Dilip Vengsarkar: I want to see more bench strength in Team India

“We have a great junior structure and have to groom them well at the NCA (National Cricket Academy),” says the former India captain.

“My hands are full. I have to look after my three academies. I have finished 10 years at the MCA (Mumbai Cricket Association). If I get a good opening somewhere I would love to share my experience to spot talent. I am also a grandfather now,” says former India chief selector Dilip Vengsarkar.   -  Thulasi Kakkat

Dilip Vengsarkar was one of the most stylish batsmen in Indian cricket. He arrived with a bang in 1975 with a breathtaking attack on E. A. S. Prasanna and Bishan Singh Bedi in the Irani Cup match in Nagpur.

As a teenager, he had made a huge impact with that lone knock and established himself as a premier batsman in later years.

Three centuries at Lord’s was a special feat for Vengsarkar, who also served as an administrator and national selector after retirement in 1992 at the age of 36. He spoke to Sportstar on various aspects of his career.

Your early years in cricket…

It happened a long time back. I used to play in Hindu Colony, Dadar. There used to be only one sport and that was cricket. I went to King’s George XI School, which encouraged the sport.

My school produced maximum Test cricketers. I played for my school (1969-1972) and captained Bombay Schools also. I scored a lot of runs for them.

What about your college cricket?

I played for Podar College, University (1975). I could not get into the Bombay team’s playing XI since we had a star-studded team comprising Sunil Gavaskar, Ashok Mankad, Eknath Solkar, Karsan Ghavri, Ramnath Parkar and Sudhir Naik, all stalwarts.

For the entire season I kept the score with the scorers.

The Irani Cup of 1975 was very special for you...

It used to be the curtain-raiser. We were playing in Nagpur. Solkar got injured just before the match and I got an opportunity. I got a hundred (110 with 11 fours and seven sixes).

Was the Irani Cup only your second first-class match?

To be honest, I was playing for Dadar Union from the age of 15, with and against some of the stalwarts of the game. I was not nervous at all. In fact, I was happy that I got the opportunity and I was confident of doing well. You have to grab these opportunities.

Vengsarkar giving tips to young cricketers. The former India captain feels there is a lot of talent at the junior level.   -  PTI

 

How helpful was that Irani Cup performance?

On the basis of that innings, I was picked to play against Sri Lanka, got into the (unofficial) Test, scored one and was dropped. But I went to New Zealand (83 runs in three Tests).

I remember reading that Clive Lloyd hailed you as the best batsman against fast bowling (in 1976) even though you had not scored big…

The 1976 tour to the West Indies was not very successful for me (60 in two Tests). The last Test was in Jamaica and our players suffered injuries in that match. Gavaskar and (Aunshuman) Gaekwad had a long partnership and Lloyd adopted aggressive tactics by asking Holding to bowl around the wicket. He injured the batsmen. Gaekwad was hit. (GR) Viswanath and (Brijesh) Patel were hit. I stood up. Maybe Lloyd was impressed by the way I faced Holding. He was really quick and bowling short. The ball was taking off from the ridge. In the second innings, I had to open.

Did you have the mindset of an opener?

I was happy at No. 3 or 4. To start with I used to keep wickets but I had to give up because I was too tall for a wicketkeeper. I did not mind opening the innings. I did open in Australia in 1977-78 when a short ball from Thomson saw me getting hit wicket. We did not have a solid player to take on the second new ball and that’s why I came down at No. 5.

Dilip Vengsarkar has three centuries at Lord’s... an enviable record.   -  THE HINDU photo library

 

What is important when facing fast bowlers — strong heart or sound technique?

Both. You need to have the guts; skills are also important. Without skills, having a strong heart doesn’t help. You need to have both. I have seen very good players at first-class but they could not face the short ball at international level. They lacked the will, guts and the heart.

What is important for an opener? Playing the ball or leaving it?

Again, both. But you also have to score runs. One can’t be leaving the ball all the time. In West Indies, you are up against four fast howlers. You can’t say see off one bowler because they keep coming at you. You have to score runs as well.

