate form of the game, with ODIs still in baby steps. T20 wasn’t even thought about. Decades later, how much do you think has the game evolved?
A. First of all, I want to say that it’s a wrong notion to say that the limited overs cricket and the faster pace of game has only come into being in the recent 20-30 years. In fact, the most popular form of club cricket, whether it’s in England, Australia, India - and in Calcutta, where I grew up and also in Mumbai - it was either a time restricted game or a limited-over format already.
In the Lancashire league which was one of the most famous professional cricket leagues in the world, where the greats like Gary Sobers, Vinoo Mankad, Dattu Phadkar, Everton Weekes played, there used to be a sense of urgency with limitation in number of overs. In those days, this was the hunting ground for talent scouts.
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Now, in a modern time, this sense of urgency is defined in a different way, with a commercial sense attached to it. So, it used to be a limited-over game then also, because in Lancashire League, you could not have cheated the opposition by bowling less number of overs as there was a sense of fairness prevailing.
In fact, as a [professional], you could bowl the entire quota of overs. That means if it was 50 overs, then I could bowl 25 overs continuously. There was no restriction. And in those days also, the grounds had no hoardings, so boundary was fully extended.
So, are you saying, nothing much has changed over the years, in terms of the pace of the game?
Now, the main difference I see is that while the shorter version of the game has been defined more commercially, the quality of game has gone down enormously. I wouldn’t say even little bit. From what angle, I’ll tell you.
Today, the bats are heavier, the grounds are shorter. The physical attribute of every cricketer is different because he does the weight training and all other kind of fitness and strength trainining. The sweet spot of the bat appears to be all round, rather in the middle. The edge of the bat is almost one third the size of the middle, if not more. So, all this contributes to a different kind of approach to the game. It is a heavily batsmen-oriented game and most of the fans want to go and see the runs being scored, the bowler being hit all across the park.
I just feel that like a batsman is allowed to bat for full quota of 20 overs, a bowler should also be allowed to bowl 10 overs in a T20 fixture. There should be no restriction on the bowlers, except that four bowlers have to be bowled minimum if not five. That will balance the game much better than it is now.
England had the John Player League, played every Sunday and was a 40-over each affair, in which I participated for quite a long time. There was Gillette Cup knockout, which was of 60 overs each, and along with Benson and Hedges Cup, which was of 55 overs each. I was fortunate enough to have played in all these tournaments.
Could you elaborate?
I remember a game between Warwickshire and Nottinghamshire in 1974 when I was still qualifying, so I couldn’t play and Sir Garfield Sobers was our captain. In 40 overs, Warwickshire with John Jameson and Rohan Kanhai had put on 286 for loss of five wickets. Sir Garfield was at his best, even though he had just retired recently. And this was played on full ground, at the Trent Bridge. And I watched every ball because I was in the reserves and couldn’t feature as an overseas player.
Not only Nottinghamshire achieved the target of 287, but they did so with few overs to spare with Sobers playing an innings, breathtaking and of pure genius.
One has seen all those things. So for me and for all the cricketers of our generation, who have played across the world, this is a refreshing change in the modern game is the very high standard of fielding and athleticism and a security of financial package to every cricketer.
The other side of the coin is the quality of technique. The quality of spin bowling especially, has gone down drastically. And the technique of the batsman has also adjusted so much to the demands of the short form game that Test cricket is suffering. I think technique is the basic fabric of the game, that helps you to adjust to the demands of various formats of the game today.
Why do you think that Test cricket is struggling to find takers? Is it because of the fact that over the last couple of decades, most of the Boards emphasises more on ODIs and T20s, ignoring the longer format?
Would you have a [Sunil] Gavaskar or a [Sachin] Tendulkar or a [Virat] Kohli or a [Dilip] Vengsarkar exist today, if they were brought only upon the shorter format of the game? Surely not!
I think this subject is like proper schooling. The proper technique ultimately stands you in good stead in the long term. Take a look at the Test match which India played against New Zealand in Wellington in February. I don’t think it’s a shame to be defeated by a better team on the day. But the way I look at it is, actually have we learned anything from that defeat?
