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‘I do think captaining was easier in the days gone by’

A big day for the iconicSunil Gavaskar
A Telegraph special

Calcutta: Former India captain Sunil Manohar Gavaskar, a living legend, spoke to The Telegraph (from Mumbai) on Tuesday afternoon, on the eve of getting the highest award from the Board of Control for Cricket in India, instituted in memory of the country’s first captain.

If anybody needs a reminder, Gavaskar, now 63, was the first to 10,000 runs in Test cricket and his record of 34 hundreds at the very highest level stood for years till Sachin Tendulkar got past him.

The following are excerpts from the one-on-one over the phone

Q Will Wednesday be just another day, or a special one?

A It’s going to be special... The Col. C.K. Nayudu Lifetime Achievement Award is the biggest in Indian cricket and it’s an honour to be getting it.

But should you have got the award earlier?

That’s not for me to judge. I’m happy to be getting it.

Is there somebody you’ll remember more than the others when you get the trophy, the citation and the cheque for Rs 25 lakh?

You’ve got to wait for the answer.

[One can expect Gavaskar to make a special mention of his late father, Manohar, the late M.L. Jaisimha (his hero), and teammates such as Dilip Sardesai and Eknath Solkar, who are also no more.]

Do you intend turning up in an India blazer and tie?

(Laughs) Haven’t decided... I do have some of my India blazers, but they’re at my parents’ house in Pune.

What made you the batsman you were? Talent, dedication, perhaps some luck...

A combination, really... More determination and dedication, perhaps... One can be talented, but the temperament must also be there.

Is temperament, then, the No.1 quality to possess?

Pretty much so. You may not be that talented, but if you have the temperament, then you could still make it. At the highest level, you need it.

On and off the field, you were supremely disciplined. Was it because of your upbringing?

The upbringing, yes... Then, the teams I played for had discipline as their centre point.

Is there a long list of don’ts for batsmen?

I’m not sure about the don’ts, but I was guided by the three D’s — discipline, determination, dedication. Whatever the field, not only cricket, you need all three to succeed.

Were there times when you’d be nervous?

I used to be most nervous on the eve of a series... It used to be a tough night... But being nervous does help one to concentrate better. So, you should be nervous (to a degree).

For all the big runs you scored, was there a bowler who made you work harder?

I respected all the bowlers, for each one of them tried to get me out... I can’t take one name.

What did 16 years of international cricket teach you? Did you grow as a person?

The exposure to different cultures widened my horizon... You pick up the good points... Even if it’s subconsciously, you try and add the good points to your way of life. The years of travelling definitely enriched my life.

You retired 25 years ago... What’s your assessment of the state of Indian cricket today?

It’s in better space... When I began in 1971, Indian cricket then was in better space than it was in 1947... It’s natural progression... Generally, the world is a better place as time moves on, for people learn from experience. Those who don’t, struggle.

Going forward, how can Indian cricket get better?

It’s not for one person to make a suggestion... You need several heads to sit down and chalk out a vision. Indian cricket, I’m sure, will go forward.

You’ve often made the point that the India cap must be earned. Has it come easy to a few in the past 25 years?

That’s subjective, you know... I may think it has come easy, but the player in question could have an X number of reasons for getting to play for India. So...

How important is it for a captain to also be a visionary — to look well ahead, not just at the very next Test or the next series?

Provided he’s appointed captain for a year or two.

Would you favour a long-term appointment?

Form and fitness permitting. The selectors have been retaining (Mahendra Singh) Dhoni season by season without a meeting being called specifically for that.

Do captains have a shelf life?

Depends on the stress they can take. It’s best if a captain gets the job after four-five years of international cricket. He could then be in that position for seven-eight years. For me, it’s not so much about a shelf life.

Can captaincy become a burden, affect the individual’s own performance?

Well, as captain, you become aware of the issues facing the other players and you’ve got to think about them as opposed to thinking only about your game. A captain’s focus gets wider.

It’s a learning process...

It is.

With so many in the support staff now, was it actually easier captaining in your time?

I do think it was easier in the days gone by... Today, with the head coach and the specialist coaches saying so many things, a captain may take decisions out of respect (for the coaches), rather than out of conviction.

You were the boss...

On the field, and I could be held accountable.

Should Dhoni’s load be lightened by giving the T20 captaincy to Virat Kohli?

Look, you have five people being paid substantially (at least Rs 60 lakh annually each) to take such decisions. It’s not for me to comment.

I suppose this ‘who is the greatest debate’ featuring you, Kapil Dev and Sachin will never end. But is it necessary?

It’s good for adda sessions... Good to have the debate there... But I know that the three of us respect each other and respect each other’s achievements. It wouldn’t matter who is placed where in the debate.

You have a massive following. How come you’ve never taken to politics?

Because to be a politician, you’ve got to have the experience from the grassroots level... Being a monitor or a head boy in school or having a position in college could give you an idea of what to expect... You can’t hope to be successful if you don’t have the experience. I don’t think you can just get into politics.

Weren’t you even a monitor?

(Laughs) Never, stayed far away from such positions.

The final one... Is there a regret?

Again, wait till Wednesday evening!