Do you feel lonely when standing up to sheer pace? What do you tell yourself?

Look for runs. Play square of the wicket. You can’t drive unless they bowl a loose ball. They are too quick. Pull or flick off the hip was possible. When they pitched it up, I would push it for one or two.

When do you get the feeling of batting well?

It takes time to adjust to the pace and bounce. When we played, the bounce was immense. Pitches have now gone slow over the years. In England and New Zealand, the ball would seam and swing. New Zealand was very grassy and extremely cold. The ball would seam off the pitch the whole day. It was tough batting in New Zealand those days.

Vengsarkar with Kapil Dev. “He (Kapil) was the best all-rounder of the world in the 1980s and the best cricketer India has ever produced. The way he batted, fielded, used his body so well. Never said no to anything. Even at the fag end of the day he was ready to bowl,” he says.   -  THE HINDU photo library

 

For the umpteenth time, your experience of Lord’s…

I toured England for the first time in 1979. I had made runs in Australia and Pakistan but everyone said unless you scored in England you won’t be rated as a good batsman. Lord’s had a tradition, an aura, history. I had heard so much about Lord’s. Everyone wants to do well at Lord’s and I was lucky I scored a hundred in my first outing itself. I saved the match in the company of Viswanath.

Do you remember your partnership with Maninder Singh…

That was my third century at Lord’s (in 1986). Before that we had toured Sri Lanka (1985) and I was left stranded in the first Test when Maninder got out at the other end. I was batting on 60-odd when he joined me. We had to save the Test. I was on 98 and he was bowled playing across the line. I reminded him of that Test (in Colombo). I was on 95 this time and told him to just play straight. Which he did! It was a crucial innings.

How would you rate the three centuries?

The first was crucial for my career. I could establish myself. The last one was important because we had not won a Test at Lord’s and I was happy to contribute to that win. That should be the attitude, to win matches for the team because team comes first. I was glad I scored a hundred and contributed to the win.

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How did you develop your style?

Style is inborn. You don’t acquire style. It’s there, whether you like it or not. At the highest level you don’t get many opportunities. Once you get it, grab and score runs. As you grow as an international player you learn about the pitches and adapt to the conditions and all that adds to your growth. It’s a process for you to grow with.

How did you make your shot selection?

My funda was simple. Play according to the conditions. Everybody has certain skills. What matters is how you adapt quickly. I never had any pre-determined ideas about how to play on those pitches. I just went there and played my game. I always used to play the ball on its merit. The idea was to score runs and that was the bottom line.

How would you guide your partner?

You have to observe the bowlers, the atmosphere, ball may move, bounce a lot, and you have to adapt.

Did you pick and choose your shots?

In England it is so different. You have to play side on. The ball moves a lot. You can’t play big drives, the danger of getting an edge is more. It is always important to play close to the body and drive carefully. Watch closely for the first half an hour. You can’t play as freely as you play in India.

Why don’t Indian batsmen execute the pull and hook as well as they do the cut?

Depends on the pace in the pitch. You can’t play hook or pull against the likes of Holding when they are in full swing. They are too quick. These are important shots and every player must be able to play these shots. If the bounce is less and the pace is slow then obviously these shots are best avoided.

Virat Kohli and Mahendra Singh Dhoni share a light moment during a training session. Vengsarkar had backed the two players early in their careers.   -  AFP

 

Can you remember two great spells you faced?

One of the fastest spells I had faced was in Jamaica in 1976 against Holding. Then Thomson in 1977 in Australia and Imran Khan in 1982 in Pakistan.

You also have four hundreds at Kotla...

I enjoyed playing there. It has a beautiful pitch and we always played in winter. I love Delhi. Also for Bombay I did well at Kotla. North v West in Duleep Trophy too. Playing at Kotla was always special. Old ground, good pitch, the atmosphere was superb.

Kapil Dev always valued your wicket. How did you rate him?

