‘What a coach needs to teach are things like line and length’

RANJITH PERALAM

“The domestic game has improved greatly in India. We have excellent grounds and facilities now. In my time, some of the grounds were so bad, we were afraid to dive,” says Vivek Razdan in an interview to P. K. Ajith Kumar.

Sachin Tendulkar wasn’t the only young, exciting talent India took along on the tour of Pakistan in 1989. There were two pace bowlers as well — Salil Ankola and Vivek Razdan.

Ankola had built up a reputation as the fastest bowler in India and Razdan had graduated from the first batch of the MRF Pace Foundation in Chennai. While Ankola could not do much of note in that series, Razdan hit the deck and the headlines in the fourth Test in Sialkot, which would be remembered ever for how Tendulkar played first of his many, many gritty innings for India.

Spare a thought for Razdan, too. He took five wickets in the Pakistan first innings. That, strangely, turned out to be his last Test.

In an interview to Sportstar at the picturesque Wayanad Cricket Stadium, Krishnagiri (Kerala), Razdan, now a television commentator, spoke about seeing a 16-year-old Tendulkar’s sweat and blood — literally — in Sialkot, being part of the lost generation of pace bowlers of Indian cricket, the disappointment of being ignored by the selectors right after a dream spell, India’s current crop of pace bowlers and the advice they should not listen to, domestic cricket and how India’s biggest film star Shah Rukh Khan kept wickets to him for two years.

Excerpts:

Question: In Umesh Yadav, Varun Aaron and Mohammed Shami, India could now have an attack of really good pace.

Answer: It is great to see India fielding in the same match two bowlers who could bowl at 145 kph. And it feels nice watching them trouble the Australian batsmen in Australia with pace.

Umesh and Varun have got the real pace; it is after a long time that we are seeing two such bowlers. Yes, they could be a bit expensive, particularly Varun, but that shouldn’t be a reason to drop them. It is part of the package, and that is something they could improve upon. The point is, we don’t have many bowlers of their type.

I hope nobody asks these bowlers to reduce pace for the sake of control. That is the mistake some of our bowlers made and have had to pay the price. Munaf Patel had begun as one of our quickest bowlers and there was Irfan Pathan, who dropped his pace from 140-142 kph to 125 kph. Where are these bowlers now?

Very few bowlers could bowl really quick, while there are any number of bowlers who have good control, but at a lesser pace…

Precisely. The notion that you could improve your accuracy only after cutting down on pace is completely wrong. If it was true, how come Dale Steyn and Mitchell Johnson bowl with control at such express pace? And before them, there were legends such as Lillee, Jeff Thomson, Imran Khan, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis.

If you don’t have real pace to begin with, it is alright; you could reduce it further, for the sake of control, say you bring it down from 130 to 125, but not from 140 to 130.

"Dennis Lillee taught us many basic things about fast bowling. Earlier our coaches would ask us to bowl an out-swinger; they didn't show us how to, they relied on theory. But Lillee showed us that, because he had the practical experience," says Razdan.-R. RAGU

What a coach needs to teach are things like line and length. The length has to be different in India and Australia. The length for a Kookaburra ball should be different from the one for the SG ball. Bowling with the new ball is different from bowling with old ball. These are the areas a coach could help a bowler in.

If a coach asks you to reduce your pace in order to gain control, please tell him: “I will find a new coach.”

Talking of fast-bowling coaches, you had the opportunity to work with a legend, Dennis Lillee, at the MRF Pace Foundation, set up in 1987.

What Lillee did to Indian pace bowling was amazing. Till he came, Indian cricket was all about what Indian coaches taught.

Lillee taught us many basic things about fast bowling. Earlier our coaches would ask us to bowl an out-swinger; they didn’t show us how to, they relied on theory. But Lillee showed us that, because he had the practical experience.

Even now, when he has left, MRF got Glenn McGrath to take over. It is about getting the best in the business and getting the best out of them, from their vast experience of bowling fast in international cricket.

The MRF academy served as acatalyst for a spring of pace bowling in India. So many promising young bowlers emerged at that time. One recalls Prashant Vaidya, Subroto Banerjee, Abey Kuruvilla, Atul Wassan, Ashish Winston Ziaidi… maybe it was the lost generation of Indian pace bowlers, as most of you guys played only a few games — or never — for India.

A: Then there were also bowlers like Rajiv Seth and Jaspal Singh, who were both sharp and had the potential to be really good international bowlers. There was a steady stream of pace bowlers around the country, like Sanjeev Sharma, David Johnson, D. Ganesh, Samir Mehra, Harvinder Sodhi…I think we had around 16 or 17 pace bowlers and only one or two could have hoped to play for India, with senior men like Kapil Dev and Manoj Prabhakar around.

And those days, not much of international cricket was played, unlike today. Even to get into the North Zone team for the Duleep Trophy was difficult: Kapil, Manoj and Chetan Sharma were there, you know.

And it was tough to get into MRF too. You had some 200 bowlers from all over the country vying for some 12 slots. In the first batch, Subroto and Rajiv were there with me.

You were the first one from the MRF Pace Foundation to play for India, in Pakistan in 1989.

I hadn’t played Ranji Trophy when I was picked to play for India. The Chairman of selectors, Rajsigngh Dungarpur, used to visit the MRF academy and I guess he was impressed with me. I was selected for the Irani Trophy straight, along with Rajiv Seth.

In the Irani Trophy in Mumbai, I had a long spell in the first innings and I was picked for the Pakistan tour.

How do you remember your five-wicket haul in Sialkot, which would also be your last spell in Test cricket?

Batting first, we had made 324. It was a seaming wicket and I came on after Kapil and Manoj, who was such a team-man; he would share with other bowlers the secrets of swinging the ball, in which he was of course a master.

My first wicket was Shoaib Mohammad, who had been getting a lot of runs in the series. I cleaned him up; it was a good-length ball and he played the wrong line. Then I also clean bowled Rameez Raja. I got Salim Malik out with a bouncer, with Ravi Shastri catching his pull shot at mid-on. We bowled Pakistan out for 250.

It was a great Test series, all the four matches of which were drawn. Pakistan was a very strong side and was desperate to win against an Indian team that had quite a few youngsters.

Among them was this guy called Sachin Tendulkar…

I will never forget how he continued to bat even after he was hit by a bouncer from Waqar. Blood came out of his nose.

But he told us that he wanted to bat. After that I was convinced that he was no ordinary batsman. He was batting against an incredibly talented bowling attack, containing Wasim, Waqar, Imran and Abdul Qadir.

Still, he had exceeded the high expectations. It is his passion and single-minded dedication that made him achieve so much.

But you faded away after that dream spell…

I was picked for the New Zealand tour in 1990, but wasn’t played in Tests or even the One-day tri-series that also featured Australia. That hurt.

Then bowlers like Wassan and Sanjeev Sharma came along and I was forgotten.

As a commentator, you have been following a lot of domestic cricket.

The domestic game has improved greatly in India. We have excellent grounds and facilities now. In my time, some of the grounds were so bad, we were afraid to dive.

Were you always a pace bowler?

Yes, I always wanted to bowl fast, even as a young boy, at St. Columba’s School Delhi. Shah Rukh Khan was our wicketkeeper for a couple of years. And he was quite good. He was exceptional even then; he had won the award for the best student who excelled in academics and other fields such as sport.