Remember Saeed Anwar? The dashing left-hander from Pakistan used to be one of the world’s most feared openers in his time, especially in limited overs cricket.
If you remember Anwar, you might also remember Debasis Mohanty, the tall seamer from Odisha. Anwar was his first victim in ODIs, at Toronto in 1997. Mohanty went on to dismiss Anwar three times on the trot in that series between India and Pakistan.
Mohanty went on to play many more ODIs for India. He figured in 45 matches, in fact. Not bad for someone coming from a State that had no tradition in cricket. He was the first cricketer from Odisha to represent India. In fact, only two more from the State played international cricket.
Mohanty is now the coach of Odisha. He spoke to Sportstar at Krishnagiri, Wayanad, where Odisha stunned a much stronger Maharashtra inside two days and went on to qualify for the knockout stage of the Ranji Trophy.
Question: How do you find coaching?
Answer: It is a very challenging job, but it is something I enjoy. I took over as the coach in 2011-12. I had played first class cricket till 2010-11 and felt coaching might be a good option for me, as I wanted to continue my association with the game. It has been a pretty interesting journey so far. Apart from this win against Maharashtra, there have been memorable victories in the past against Karnataka and Saurashtra.
I am happy that I have got several young players in the side this season; they all have the potential to become fine cricketers for Odisha.
You are the first cricketer from Odisha to play for India. How do you look back on your journey ?
You see, mine was not a typical case of a dream-coming-true. I hadn’t thought that I would play for the country. As a youngster, I played cricket because I enjoyed it. And I worked hard.
I began playing cricket after getting inspired by India’s World Cup triumph in 1983. But, I had begun as a batsman and switched to pace bowling only after I completed school. I debuted as a bowler in the Bhubaneswar district league.
I took nine wickets on my first class debut in the Ranji Trophy for Odisha against Bengal at the Eden Gardens, Kolkata, in 1996. That gave a headstart to my career. Before I could realise what happened, I was picked for the Duleep Trophy and then I was in the India ‘A’ squad.
The India ‘A’ coach, K. Srikkanth, apparently was very impressed with you and recommended you for inclusion in the senior team.
Yes, it was because of Srikkanth’s nice words that I was selected for the Indian team for the tour of Sri Lanka in August, 1997. You see, within a year of making my first class debut, I was playing in a Test. Everything happened so fast.
You didn’t do badly in your debut Test. You picked up four for 74 in your first ever Test innings and among your victims were Sanath Jayasuriya and Aravinda de Silva. But, you played only one more Test in your career .
I don’t have any regrets about it now. It was an honour representing the country.
And you played in quite a lot of one-dayers for India, beginning with that Friendship series against Pakistan in Canada in 1997. How do you look back at that series?
I enjoyed bowling in Toronto. The conditions were good for pace bowling. It was nice being part of an Indian attack that also featured Abey Kuruvilla and Harvinder Singh, who was also pretty successful in that series.
You had the Pakistani opener Anwar in quite some trouble…
Yes, I got him out in successive matches. He was a brilliant batsman and dismissing him boosted my confidence as a bowler.
Two years later, you had a memorable time at the World Cup in England, too.
I was added to the team though I was not in the list of players originally selected. I found the conditions in England a lot similar to those in Canada. I had a good tournament in England and was pleasantly surprised to see my action getting featured in the official log of the World Cup.
Among the pleasant memories were helping India beat England at Edgbaston, because of which we reached the Super Six, and watching Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly coming up with that wonderful exhibition of batting against Sri Lanka in Taunton.
While everyone remembers your exploits in Toronto and then in the World Cup in England, not many know that you are one of the very few to take all the 10 wickets in an innings in first class cricket which you did in the Duleep Trophy match between East Zone and South Zone in 2001.
That match was played on a seaming wicket at Agartala. South Zone’s new ball was shared by Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad. Their batting line-up was strong too, with the likes of Rahul Dravid and V. V. S. Laxman in their ranks.
Even after taking the first six or seven wickets in the South Zone first innings, it did not occur to me that I could take all the 10 wickets. But, our captain, S. S. Das, had told me, during the lunch break on the first day, that it was a possibility.
It was in a determined frame of my mind that I played that match. I wanted to come back into the Indian team. And I did.
What are your thoughts on the current crop of Indian pace bowlers?
It is nice to find that we have several bowlers who can bowl above 140 kmph. They are all good, though I find Mohammed Shami the pick among them. He has an excellent seam position, he is quick, and he swings the ball, too.