To me, the footwork of the batsmen was unbelievably poor. Most of the players were caught within the crease. They were neither on the front foot nor on the back foot.
Most of the batsman’s front foot pointed towards the middle of the pitch straight over the bowler like they do to make room to hit a ball in a T20 game. If that muscle memory is going to dictate the rest of your career, then God help Test cricket for India. I do not see that we can win games overseas easily, unless we mentally change the approach and address the inherent weaknesses.
What should be the right approach, then?
It’s not a shame to lose, but it is about why we lost. And what can we do to improve our performance? I think the footwork is the game. So take any other game. Let’s say, tennis. The game has evolved; graphite racquets have come in. Many things have changed in the game - the dress has changed, the endorsement, everything you look at. But no basics have changed. In tennis also, the footwork is the most important for a player to become great. If you watch all the great tennis players, their footwork is in the right position to get into the right shot and to either move forward or go back.
Cricket is the only game where I’ve seen these changes, which are rather damaging. So drastic that the basic fabric of the game -- which is Test cricket -- is suffering. Only Test cricket can provide you with great cricketers, current or future.
Why is this happening? That's my question.
Because of poor coaching. Cricket was a starved game for finance, at least in most part of the world, except in England. They used to get paid well in England. All of us played because we loved the game. That was the real reason why we actually played. Now, a lot of money has come in - the sponsors, of course, all the multinational companies see benefit in it, which I think is a great way to be. But look at what other side effects it has. With proliferation of money, abundance of funds has created positions which need not be there. I am a great believer in ‘no coaching’.
What do you mean by that? Is it even possible to survive in today’s times without proper coaches?
I need people who can guide me if I’m wrong. Coaching from the grassroot level is a very discrete thing. You would never have had Bradman, Sobers, Rohan Kanhai, Viv Richards, Brian Lara, unless they were all guided by a very discrete coach. I remember talking to Sunil about this and he always said that the coach only told him when he was going wrong. And because the desire to create a perfect technique was so great, they could adjust to any demands of the game.
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I’ll give you a small example. I don’t know maybe the readers will not know this. In Sydney grade cricket, Sir Donald Bradman has scored 100 in three overs [in 1931]. It was a eight-ball over game. Now, that tells you that the fast scoring always existed. If you take a look at the record books, and if you read Neville Cardus or A. A. Thomson, they will tell you about the village cricket and how 20 runs were to be scored in the last over and how the villagers used to score it.
So this is no new phenomena. Today, the weightage is added by the security of finance to a cricketer, who doesn't have to worry about doing any other jobs, which was not the case previously.
These days, there are too many coaching staff involved with a team. With different people and different approaches, do you think that the youngsters often get confused about who to listen and which technique to follow?
All the young players that are coming out in Indian team today, whether it Shreyas Iyer or Prithvi Shaw, or a Rishabh Pant, nobody has got footwork. So what is the [National Cricket Academy] doing? They’re failing, in my view. What is Rahul Dravid doing? He was supposed to be master technician and I salute him for that. But that is not helping. Basically, the hunger for excellence has to come from within you.
The player has got to understand that. This Indian team is hungry to perform well. But when they are not able to perform well, where’s the hunger of excellence? I don’t see it. Hunger for excellence comes when you want to excel at your own art. That means you have to cut out all the weaknesses and the weaknesses lie in the technique.
Mentally they are all very fine, as I understand it from a distance, and today’s cricketers talk far more about the game, about the attitude, mental fitness. I think it should be displayed on the field.
Burnout is also a major area of concern.
I read about burnout, but I don’t understand it. To me, it is a modern phenomenon. There is always pressure at every level, whenever you play. There is a pressure to perform, to keep your place in the team, pressure to win and also to live up to the expectations of your fans. But today’s cricketers are happy in the sense that they are well fed, they’re well looked after. And therefore, there is no pressure for finance, the only pressure is of performance. What other pressures are we talking about?
