Dilip Vengsarkar’s impact on Indian cricket has been significant. As a batter, he dominated the run charts in the 1970s and 80s, and was a part of some of India’s best moments in that era, including the 1983 World Cup. As BCCI’s chairman of selectors from 2006 to 2008, he reposed his faith in Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma, picking them for India honours when they were barely out of their teens.
The 66-year-old is known not to be afraid to call a spade a spade. He talks about his playing days and his tenure as selector, and weighs in on the future of Indian cricket.
For the full interview, visit Sportstar’s YouTube channel.
Two of the boys you picked as a selector — Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli — are leading batters today. Their performance graphs must have pleased you immensely.
A: I didn’t pick only two. I must have picked 25 and all of them are playing for India at the moment.
I am very happy that everybody has made progress. But talking about these two players, I think they have excelled immensely. They have been outstanding cricketers for the last 10-12 years.
Let’s talk about your career now. You made your debut when you were young. What was it playing in the pre-helmet days and facing the quickest of the fast bowlers?
There were no helmets in those days because they weren’t in vogue. Having said that, if you don’t have a helmet, you didn’t think about helmets.
Of course, West Indies, in 1976, had four or five fast bowlers playing at one time. Some of them were greats of the game. Australia had some great fast bowlers. England and Pakistan, too.
You mentioned the greatest fast bowlers of the West Indies. Now I will take you back to the Test match at Sabina Park, Kingston, in 1975-76. It was called a bloodbath. Just talk us through that Test match.
We won the third Test match. We could have won the second Test as well, but for umpiring mistakes.
In the third Test, we chased a 400-plus target, and in the fourth Test, we were at one point 180 for no loss, before [Clive] Lloyd started lining up his fast bowlers. Some of [our batters] got injured; the wicket was bouncy and quick. The ball would just land on the pitch and take off.
[Michael] Holding was the best. At that time, he was very young, and Andy Roberts was also there. He was also a great bowler. In the second innings, we were two or three players short because they were injured, and I opened the innings with Sunil [Gavaskar]. We declared at 95 for 5, because our spinners didn’t bat.
Bishan Singh Bedi declared the innings. He said it was unfair to play in this situation; [the bowlers] were bowling six bouncers from around the wicket. We couldn’t say anything to them. It was very unfortunate.
Compare the fast bowlers of 1975-1976 with the ones you played in 1982-83 in the West Indies.
In 1982-83, they were the same bowlers. Andy was around, Holding was at his peak at the time. And they had added many more fast bowlers by then. They had [Wayne] Daniel, and [Patrick] Patterson. And some others.
Must have been Colin Croft and Joel Garner.
Joel Garner was also around, yes.
Bernard Julien and Wanburn Holder. They must have made the line-up even better. Now, let’s talk about the 1977-78 Australia tour, that was a great series, wasn’t it? 0-2 down, then 2-2, and then chasing a humongous target of 495, India managed to get 445. That must have been a great chase.
Yes, that was a great chase. It was the Kerry Packer era. He had started his cricket there. But I really admired the Australian people. They came in huge numbers to watch Test cricket and very few people went to Kerry Packer’s night games. Kerry Packer had signed some of the greatest players of that era, so Australia was not at its best.
But then Jeff Thompson, Bob Simpson, Kim Hughes, and Graham Yallop were there. They played extremely well.
I felt we could win the [last Test in Adelaide], but we lost our way and they piled up a huge total. I think one or two of our spinners were injured, so the load came on to the other bowlers. Then we had to chase the massive target. We just fell short narrowly.
Let’s talk about Lord’s. What was it that brought the best out of you?
There are some grounds where you get good vibes, and for me, Lord’s was one of them. Everybody wants to play at Lord’s. And I was no exception. I scored three hundreds there. The atmosphere was electrifying.
The 1983 World Cup final victory there was the greatest day in Indian cricket. But on a personal level, it was a disappointment for you as you didn’t play the final, and that, too, at Lord’s.
Yes, of course, because it was a huge occasion. Though I was fit for the final, other players played well. India played the same team that played the semifinal against England and everybody was in good form. So, of course, there was no question of me getting into the final.
Your purple patch lasted from 1986 to 1988. Did you do anything differently during those two years?
Not really. I had matured as a batter and I was hungrier then. I had to score runs to win matches for India. Batters peak when they are 26-27. That lasts for five-six years. And if you’re fit enough, you can go on playing. If you’re not fit enough, you can quit at age 35 or 36. That’s what I did.
And then came the unfortunate injury in the home series in 1988 against the West Indies.
Yes, and that was at the Eden Gardens. Winston Davis really bent his [back]. He fractured my hand and I couldn’t play for at least four months.
