Milind Rege is indeed an all-rounder in true sense. From being a genuine all-rounder on the cricket field, to captaining Mumbai in First Class Cricket to holding a corporate job in Tata Steel to becoming a secretary of Tata Sports Club for more than two decades to being a Chairman of Selectors for Mumbai cricket, Milind Rege has given it everything for the betterment of Mumbai cricket and is a source of inspiration for the current as well as the aspiring generation of cricketers. In an exclusive interview with cricfit writer Meit Sampat, Milind Rege opens up about his long journey of being associated with cricket and regaled Meit with anecdotes of his career on and off the field.
Q: From being a cricketer to a selector, how will you describe your journey?
Milind: It is my passion for the game, my love for Mumbai cricket which keeps me going. I first played a cricket match for my school in the year 1965 and till 2017 I am still connected with Mumbai cricket. It should be some sought of a record I think. I do not expect anything in return. If there are expectations you tend to lose interest. For me Mumbai cricket has been my passion which has kept me going.
Milind: They are two different aspects completely. While you are playing the game, you do not think much about the game. If you want to contribute towards the welfare of the game you take up some administration position. I never wanted to be an office bearer. My interest wasto look after the betterment of the game and the development of cricketers. I have by God’s grace, the eye for spotting talent. People like Madhav Mantri and NarenTamhane saw something in me i.e. the ability I had to visualize what a player could do, how good he is. I was inducted into selection very early. At the age of 38 or 39 I was a Mumbai selector.
Q: As a cricketer you have played 52 First Class matches. You have also captained Mumbai in a few matches. Can you tell us something about your playing days.
Milind: Cricket was completely different when I played. There were not many figures added to our names. This was because we played a 3 day game, 70 overs in a day. So only 210 overs in the match unlike 360 overs which are played these days. We played 5 to 6 games in a year that too 70 overs a day. The Mumbai batting line up was so strong and powerful that one hardly got an opportunity to bat. I was a genuine all rounder. How could you have got an opportunity in a line up comprising of Gavaskar, Parkar, Wadekar, Sardesai, Mankad, Solakar and then me. There was no opportunity because Mumbai never lost. So Mumbai was never really tested. There was only once we lost a game that was one game in 16 years. When we played we played for enjoyment. Today cricket is like a career. People know how to play the game today. We played the game, we won, were happy and went home in the evening. We did not play for a career. We played cricket just for the fun of it.
Q: You had some health hazards at a young age, How did it affect your game?
Milind: I was an all rounder. At 25, I felt ill at the pink of my cricket career. I had a bypass surgery later. I had already played for 7 years for Mumbai until then. Then I did play for 2 more years as I was recuperating and it’s a record of sorts that I made a comeback to First Class cricket. But I stopped bowling completely as it was strenuous. But I came back to the Mumbai team as a specialist batsman. I was really determined to get back on the cricket field. Who in 1974 could ever think of making a comeback and playing. I was really determined. I played 10 years of cricket after that. That kept me happy. I was content in playing a secondary role in a team which had so many great players. But no regrets at all.
Q: Can you describe your long association with Tata Steel? When did you first join Tata Steel? Now that you have been a secretary of TCS for more than two decades, it must be like a second home for you now?
Milind: I joined Tata Steel in 1968 when I was only 18 years old. I was interviewed by Mr. JRD Tata at that point of time. Initially I had some queries regarding joining Tata Steel. I was studying in Xavier’s college and I did not want to give up my studies. I did not want to join morning college. Sunil Gavaskar and my parents insisted that we study first and give it a priority. For example when we played for India Schools First which is like an Under 19 tournament, Sunil and I did extremely well and at that point of time, I was almost going to captain the team to England. But Sunil and I were not allowed as we had our final exams. Players like Khirmani, Surender, and Mohinder got the chance. We were told that we could not skip an exam to play cricket and that cricket could come second.
Mr. Vasu Paranjpe and Mr. Naren Tamhane told me to join Tatas when I played for Dadar Union.
When I was interviewed by Mr. JRD Tata, he inquired how I would manage work considering my college and cricket. I told Mr. Tata that I was not interested in joining in that case and everyone was staring at me when I gave that reply to a personality like Mr. Tata. He then asked me what time would I report for work? I replied at 2 30 pm and would leave at 3 pm. He just stared back at me. The great man then asked me how many years would I continue working like this? I said for 3 years. Again everyone stared staring at me. Mr. Tata being a man of great vision told me to attend office from 2 30 pm to 3 pm in the cricket season and when there is no cricket season to attend office on time. That is how I got placed in Tatas. So for 6 months I used to come to office at 2:30 pm and the remaining six months at around 9 am.
I gave up cricket at 29 because there was no career in cricket and I was getting a very good opportunity to head the corporate communication department of Tata Steel and I had finished my eco stats from Xavier’s college. I had studied around one and a half years of management also. I was basically a first class student in school and college both and I would say that education helped me a lot. I really worked hard for Tata Steel and went up the ladder and in the mean while I wanted to give something back. That is why I was offered Secretarship of Tata Sports Club and was in charge for 20-25 years. I did a lot of time management. I went to work at around 8 am and worked till 7 730 pm for almost 30 years. My passion, my interest keeps me going. As long as I got an opportunity to do something for cricket, I do not expect anything in return. As long as I get an opportunity I am happy. At the age of 68, none of my colleagues or two generations after that are in picture. I am the only one who keeps coming again and again for selection.
