Sportstar Archives - Mohammed Azharuddin: This is going to be a positive season

In this 1995 interview, India captain Mohammed Azharuddin talks on the season ahead starting with the visit of New Zealand, India's away form and more.

India skipper Mohammed Azharuddin.   -  V. V. Krishnan

The skipper of the Indian cricket team, Mohammed Azharuddin, is convinced this is going to be a positive season and a season of progress for his side. The training camp in Madras has done some good in getting the team to shift a gear up for the season ahead. Even as Azharuddin looks at what may lie ahead of his side in a season involving the visit by New Zealand in October-November and the World Cup in February-March next year, he also talks of the ups and downs of the last few years. He rebuts the criticism that the Indian team only performs well at home.

He regrets that he could not be the captain who would break the West Indians' unbeaten Test record of 15 years but he does not feel that is too great a disappointment. In this interview to Sportstar, he speaks freely of the things that have happened in the last few years in which he and his team have turned their fortunes around in a huge way since the days of the tours of Australia and South Africa.

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What is your opinion of the visiting New Zealand team?

I think they are a formidable team. There will be a heavy price to pay if we underestimate them. Look at their attack. They may have been a very depleted bowling side in their last home season. But now they have Danny Morrison, Dion Nash and Chris Cairns. They are all fit and they will form a strong attack even in our conditions. Maybe their batting will not be very strong.

Do you really believe their bowling can click in Indian conditions?

It depends. If they bowl well, they can make an impact. Of course, the advantage will be with us. But then we cannot assume we will perform our best every season. We have to raise our effort if we are to repeat the wins of 1993.

One supposes you will doubtless be using the same formula of turning tracks, quick scores from batsmen and lots of spin bowling?

Hopefully, yes. The formula has worked very well for us and there should be no change in that. I think preparing fast pitches is a type of myth in our country. You leave the grass on and the pitch dies within a day or two and then it is back to normal. I don't believe there can be a genuinely quick wicket in our country. The pace will not be sustained. And they will become turners pretty soon. You don't get wickets as in Australia or South Africa here.

How much of a disappointment was it not to win the Nagpur Test when your side was close to making history in inflicting the first series defeat on the West Indies in 15 years?

A lot of people have spoken about that Nagpur Test match. They speak only about the so-called slow batting on the fourth day. One must also accept that we did not bowl well in that Test. According to me, the match should not have gone into a fifth day at all. We would have wrapped it up if our spinners had bowled well. We batted well in the first innings. For us to attempt to win on the fifth day we had to have a big lead which we did not have. Anything can happen in a gambling declaration.

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It must have hurt more then to lose the Chandigarh Test and share the rubber. Don't you think so especially because you had the Windies on the run in Nagpur?

It was quite disappointing that our batting which held up so well for a couple of seasons should let us down on the last day of the series. These things do happen. My only point is you learn a lot from your disappointments. You learn to avoid those mistakes, not commit them again and again.

Don't you believe the pace bowlers of the country have really come on in the last few years?

Javagal Srinath has lifted the quality of the attack. He has come on tremendously in the last few seasons. He has also improved his batting so much. He is the real gain for the team.

What about the spin attack. Do you believe it has been patchy since 1993 or has it improved since?

I would not go just by that one failure in the Nagpur Test. Anil Kumble had his problems there. He was running on the pitch and was warned twice. So he had to bowl round the wicket. He cannot be that effective from that angle. He cannot get batsmen leg before. He will be a different bowler after his English experience. He has sorted out his problem of running on the pitch.

"At the training camps, I leave a lot to Sachin (vice-captain) and Ajit Wadekar (coach), who make sure each one is sticking to his programme of fitness." Photo: V. V. Krishnan


What about his support bowlers?

Venkatapathy Raju has been one of our mainstays. He was our most successful bowler last season. He has come on a lot and I would expect him to be a major force in the series ahead.
Rajesh Chauhan has come back. He is still our best bet as an off spinner. He had a bad series against the West Indies. But with his experience he is bound to do well.

The batting has always been solid at home. How would you describe the strengths of your batsmen who seem to be ideally suited to quick scoring on turners?

Our batting has been solid for some time now. I would take the final day of the series in Chandigarh as just one of those things. If you take away that bad day, I would struggle to recall a previous instance in the last three years. A study of the record book will show even on the tour of South Africa we had just one bad batting day and we ended up losing the Test and scries.

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So, not since Australia have we failed on more than one occasion in a series. The quick scoring has been very useful because we have always given the bowlers more time and runs to get their wickets. I don't find the visiting team so good on the same pitches. It is a simple thing to keep saying we play well at home on our pitches. The visiting teams always find some excuse for their failures on the same pitches.

How do you rebut the criticism that India is a great team at home but not so hot when it tours?

I know this criticism has been there for some years. I think it is really uncalled for. A win is a win. Wherever it is gained, it is still a win. Just as a hundred against Zimbabwe is a Test hundred
because they are recognised by the ICC, so too Test wins are Test wins wherever they are gained. Tell me how many teams have scored runs in Test cricket as quickly as we get them here. You can see the one-day cricket influence here. Batsmen are more accustomed to playing shots and once they get in they score quickly in Test matches too. Rarely do you see the Indian team get bogged down.

Still have you tried to analyse why India is not playing better abroad?

