There is bound to be a debate over who is India’s greatest cricketer. However, there should be no disagreement where the wicketkeeper is concerned — Syed Kirmani, now 53, stands head and shoulders above the rest. Testimony to that being his tally of 198 victims in 88 Test appearances. Additionally, he was a member of the Kapil Dev-led 1983 World Cup-winning XI. The affable Kirmani, who is in Calcutta on an invitation from the CAB, spoke to The Telegraph on Sunday evening.
The following are excerpts
On the essentials for a wicketkeeper
Being born with natural reflexes… That instinctive ability should flow in the blood… Of course, wicketkeepers can be made, but if they aren’t born to wear the big gloves, they won’t last at the highest level. Sooner, rather than later, they will be exposed. (After a pause) Besides being a natural, a wicketkeeper must be willing to learn — he has to have that attitude.
On his idol
I didn’t idolise Budhi Kunderan, but certainly looked up to him… In fact, I took to wicketkeeping by chance and, initially (at the age of six-seven), bricks were my gloves… I couldn’t use them for catches, but was definitely able to stop the balls in our locality matches. Later, when I was offered a pair of proper gloves (at St Joseph’s Indian High School, Bangalore), the fit was perfect and I took to them naturally. (Laughs) At t he same time, I didn’t stop playing marbles, spinning tops or flying kites. Main sab ke liye game tha. I guess I inherited my fondness for sport from my parents. My father was a fine hockey player, while my mother was a good shuttler. I do believe that 80 per cent of an individual is a reflection of his parents. The remaining 20 per cent is influenced by the environment.
On the turning point in the lead-up to his India selection (1971)
The Karnataka versus Mumbai (then Bombay) Ranji match in Mumbai (1969-70). I recall that was Kunderan’s last game and, in a wonderful gesture, he decided not to wear the big gloves. I clicked, both with the bat and behind the wickets, and came to be noticed by the selectors. It’s another matter that my debut was on hold till 1975-76. (After a pause) Here, I must place on record the encouragement received from coaches Keki Tarapore and Hemu Adhikari.
On his top five wicketkeepers
Alan Knott, Rodney Marsh and Bob Taylor will all be No.1. However, if I must place one ahead of the rest, it will be Taylor… That trio apart, I’ll pick Wasim Bari and Adam Gilchrist.
Technically very sound… Came the nearest to perfection till I saw Taylor. Copybook and effortless.
Despite being heavy on weight, he was so swift in his movements… So many years on, I still find that incredible.
When I first saw him, I realised he moved even better than Knott… Indeed, he would collect marvellously… The action was so smooth… For a wicketkeeper, nothing is more important than receiving the ball. He did so beautifully.
A wicketkeeper should be judged on how he stands up (to spinners)… Bari, in my opinion, was very good… He was just as adept at standing back.
The technique for collections has changed… I wouldn’t recommend it but, today, it’s done side-on instead of taking the ball in front of the body, right in the middle of the chest… People seem to forget that the chances of a miss are that much more with a side-on collection… Yet, that has become the fashion and Gilchrist isn’t found wanting.
On wicketkeepers not getting noticed as much as batsmen and bowlers
It’s a shame that a dropped catch gets more attention than an excellent dismissal… Equally, I’m disappointed with this business of ODIs encouraging the selection of a batsman who can double-up as wicketkeeper. (After a pause) We played an extra (seventh) batsman in the World Cup, at the expense of a specialist wicketkeeper, but did he have a contribution' Surely, if six can’t do the job, what will the seventh do' It’s not going to help if specialists aren’t backed to the hilt… Rahul Dravid is a wonderful batsman, but he’s no wicketkeeper… A wicketkeeper holds the most important position and is best placed to guide the captain and bowler. Actually, a wicketkeeper is ideally suited to coach… Look at the Australian Academy, they had (Rodney) Marsh and Wayne Phillips at the same time… I believe Brian Taber, another wicketkeeper, was there as well.
On whether, generally, preferring an ‘allrounder’ is the top reason why quality wicketkeepers are currently at a premium
Yes, that’s one solid explanation.
On Team India seeing a huge turnover of wicketkeepers ever since his forced departure (1985-86)
(Laughs again) The frequency has been quite like changing shirts in summer… Perhaps, I’m from the old school, but this treatment has been most disturbing. For God’s sake, only look at specialists.
Finally, his tips for aspiring wicketkeepers
Be honest, work hard and be humble. (After a pause) It’s a wicketkeeper’s job to make a bad throw look good. So, start working from there… Honestly, it’s a thankless job.