Maybe it is a time to take a backseat now. Sometimes you know when you should stop. I think I have done reasonably well for Mumbai cricket by giving them good players as I have an eye for talent. Even in school I was a leader. Gavaskar and I were of the same age, because I was taller, I got the captaincy. I led clubs, company teams and so on. I was happy just doing things. I did not yean for any position. I have never begged to anyone to make me a national selector. I am known to be a bit tough.
Q: Mumbai had a good Ranji season when they were the runners up. Any cricketer who has impressed you in the Mumbai team? Shreyas Iyer and Shardul Thakur are making the headlines regularly? Anyone apart from them?
Milind: These days there is no one to take care of Mumbai cricketers. In the selection committee there must be someone to take care of your boys. Shardul, Shreyas, Siddhesh have won matches consistently but nobody looks at them. There is no Mumbai selector. When Dilip was there things were better. I am in no way saying to select someone just because he is from Mumbai. But for Shreyas who got around 1300 runs last season andaround 850 runs this season was told to be a failure. It is really unfair on him.
Mumbai does not have anyone to support its cricketers. Take the case of Aditya Tare. Since the last two seasons, he has been the most successful wicket keeper with most dismissals. Add to that 600-700 runs every season. He was not even in any team for the challenger trophy. He was not even a part of the India A tours. In the Challenger Trophy, Tare did not feature in the top 80 cricketers in the country which was a big surprise. Mumbai cricketers do not have a godfather. People say cricket is Mumbai is going down.
If cricket in Mumbai was so poor, Mumbai would not have reached two finals in two years and five finals in eight years. But who is to say all this? We have won Ranji 41 times and people talk about Mumbai cricket going down. The standard has not gone down. Just look at Siddhesh Lad. He is the cricketer who will win you matches. Not just someone who scores in a dead rubber. You must look to a player who contributes when your chips are down. Abhishek Nayar has also been exceptional. Mumbai’s bowling has to improve though. The coaching scheme needs an improvement. That is one area which is a great area of concern. The fact is that when all of them play together even the mediocre bowling looks good.
Q: How would you describe the change of cricket in the last decade or so especially with the introduction of IPL?
Milind: A young Indian cricketer has completely become fearless with T20s and the IPL. When I played my first Ranji match, there was a crowd of 35,000 at CCI and when I was fielding, Chandu Borde and Tiger Pataudi were batting. I felt I had no feet. I was so tensed. With the introduction of IPL, you rub shoulders with the top cricketers of the world. The game has become more difficult. The more I watch cricket on television, with DRS and all cricketers in my time would have scored 20% lesser runs and the bowlers would have got 25% more wickets because umpires give you out often these days. An Indian cricket has definitely become fearless due to IPL. Cricket is much difficult these days because you are watched by everyone, are constantly under scrutiny. Today the umpires do not hesitate in giving the big players out because they too are under scrutiny which was not the case in our days. Everything is absolutely top class in world cricket today. In our days apart from a couple of cricketers, no one could filed. There was no emphasis on fielding. And look at the fielding today. The game has certainly evolved. IPL has been a boon to Indian cricket.
Q: What is the reason that India has failed to produce a genuine all rounder after Kapil Dev?
Milind: These days cricketers just want to concentrate only on one area whether be it batting or bowling. There is so much cricket being played these days that I doubt India will ever have a cricketer like Kapil Dev again. He was a natural cricketer. People like Madan Lal, Gawri, Roger Binny supported him well. Even in world cricket you will hardly find genuine all rounders. Because with the amount of cricket being played, there is too much energy to be spent on both the aspects of the game which is difficult to manage.
Q: The current Indian team under Virat has played exceptional cricket over the last couple of years. How do you see the boys progressing overseas?
Milind: As long as our team plays on good wickets, it is a good team. We have good fast bowling, a good solid middle order. But we need to look at better openers. There are still a couple of glitches. But this Indian team will certainly do well. The entire attitude of this team is totally different. They are not afraid of anybody. Even while playing abroad, I am sure they will give it back to their counterparts. The greatest change in Indian cricket is that they do not defeat themselves. The players are strong, they will come back. The Indian youngster is not afraid of a foreigner anymore.
Milind Rege is ready for the rapid fire round:-
Batting or Bowling: Batting
Best friend when you were playing the game: Sunil Gavaskar
Hobbies apart from cricket: Reading. In my younger days I read every single book on cricket and every other book also. These days I read newspapers consistently say 4 to 5 daily.
If not a cricketer then: Nothing.
Any funny moment on the cricket field: When I was bowling for Dadar union, it was too hot and after 25 overs I told my captain Vasu Paranjpee that it is very hot. The skipper told his peon to come out with an umbrella. He gave me an umbrella and told me to bowl with the umbrella.
One word to describe Virat as a captain: Dynamic
Best captain for India till date: Sourav Ganguly. But I think a man who could have been a fantastic captain was Ravi Shastri. Unfortunately he led India in one Test only. He had great skills.
Message to youngsters who want to take up the game: Play the game hard, be honest to the game. Let it not be a means to an end. You play hard, enjoy it, whatever comes your way accept it.