"Standing up to the Indian quartet was something"

FAROKH ENGINEER, a former India wicketkeeper-batsman feels that "the current Indian team has made all the countrymen proud on the basis of its performance in the last two years".

G. VISWANATH

FAROKH ENGINEER, a former India wicketkeeper-batsman feels that "the current Indian team has made all the countrymen proud on the basis of its performance in the last two years". He said "India has a good batting line up, a good pair of opening bowlers in Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra, a good wicketkeeper in Parthiv Patel and a fine captain in Sourav Ganguly".

"Virender Sehwag would have been all right as a wicketkeeper-batsman. I rate him quite high. He doesn't have the technique when the ball would do something. But I would always put him as an opening batsman because, if he gets going, he will rattle the opposition. He will make the new ball old very quickly. I would put him with someone who is more stable. In my time Sunil Gavaskar was the steadying factor. He used to run away from the slips saying he cannot concentrate while talking to me. He and Ajit Wadekar used to take turns.''

Engineer, 65, spoke to The Sportstar at the Cricket Club of India about wicketkeepers, his good knocks and a three hour dinner meeting with Sir Don Bradman. Excerpts:

Question: Your assessment of India's wicketkeepers now. After you, Syed Kirmani, Kiran More and Nayan Mongia had a long run.

Answer: I like Parthiv Patel from what I have seen. For one-day internationals I would stick with Rahul Dravid, unless India can find a better wicketkeeper than Dravid and one who can contribute with the bat, too. But do we have one? If we have, then that will be the ideal answer. If Kiri knows somebody who is a good batsman, capable of getting a quick 50 or 60 at No. 7 or 8 and who can keep wickets well, then he would pick him. I don't think that will affect the balance. I think it would strengthen the balance and not upset it. Until we find one, Dravid is the answer.

It's been a dream run for Patel. It all happened to him in one year — from under-19 to the national team...

That's always the case with wicketkeepers and fast bowlers. It happened to me. I was playing for all-India Universities, Ranji Trophy and Test cricket straightaway. The Universities' and the Bombay wicketkeeper was Naren Tamhane. I had to displace him. I was in the Indian team virtually, from the Indian Universities. So wicketkeepers and fast bowlers can come up very quickly and fade away just the same way. For Test cricket it has to be Parthiv Patel. I saw him in England last summer.

England somehow managed with Alec Stewart for a long time in both versions of the game.

I never really rated Alec Stewart as a great 'keeper. Standing back, he was all right, but standing up, I did not rate him much. His gathering was not at all confident. Standing back he showed good reflexes, he was supremely fit. Ninety per cent of England wicketkeepers stand back, they come up only when Ashley Giles or Robert Croft are in action.

England had Jack Russell who was a very good. In my opinion he should have been still playing Test cricket. He was a very fine batsman as well. He must have done something wrong to upset somebody. Warren Hegg from Lancashire is also a good wicketkeeper. Hegg had a disappointing experience with England.

Farokh Engineer remains as flamboyant as ever. — Pic. VIVEK BENDRE-

Stewart was fit and I don't think age should be a factor, if one is fit. He has been a very good opening batsman. His records against Pakistan, West Indies, Australia and against the best fast bowlers have been good. So as a batsman he walked into the team. He could also keep wickets and surely is a better wicketkeeper than Dravid.

Adam Gilchrist seems to have brought a new dimension to the already strong Australian side.

Why is it a new dimension? It happened in our case. I was a batsman-wicketkeeper. I thought I was reasonably on par with him as a batsman and I would like to think that I was far better a 'keeper. Gilly is a great advantage to the Australian side. He's one of the main strengths of the Australian team. He's one in a generation type, comes in at No. 7, scores quick match-winning hundreds and saves the match some times. Australia won't get another Adam Gilchrist for a long time.

He's a hard hitting batsman. Mine was exactly the same approach. If the first ball was short or loose, it had to go over the top. In one-day cricket we have these field restrictions. That's a tremendous advantage to the batsmen. When Clive Lloyd and I batted for Lancashire, there was hardly a fielder nearby. They were all on the boundary line. I think Adam Gilchrist is doing a fantastic job for Australia.

How would you distinguish between Rodney Marsh, Ian Healy and Gilchrist?

Marsh had a long run as Australia's wicketkeeper. He improved tremendously over the years. He did not start off as a great. His reflexes were very good and had Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson to keep to. I wish I had Kapil Dev in my time. Marsh got chances because of Lillee and Thomson. The more he got to keep for them he became better and better. Marsh finished off as a very fine wicketkeeper.

Ian Chappell and Greg Chappell were the captains during Marsh's time. They also contributed to his success.

Well, indeed. That brings us back to the point that there are wicketkeepers in the Indian selection committee. In my opinion wicketkeepers should also be captains because they are the best judges of what's happening. They see exactly what the bowlers are doing, what the pitch is doing and what the batsmen's strengths and weaknesses are. I would like to think, I did ninety per cent of the captaincy. There was a very close liaison between Pataudi, me and Wadekar. We did not talk, our eyes met and certain things were done.

What about Ian Healy? He was chosen as Australia's best wicketkeeper of the millennium ahead of Marsh?

Ian Healy was better than Rodney Marsh. I would still not put him in the world bracket. I would like to see these guys keep to Bishen, Prasanna, Chandra and Venkat, all in their prime. To stand up to these four was something. The ball was doing different things all the time, and in the heat of the afternoon, suddenly you got a stumping chance. Concentration had to be at its peak.

Healy has kept wickets to McGrath and Warne...

