Dravid is a role model

K. RAMESH BABU

Saad bin Jung has some interesting ideas and some of them are radical in nature. S. Dinakar catches up with the 51-year-old Saad, who made a great impression in the domestic circuit.

Saad Bin Jung has this reputation of being a skilful batsman on testing pitches. He had the heart and the mind to survive and conquer on treacherous tracks. Highly rated in the domestic circuit, Saad made an impression for Hyderabad and then Haryana (1978-1984) before devoting his life to pursue his other love — wildlife.

Cricket runs in his blood. After all, the immortal Iftekhar Ali Khan Pataudi is Saad's grandfather and the great Tiger Pataudi his uncle.

The 51-year-old Saad, considered a phenomenal talent at the university level but one who chose to move on to other things in life, has fond memories of Mansur Ali Khan (Tiger) Pataudi.

As Saad revealed, the late Tiger was a man of few words but whatever little he said oozed cricketing wisdom. He recollected, in a chat with Sportstar, how Tiger revived his career with an analytical mind that could identify chinks and find right solutions.

Remembered Saad, “Whilst I was at school, I had just bought a Gray Nicolls bat and, because of the difference in weight, was getting out caught at point. I went to every person who could spell cricket and they went into immense details about the grip, the rolling of the wrist, the position of the feet etc. It was an overdose of incorrect information.”

A frustrated Saad then turned to Tiger. “Finally, in desperation I called my uncle (Tiger) and all he said was ‘play the ball to covers.' That's all. I did exactly that and started getting my runs again. Without going into any details, he had asked me to play the square cut to covers and not to point thereby forcing me to play early thereby allowing the wrists to roll thereby making the shot look ridiculously easy.”

It was a simple answer to a complex problem. For Saad, it worked. He added, “That was his (Tiger's) class and understanding of the game. He never gave a lecture but spoke a line or maybe two if you were lucky. If you had any brains, you would take these two lines to bed everyday.

“He (Tiger) was amazing. I loved him without asking for anything in return. I miss him all the time.”

Talk about difficulties encountered by modern emerging Indian batsmen, who have learnt much of their cricket on patta wickets, and Saad has interesting suggestions. He stressed back-foot play and believed young cricketers should be made to play on matting wickets.

“Even when India had matting wickets, we were mainly producing front-footed players but they knew how to play off the back-foot and had to essay the square cut and the pull. There were few wickets fast or few bowlers quick enough to push you back, especially at the lower levels of the game,” said Saad.

He elaborated on the topic, “Instinct becomes technique and this front-footed play soon becomes a nasty habit. This is further enhanced with the inception of helmets. The batsmen are now completely unafraid to go forward and actually grow up playing off the front foot simply because there is nothing to push them back.” When the same batsmen play on tracks with bounce and seam movement abroad, they are caught out.”

Saad observed: “technique, unless given proper direction, is like water flowing along the easiest course before it gets dammed.” He said balancing between hard and bouncy tracks with good matting surfaces that would push the batsmen back was critical. “Dead matting tracks would suit no one,” he said.

The horizontal bat shot, he said, was a high-risk one that needed to be practised a lot more than a normal stroke in the ‘V.' “When you didn't have a helmet, the most played horizontal bat shot was the square cut against a truly quick bowler, after getting your eye in. This was because there was no risk of injury.”

Pointing out the difference in approaches during the pre-helmet era and contemporary times, Saad said, “There was a method to madness in the pre-helmet days unlike now where inept and improperly taught batsmen, believing they own the wicket, are climbing the ladder faster than they can absorb the changing needs of the game.” In other words, runs made on flatbeds count for little in terms of assessing potential.

Saad has some interesting ideas and some of them are radical in nature. For instance, he believes matting tracks with bounce and speed would benefit the youngster but only if the batsman is made to play on such wickets without a helmet.

His incisive mind came to the fore again when he said, “Great care needs to be taken when the cricketer is around 12 so that he doesn't become a bottom handed dominated player. If not, unless he is a Tendulkar or a Bradman, he lands up in deeper trouble than he can handle.”

Rahul Dravid, he said, was the ideal role model for young batsmen. “One should study how Rahul Dravid's cricket was formed. He is so good, both, off the back and the front foot and uses the perfect mix of the two hands to play superb cricket. I take the example of Rahul because he is easier to duplicate — for the bottom handed Sachin, a genius, is not a player whom one can or should copy.”

The BCCI, Saad opined, should focus on preparing pitches with character. Not surprisingly, he would not mind even if the surface favoured the bowlers. “Sadly, every time we produce a wicket with character, the Test ends in three days and the venue runs the risk of being banned. We have lost home advantage because of this ridiculousness. And once the Board produces wickets with character, both vicious turners and quick tracks, then we will have many batsmen coming through with overall well-grounded techniques,” said Saad.

Saad's progression from a domestic star to international cricket did not materialise with ill-health proving a roadblock. He bravely returned to first class cricket, though, and left his playing days behind when he still had much to offer. “After I fell ill and was hospitalised for two years, I played a year for Haryana, which was probably the best cricketing year that I have enjoyed. The dressing room was full of fun and pranks and it was a pleasure spending time with some wonderful and genuine people who were not trying to stab you in the back every time that you turned away. At my last game against Mumbai in the semi-finals of the Ranji Trophy, I called all my team-mates out and declared that this would be my last innings. I got a quick unbeaten half century in a few balls and walked out of the game on a personal high knowing that I could still play the game.”

Saad has subsequently devoted his existence to wildlife. “In 1986 after Sangeeta and I got married, we moved to Bandipur and dedicated our lives to the understanding of ‘ happiness'. And as the wilderness of India was our only other passion, we chose to spend the rest of our life amongst it. We lived for many years with the locals on the buffers of our forests and living our lives in these far flung and remote areas we had the opportunity to study the truly complex issues of conservation that have inflicted our nation since independence.”

Saad, indeed, is someone with a zest for life. Cricket or wildlife, his journey has been driven by rare passion.