Sportstar archives: Srikkanth on opening with Gavaskar, comparisons with Viv Richards and more

K. Srikkanth, the former India skipper spoke to Sportstar touching on his career graph, the highs and lows and the last bow.

Kris Srikkanth's aggressive style caught the eye of the selectors and he made his international debut at 21.   -  V. V. KRISHNAN

Meet K. Srikkanth, an ex-Test cricketer, now aspiring to be a "reasonably good businessman." The man who revelled with his bat on his day, to have his fans in raptures, can be just as facile in his business dealings. Just days after announcing his decision to quit first-class cricket, Srikkanth was sitting in a cosy room in his father's factory in Ambattur and confronting the things that would increasingly demand time henceforth.

He gets a few points across on the phone to business clients, meets visitors in between, offers a piece of advice or two to his manager, who comes in with a proposition, even as he settles down to meet a union leader. The schedule keeps stretching. It can indeed be too complex a mix, a lot dicier than perhaps a Malcolm Marshall over.

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"This is what makes me feel that I should continue with cricket. You can get away from all this," said Srikkanth with a smile; or was there a trace of regret? He knew he had to be in (at his office) this one day. Business interests had to be looked into and with the tag of a successful cricketer, Srikkanth, an engineer, is confident of carving a niche for himself. Indeed, he looks forward to another fruitful innings. Sparing time from his busy schedule, the former India skipper spoke to Sportstar touching on his career graph, the highs and lows and the last bow. Following are excerpts from the interview:

A coincidence you would say, but two good entertainers of the game, Vivian Richards and you bid adieu almost at the same time. Richards left on a high note and, perhaps, you may have also wished to sign off that way?

At the outset, please do not compare me with Viv. He is beyond compare, one of my heroes. My game was hardly 10 per cent of what his was. Anyway, to leave the scene with a big innings, either in a one-day international or a Test match in Madras before my fans... Well that was my dream. That is a big regret, undoubtedly.

On that count don't you think you were a little hasty in deciding to quit?

Well this was in my mind in 1990 itself when I was dropped from the team. It was a difficult period but I was given a fresh chance when I was picked for the 1991-92 Australia series. I did well there in the one-day internationals though I must admit that I did not perform impressively in the Tests to cement my place in the team. When I returned from the tour I knew it was going to be dicey as far as retaining my berth in the team went. Still, I nursed hopes that for the South African tour, perhaps, I may be considered at least for the one-day internationals. But then when I was dropped I decided that was it, what was there to look forward to?

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However, the team did badly in South Africa and I had fresh hopes, with the England tour of India round the comer. Also, there was talk that I had a fine chance to make a comeback, particularly after a fairly good domestic season, making two hundreds in the Ranji matches. Once again my hopes were on making the one-day team. But then I do not blame anybody. (Navjot Singh) Sidhu got the nod and he came off very well. Once Sidhu and Manoj Prabhakar clicked, I realised my chances were next to nil.

Was it your non-selection for the South Zone team for the Duleep Trophy tournament that finally hastened the step?

Well, you see, once it strikes you that there is little chance of being considered, the interest also diminishes. Right from the beginning of the season, I began to devote more time to my work. I travelled a lot, to Singapore to Europe and several other parts of the world in connection with my business interests. That is the reason I missed the initial matches in the Buchi Babu tournament. I realised my time was up and there were other important things to be looked into. Then came the announcement of the South Zone team and I was not there. Surely, if I was considered not good enough to be in the South Zone team, what good was there to think of making it to the National team again?

Would you say the selectors were not fair in assessing your season's domestic performance while delivering their verdict?

You see, there is little point in delving deep into it. If we start talking about ifs and buts, everybody can be successful and everybody can do well. I have taken it in the right spirit. I have always held the belief that whatever happens, it happens for the good. Probably now I can concentrate more on my business career and may become a reasonably good businessman before long.

But it must have been a difficult decision to get away from the sport you were so actively involved in.

