An all-time great, Dilip Balwant Vengsarkar was the ideal combination of grace and skill. His batting was a delight for the purist and the perfect lesson for aspiring youngsters. The former Indian skipper announced his retirement at the Garware Club in Bombay recently. A pity that the Delhi team, which was involved in the Ranji Trophy semifinal against Bombay, was not aware of the maestro’s decision to call it a day.
A majority of the players felt “Vengsarkar deserved a standing ovation.” But Vengsarkar wanted to bid adieu in a simple and silent manner. A veteran of 18 tours, one more than Sunil Gavaskar, Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards, Vengsarkar spoke to Sportstar on the day he announced his retirement.
How do you assess your career?
To begin with, I was fortunate to be born in Bombay. And I am very proud of this fact. The cricket I learnt and played in school and university was top class. Bombay cricket is perhaps the most demanding in India. The competition is so tough that you have to be really good to get a place in a Bombay team. This city has produced many great cricketers. As a youngster, I had read and heard stories regarding the deeds of (Polly) Umrigar, (Ajit) Wadekar, (Vijay) Manjrekar and Gavaskar. They had set a standard and we aimed to meet those. Whether we did or not is for you to judge.
I was lucky to play for Dadar Union along with top players. The biggest gain from playing for Dadar Union was that we developed a high-class temperament. I never had any complex when I played international cricket and neither did I ever get overawed thanks to the lessons learnt while playing for Dadar Union. It was great mental training. With coaches like Vasu Paranjape and V. S. Patil to guide us, it was fun learning cricket at Dadar Union.
Then there were those matches with Shivaji Park Gymkhana. It was a very strong team. Those lessons, learnt in childhood, kept me in good stead. That is why I believe that watching is the best way to learn. I learnt the best points while watching the great cricketers and by wanting to emulate them. Four great cricketers who had an influence on me were Sunil (Gavaskar), Ashok (Mankad), Ajit (Wadekar) and Dilip Sardesai. I admired them for their guts and determination. They showed me the path and I am proud that I did succeed at the international level.
Maybe I should have scored a thousand runs more. But I have no regrets. I have sweet memories of my playing days and I will always cherish them. I think the last two years were not up to my expectations. I couldn’t convert the fifties into hundreds. It was certainly sad, but then I accepted it as part of the game. You can’t always succeed. Maybe it could have been far more satisfying, but I am happy.
What are the major changes you have noticed in the last few years?
The first and most important is that it has become easier to play for India. Nowadays, youngsters are getting chances early because one youngster is extraordinary. Just because one youngster is good, does it mean that all others are good, too? I think before a youngster makes his debut, he must play a lot of domestic cricket. There are many who come fast and go fast.
Then there are the usual changes which come with time. The game has become competitive and hard. I never dreamt of playing for India. I always loved the game dearly and it is this love which kept me going. You can improve only if you love the game. Try and enjoy it and don’t just work hard. That would take away the pleasure of playing cricket.
Cricket today is an industry. You have so many industrial houses taking up promotional schemes. These schemes are good, but the fact remains that you can learn your best only from playing. And for that you must have a good standard in first-class cricket. A youngster will learn the finer points and build up his temperament by playing matches. You don’t learn these things in the nets.
Don’t you think you decided to call it a day a bit too soon?
Not really. I wanted to announce my retirement in Australia, but thought I would try and help Bombay win the Ranji Trophy. Unfortunately, that couldn’t be achieved. I can’t go on for long. I know I will be disappointing my fans and friends, but believe me, there is no motivation left to play domestic cricket. Even my wife wanted me to continue, but I thought it was better to quit before people demand it. It is better to leave with people asking why, and not why not.
Which was the best phase of your career?
Undoubtedly, the 1986 tour to England. I was in my best form and hit two centuries. I was happy that I enabled India win Test matches with my batting. The games were low-scoring and I was pleased with my batting efforts. I have always enjoyed batting in England. It is a challenge which brings the best out of you. It was also a great pleasure to play in that team because I feel the Indian team which played from 1985-87 was the strongest of all the teams I was a member of. The batting line up was strong and the bowlers too were good. I must compliment the selection committee of that period for doing a good job.
What would you say about your tenure as captain?
I enjoyed my stint. We lost to the West Indies, which I thought was the best team during that period. We lost to a solid team. In Indian cricket, no captain survives if he loses. I too was added to that list.
What are the requirements to be a good captain in Indian cricket?
Keep your head down. Ask no questions. Never answer back. Never speak your mind. This sums up my captaincy, too.
What went wrong on the last tour to Australia?
We took time to adjust to the bouncy wickets. But there can be no excuses since we had ample time to adjust. I have been there before, but the wickets were more bouncy this time. Then the Australians played to a plan.
You reserved your best for Lord’s?
It just happened. Those three hundreds at Lord’s were a dream. I had heard so much about Lord’s and always wanted to give my best. The atmosphere at Lord’s is absolutely electric and sets your adrenaline flowing. It is a beautiful batting wicket and I loved scoring those runs.
What was your approach?
Cricket is a funny game. You hit a hundred one day and are out for a zero the next. I have always respected cricket for whatever I have achieved in life. Cricket is a game of ups and downs too and I have taken everything in my stride. One has to learn to be tough and I learnt it the hard way. Having a tough approach in the present times helps immensely. There is so much of professionalism and gamesmanship involved now that cricket has become some sort of industry. There is plenty of money to be earned from cricket.
What was your approach while batting?