To keep to someone like Shane Warne, one needs expertise and experience, there are so many chances coming. There's a real opportunity to show one's skill against Warne. Marsh did not have great spinners to keep to. Warne is a phenomenon. He's class, the finest leg spinner there's ever been. I wish I kept wickets for him.

Whom would you pick as the best from the three?

I think Gilly would be the best any time because of his batting abilities. He is a good wicketkeeper also. Purely on wicketkeeping he would not necessarily be the best. They are all the same as wicketkeepers, all three, Marsh, Healy and Gilly. I would put Gilly ahead straightaway.

You were not there at Port-of-Spain in 1971, but back at the Oval.

That's a sore point. I was petrified with politics in Indian cricket those days. There were one or two in the Indian Board then who had to be given a kick up their backsides for ruining Indian cricket. I was picked for the World XI and Clive Lloyd who lived two streets away from me kept on joking with me saying, thank god, one less headache for me.

It was a ridiculous situation, I could not understand the logic. There were a few baffling selections before. I was the No. 1 wicketkeeper in the world in the eyes of Sir Frank Worrell, Sir Donald Bradman and Sir Len Hutton. These were the three icons who chose the World XI with Gary Sobers as captain. I was preferred to Allan Knott. He was my deputy, though I rated him high. But I was not in the Indian squad for the West Indies tour in 1971.

Once Hemu Adhikari who was the manager said: `Farokh, have a little rest'. That was a bloody joke. I was twiddling my thumbs when somebody else kept wickets. There were several selection blunders done then. These were done intentionally.

It's said that you got along well more with Pataudi than with Wadekar?

No, I got along well with both. People may have played the political card here and there, but I enjoyed my cricket immensely, whether it was under Tiger or Ajit. I was shouldering half or three quarters of the captaincy in any case. We had a very good understanding.

Each of the four spinners were different...

Chandra comes on top of the order for me because he turned a handicap into an asset. He had such a big heart. He used to talk a lot with me at the end of the overs. He was a very intelligent bowler. I cannot praise him enough. I saw the way he gripped the ball to start with. It was different every time. Then the way it left his hand, in the air and off the pitch. It's like a computerised split-second effect. It was interesting and fascinating to see him bowl and fox so many top batsmen.

Pras was a great off spinner. He bowled a beautiful floater and was better than Lance Gibbs. Bish was class. He made left-arm spin bowling look so easy. He had an easy bowling action, and I was really surprised that he was reported to the ICC for throwing. It's a joke. Venkat was a completely different bowler. He could have been very useful for one-day cricket because he used to push the ball through and was naggingly accurate. Pras used to buy his wickets with flight and guile. I had the privilege of keeping wickets to all the four. But I wish I had more of Ramakant Desais and Kapil Devs to keep wickets to.

You had great support from Wadekar, Abid, Venkat and finally Eknath at short leg?

To me Ekky was by far the best close-in fielder India has ever had. He was instrumental along with me for the spinners to get all the wickets and for making them what they are. It's like being a part of your own tool, having a good wicketkeeper and very good close in fielders. Ekky was the King of them all.

Any memories of the 109 you made against Hall, Griffith, Sobers and Gibbs at Madras in 1967.

I don't see many people getting 94 by lunch. That was an innings of a lifetime. No one goes out with the intention of doing it. It just happens. It's a great sight to hook someone like Hall for a six and drive him straight and through covers. It was a dream innings, I just find it as a blur still.

Another knock was the 89 against McKenzie, Renneberg, Connolly and Gleeson at the Adelaide Oval the same year?

I remember one thing about Adelaide when I was run out (for 19 in the second innings). I was taking my pads off in the dressing room. And in walked Sir Don Bradman. He gave me the biggest roasting of my life for wearing rubber soled shoes which he saw. The shoes were not well made in India and the spikes used to hurt. So I used to play a lot in rubbers. The Don objected to that and said: `No, you do not play with rubbers.' I was explaining to him this and that, but he wouldn't take anything for an answer. I was wrong and that's that. Who's to argue with Sir Don Bradman?

The Don asked me what I was going to do in the evening. I was nervous and said nothing. He picked me up at 7. 30 and it was all like a dream. He took me straight to his house and showed me old films on his batting. His wife cooked a vegetarian meal. I wanted a glass of beer and I got a glass of carrot juice. He dropped me back at 10 p.m. That was a fascinating evening of three hours with the Don. Probably he liked the way I approached the game and played it. He did not advise me, but wanted me to wear shoes with spikes.

From that year onwards we developed a close friendship and every year one of the first Christmas cards I used to receive was from Sir Don and Lady Bradman. I have kept those cards. He wrote such a fantastic article for my benefit brochure.

You were one of the first to play County cricket. Indians do not figure consistently in County cricket?

Indians are not considered internationally as top cricketers in the world. They prefer the Australians, West Indians and players from Pakistan. Indians have to be invited. Carl Hooper who replaced Harbhajan Singh at Lancs did extremely well and they were pretty pleased with him.

Once or twice Indian cricketers promised to play for a season or two and did not complete the full season. In olden days all the `Dadas' used to play in league cricket, but now league cricket has become a joke.

The Australians know there is money in County cricket. They show commitment and learn a lot. I advocated the policy of playing in County cricket. It was shot down into flames.

I think every aspiring Indian cricketer should have a stint in County cricket. You play in different conditions and are a far better cricketer at the end of the season.

I just don't know why the Indian cricketers are not invited to start with. Sobers and I were the original invitees for Lancashire. Sobers could not make it and I recommended a young man called Clive Hubert Lloyd. We were room mates for 12 years and we have some great stories about each other.

I will be Lancashire's future President, as I am presently one of its senior Vice Presidents.