A THINKING CAPTAIN

ASHOK MANKAD... his cricket acumen is phenomenal.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

Captaincy, says Ashok Mankad, is a lot about man-management skills. "You should first win the players' trust." S. DINAKAR spoke to the former Test player.

Ashok Mankad oozes cricketing wisdom. They say he is among the most qualified domestic captains never to have led India. And not without reason.

For Bombay and West Zone, the wily Mankad, son of legendary all-rounder Vinoo Mankad, was not just a captain who comprehended the game's every nuance, but also a prolific run-getter.

Mankad compiled a whopping 12,980 runs from 218 first class matches at 50.90. He had a less successful Test career (991 runs in 22 matches at 25.41) but drifted into the sunset as an accomplished cricketer.

Now the National Cricket Academy's all-India batting coach, Mankad is imparting his vast , 59,cricketing knowledge to aspirants. The Sportstar caught up with him in Chennai where the focus was on captaincy.

A skipper has to make things happen and Mankad recalled a delightful vignette from the 1980s. It was a celebratory one-day tournament in Calcutta between the zonal teams.

West Zone was staring down the barrel after being bowled out for just over 150 against North Zone. With Kirti Azad in ominous form, North was expected to sweep past the target.

Mankad had a job on his hands. He knew he had to dismiss Kirti fast. "I realised Kirti always wanted to get off the mark quickly and usually played to the on-side. I also kept the mid-wicket short. We set a trap for him."

The plan was that Ghulam Parkar, an exceptional fielder in covers, would move to mid-on. The rest was a tale of deceit. Recalled Mankad, "Before left-arm spinner Dasrath Pardesi began his run-up, I signalled to Parkar to move deeper.

He waved back at me and just shuffled his feet while remaining at the same point."

The idea was to create an illusion in the mind of the batsman. "Kirti, believing Parkar was in a deeper position, set off for a run. Parkar swooped in on the ball and hit the stumps at the non-striker's end in a flash." In a dramatic turnaround, West clinched a humdinger.

Captaincy, says Mankad, is a lot about man-management skills. "You should first win the players' trust."

He goes on, "If a captain has a problem with a particular cricketer, he can call him to the room. From the time he tells him, to the point where the concerned player enters the room, that is where the entire game starts."

Mankad provides further insight into the mind game. "The player is anxious. He does not expect what is coming. You treat him with kindness while making your point. His regard for you grows. Once this faith and confidence are developed, you can move mountains."

Then he remembers another incident. It is a big game. The Ranji Trophy quarterfinal (1975-76) between Bombay and Hyderabad at the Wankhede Stadium. Hyderabad, having gained the crucial first innings lead, needed to play out just over two sessions on the last day. Frustration was creeping into the Bombay ranks. Nothing seemed to happen in the few overs before lunch. "Leg-spinner Rakesh Tandon threw down the ball, saying Kaka (as Mankad was addressed) this ball feels like a batata vada (soft)."

Mankad's mind bagan to tick. "I could see anger in his eyes." There was nothing wrong with the ball. This was a classic situation where a cricketer needed to believe in himself.

During the lunch break Mankad thought of a strategy to motivate Tandon. "The plan was that immediately after the break, I would ask paceman Abdul Ismail to walk in to bowl. Then I would stop him and toss the ball to Tandon."

Mankad also made Tandon say, `This is the best ball I have bowled with.' Then events began to unfold in a magical fashion.

The ball, which Tandon had been so reluctant to bowl with, fetched him six wickets as formidable Hyderabad, line-up collapsed.

"Rakesh never bowled with a better ball," said Mankad with a smile. "There is no defeat in the power of positive thinking."

This was the same game where Mankad, who scored a brilliant hundred, went after the Hyderabad spinners forcing rival captain M. L. Jaisimha, an outstanding tactician himself, to go on the defensive. The medium pacers came on and this enabled Bombay set a target on the final day.

Mankad rates Tiger Pataudi high as an attacking captain. "I would call him a 50\50 captain. In the Madras Test of the mid-1970s when West Indies had such aggressive batsmen, he had a normal field setting with mid-off and mid-on. No men in the deep.

We won the match and I asked Pataudi about his methods. He replied `it is simple. If they hit they win, if they miss we win.'

The accomplished Bombay captain regards Chandu Borde as the finest defensive captain. "He had the game under tight reins, had control over the proceedings."

Predictably, Mike Brearley figures high in his list. "He understood the psychology of the players. He had studied the subject, was highly educated, and stood out in the team because of this. Bob Simpson, according to him, was a "thinking captain who was tactically and strategically sound."

Though he never captained India, Mankad has his rightful place as a worthy leader of men.