I know it is not going to be easy to get away from the enjoyment of it all. A game I have been playing from childhood, well it is not easy to give up totally. That is also why I did not give too much thought to it. I knew that if I start consulting people and friends it would only complicate matters, take a lot of time and finally perhaps be left undecided. I just decided one evening, told my father and wife and called a press conference to announce it. In a matter of 48 hours, I was through with it.

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How did your family take it?

Well, they were not prepared for it. My wife feels I should have continued to play for some more time. But then, as I said earlier, the situation did not call for my delaying it any further.

About your approach to the game, don't you think the one-dayers actually, helped you to blossom into a popular cricketer?

Probably yes. In my case, I should think people liked my game or, more appropriately, the way I play the game. Not that I did not have the statistics to show but my popularity had a lot to do with the way I approached the bowling. It certainly helped me a lot in building my image. Okay, that does not mean I have not been effective in Test match situations. I accept my Test record is not very good, but it is not very bad either in terms of scores. From whatever little statistics I know, in the contemporary cricket scene in the country, only Chetan Chauhan and I have got more than 2000 runs in Test cricket after Sunil Gavaskar, as regular openers. I am taking into consideration only openers. In that way, you cannot brand me only as a one-day cricketer.

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Srikkanth: Please do not compare me with Viv (Richards). He is beyond compare, one of my heroes. My game was hardly 10 per cent of what his was.   -  THE HINDU ARCHIVES

 

How did you develop this flashy batting style which so suited the limited-overs competition in particular?

It is not a question of developing it. That is the way I played right from my childhood; lofted strokes, pulling and driving hard. Somehow I took a fancy for big-hitting. Nobody curbed me, and come to think of it, this approach has been the vital factor that has helped me at several points of time to make comebacks. Primarily it was not the score that was looked into by the selectors and captains. Probably they appreciated the way I play the game. That is why even at team meetings when strategy is discussed, I am often told, "this is not for you Cheeka. You play your usual game". Everybody welcomed my game because they knew that if I clicked, the team would get a good start.

You also showed your ability in bowling. Statistics show that you have taken five wickets in a match on two occasions.

What bowling? (smiles). You mean in one-day cricket? You see I have never considered carrying the pressures as a bowler of standing would. I used to bowl in local matches, league ties etc. But then in one-day cricket, what is bowling? Just about bowling from stump to stump, make the batsman make the mistakes. You come in as a stop-gap bowler.

What did you enjoy most, playing the one-day game or Test cricket?

Well, one-day cricket has a lot more thrills, it is action-oriented, a result is definite. Test cricket has its charm and besides it is championship cricket. But let's face facts. Everybody, I am sure, enjoys one-day cricket more than Test cricket; even those who complain about it at one time or the other.

But then there is this view that some players can be only good in one-dayers and some are suited for Test cricket. What do you think?

My feeling is that an international cricketer should be able to adapt himself to any kind of game and whatever be the conditions. Okay, for convenience sake, the one-day programme can be separated from the Test schedule, but players will have to change with times as in life.

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As an opener, you know the pressures of facing the speedsters. But did you ever think of coming lower down the order, possibly with an eye on tall scores?

Not really. If it is difficult to get into the Indian team then it is an even more difficult job at the opening slot. It has its own challenge. I am not saying that because I was an opener all through. There can be several imponderables. The bowler is fresh, the wicket is fresh, the ball is new. You do not know how the pitch will behave or if there is dampness underneath etc. That is why in India, with exceptions like Sunil Gavaskar, openers have been far less successful than the middle order players. We have had some wonderful players in the middle order. In any case, I have always been an opener except perhaps in some Ranji matches and that too because Tamil Nadu has several openers and I could come down the order.

You have been on tours to other nations. What have been the challenges, the cricket atmosphere away from home conditions?