We failed in Australia and South Africa. Nobody can deny that. I did not get runs on that tour. And Sanjay Manjrekar failed. When two key batsmen of the side keep failing, it becomes difficult for the team to recover each time from a crisis. There was just no stability in the middle order. That put a lot of pressure on Sachin and Ravi Shastri. If four or five batsmen are in form in a series it becomes much easier for the whole team. It is funny that although we did not get big totals, our bowlers did not allow Australia or South Africa to get away with big totals.

How much do you depend on your vice-captain Sachin? Over the last few years, you seem to have given more and more responsibility to him.

I think he is tremendous. He is a very open guy. He comes over to me and says whatever has to be said in terms of the welfare of the team. He takes a lot of pressure off me by handling a few things.
He is so good at his job that we know we have a good partnership at the head of the team. At this stage of my career, I would lean more on him. Especially at the training camps, I leave a lot to him and Ajit Wadekar. I believe that players should devise their own training schedules at the camps and there is no great captaincy role to play in this. But Sachin and Sir (Wadekar) make sure each one is sticking to his programme of fitness. I also like to think of other things than running the nets at the camp.

You said in one of your recent columns that while fast bowlers are coming through, not enough young spinners of merit are coming through. What do you think is the reason for this?

Yes. Look at Venkatesh Prasad and how much he has come on. We won in Sharjah because of his bowling. He denied the batsmen runs in vital parts of the matches and he really put the pressure on the rival teams. There are a lot of newcomers coming through the system too. Bowlers like Paras Mhambhrey.

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I am not surprised that while fast bowlers are developing we are finding spinners are not there. This is a cycle. It happens in all countries. But I am pleased that we have a balanced attack now. Only some really promising bowlers did not sustain their performances. Atul Wassan was a bowler for whom I would have had a lot of time. He had everything, the pace, the movement. He began so well in New Zealand. I really thought he would develop. If he had, he would still be a key member of the attack.

There were a number of dropouts like Vivek Razdan, Atul Wassan and Subroto Banerjee. Why do you believe they wasted their talent?

In Razdan's case, I would say our manager (Bishen Bedi then) was to blame. He would make him bowl all day long and again in the morning before the match. What will be left of a bowler if he were to exert himself so much in the nets? I thought we were working harder on our fitness during the season than playing the game. That one year, 1990, was like that. I know fitness is very vital to performance. But I believe playing is even more important. We have to develop skills that we can reproduce in matches rather than be fitness freaks and underperform in the game.

Do you believe a short series against New Zealand will be good enough preparation for the World Cup?

The World Cup is totally different. We also have six one-dayers against New Zealand after the Test series and we can begin to concentrate on our one-day game from thereon. There will be a lot of time to think and to focus on our one-day skills. The series against New Zealand ends on November 29. We will have two clear months after that to think and prepare for the World Cup.

In your experience does the Indian team perform better when it is fresh or when it is overprepared in terms of camps and heavy fitness schedules in the course of the season?

We don't have a heavy programme this year. I think it is good for the team. The last World Cup was too tough for us because we were touring for months on end and we went straight into the Cup after the tiring tour of Australia. There was far too much of travelling to do. The Benson & Hedges triangular in Australia is a tough series because of all the travel.

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There should always be two days ago between one-day internationals. I am glad this has been accepted by our Board which has scheduled the New Zealand one-day series in such a way as to give more time between matches. You must leave a clear day for travel and one day for preparation before a match. You can't finish a match and travel the same night, practise the next day and play again.

Your focus this season will be on the World Cup although the Kiwis are here in the country?

I don't want to think of the World Cup before we win the series against New Zealand. If we win the Test series 3-0 as we did against England and Sri Lanka, then it will be a great morale-booster. The confidence will help us be a better side in the World Cup. I only hope the weather does not interfere too much.

How about your own batting form?

After a long time, I feel really good. I have had good days at the nets and I am quite positive about the season ahead.

In retrospect, was it not disappointing to lose your wicket in the 90s in Nagpur? Won't they say there is a blemish in your record - no Test century against the West Indies and South Africa, only one against Australia?

Maybe. But you cannot look at the record only in that way. Take Zaheer Abbas. He did not score a hundred against the West Indies. Does it mean he was not a great player. He made more than a hundred centuries. So what if he did not get to score one against the West Indies? lan Botham has not scored a hundred against the West Indies. Was he not a great all-rounder who scored 13 Test hundreds which is more than many specialist batsmen score in their whole Test career. This does not mean I am not a good player.

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Chetan Chauhan never scored a hundred in his whole Test career. Can we say then he was not a good Test batsman? He had so many useful partnerships for the opening wicket with Sunil Gavaskar and was so useful to the side. And he got more than 2.000 Test runs.

How well did the training camp go for you?

Would you believe it, I got good advice from the youngsters also. Aasish Kapoor came up and said to me in Sharjah that my whole body weight was falling backwards when playing shots. Then he told me my right shoulder was opening up too much. These were good tips. Whenever I bat now, I ask Aasish to stand behind the net and watch me bat and tell me if I am doing something wrong. These are the useful inputs. So many youngsters may shudder to come up to captain and say something is wrong with his batting technique. I really appreciate Aasish for this.

You started your career as basically a back-footed player. Remember Bill O'Reilly used to rave about it in 1985 on your first tour of Australia?

That was because I played so much of my early cricket on matting wickets. On those pitches you get back and be ready to pull or hook. Matting wicket players tend to be stronger on the back foot. Hyderabad players also tend to be like that. Jaisimha. He was a great hack foot player.

Any single thought on the season ahead and what it will mean for Indian cricket?

I think this is going to be to be a positive season and a season of progress for the Indian team.

(This interview was first published in Sportstar on October 7, 1995)

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