A ’keeper goes down memory lane

Syed Kirmani, the ace wicket-keeper of yesteryear, demonstrating the finer points of the game to young talent at the Triumph Sports Academy.-V.V. SUBRAHMANYAM

“Honestly, I must say that was the crowning moment in my career (the 1983 World Cup triumph). No one actually gave us a chance to even make it to the knock-out phase. But once we beat the West Indies in a one-dayer in Berbice before the World Cup, we always had the gut feeling that we could beat the best teams on our day,” Syed Kirmani tells V.V. Subrahmanyam.

He never read a book and never had a role model. But the flamboyant stumper of yesteryear Syed Mujtaba Hussain Kirmani held his ‘own,’ donning India colours with distinction between 1976 and ’83. His most significant achievement was being a member of the 1983 World Cup-winning team in England under Kapil Dev.

Kirmani is all set to complete his autobiography, which in all probability will be released during the 2015 World Cup, according to P. R. Man Singh, who was the manager of the triumphant 1983 World Cup team.

In Hyderabad recently, at the invitation of Man Singh, Kirmani’s eyes lit up when reminded of his contribution to that historic title triumph. “Honestly, I must say that was the crowning moment in my career. No one actually gave us a chance to even make it to the knock-out phase. But once we beat the West Indies in a one-dayer in Berbice before the World Cup, we always had the gut feeling that we could beat the best teams on our day,” recalls the articulate Kirmani.

What exactly was his role? “I always believed that a wicketkeeper is the best judge of what is happening on the field. He is the most important member as he is in the right position to make an accurate assessment of various key factors like the pitch condition, the strengths and weaknesses of the players and even which player is suited for which fielding position,” explains Kirmani on the sidelines after inaugurating new pitches at the Triumph Sports Academy in Hyderabad.

Not surprisingly, when Kirmani and Man Singh spent some time together, it was a trip down memory lane and also a reminder of what a combination India was in the 1983 World Cup.

“Arguably, the finest moment for me in that World Cup was when the legendary wicketkeeper Sir Godfrey Evans presented me the Best Stumper of the Cup prize which was a silver ball and a silver glove. I could not have asked for more,” Kirmani says.

“We played with passion despite not having the best of facilities. I am amazed with the kind of set-up you have for training in these sorts of Academies. These young kids are fortunate to have them and the onus is on them to perform,” he says even as he advises the young talent to dream big and work hard.

This outstanding wicketkeeper of yesteryear says it was a huge challenge to keep wickets to the likes of world-class spinners such as Erapalli Prasanna, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar and Bishan Bedi. “I enjoyed every bit of that challenge though there were a couple of poor phases in my job. But, overall, I can say I was privileged to be behind the stumps to these great spinners,” says Kirmani.

For his part, Man Singh insists that “Kiri's experience and expertise were major factors in Kapil’s Devils scripting World Cup history.

“His sense of humour was one of the most delightful aspects of his personality. I remember when we were all tensed up after being 17 for five against Zimbabwe at Tunbridge Wells in the 1983 World Cup, Kiri telling us, “Main hoon na, daron math” (I am here, don’t fear). That comment lifted the mood in the dressing room. And, it is history how he and Kapil helped India pull off one of the most sensational wins,” explains Man Singh.

“Honestly, the team meetings did not really delve deep into strategies. For instance, before the first game in that World Cup, Kapil just told one thing — when we can beat West Indies once, we can beat them again. Things were kept very simple and Kirmani’s contributions were invaluable even though he never spoke for too long,” recalls Man Singh. “He was a captain’s delight.”

Man Singh also points out that the presence of Kirmani behind the stumps and Sunil Gavaskar in the slips right through the final against the West Indies was very significant. “They always gave their invaluable tips.”

And the now 64-year-old Kirmani, who played 86 Tests scoring 2759 runs, 198 victims (160 catches, 38 stumpings) and 49 ODIs at a modest average of 20.72, says he hates to hear the word ‘match-fixing’ in any context.

“This is a gentleman’s game and everyone responsible should do his bit to ensure that it remains so,” Kirmani asserts. “I am not a competent authority to say whether it is happening or not. But, it is imperative to ensure that the connoisseurs continue to enjoy the game,” he says even while steering clear of controversial issues including the Supreme Court order to nominate Sunil Gavaskar as the Interim President of the BCCI and on Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

“I have enjoyed every bit of my career on the field. I have no regrets though some feel that I should have gone on to play 100 Tests. But again, there are certain things which are not in your hands,” Kirmani concludes.