Rajinder Pal: Cricket was meaningful then

"Cricket was competitive, and fun too. I learnt so much playing on uncovered pitches," says former India cricketer Rajinder Pal.

Rajinder Pal, playing for Board President's XI, clean bowls E. R. Dexter of MCC in a three-day match in Hyderabad in 1961.   -  THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

Indian batsman Vijay Manjrekar square drives Nasimul Ghani of Pakistan in the second Test in Kanpur in 1960. According to Rajinder Pal, Vijay Manjrekar was the best Indian batsman he had watched.   -  THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

Australian fast bowler Ray Lindwall in action in a Test match against England at The Oval in 1953. He had a smooth action, and was bliss to watch, says Rajinder Pal.   -  Getty Images

Rajinder Pal is touching 80, but can still bowl to you. His enthusiasm is very infectious and his memory sharp. He played 98 first-class matches, including a Test against England in Bombay in 1964. He also served as a National selector.

Rajinder Pal, who has made Dehradun his home, goes down memory lane in this interview with Sportstar.

 

Question: Tell us about your initiation into cricket.

Answer: My elder brother was a badminton and table tennis player at the Banaras Hindu University, while another brother was into athletics. I was into cricket. All of us played one game or the other. As a kid, I developed a passion for cricket because one of the elders in Babar Road (Bengali Market in Delhi) encouraged me. I picked up the game fast and thereafter I played for Delhi schools. I developed my game slowly but steadily. I played the Ranji Trophy, followed by Inter-University cricket, and then Inter-College cricket — it was a reverse trend.

Did you always want to bowl fast?

Yes, I always wanted to bowl fast. C. K. Nayudu spotted me during a match and asked me to bowl throughout the day. Not a sip of water was given to me because he wanted to test my endurance. I repeated it later in a Ranji Trophy match when I bowled non-stop from one end. I was an athlete and played a lot of football and hockey, and that really helped me.

Was C. K. Nayudu your coach then?

I got support from so many people, but I never had a coach. I did learn from (former Test bowler) Dattu Phadkar, but CK taught me a lot. He emphasised that fitness was part of the game. I owe it to him for playing University cricket, and then donning the National colours. I wanted to bowl to him, but he was only there to coach. I had learnt about him a lot.

How was the learning process?

We were dedicated and devoted. We never said ‘no’ to anyone, never to a senior player. We were in awe of them. Now it has all changed. They would explain to us, why have this fielder, why bowl a bouncer now, why bowl a slower one. Of course, teaching and training methods have changed.

During your time, was money an attraction to play cricket?

No. Where was the money then? I got Rs. 250 for the Ranji match I played last, and I remember going to the Ambassador Hotel and blowing the allowance. We started from Rs. 5 and ended at 250.

Tell us more about cricket in your time...

Cricket was meaningful. We would get to play five first-class matches a year — all knock-out. Cricket was competitive, and fun too. I learnt so much playing on uncovered pitches. Rainy days were the most difficult days. It was very tough to read the pitches. Once I remember, half the pitch was grassy while the other half was bald, and it was prepared by Sitaram, who was the best curator I have known. He was a decent cricketer, bowled medium-pace, but his cricket reading was amazing.

What are your views on today’s bowling standards?

A spinner bowling with a new ball is hard to understand. It takes away a fast bowler’s advantage. I can’t understand how the fast bowlers are bowling. Kapil Dev was a great student. He literally snatched the experience from me. Today the bowlers don’t know where to pitch the ball. I asked one commentator, who was a batsman, how could he read a bowler’s mind. Only a bowler can comment about a bowler. Look at Kapil Dev. He once challenged Ajay Jadeja in the nets and just did not let Jadeja play him at all.

What would you tell today’s bowlers?

They must use the width of the crease. They bowl from one point only. You have to bowl from close to the stumps and away from the stumps to keep the batsmen guessing. They don’t know where to pitch the ball. I used to reward bowlers who bowled two balls of the same variety in an over. I have only known Maninder Singh doing it, and he won rewards. He would not concede a boundary, and that to me is the hallmark of a fine bowler.

What should a bowler keep in mind?