I think most cricketers will agree that Australia is the place where you enjoy playing cricket. The grass is good, the wicket is sporting and there is Channel Nine to build up the image. Statistics-wise Australian wickets have been the most result-oriented. I have certainly enjoyed playing in Australia. I cannot say much about the West Indies because as you know, I got injured early and had to return. But more than England or other places the absolute challenge is playing in Pakistan. You know how an India-Pakistan match in Pakistan will be! No touring team has had a happy time in Pakistan. The local crowd, the mood and everything else there make it a difficult proposition for any cricketer.

While on India-Pakistan cricket, what are your views on competitions in Sharjah? Do you think this rivalry has gone too far in a neutral land?

There are a whole lot of misconceptions about the competitions involving India and Pakistan in Sharjah. I think it is unfair to blame the crowd or to say "we lost because of the crowd there". We have played in Sharjah several times, won matches too. I am sure every Indian cricketer will agree that playing there was enjoyable. I think recent developments have been unfortunate. Okay, you are playing on a foreign soil where a majority of the population, probably, may not be Indians. But that does not mean that you cannot play in such conditions. Maybe they are supporters of Pakistan but that does not mean you cannot play what you are capable of. Not just in Sharjah but any part of the world you have this India-Pak pressure. Once you are on the field why should you allow the crowd factor to influence your game? It is unfair to blame that the crowd is biased and so you cannot play there.

We have played a lot of matches in Pakistan and without problems. After all, we have neutral umpires and so biased umpiring is ruled out. I firmly believe we should continue to take part in Sharjah, for, as far as I am concerned there is no reason why we should not. Then again one must realise that Sharjah is the only place where there is so much benefit for players, there is a benevolent fund for past cricketers and present. Why deny all this by refusing to play there?

You have faced so many pace bowlers in the world. Who has impressed you the most?

Actually, at the international level, all bowlers are extremely good but I think Wasim Akram and Malcolm Marshall were certainly the most troublesome as far as I was concerned. They had speed and could move the ball at that speed. They were very intelligent bowlers who kept varying the line and length to keep you guessing always. I certainly had a lot of problems against Akram in Pakistan. I was considered easy meat for him. It was one of those occasions, but I must say I have also scored a lot of runs off him.

You were known for your daring batting. What inspires you to do that?

As I said that is the way I play. I had always wanted to play crisp shots and the sound of the willow striking the ball can never be more pleasing than when I loft a ball or make a clean hook off a rising ball. I just love to do that. Cricket fans too!

In the process, have you faced any retaliation from the bowlers?

I have never been bothered about that. Once I am through with the stroke, I walk back or to the leg side. I do not look at the bowler, let alone allow myself to hear anything harsh from him, should he blurt it out.

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Talking about this "walking" habit, you know what happened on your debut. Is it a sign of nerves?

Oh, don't remind me of the miserable show (the debut). I have a very restless mind. I cannot be in one place and be quite there always. It is just a habit from childhood. I remember, in my school days when I was in fourth standard, my teacher mentioned in the progress card that I was the "jumping jack" of the class.

You had a brilliant academic record and you achieved fame later in International cricket. How did you manage the two?

Frankly, I never dreamt that I would play for India nor did I carry any such ambition. I used to play the game because I liked the game and things just happened. Even in the third year of my engineering course, I was not quite serious about cricket. In fact, my father would always remind me that studies should not be sacrificed. My ambition then was to become an engineer because my father was one. Nothing more. When I was in the fourth year I got selected for South Zone and I had the opportunity to play against Pakistan in Hyderabad. I made 90 against an attack that had Imran Khan. That was when I thought, maybe I can make it to the Indian team. Probably I had a chance to get selected for the 1980-81 tour to Australia-New Zealand. It was T.E. Srinivasan who made it and come to think of it, it was just as well that I did not get selected. Probably I would not have completed my engineering course. I completed my engineering in April 1981 and in November I made my Test debut against England. To come to the point, I never allowed studies to take the back seat. Always a month before my semester exam, I would stop playing cricket. I never skipped exams for matches. That is why I made my debut in Duleep Trophy only in 1981. Though I made my Ranji debut in 1978,1 played against a team such as Andhra for the first time only in 1984. Matches against such teams come during my exam time and I used to keep away.