That pressure is something that has always been there. It’s been going on for generations. So why do you think this is happening? As far as technique is concerned, you spoke about no footwork. But what would you say about someone like a Cheteshwar Pujara, who only plays the longer format?
Cheteshwar is an outstanding batsman and he can become better than what he is. But I see, most of the times he gets out to an incoming ball. There is a technical deficiency there. you do not play at a ball coming from left-arm bowler, who is bowling round the wicket, wide over the crease. It’s just total common sense that the ball will keep on coming with the arm and when your shoulder arms to that incoming ball and [you] get bowled, to me it is quite unpardonable for a player of Pujara's calibre.
If you look at the basic foot movement of all the players, the foot doesn’t go towards the line of the ball. Generally, the foot has to go towards the line of the ball, so your body is closer to the ball. They’re playing far apart. And this is one of the reasons.
But there has to be some solution.
The batsmen of course need to improve their technique.
But how can they improve it?
They can improve by looking at the textbook sometimes. Sometimes, you got to go to the drawing board. I do not think there has been a better book written or illustrated than the ‘Art of cricket’ by Sir Donald Bradman. To me, it is like a must for all cricketers.
And I’m quite surprised that nobody talks about such kind of important things, the technique and where to learn it from.
You heard of coaches that are unsung heroes. There was Sachin’s coach (Ramakant Achrekar) and there used to be another gentleman called Bhandarkar in Pune. In Calcutta, where I grew up, the most important coach who guided me when I went wrong was Sunil Dasgupta. Why? Sunil da was was not even an established club cricketer in Calcutta, but he understood the game.
When I was in college, he guided me when I went wrong. He was a net in-charge. So, he understood. The coach’s job is to look at the natural ability of an individual and allow him to develop towards that.
I could spin the ball on any surface but I could not deliver the arm ball. So every time I tried to bowl an arm ball, Sunil da would twist my ear and say, “I’ll take the ball away from you, if you are going to try anything except spinning the ball…” Because, he later told me that you are doing what almost nobody else does. The others bring the ball in because they can’t spin the ball. So why do you want to change that? So he taught me and he never interfered. So he didn’t say keep your arm like this or like that. So everybody is different in his own right.
That’s what you were talking about earlier, that you don’t need a coach, you need a guide.
You need somebody who keeps an eye and when things are going wrong, he will tell you that this is not the right way to go. Today, what happens is that there is a support staff of 16 to 18 people in a team, which is higher in number than players.
Would it be possible if there was no money? Of course not.
So, look at the great teams of the past. The 80s West Indies, Alan Border’s [Australian] team, even the Indian teams in our times, we had no coaches. People helped each other. When we were in Australia (in 1980-81), and Sir Garfield Sobers, who was then the Mayor in Melbourne, would help Vishy (Gundappa Viswanath) or somebody if needed. So really speaking, the existence of coaching at an international level in the team is like almost copy and paste from the other sports. whose requirement are entirely different from cricket.
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But cricket definitely doesn’t require a full-time coach in a proper national team, because if you require coaching at that level, you have simply not arrived at that level. Therefore, a person who is a manager could be a former cricketer, who could guide you. I fully endorse that today, you require a fielding coach, a fitness trainer, a physio, a masseurs, who are vital for the team. Now, the game has surely changed for better in these areas. The standard of fielding has gone very high. Fast bowling also has become very good as you can see that with the abundance of good fast bowlers in India. It was not the case earlier.
Talking about bowlers in particular, there have been cases of fatigue and breakdowns. Why does that happen?
In the last 15 years, we have seen many players breaking down, especially the bowlers. This emphasises on one thing - cricket requires cricketing muscles to be used more often and create a repetitive muscle memory, which cannot be replaced by gym training. I often hear some of the bowlers are required to bowl only 30-40 balls in a net session. It is quite ridiculous.
Most of the Indian Test cricketers don’t even play the first-class games, which I think is a wrong thing, because their State teams will never have the advantage of having these stalwarts around. I don’t think you require so much of rest. The point is, if you look at the number of overs people bowl, is far less. Then why is the breakdown coming from?
