"Don't ignore education at any cost"

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

JAVAGAL SRINATH has remained an under-achiever, as he admits in this interview. He could have been a better bowler with some support from the other end and certainly an all-rounder had he concentrated on his batting, too. But he has made a tremendous impact on the game in India. The young fast bowlers in the country have role models in Kapil Dev and Srinath. The modest Karnataka fast bowler has never shirked responsibility and is always game to share his experience with the newcomers. To Srinath goes the credit of pushing the case of Zaheer Khan. A perfect team-man, he has now set a goal for himself - to try and contribute in a World Cup victory for a team which he rates very high. In this interview to The Sportstar, Srinath shares his views on different aspects of the game and his career.

-N.SRIDHARAN

Question: Was the decision to quit not taken in haste? And what about your return to international cricket within six months of retirement?

Answer: Nothing was done in haste. Not really. The retirement was a decision taken after much thought and the comeback also has not been a hasty decision. The two decisions were prompted entirely for different reasons. The decision to quit was taken in the interest of my cricket. I had said I wouldn't like to play Test cricket, but then I had made myself available for limited overs cricket. I thought I could contribute in the shorter version of the game more than I could in Test matches. And then it's very important to decide when to retire. You should go when you are still able to do well. You need to know when to quit. We generally tend to hang on needlessly.

What other reasons prompted your retirement?

I had also quit to leave the room for all those youngsters coming up. Why should I be blocking their places? And then there was so much of cricket being played. It was not easy for me to concentrate mentally and contribute physically. I mean giving hundred per cent. I am thirty-plus and it can get tough. I have always enjoyed my cricket and there was little sense in pushing myself to do something which I found a burden than a joy. I wanted someone to come and take over my job. The experience gained by Zaheer (Khan) was helping the team a lot and I was convinced it was the right time for me to leave the scene. I knew that for young pace bowlers England was the best place to go and see how they all fared. Zaheer was exceptionally good and I must say that he is the best thing to have happened to Indian cricket for a long time. The results have not come as they should have but someone like Zaheer is an asset.

Talking of Zaheer, you have had a hand in projecting him as a bowler with potential. What did you see in him to take up his cause?

Zaheer is a completely different bowler than anyone else in India. He has the best temperament for a fast bowler and he has this ability to take wickets on pitches in India. Half of my wickets have come in India and it's a wrong conception that fast bowlers can't succeed in India. It's a misnomer really. If you are prepared to work hard and bend your back you can succeed on pitches in India. As a fast bowler, you have to have the heart to bowl long spells and earn your wickets. The pitches may be flat but you have to find your ways to take wickets.

How can a bowler learn to take wickets in difficult conditions?

Experience. There is nothing to replace this important aspect of life. You learn so much from experience. And then the skills are quite a significant factor too. You develop skills over a period of time. The talent is inborn and yours and gradually you can convert the same into skills to help you grow as a cricketer. You can't think of doing well without skills. Once you combine skills and experience, it helps you a lot.

Can you identify some of the young talent in India whom you think can deliver in the next few years?

Hard to say who'll be the fringe players. To tell you honestly, I have been following domestic cricket with great interest, but then I haven't watched some of these young bowlers. There could be some fire in bowlers like Balaji and Ifran Pathan but then I'm basing my judgement from what I have heard about them. I haven't watched them well enough to sit in judgement. Ashish (Nehra) looks good if he keeps himself fit. The stock looks promising from what I hear from my colleagues who are regular on the domestic circuit.

Why are we not able to get fast bowlers?

The reasons lie at the grassroot level. It's important to have conditions and we must have them at the grassroot level. In India, batsmen get all the glory because they thrive in helpful conditions. A fast bowler would be decimated by an ordinary batsman because of the quality of pitches. That to me is the real reason for us not being able to groom fast bolwers. The tearaway types can come only if we provide them the conditions to encourage such efforts at an early age.

Efforts are being made now?

Well, things are changing, efforts are being made. The Board is taking a few positive steps in this direction but it'll take time. Take the cause of relaying some pitches. There was no reason to change the pitch at the Eden Gardens. Similarly, Mumbai and Chennai too haven't benefited from the new pitches. They have become worse because people have not done their job well. These can't be counted as encouraging signs.

