A cricket pundit

S.K. MOHAN

In Thalassery, shortly after Kerala beat Himachal Pradesh, in just over two days, Chandrakant Pandit, now Director of Cricket, KCA, spoke to Sportstar at length, about his plans for Kerala cricket, his careers as a player and coach and about Sachin Tendulkar, whom he had seen since he was a schoolboy in Mumbai. P. K. Ajith Kumar listens in.

When Syed Kirmani took off his wicket-keeping gloves in 1986, Chandrakant Pandit was the frontrunner to grab them. But, Sadanand Viswanath, for a brief period, and Kiran More beat him in the race to be India’s wicket-keeper. That he was easily the best batsman of the trio didn’t help much, though he did make it to the National team purely as a batsman on a few occasions.

Pandit had to be content with five Tests and 36 one-dayers. He has found more success in his second innings though, as a coach. He coached Mumbai to Ranji Trophy triumph twice and has had fruitful stints in Maharashtra and Rajasthan as well. He has also worked with India ‘A’ and junior India sides.

His latest assignment has taken him to Kerala. He was in Thalassery, a North Kerala town that boasts a cricket history of more than 200 years, to watch the home team play Himachal Pradesh in the Ranji Trophy, after taking over as director of cricket in Kerala.

Chandrakan Pandit gives a few tips to Kerala cricketers (from left) Sanju Viswanadh Samson, V.A. Jagadeesh, Sachin Baby and Sandeep Warrier.-S.K. MOHAN

In Thalassery, shortly after Kerala beat Himachal Pradesh, in just over two days, Pandit spoke to Sportstar at length, about his plans for Kerala cricket, his careers as a player and coach and about Sachin Tendulkar, whom he had seen since he was a schoolboy in Mumbai.

Excerpts: Question: So, what brought you to Kerala?

Answer: The Kerala Cricket Association (KCA) president T. C. Mathew, whom I consider as an administrator with vision, had asked me to come to Kerala and work for the development of the game here a couple of years ago. I had been thinking about that offer and finally decided to come here. I am glad I came, for there is so much I can do here, with the KCA starting academies in every district.

You have come probably at the right time, when Kerala cricket is really looking up…

Yes, I have been following the progress of Kerala’s cricket with interest and have noticed that several new exciting talents are coming up. I have already worked with some of them, like pace bowler Sandeep Warrier. I was one of the men who selected him for the India Under-23 side for the Asian Cricket Council Emerging Teams Cup in Singapore recently.

Australia’s Mark Waugh is stumped by Pandit in the second final of the WSC ODI tournament in Sydney in January 1992.“I feel I could have played more one-dayers,” says Pandit.-V.V. KRISHNAN

Sandeep is Test material. I am impressed with the way he moves the ball, at good pace. He has to improve still and I am looking forward to working with him.

I am also impressed with Sanju Viswanadh Samson. I had selected him for the India Under-19 squad. He has to work harder to convert his undoubted potential into big runs consistently. I think he has better chances of playing for India if he kept wickets for Kerala, though. If he focusses on his keeping, he would be one of the candidates to be India’s next wicket-keeper.

You have had a successful career as a coach…

Yes, but I never thought I would be a coach. I may not have, if Sanjay Jagdale of the Madhya Pradesh Cricket Association, hadn’t asked me to be a player-cum-coach of Madhya Pradesh in the Ranji Trophy.

Then, when I retired, Dilip Vengsarkar and Sanjay Manjrekar suggested that I take up coaching. I wasn’t keen initially, but Sanjay said that he wanted the young Mumbai cricketers to be street smart and I was the best person to teach them that. I have enjoyed all my coaching stints, with Mumbai, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and India’s junior and ‘A’ sides.

How do you look back at your career as a player?

