Missing the last step

“I do not know why I was not picked in the Indian Test team. May be the middle order was strong in those days and the selectors were afraid of innovations,” Amol Muzumdar tells J.R. Sridharan.

There is something similar to all these cricketers — Amol Muzumdar, Rajinder Singh Goel, P.V. Shivalkar and Bhaskar Pillai. These players (and many more) proved their mettle, time and again, by scoring truck-loads of runs and bagging bagful of wickets in first class cricket, yet they could not earn the coveted Test cap for various reasons.

When 38-year-old Amol Anil Muzumdar (10,214 runs in first class cricket at the time of writing) went on to become the player who made the highest number of appearances (125) in Ranji matches at Anantapur for Andhra against Services in a Group ‘C’ match — overhauling Haryana’s Rajinder Singh Goel’s record of 124 caps, his reactions were mixed.

Excerpts from an interview:

Question: Your feelings on the recent milestone...

Answer: Well, It has been a fulfilling journey and I have no regrets. This achievement is primarily owing to my 20 years of consistent performance — ups and downs notwithstanding. However, the toughest task was to play for Mumbai for 16 long years.

How do you reconcile yourself to the fact that you could not earn the Test cap despite your consistent performance in the domestic circuit?

I do not know. May be the middle order was strong in those days and the selectors were afraid of innovations. With players like Dravid, Azhar, Sourav, Kambli, Laxman and Sachin, it was a Herculean task to make the cut. But what bugs me most is that I was not considered even for the Indian camps. This will haunt me forever.

Many felt that you should have moved out of Mumbai to stake your claim (in Tests) from some other region…

I was born and brought up in Mumbai. Never had I thought of moving out of Mumbai to advance my career. I never gave a second thought to Test cricket and I kept playing for Mumbai for 16 years, including leading the team to a Ranji Trophy triumph.

When was the year that you felt you should have been blooded?

It was the 1996-1997 season. I performed exceptionally well in the quarters, semis and the final of the Ranji Trophy and also in the Irani Trophy. I scored big runs in all these important matches, but I was ignored.

What role has Sachin played in your life?

As a senior player he was always there for me. But unknowingly, he helped me in one issue. In an inter-school match, I was scoring a match in which Sachin scored more than 250 runs. I still remember how thrilled I was while watching the innings. After the match, I went home and pestered my parents to change my school to Sharadashran Vidyamandir School — Sachin’s alma mater, as I felt that the school had a good cricketing culture. Soon I made my debut for Mumbai under Ravi Shastri in 1993-1994.

When was the time you felt that enough was enough?

I think in early 2000, I felt out of sorts and decided to quit the game. With no reasons from any quarters reaching me for my exclusion from the Test squad, I wanted to quit cricket and do something else. During that time I left for England to play for a club for five months. I went there to fulfil my contractual obligation. There I met friends like John Newton (Durham) and Manish Patel (Leeds), who infused new thoughts and a new perspective in my life. I came back a new man and began playing cricket in a more positive frame of mind. After 16 years, I felt like moving from Mumbai, took up the assignment with Assam and helped bring it to the Elite Group.

What about the role of your family?

I owe a lot to my wife, father and my daughter Devinaa. They helped me cope with changes in cricket. My wife taught me that there was more to life and cricket than playing the game at the international level. They always felt that I should give my best shot irrespective of which team I was playing for.

Why, Mumbai, that produced many Test cricketers in the past, is not bringing forth as many players these days?

It is not true. We still have Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane making it to the top from the ranks. Cricket has grown in all parts of the country and small town boys are taking the game seriously. Even associations have become proactive when it comes to selections. But I still feel that cricket should grow stronger in the metros. That will help in the overall development of the game in the country.

You said that you have a special place for Vijayawada. Why?

It was in Vijayawada, I scored two centuries in two innings against Gujarat in the Cooch Behar final, thus cementing my place in the Ranji team.

What about your role in the media?

I do a talk show in the Neo Prime channel — Dial ‘C’ for cricket and I am in the commentary team of BCCI television.

Don’t you feel that the media failed to project the injustice meted out to players like you?

We had a vigilant media in those days but they were not as aggressive as they are at present. There were not many 24x7 channels in those days. The newspapers were always vocal about the partisan attitude of the selectors.

What is your next plan of action?

Presently, I am with the Andhra Cricket Association. My job is to give my best and make the team a force to reckon with and help the team in all aspects.

Your suggestions to youngsters who wish to play for the country…

Focus on the present and work hard. Believe in yourself, but paper-thin belief will lead you nowhere. Whatever comes, accept, and move ahead.