How should a youngster plan his cricket?

You must look at a career of 10 years. I know it is tough with the amount of cricket being played today but then you have to look at it this way. You can be happy just playing the game but you should see how much and how best you can contribute. It doesn't help if players just come and go. There has to be some continuity. You have to provide the best of playing conditions for the domestic circuit and ensure that the cricketers feel secure. It is very important that your youngsters feel secure.

How can that security be ensured?

I'll tell every youngster wanting to become a cricketer not to ignore education. You might be the greatest cricketer but you have to be educated. Believe me, education helps you get an insight into cricket too. In my case, education was the priority. You may play top-class cricket for 10-12 years but what after that? What happens when you stop playing? You have to have a job and that can come only with education. Your prime time of life goes to cricket but the rest is to yourself and your family. There can be ups and downs. I know in cricket the monetary gains are more than in many others professions but that is only when you are at the top. Cricket is a high intensity career and it takes its toll ultimately. When you quit and with no education to back you, all your achievements on the field can become null and void if you have nothing to support you. The transition can be tough as I experienced recently. It's important to plan your career and please don't ignore education at any cost.

How did you go about it?

I planned my career well. I never ignored my education. And even now, if I'm not playing Test cricket I made myself available for one-day cricket. It was planning. I would not have felt bitter if I had not been considered for selection even though I had expressed my desire to play the World Cup. I did that because I felt I could contribute.

Then why did you return to Test cricket?

To tell you the truth it was mainly to share the burden with Zaheer. He had to be rested and then I had a responsibility to share my experience. These were the reasons for me to return to Test cricket. It was imperative that the bowlers stayed fit for the World Cup and Zaheer is our most important commodity. He is the strike bowler and has to be protected from overload.

What role do you see for yourself?

I'm a senior member and that allows me to share my experience and knowledge with the youngsters in the team. I think I'll always remember an underachiever. What I missed most was bowling with a good fast bowler. It would have been great to have bowled along with Venkatesh (Prasad) and Zaheer. Too many bowlers being tried did not really help and that shall remain my greatest regret - not getting to bowl with good bowlers. I didn't get to bowl much with Kapil (Dev) also. He was at the fag end of his career when I was trying to make my mark.

How can a bowler excel in international cricket?

You have to have the basic qualities to excel in international cricket. I can't speak for everyone but as far as I was concerned I always lay importance in working hard. A fast bowler has to keep learning. You have to be open to learn from anyone. That is the key. It's a question of time and depends on how fast you learn your lessons. You can draw confidence from people around you and this can be gained only if you get a long stint. Constant changes can never help any cause.

What is your role now?

I've a specific role to shoulder the responsibility and ease the burden on the young fast bowlers. It feels good to talk to the young bowlers who are ready to deliver. My job is to make sure the right things percolate to the fast bowlers. I must make sure they develop the right mindset to become matchwinners.

How do you do it?

I've my own ways of expressing myself. I've played for India long enough to understand the needs of a player and the expectations of the people. Today the youngsters are fast learners and all know their responsibilities. They work towards developing the power to take 20 wickets. I participate in all discussions with great interest. I've so much to contribute off the field too.

Don't you believe you could have developed into an all-rounder?

You have to have the desire to succeed. I used to bowl a lot. It would take away all my energy and then it would have been very tough to bat also. To bat well you have to have the energy and my job was mainly to bowl. I know I failed to deliver with the bat even though I had the potential to do it. More than my failure to bat well, my greatest regret shall always be not being able to win a series overseas.

How do you look at the present Indian team?

It's a fantastic team with lots of talent. It's coming to shape. It has won Tests overseas and has the potential to win a series outside the continent too.

What will you do once you finally retire from cricket?

I have not really started thinking about my new career after cricket. I have to have something to keep myself going. But it'll be nothing to do with cricket. If required, I may go back to help cricket in Karnataka but not as a full time job. No cricket academy or job as a coach for me. I may look at some contributions in the media if offers come but as of now I don't think I'll be involved with cricket in a big way after my retirement from the game.