Am I right in saying that the Vengsarkar who was majestic until then was not the same after the injury?
You can say that in hindsight.
Your tenure as captain: what do you attribute it to — wrong time or tough series?
I captained almost 10 Test matches. Out of those 10 Test matches, seven were against the West Indies. The West Indies at that time was the best team in the world, and had thrashed Australia 5-0 at home. They were invincible for those 15-16 years.
I led the side, and in 1988-89, we had a lot of youngsters in the Indian team. They played very well for India later on. But the West Indies was too good for us.
As an individual, you are always one who had to say what he felt. You couldn’t hold anything back. Do you think you should have been more diplomatic or are you happy with how you were?
I can’t be diplomatic; my nature is such. I must speak my mind.
Everybody knows about Dilip Vengsarkar the batter. Personally, I felt that your contribution as the chairman of the Talent Research Development Wing committee was also phenomenal. How could you see so much of cricket after playing the game for so many years?
I love watching cricket. I’m talking about U-14, U-16, and U-19 cricket. I started my cricket academy in 1995. I saw a lot of good youngsters who played for the Mumbai and India A teams, and for Team India.
But hats off to Jagmohan Dalmiya. He was the one who started this project. I had a great team under me. That helped me become the chairman of the selection committee because I had watched all those boys in that era. It was easier for me to pick them because I knew about their skills, their mental toughness, and match-winning abilities.
The selector’s job was not a walk in the park, was it?
No, I loved it, I enjoyed it. When I retired, I became the selector of Mumbai. Dalmiya asked me — can you take over the India selection committee as well? I said without zonal selectors it is not possible to be the chief of the selection committee. Then I said I was not interested. After two years, he again asked me and said, ‘Dilip change your mind. You change this zonal system, I will be there with you.’
You saw Virat get a hundred in the ‘A’ series in Australia. You felt he was ready. What is it that selectors need to see when they pick a youngster?
It is basically the vision of a selector. What I admired about him is that when he was asked to open the innings, he said ‘Okay, I will open the innings’. We were chasing around 270 runs against New Zealand which had a good attack.
They were all under 23 and we wanted them. Virat played so brilliantly. After scoring a hundred, he made sure that India won the match. He was 123 not out in that innings. I was seeing him from the U-16 days. Then he played U-19 and then India senior.
You said that you enjoyed the role of a selector. Did you feel the same as an administrator?
I loved administration as well. I was there for 10 years, and this was an honorary job. I wouldn’t have been there had I not enjoyed it.
You’ve played through three decades – 1970s, 80s and 90s. After that you’ve been involved in various roles. What are the big changes you see in cricket in terms of the game?
From the early 1990s, money started coming into the game. Emergence of the T20 format changed cricket all over the world. The players’ mindset changed immensely. They want to get into the IPL – there’s so much money in the game. But I always tell the boys: if you’re good enough to play Test cricket, you can play any format of the game. But if you’re good only in T20s, you may not be good in Test cricket, which is the ultimate form of the game.
Because of your ability to attack, you were given the nickname of Colonel. Do you like that name?
To be honest, nobody calls me Colonel except for the press. Have you ever heard anybody calling me Colonel?
No, I have not heard. I was under the impression that they realised you didn’t like the name ...
It didn’t make any difference to me. When I met the real Colonel at the airport or railway station they asked me, ‘Had you been in the Army?’ I said I am not the real Army Colonel.
The T20 World Cup team has been announced. Are you happy with the side or would you have picked a different side as a chairman of selectors?
There is no out-of-the-box thinking. I would have picked Umran Malik because of his speed. He is a guy who is bowling 150kmph; you’ve got to pick him now, you can’t pick him when he becomes a 130kmph bowler.
In Dubai, where the wicket was flat and grassless, where there was no bounce, you needed fast bowlers. If you had medium pacers, you would be tonked around. You needed fast bowlers who could beat the batters in pace.
Shreyas Iyer is in good form and he missed out. Mohammed Shami and Shubman Gill should also be on the team. I am impressed with Gill.
How do you see the future of Indian cricket?
Tremendous! I am extremely positive about it because the BCCI is giving grants to all the State associations. And through IPL, they are earning from television rights. Associations are building grounds and infrastructure. Because of this, many players are coming from smaller cities now because the game has spread everywhere. So, it is a good sign.
Carry on Colonel, you are doing a great job, and does Dilip Vengsarkar have his eyes on the top post of Indian cricket, the BCCI president’s post?
I would love to, but then there is too much politics involved in that. I can’t go and stoop to anybody for that matter to get a post. If I am offered the job, I am ready for it. I will do a much better job than many others.