I regret that I could not play more matches for India. But, then, to break into an Indian team that contained stalwarts like Sunil Gavaskar, Mohinder Amarnath, Vengsarkar, Ravi Shastri and Roger Binny was not at all easy. It was my consistent performances in the Ranji Trophy for Mumbai and a hundred in the Irani Trophy that put me in contention for a place in the Indian team. I would not have become a successful cricketer if I had not been spotted by Ramakant Achrekar, while playing tennis ball cricket. I remember him coming to our home at 12.30 in the night and pleading with my father to allow me to join Sharadashram Vidyamandir, a school which encouraged its students to play cricket.

Pandit, The Mumbai Ranji coach, with skipper Sachin Tendulkar in 2003. "Till his last day in cricket, he retained the passion, the hunger, of that little boy who was impatient for his turn at the nets/" says Pandit of the master blaster.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

I could prove that Achrekar’s faith in me wasn’t misplaced by scoring 300 in a single day in the Harris Shield tournament. From school, I graduated to the Mumbai junior squads and also played for the India Under-19 team. Then I made my Ranji debut in 1979-80, at the age of 19, as a batsman. Zulfikar Parkar was Mumbai’s ’keeper and I took over from him in 1982-83. In that season I scored 157 in the Ranji final against Karnataka, whose attack included Binny. That innings helped me get noticed by the Indian selectors.

You were involved in a three-way competition with Kiran More and Sadanand Viswanath to take over from Syed Kirmani as the Indian wicket-keeper. You ended up playing only five Tests and 36 one-dayers.

I feel I could have played more one-dayers. I did play as a pure batsman in a few matches, but it was tough to get selected even for the Mumbai XI those days, you know. Mumbai had batsmen like Gavaskar, Vengsarkar, Sandeep Patil…

I don’t grudge More at all; he was a better ’keeper than me. But, there were times when I threatened his place with my batting. On India’s tour of Australia in 1991-92, I had scored 127 in Brisbane in our four-day game against Queensland. And I remember Rodney Marsh writing about my batting in a newspaper. He wrote that India had found another outstanding batsman. But that tour proved my last with the Indian team, though I had taken 11 catches in the two Tests I played.

That was also the tour that saw the coming of age of Sachin Tendulkar, who has been your team-mate at the club, Ranji Trophy and Test levels.

I will never forget the hundred he scored in the Perth Test of that series. I was the 12th man and therefore had to be alert right through when India batted, as the batsmen would be needing water or a change of gloves. I watched every ball he played. It was an incredible innings on that bouncy track against a battery of ferocious fast bowlers.

What are your other memories of Tendulkar?

My earliest memory of Sachin is from the nets at Shivaji Park, Mumbai. He had recently begun to train under our coach, Achrekar, at the Kamat Memorial Cricket Club. I remember Sachin waiting impatiently for his turn. “When would you finish?” he would ask while we were batting. What he really meant was, ‘Why don’t you leave, so that I can bat?’ He was 12 at the time. Achrekar was mighty impressed with him, but we at the club were skeptical, initially. When the coach told us that the boy would go on to be in the squad regardless of his scores, we were not exactly pleased. So we decided to run Sachin out in a match. The idea was the non-striker would call him for a non-existent run and Sachin would run, since he would have to obey a senior, who would remain in his crease. But Sachin was smart and realised that there was no run and he stood his ground. So it was the non-striker who got run out. I knew then that this boy was special. I remember Sachin going to the nets of seven or eight clubs in Mumbai so that he could get batting practice for a couple of hours every day. It was a privilege to play along with Sachin for Mumbai and India. It feels great to think that I have captained him in the Ranji Trophy.

What, do you feel, made Tendulkar different from all other cricketers?

I think it was his passion, his hunger. He was gifted yes, but he nurtured his gift and was willing to sweat it out. Till his last day in cricket, he retained the passion, the hunger, of that little boy who was impatient for his turn at the nets.

What do you think about the standard of wicket-keeping today?

I think it has come down from the time I played. The stress today is on batting. I can’t find ’keepers of the quality of Alan Knott or Syed Kirmani these days. I had great regard for Kirmani. He kept wicket to some difficult bowlers, such as B. S. Chandrasekhar and Bishan Bedi.