Because if you want to bowl a 30-over spell, you should be used to it. Whether at your club level, whether in the nets, or whether in the Ranji games. You suddenly cannot turn up and bowl a 40-over spell. And after three days, you play another game, where you are required to bowl another 40 overs. That triggers a breakdown because those muscles are not used [for] longer period. And, the injuries happen.
Now with Sourav Ganguly, a former India captain, at the helm of the BCCI, do you think that the Board should ensure that when there are no international assignments, the players should feature for their State teams in domestic tournaments?
It should be made compulsory. I’m sorry, there is no soft soaping here. It has to be mandatory that people have to play for the States. The onus also should come from the players themselves.
In this edition of the Ranji Trophy, some of the players from Mumbai did not play a few games from Mumbai citing that they required rest after playing for India in a couple of T20Is.
The approach is totally wrong. You cannot cotton-wool a player and expect him to be fit all the time. The players have to be exposed to all kinds of rigorous activities on the field and as often as possible, because cricket requires elongated muscles. The bowlers require special bowling muscles to develop continuing stamina. And the stamina and the endurance of those muscles can only be tested by continuously playing.
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I remember a conversation I had with the great Alec Bedser, who was England’s selection committee chairman for a while. With us was John Woodcock, a very senior cricket correspondent. England was playing a Test against the West Indies at Lord's when Steve Harmison was bowling. And I was watching the game with Bedser and Woodcock. In the first three overs, Harmison, who was England's premier fast bowler then, bowled at least eight wides. He was all over the place. Bedser opined that till then, Harmison hadn’t bowled even 75 overs for his county. Then, as luck would have it, Woodcock asked Alec how many overs would he have bowled before the first Test when he was captaining Surrey.
Bedser bowled on an average 175 to 200 overs every week because it was seven days-a-week cricket. So, on an average, a bowler is required to bowl 25-30 overs every day. So this shows to you the futility of the modern management in cricket.
The players feel that this workload management is required to adjust to all the three formats. There are also concerns about non-stop cricket round the year. Recently, Kohli also spoke about packed international calender.
The cricket board and international cricket bodies have to manage that. As a player, all I can tell you is that, look at the shorter format. If you’re playing a lot of T20s, as a bowler, you’re supposed to bowl four overs. And probably the drilling sessions of fielding etc., are quite rigorous. But if you’re playing everyday, the rigorous routines don't help. What I understand personally is not to create muscle fatigue during the cricket season.
Additionally, a modern cricketer travels and stays in great comfort, which basically should help ease some of the fatigue.
This is where the international body whether it’s ICC or BCCI need to take the lead and decide how much is too much? Because of the abundance of sponsorship, you could really have the games 24 hours [a day] if you want to. But that will damage the game rather than do any good. We need to preserve it.
You spoke about how the standard of bowling has deteoriated over the years. There have even been question marks on how the wickets behave these days. Where are we going wrong?
About the decline of spin bowling, it’s not only in India. It is across the world. But more sadly in India because the world looked at us for high-quality spin bowling. I dare say and I know I’m going to upset quite a lot of purists, but I really believe we haven’t got a world-class bowler all round at present.
When I say all round, I would like to see a bowler who is capable of commanding respect and authority both at home and overseas. We are lacking that at the moment.
Therefore, you go back to the basics again. Most of the bowlers have open-chested action, which stems from playing a lot of T20 or the limited[-overs format]. You see, when you rise from that level, it is harder to stay at the top. Staying at the top will require a totally different technique and mental approach.
Lack of competition in India in spin-bowling department is making average spinners play for India. Of course, if you’re playing regularly, you’re going to perform well a few times. My problem with all this is that if my basic technique is open chested, I’m limiting myself anyways and chances of growth are limited.
You said India has failed to maintain its domination in spin-bowling. In your times, India had legends like Bishan Singh Bedi, Erapalli Prasanna, B. Chandrasekhar, Padmakar Shivalkar. Then there was a generation which saw the rise of Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh. But after that, there hasn’t been consistency. There has been an R. Ashwin, a Pragyan Ojha or a Kuldeep Yadav. But they have not been [very consistent]. Why has that happened?