Srikkanth: I have said it and I must stress it again that I have considered myself lucky to have played as a partner of Sunil Gavaskar.   -  THE HINDU ARCHIVES

 

You have played as Gavaskar's partner for a long time. How has he influenced you?

I have said it and I must stress it again that I have considered myself lucky to have played as a partner of Sunil Gavaskar. Initially, I was tense. He wouldn't say much except that "use your brain while playing". It used to be an education watching him moving away from short, rising balls or withdrawing his bat from outgoing deliveries. Our association started with that miserable debut of mine in Bombay when I was run out while walking away. I could not look at Sunil's face. It was terrible. But in the second Test itself we struck a 100-run partnership. Thereafter I went out of the team and when I made a comeback in 1984, Sunil had begun to look less serious. Rather, he had begun to enjoy his cricket. We used to chat a lot and have fun. Sunil also began to show a new side of his game by playing lofted strokes like me. In fact, he used to tell me that one day he would beat me to the 50. He did in the Madras Test against Pakistan by getting to the mark one ball ahead of me. By then I was also a senior cricketer and we became very informal with each other.

Has sledging been a part of the pressures that you have faced in international cricket?

It is there and I have faced it too. My policy is, if someone tries to nag me on the field, I keep quiet for sometime and then give it back. As for specific instance, I had a problem with Australian bowler Ray Bright in the Madras Test, 1986. Then there was Javed Miandad who kept calling me "a slogger" when I had scored a century in the 1987 Madras Test. I went up to him and told him "Mr Javed Miandad, if I was as talented as you are, I will not be playing like this. That is why you are Javed Miandad and I am Srikkanth". Javed immediately said, "Nahi, nahi nahi, Srikkantbhai. Nahi, nahi, I was only joking." That way I defused the situation. Anyway, these are routine happenings and sometimes you cannot blame someone for blurting out in the heat of the moment. It's just part of the game.

What are your views on umpiring?

I have always believed that we should take their (the umpires) decisions in the right spirit. After all, they are also human beings and prone to err. But then the trend has been, for all touring teams, to complain about umpiring, except perhaps to some extent when the series is in England. What is forgotten is that umpiring decisions go for and against and so a certain balance is bound to come. I have myself been given out, when I was not out and ruled not out when I thought I was out. Not only me, but most other cricketers would have had this experience. Some benefit, some do not. What is to be appreciated is that the umpires spend so many hours on the ground trying to do their best.

Are you religious and also do you have superstitions?

Yes. I come from a family which is very religious. It is the upbringing maybe, but I have the habit of performing pooja daily and I have deep faith in prayers. About superstitions, tell me which cricketer is not superstitious. Probably I exhibit it when others do not. That is why you might have seen me talking to myself when I come out to bat, look at the sun three times, twirl the bat, touch the pads etc. I remember in the final Test that Sunil Gavaskar played in Bangalore, he asked me if he could walk out on my right side. I told him "no problems". So actually everyone has some superstition or the other.

You have played under different captains. Can you recount your experiences?

I have played under Sunil, Kapil, Ravi Shastri and Dilip Vengsarkar. Each had a different attitude to the game. Sunil was a little conservative, Kapil thought differently. Whatever be the ultimate analysis everything depends on how the team performs. If the team does well, the captaincy is good, if it does not, then the captaincy is bad. So it does not make a difference who the captain is. I always maintained captaincy was nothing much.

What was your experience as a captain, in the sense there were so many senior players in the side?

I am a very friendly type and I vibe well with everyone. I had no problems with anyone. Differences of opinion always crop up, but then that is not something peculiar to cricket. That did not mean there was any division in the team. When it came to commitment, I thought everyone did well.

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Your memorable moments?

I would say, my first century made in Australia. Then the century I scored in Madras. That was one of my dreams, to score a century in front of my home crowd. Then the appointment as captain in 1989.

