`I still have a lot of fun out of the game'

"I watch a lot of cricket still and I am involved with Worcestershire. I usually run a box at Lord's. So I still have a lot of fun out of the game," said Tom Graveney, who, between 1951 and 1969, played 79 Tests and scored 4882 runs.

G. VISWANATH

"I watch a lot of cricket still and I am involved with Worcestershire. I usually run a box at Lord's. So I still have a lot of fun out of the game," said Tom Graveney, who, between 1951 and 1969, played 79 Tests and scored 4882 runs.

"Skills were more important than fitness in our playing days," says Tom Graveney. — Pic. VIVEK BENDRE-

The 76-year-old former England batsman was at the Cricket Club of India, after more than four decades. In a chat with The Sportstar he spoke about the Brabourne Stadium, Vinoo Mankad, Subhash Gupte and a lot more about his career.

Excerpts:

Question: You are at a place where you have scored a lot of runs.

Answer: I used to get it here (Brabourne Stadium). It's one of my happy hunting grounds. It's always nice to come back to India. It's such a fascinating country, which has produced world-class cricketers. Fortunately I played for a very long time, and I played a lot against India and in the sub-continent.

Your last big knock at the Brabourne was a 175 in the 1951 Test match.

Yes, I did that. Thereafter I came back with the Commonwealth side and I got a hundred in each innings. I got a 95 the next time I played here. Well, it's a beautiful wicket to bat. The ball did very little. You had to just hit through the line. And fortunately the Indian bowlers were in good form, they kept it to the middle of the bat! I batted for a pretty long time, almost eight and half hours because quite a number of players in our side had upset stomachs. So I was batting it out and trying to make sure we did not lose. In the end we got quite close to winning the Test, but Vinoo Mankad came in towards the end of the Indian second innings and made 41 runs and took his team to safety.

After your debut against South Africa, you played eight consecutive Tests against India, four in India and four in England.

The team which came to India in 1951-52 was not a strong one. None of the stars such as Len Hutton, Denis Compton, Bill Edrich, Alec Bedser, Trevor Bailey and Godfrey Evans was in the team. We had experienced players in Jack Robertson and Allan Watkins and the others were up and coming players. Of course Brian Statham and Derek Shackleton were there. We had quite a useful attack. In all fairness India was a better side then but we got away with 1-1.

It's (175) very early in my career. The match out here (Brabourne) was only my second Test match. I had played against South Africa in 1951 because Denis Compton dropped out with a knee injury. It was my chance to make it to the England side.

Well, the wickets in India were very good for batting. There were Sohoni (Ranga) and Shinde (Sadashiv), who operated with the new ball and there was Lala Amarnath. Well, he was not going to hurt anyone, but the spinners were all very good bowlers. Vinoo Mankad was an outstanding cricketer. The match he played at Lord's in 1952 was astonishing. He bowled nearly a hundred overs, took five wickets and made 72 and 184. It was one of the greatest all-round performances of all times.

You scored 175 in 1952 and then 151 at Lord's after 15 years against Bedi, Chandra and Prasanna.

They were fairly good bowlers. I think that knock of 151 was probably the best innings I ever played against India. It was a rain-affected pitch and the ball was taking pieces out of the pitch. Fortunately it was one of those good days for me. I still remember Basil D'Oliveira coming down the wicket and telling me, "Why don't you push off? You make me look like an idiot."

As a batsman one loves getting runs on good wickets. But the balance of how good you are depends on the runs you score on bad wickets. I got a hundred against Pakistan (before they became full members of the ICC) on an old coconut mat at the Karachi Gymkhana, which I thought was good. Fazal was a great bowler. With the ball bouncing and turning at his pace one needed luck and had to be in very good nick to get runs. I was 41 then.

But at that time we were not as fit as they are today. But we were fit for cricket and would last five days without pulling a muscle. Skills were more important than fitness. The fielders these days are absolutely outstanding in the outfield. I don't think the close catching is any better. But they are very quick around the outfield and don't drop too many in the outfield.

I had a chequered career in many ways. I played in 1951 and thereafter had two three-year gaps when I did not play at all. Coming back from Australia in 1959, I did not play until 1962, and when I came back from Australia in 1963 I did not play for another three years. I was lucky to get back into the side. When I returned to the side for the Test match against the West Indies, it was actually my 39th birthday. They had Hall, Griffith and Sobers.

I got three consecutive hundreds (1957, 1962 and 1966) at Trent Bridge. But it took nine years because I did not play in between. And I got two hundreds at the Oval in nine years. Between 1957 and 66 I did not play a Test match there. So I had a sort of up and down Test career.

You scored a lot of runs against India (805 in 11 Tests) and 943 (13 Tests) against Pakistan.

It's like horses for courses. I always scored runs against the West Indies (1532 runs in 19 Tests), when they had a pretty ferocious attack with Wes Hall, Charlie Griffith and Gary Sobers, who I think, is the greatest cricketer of all time. On the other hand, against Australia (1075 runs in 22 Tests), I did not do particularly well.

Ghulam Ahmed had some success against you.

He had everything, flight and spin. Unfortunately I did not play much against Subhash Gupte. He was an outstanding leg-spinner. The finger spinners in the sub-continent are a class above. Every team in England had a slow left-arm spinner, an off-spinner for rain affected pitches and quite a number of others had leg-spinners. One of the things that is prevalent in the modern game — certainly in England — is the absence of quality spinners. They all have disappeared now, which I don't think is good for the game. I think in England we are trying to standardise the pitches, instead of allowing the counties to do what they want, provided they are fair.

You talked about Mankad (Vinoo) and Gupte (Subhash). Bedi, Chandra and Pras were entirely different.

I did not play Vinoo on a turning wicket, except the Test match we won at Kanpur where Tattersall (Roy) and Hilton (Malcolm) got the wickets. The wicket had fallen apart. When you tapped it, it sounded hollow. Vinoo, I reckon, would have been a bit of a hand on a turning wicket. He bowled quicker than Bishan, who was all flight, guile and spin. There's nothing to choose between the three, but India has always produced spinners. Anil Kumble is a freak really, he bowls leg-spinners, but not too many turn from leg to off.

Your comments on the current England team.

I think they are trying to get better. It's strange we have so many injuries. They have the best possible preparation, but the quick bowlers, I think, are over-trained. The only way to get fit is to bowl in the nets. Keep bowling and not run around the ground. Bowling is not a natural thing to do, you have to do it in your own way. We stayed fit because we played practically every day for four and a half months. So we did not have to do this training. I would sort of liken it to the Grand National and the Derby. The Derby is a flat out race, you have got to be tuned so well. But for the Grand National, you got to have stamina and you have got to be able to last the pace. I think they are trained to run in the Derby, but in fact are running in the Grand National.