While T20 is absolutely a must in modern-day life, it has also brought the other weaknesses into the game which you can see very clearly. Again, I go back to the hunger for excellence. If a player is very satisfied by being picked by an IPL team, and gets a good package, bless him, that’s all good.
But then, the ambition stays there. It doesn’t extend to your being an excellent cricketer, a world-class value to the national team or to whichever team you play for. This creates a lower ceiling beyond which you cannot grow.
If you look at the pyramid of talent, the top is for Test cricket. The talent of Test cricket trickles down to ODIs and T20s. These days, players are rising from the success of T20 to upper level, where they are found wanting.
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I would say not more than 20-30 percent will be able to make the transition, most of the players will fail because the gap between the T20 and ODI is huge. And the gap between limited overs cricket and Tests cricket is really many oceans apart. That’s the problem we actually seem to be having.
You had earlier said that Kuldeep will sooner or later be exposed because of the action. Similarly, Yuzvendra Chahal has been successful at the shorter format, but hasn’t made it to the Test setup yet.What are they doing wrong? What are the areas they should be working on?
First of all, your wicket-taking ability into T20 is more due to the nature of the game. Batsmen have to play continuous shots and the bowlers keep getting wickets by that. When you play a longer format of the game, batsmen are not willing to throw the wicket and are planning a longer innings. They want to stay there, and you have to prize the batsman out. You need to have your own planning. Lets take an example of the futility of thinking of the spinners these days.
Before he bowls to a right-hand batsman, an off-spinner puts a deep point to save a boundary. It’s a defeatist attitude straightaway. Anybody who understands the game and has played in any level knows that if you have a deep point for an off-spinner, it means he is expected to bowl a short ball outside the off-stump every now and then, attempting square cut. It is a cardinal sin.
Therefore, with this approach, a field is being set for a regular bad ball. It shows lack of confidence in a bowler and short of thinking and planning. A modern captain wants to stop a boundary and will only give one run by posting his fielders on the boundary from the very beginning.
If I was a captain, I wouldn’t play a bowler who is not capable of bowling a tight length and line at a higher level. This is the simple truth. I spoke to one or two young spin bowlers and they depend on the analysts to tell them how the runs were scored off their bowling. Quite simply, they are dependent on others instead of being thinking bowlers who plans the demise of a batsman.
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But it has been quite a journey for Kuldeep. From being a mystery spinner to becoming the most sought after player - he has seen it all in quick time.
That’s a problem. We start talking big before the boy even establishes in the true sense. Taking a lot of wickets in T20 doesn’t establish you, this is the futility of the whole thing. Kuldeep will have to develop a big heart and become a thinking bowler.
What about Ravindra Jadeja? You have always spoken of him highly.
Jadeja is a good all-round cricketer, let’s make no mistake. In my view, his bowling has suffered recently. Two-three years [ago], I thought he would move ahead with his bowling, but unfortunately, he has not.
Whatever the reasons, I’m not sure, it’s very difficult to judge it at this distance. I say this only because a spinner, as he continues playing, learns his craft more and more. And he develops certain attributes which he hasn’t had before. Because of the confidence Jadeja has developed, and by continuous exposure at the highest level, you have to improve, and when you don’t improve, you go back. That’s the point.
Do you think that the BCCI should involve former spin aces and maybe, use their expertise to help out the young spinners?
No. I think it should be avoided totally. First of all, when you bring former cricketers of high repute or whatever you want to call it, that puts inhibition in the minds of the youngsters. This is a psychological issue, which is delicate. Showing somebody what I could have done in my time is not good enough. What’s important is to guide the youngster [about] what he should be doing with his talent.
And I think this is where you don’t need necessarily former big names. Some of the really good coaches I’ve seen across the world, are the unsung heroes.