Most miserable moment?

In 1984, when someone called, claiming to be Hanumant Singh, chairman of selectors, and informing me to rush to Bombay and to join the team to Pakistan. It was a terrible hoax.

Can you think of some unusual moments you had to go through?

Yes, the occasion in Pakistan when a person rushed up to me, hit me and caught me by the shirt and tore it. It was something I least expected on a cricket field. That was probably my worse moment. Then there was this embarrassment at Lord's, England in 1986 when a lady stripped herself and started dancing before me shouting: "We want Botham back." I did not know where to look and Sunil at the other end was laughing at my predicament.

Looking back how do you think the Board treated you?

It is a tricky question. See, it is like this. I accept there are ups and downs in everybody's career. When I was picked as captain for the Pakistan trip I was delighted. Of course I did badly as a batsman but the team did not do too bad. Then I was dropped suddenly. I always thought, maybe I should have been given one more chance, say the New Zealand tour and then an assessment made. That way I would not have felt the disappointment much. Anyway, it is all over now.

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K. Srikkanth with his sons Adithya and Anirudh.   -  THE HINDU ARCHIVES

 

Among the players you have played with who has impressed you the most?

Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil come to my mind immediately. Sunil is easily the greatest batsman India has produced. Kapil is an extraordinary all-rounder. It is going to be really tough to find a good substitute for him once the great man calls it a day. Of course Sachin Tendulkar is going to make a mark of his own. I sometimes take pride in the fact that Sachin made his debut under my captaincy. I keep reminding him that whenever we meet and he laughs it off. Then of course the great G. R. Visvanath, one of my heroes in the game. Among foreign players, Vivian Richards and Dennis Lillee have been my heroes. I feel I have missed not having played against Lillee. I think he is everything you look for in a pace bowler. Absolutely immaculate.

Do you see Indian cricket's stock rising in the near future?

Well, we have a bunch of promising young talent. Vinod Kambli, Sachin, Manoj and Sidhu are all there. Anil Kumble is developing into a good bowler. Srinath can be groomed into a genuine fast-medium pace bowler. And then there is the question of tapping the right talent. Let me put it that way. By giving the upcoming talent enough opportunities, India can definitely have a strong squad.

Are you concerned that many talented players from Tamil Nadu are not making it big?

Yes. I always wished a lot many cricketers would come up from Tamil Nadu. Unfortunately, we have not produced many. The point is, we have quite a lot of talent in the State. The question is, of moulding them for higher grade competition. The talented players should play to their full potential. The point is, utilising the opportunities to the full. In the recent past, our players have not done that, utilising the opportunity like in other states. That is the big difference. When an opportunity comes we should grab it. Among the lot I still feel off- spinner M. Venkataramana should make it. I feel he is still the best in the spin department.

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"I sometimes take pride in the fact that Sachin made his debut under my captaincy," said K Srikkanth.   -  V.V. KRISHNAN

 

What is your advice to up and coming cricketers?

Do well and leave the rest to God. If you really do well I feel nobody can stop you from coming up. I often tell this to people. Talent and hardwork will bring the opportunity. How well you use the opportunity is in your own hands. Take my instance itself. I was given opportunities and maybe I did not fully utilise them. Had I done well in Australia in 1991-92 maybe I would have still been playing.

Do you see a role for yourself in cricket administration?

No, I do not want to be actively involved in administration. I mean I do not want to be selected for say position X, Y or Z and told to do this or that. But if anybody wants help in matters of cricket, I can help in any way I can. I will perhaps involve myself in organising tournaments for raising funds for social causes.

Any chance of a junior Srikkanth coming on to the cricket scene?

My first son is not interested in cricket but prefers tennis. My second son is too young, only six years old. So I do not know what his taste will be. I am not going to force anybody. If they want to become cricketers well and good.

(This interview was first published in the Sportstar Magazine dated October 30, 1993)

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