The most important thing is concentration. Nothing should perturb you. Never go by the reputation of the bowlers you are going to face. It helps playing your natural game. I have always done that. Just gone out and played my natural game. One learns from mistakes, and the sooner you remove them, the faster you rise in international cricket. I always took my cricket seriously. I watched my videos and tried to sort out the mistakes.
Yoga has also helped me at times. One has to be hundred percent fit to survive in present-day cricket. The game has become very demanding now than it was when I was a youngster.
How did you prepare yourself before your turn?
Well, I always made it a point to take a good look at the bowlers and the state of the wicket. If it was a sporting track, it meant that the battle was even. If it was a batsman’s wicket, I would tend to be a little more aggressive. Once the openers were out there in the middle, I would not miss a single ball. It helps you in concentration and also helps remove tension. There is no better way to learn than by watching.
Do you think the standards have changed and cricket has become more competitive?
Test cricket has not changed much. Test cricket was always hard cricket. Quality-wise, not much has changed. The only change I feel has been the standard of fielding, which has improved a lot because of one-day cricket.
Have you enjoyed one-day cricket?
Always. I played my last one-day game in England two years back. I don’t know why I was ignored after that. Maybe the team had better movers on the field than I. Maybe the team had better batsmen, too. I did feel bad about not being considered for one-day cricket.
Who were the bowlers who impressed you?
Apart from our great spin quartet, I thought Imran Khan, Richard Hadlee, Michael Holding, Malcolm Marshall and our own Kapil Dev were truly great bowlers. I would put them all in the same bracket.
Is playing too many Tests and one-dayers in short periods good for the development of one’s game?
More cricket at the international level means more competitive cricket. That means you are prepared well mentally and physically. It can be hard for you but it makes you tough. It can also mean healthy competition for crucial places in the team. And that in turn means that you are always giving your best, or trying to give your best. I think it is good if you get to play as much top-class and competitive cricket as possible.
How would you compare international cricket with the standard in domestic cricket?
(Laughs) The way we are conducting our cricket on placid wickets, we are bound to struggle. What is the point of having batsmen who score heavily in India but come a cropper on bouncy wickets abroad? I don’t want to sound bitter, but I must say that it has become easier now to play for the country. Let a batsman be judged by the runs he scores on bouncy and pacy wickets. The state of wickets has to be improved if the board wants the country to do well in international cricket. You continue preparing placid tracks and soon you will have even top-class cricketers playing in front of empty stands. What is the point in having matches which are decided only on the first-innings-lead basis. That too not because the teams are very strong. It is mainly because you have placid wickets which see even mediocre batsmen score heavily. I don’t appreciate this kind of approach. There is nothing wrong with the manner in which the game is run in our cricket, but something has to be done fast regarding the quality of pitches. The standard has gone down a lot in the last five years.
You have very strong views on the pitches in India?
Certainly. At times, it pains me to see good bowlers being hit because the wicket doesn’t offer them any help. Because of these flat wickets, the standard of Indian cricket is declining steadily. The wickets are loaded in the batsmen’s favour. Now we also don’t have quality bowlers who could test the skills of the batsmen. Given the quality of bowling we have now, a batsman can’t be tested unless there is some help in the wicket for the bowler. The board should really give importance to getting rid of this menace called a “flat wicket.” Let them dig up all dead wickets and begin afresh. Let us have quality and competitive cricket instead of drab encounters where even the tail-enders hit centuries. In my days, too, there were plenty of flat wickets around, but you must remember that we had quality bowlers all over till the early ’80s.
How much do you think can umpiring contribute towards improving the standard of cricket in India?
Indian umpires are good and we must treat the umpires with compassion. They must be paid well and given good facilities. If the umpire is not respected, the game will definitely suffer. If an umpire is fit and competent, there should be no compulsion for him to retire. I think with more first-class cricketers taking to umpiring, this department is improving. Umpiring is a difficult job and the players must understand that before they criticise the white coat officials. We must improve the facilities and payments for the umpires. Umpires can also be sponsored by some industrial houses. There is hardly anything for the umpire unless he is an international-grade official. There should be more money and respect for the umpires. Take this captains’ report on umpiring. It can add to the pressure on the umpires depending on the officials’ standing. To judge an umpire, the board should consider the report of both the captains and not just one as it happens often.
What other changes would you recommend to improve the standard of domestic cricket?
I think it would be better to play four-day matches. As you must have seen often in recent times, the fifth day’s play becomes nothing but a farce. If you have good wickets, four days is sufficient time for a match. Another important thing I would like the board to consider is making the Duleep Trophy a league. Having a league would enable players from the weaker zones to show their potential. As things stand now, they get just one or two matches. Having a league will help every team, weak or strong, to show its real strength. After all, the Duleep Trophy is your best tournament and provides the main basis for national selection.
Have you given a thought to what you plan in the future?
I plan to continue playing for my employers, the Tatas. I am grateful to the Tatas for all the help over the last so many years. I would like to play for my office team as long as I am required. I don’t think I would like to take to umpiring or become an official. I would like to stay away from the politics of cricket. Otherwise, I am ready to offer my services to the youngsters. They can always approach me for help and guidance. It is one thing I have always looked forward to, and I am always ready to help the youngsters whenever required.
Any message for aspiring youngsters?
Yes. Play honestly and always maintain the high traditions of the game. There is no short cut to success. One has to work hard and believe me, hard work pays. You can stay longer in international cricket if you have come up the hard way.
(This interview was first published in the Sportstar magazine on April 4, 1992)
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