People may be only the local maidan coaches, but they love the game so much, they are so passionate about it, and they are very discreet. So you can imagine Ramakant Achrekar never destroyed Sachin’s shot-playing ability. He enhanced it by allowing him to perfect the technique.
Unless you have the temperament and the technique to defend good deliveries, you cannot stay at the crease long enough. Imparting your knowledge to a young cricketer requires great interpersonal skill.
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The spin bowlers must be taught essentially to spin the ball. If they’re going to roll the ball and deliver slow, they are no more spinners. So these are the basic attributes which [have] to be taught from the very early days. And that’s what I feel is the criteria.
This being an action-packed year, what is your advice for Ashwin, Kuldeep and Jadeja?
So let’s take Ashwin first. There is no doubt that he’s a thinking cricketer. But I have always maintained that he needs to decide whether he is an off-spinner or not. In my view, he is an off-spinner. This means 98 to 99 per cent of his bowling should be the classic off-spin as his stock ball. Mastering the stock ball, which is the off-spin, and mastering the line, is the crucial element in his game. And if he does that, then I think [he] will be a handful.
But experimenting too much with different kinds of deliveries is going to create confusion in the muscle memory. And to revert back to the stock ball becomes all the more difficult. There is so much variation possible within your stock ball as every delivery is going to be naturally different from the previous one.
I think the variation lies in your controlling the length and line rather than changing the nature of the delivery. Every delivery that comes out has a naturally different parabola and different revolutions because of the human effort behind it. That’s the control that I require to see in every spin bowler or every bowler.
Similarly, if you look at Ravindra Jadeja, I think he’s an outstanding cricketer overall undoubtedly. He can reach further heights by focussing on his bowling. To me, he is a bowling all-rounder, like Kapil Dev. So, if you’re a bowling all-rounder, your bowling has to keep improving. When your bowling doesn’t improve, it could actually take you backwards. So that’s where Jadeja will have to work on.
As far as Kuldeep is concerned, I feel he’s too slow in the air. And that’s because at the time of bowling, his non-bowling arm falls away and he opens up. Therefore, he cannot put the full bodyweight behind the delivery and these are the technical issues which I have observed before.
As far as Indian team is concerned, there seems to be too many changes in the side. What are your thoughts about the selection? Do you think there has to be consistency?
The selection committee and the think tank of Indian cricket have got something wrong and twisted. They are not thinking alike is what I feel. They have persisted with K. L. Rahul in different areas, and it appears that finally he has come of age, at least [it] appears so. I would have persisted with him in the Tests against New Zealand, and also with Shikhar Dhawan if he was fit. I would have not taken Prithvi Shaw and [instead] gone with players who are proven in this area. All the youngsters like Iyer can wait because technique is very important in Test cricket, and I think Rahul has just about got the things right. Playing like this with an experimental team and losing so badly overseas is really not acceptable.
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I do not know why there are so many changes so often. It also shows that we are not sure of what we’re doing. I do understand that the Test team and the ODI team should be quite similar. There could be one or two changes in that, but I do not see major difference in the Test team and the ODI team. At the T20 level, you can afford to change with three or more. But at the Test level, Rahul should have been playing. If Shikhar was fit, he should have been playing. And people like Ajinkya Rahane also have to be persisted with and many times you realise that mediocrity is always at its best because they have to keep floating. You need to decide who your top players are and persist with them. That’s what a lot of good teams have done over the years and [that’s why they have] been successful.
Do you think that Prithvi should have been tested more in domestic circuit before being graduated to Tests?
Prithvi could be a player for the future, provided he develops a sound defensive technique. I was shocked to see Rishabh Pant keeping the wickets in New Zealand. I would play the best wicketkeeper in India first, and that’s Wriddhiman Saha. He has proven his mettle as a wicketkeeper-batsman as well. [But] wicketkeeping is such an important position that I would really not mess around with it. In the absence of Dhoni, because he has left a few years back, Wriddhi should be the best choice for India. Pant has [been] spoken about [a lot] by many critics, and I’m sure he has a future, but if I were him, I would perfect my wicketkeeping technique first before donning the India cap at the Test level.