We first played against each other in the CK Nayudu tournament in Bombay (in 1974). I have seen his rise as a player. He developed himself as an all-rounder. He was the best all-rounder of the world in the 1980s and the best cricketer India has ever produced. The way he batted, fielded, used his body so well. Never said no to anything. Even at the fag end of the day he was ready to bowl. Inspiring figure for everyone.

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You played one of your finest knocks on a minefield in Cuttack against Sri Lanka in 1987 but you did not win the man of the match award for that classic knock...

That was one of the most difficult pitches I have ever seen. The ball used to squat. I never thought much about the pitch. I approached as if there was nothing in the pitch. I scored 166. At Headingley, I had scored in English conditions — damp pitch, ball moving around alarmingly. I had to graft for runs (61 and 102 not out in 1986).

How do you rate the skills of current Indian batsmen?

Depends on where you are playing and against who you are playing. We have had some great batsmen. Fantastic to play alongside them. Watching them from close quarters and learning from them.

What impresses you about today’s cricketers?

Fitness is great today. We did not concentrate on fitness. Now with T20 they have to be fit. I like their free flow of the bat. They think about cricket all the time. There is more discipline. Dedication to their art is simply amazing. We found the fitness levels of Australians, West Indians, English far ahead of the rest. But today the Indians are as good as any.

Didn’t you retire early (in 1992)?

In hindsight I could have played more but I was left with no motivation. I was dropped from the ODI team. I could have played more Tests but it was important to play in both the formats.

Indian cricketers undergoing a fitness training at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru. “Fitness is great today. We did not concentrate on fitness during our time. We found the fitness levels of Australians, West Indians, English far ahead of the rest. But today the Indians are as good as any.”   -  The Hindu Photo Library

 

Why did you not take up coaching?

I never thought about coaching. I would have loved though. I went with under-19 teams which had Irfan Pathan, Parthiv Patel, R. P. Singh, Robin Uthappa, Shikhar Dhawan, Ambati Rayudu and Suresh Raina. I enjoyed that stint but never thought more about it. I was keen on setting up academies (two in Mumbai and one in Pune). I have produced first-class cricketers and some for IPL too. Gave them good competition and infrastructure. I have enjoyed doing it.

You backed M. S. Dhoni and Virat Kohli early in their careers. What convinced you about these two players?

I always look at how a player faces a tough situation. These two were very good. Mental toughness is very important. Skill levels can almost be the same but attitude and mental toughness is what impressed me. How they adapted. I was fair as a selector. I always backed the best and never bothered about where the player came from. Intention should be to pick the best.

Your views on players becoming administrators...

If you are an ex-cricketer you can take cricketing decisions. It helps no doubt. More often than not you take the right decisions.

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Pressure from administrators...

No pressure at all. No one told me to pick or drop anyone. We had the freedom. The BCCI wanted me. I did not like the zonal representation system. I enjoyed the stint. When I started, India was fifth in the world list. I was appointed for two years. When I was removed, India was number one in all formats of the game. We did well overseas.

How do you assess the state of Indian cricket today?

The team is formidable and is doing well. I want to see more bench strength. That comes from NCA (National Cricket Academy) and I am hopeful of that. We have a great junior structure and have to groom them well at the NCA.

Do you think the first-class structure is getting due importance?

There are a lot of matches for India ‘A’ and under-19 teams but you have to give importance to first-class cricket. You can’t have these tours for India ‘A’ and India under-19 when your first-class season is on. Juniors can improve only when they play against senior players. No point having these tours aimlessly at the cost of first-class cricket. It is good when an 18-year-old plays against a 30-year-old. You learn work ethics quickly from senior players.

How do you spend your time these days?

My hands are full. I have to look after my three acadamies. I have finished 10 years at the MCA (Mumbai Cricket Association). If I get a good opening somewhere I would love to share my experience to spot talent. I am also a grandfather now. Busy with Nirvan (grandson). My daughter (Pallavi) is in Hong Kong and I am looking forward to seeing them soon.