A bowler must know how to bowl to his field. See how many no-balls and wide balls they bowl these days! They don’t bowl in the nets with the ball they bowl in a match. In the nets, they must practise what they need to do in a match. The bowler should only aim for the wicket, nothing else. Why worry about how the batsman will react. Even the basic grip (of the bowlers) is faulty. They must know how to control the ball, control how to pitch. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, at 17, had just one ball. I told him to add one more. He could never repeat the first three overs he bowled against Pakistan on debut.

What are your suggestions?

Swing, cutter, slower one, block-hole ball, bouncer… You have to have variety. What is this rubbish called slower bouncer? You aim at the bottom or the top of the wicket. The batsman stands between leg and middle, his shoulder faces cover, and his toe covers the leg stick. So, toe is the point to attack. You have to concentrate on the toe. Keep the ball on the wicket and learn to bowl to your field. It is always better if the captain gives the bowler the field he wants.

Can a fast bowler think like a spinner?

Of course, he can. A fast bowler is a thinking bowler too, not just the spinners. To me, Bishan Singh Bedi was the best example of a thinking spinner. He bowled three different balls with the same action. Amazing he was.

Do you prefer gym or running to improve fitness?

Gym or running? We did not have scientific training. Gym was for wrestlers. All sportsmen have different exercises. Cricket demands strength in your thighs and calves. You have to have solid strength. Gym can help you hit the ball hard maybe, but I am for natural exercises. Develop your muscles from swimming and running.

Which fast bowler impressed you with his action?

(Richard) Hadlee? Kapil? Imran (Khan)? They all had good action. In my view, all West Indian bowlers had splendid actions. They were athletic and strong. Some of them ran from the boundary line. They could move their body in rhythm. But my favourite was Ray Lindwall. He had a smooth action. I went to Calcutta once only to watch him. Prakash Bhandari (former Test batman) gave me tickets. Lindwall was a bliss to watch. What stride! The West Indians were good too — side-on or open-chested.

What are the important segments of fast bowling?

Run-up, delivery and follow-through — a combination of all three. They are the important segments of your action. Dennis Lillee used to say every bowler bowls a no-ball. I once challenged him. You have to have the rhythm. ‘Give me six boys,’ I said, and I worked on the six bowlers and they never bowled a no-ball. Kapil did not bowl many no-balls in his career because he had splendid rhythm.

What are your views on field placements?

Field placements win you half the game. They are most important. We used to hide people in our days. Now it is different. We would have the best fielders at cover and mid-wicket. Today the game is different because of the fielding. Fielding is an art now.

What was your approach?

Study the batsman and put the ball in the right area is what I hear these days. Even gripping the ball is important and I am sorry the bowlers today ignore this aspect. I can grip the ball even when I am asleep. I will not make a mistake. In-swing, out-swing… What is this reverse swing? I don’t know.

Who were the best Indian batsmen you saw?

Vijay Manjrekar was the best, flawless. He had all the time in the world to play the ball, all the time. No bowler made an impact on him. Even Vijay Hazare was such a delight. He told me that Indian cricket was intriguing. You are in the team today, out tomorrow. It is so true. But Manjrekar was technically so superior. He would spot the googly, shout and hit. He did not edge ever. I never saw him edge a ball — (he played) all balls from the middle of the bat.

How about Salim Durani?

Salim Durani wasted his talent. I was a room-mate of Salim and Manjrekar. A lot depended on Salim’s mood. Whenever he decided to kill the attack, he would kill the attack. I once bowled to Vinoo Mankad and not one ball hit the pads. When he bowled, all six balls landed on the spot. My God, he was past 50!

What irks you about today’s cricket?

The commercialisation of the game and the overkill. It’s more of a TV sport now. So much cricket. I don’t watch much. How can you watch just sixes? Hitting the ball hard is not cricket. You have to have the skills. There is no effort to take a wicket; they all bowl to escape. Virat (Kohli) is an exception. What a delight. What a batsman. But the ICC must cut down on the amount of cricket that is being played today.

Virat talks of needless analysis by commentators…

I am amazed at commentators sitting in a studio in India and speaking on what is happening in Australia. Only cricketers should comment on how to play. Even Virat remarked so. Why so much analysis? Can you win every match? Also, why compare? You cannot compare Virat with anyone from the past. No comparisons. Conditions vary. Viv Richards batted on uncovered pitches. Today they play on covered pitches. Conditions are very different.