Exclusive Interview: Ashwin has been underutilised as a Test batsman says Karsan Ghavri: The genuine medium pacer during the Indian spin quartet era, Karsan Ghavri, took time to go down memory lane and also express his opinion on present day cricket, Team India, IPL et al.
Our correspondent, Subramanian Krishnamurthi, caught up with Kadu Bhai as he was referred to by his team mates, for a one-on-one chat.
Excerpts from the interview:
- How is your health after the setback you had recently? Have you commenced your normal activities?
Oh I am fine. It all happened a couple of months ago. I am absolutely fine now and back to routine.
- You are the coach of West Zone U19 squad currently. Have you been able to spot a potential talent that could go to don the national colours any time soon?
See, identifying talent in U16 or U19 is a very lengthy process. It is slow and steady. There are a few good players, both batsmen and bowlers. They have to go through the grind. It may take six months, one year or even a little more to really zero on them.
- Going back to your playing days, you had been the genuine medium pacer in an era when Indian bowling was dominated by the spin quartet. Pacers bowl in tandem. But you had no support at the other end unless Kapil Dev emerged. How did you view the situation then?
We had a very good spin attack those days – Bedi, Prasanna, Chandrasekhar and Venkatraghvan. Medium pacers, like me, Abid Ali, Eknath Solkar were told that our job was to get the shine off the ball. We were told that we would get 2 or 3 overs to do this and in the process if would get a wicket or two that would be fine.
Moreover, we were not ‘express’ bowlers like Holding, Lillee, Thomson and to some extent Imran. We were medium pacers.
Once Bedi and Prasanna retired, Chandra was in and out of the team, Shivlal Yadav, Dilip Doshi joined the team.
I started my career with Pataudi. Later on Venkat was the captain for two World Cup editions in 1975 and 1979.
It was when Sunil Gavaskar took over as the regular captain the situation changed. He gave more opportunities to the pace bowlers. He believed in medium pace bowling and so we started getting more opportunities to bowl.
- Your playing days did not have the concept of Main Coach, a Bowling Coach, a Batting Coach, a Fielding Coach, video analysts, psycho-analysts etc. How did you manage to work on your fitness, rectify flaws in your actions, if any, and how did you manage to remain focussed on the game?
In our time we just had a Team Manager and a Media Manager. Team Manager was mostly involved in our travel arrangements, luggage management, a little bit of training, while the Media Manager would address the press since you cannot expect the players or the captain to be meeting the press always.
Everybody in the team knew their role once a certain standard has been reached. You don’t have to be told how to bowl, bat or field.
There was nothing called, planning or strategising those days. It was all what happened in the middle. There would be hardly any Team meeting.
On my joining the Indian team, I asked our skipper Pataudi about my role. He replied, “You just do what you want”.
Those words were enough for me to define my role.
- Taking you back in time to the sixth and final Test against Australia in the 1979-80 series played at the Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai, wherein your batting abilities came to the fore. You scored 86 useful runs and had a great partnership of 127 runs with Syed Kirmani. The partnership was a record at that point of time. What are your memories about that knock and how did you and Kirmani plan the innings?
See, as I said earlier, there was no planning or strategising. We just went out and played according to the situation. Planning and strategising was never there.
Yes it was a great partnership with Kirmani who went on to score a century. We just played according to the needs of the situation.
- You were part of the Indian squad for the first two World Cups in 1975 and 1979. At a time when ODIs were far and few, how did you find playing in the shorter version as compared to the Tests? Is it normally easy or difficult to adjust to the different formats?
In 1975 and 1979, none in the Indian team had any clue as to how to play the shorter version of the game. Few of the guys had played in England but, by and large, nobody had any idea of how to approach this format.
We went out and played as best as we could.
Even though we had won the World Cup in 1983, I came to know from some of my friends, since I was not part of the squad, that there was neither a strategy nor a plan even at that time.
It was the individual brilliance that helped us win the tournament.
Just before the final, I understand, there was a team meeting and when asked about the plan, Kapil had said, “Ab hum Final pahunch gayen hain, dil se khelna” (Now that we have reached the Final, play with your heart) and when a player asked ‘What should we do?”, he was told that the Team meeting was over.
- What is your take on the current Indian team that is touring West Indies? Given the fact that the opposition is not tough, would you expect them to do a white wash of the Windies?
Team India has really been doing good for the past 7 to 9 years. They are taking every step in the right direction and moving forward. They have a nice blend of players and will keep doing well. They will do exceedingly well in the current series.
- Ravichandran Ashwin started off as an opening batsman for Tamil Nadu and gradually developed into a world class off-spinner. However, he has also scored three Test centuries, including the one in Antigua now. Has Ashwin been underutilised as a batsman?
You cannot rule Ashwin out. He is a utility player and has to be looked after. He has to be given his position. He is an excellent bowler. Picking up 50 Test wickets in 9 matches is no mean thing.
He also has three Test centuries.
Yes in my opinion he may have been underutilised as a Test batsman.
- Ishant Sharma has been on the circuit for a long time now but has hardly made any impression or whatsoever. He came with a bang but then could not carry things too far. What is your opinion about him?
Well his time will come and he will deliver.
- There were the likes of Javagal Srinath, Venkatesh Prasad, Zaheer Khan who all had glorified Indian pace bowling after you and Kapil moved on. Post Zaheer, we have not seen many speedsters with consistency. Umesh Yadav, Mohammad Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Irfan Pathan have delivered in bits and pieces. Will India ever come up with a genuine speedster who would be consistent?
I have a lot of expectation on Bhuvneshwar. He swings the ball well and has an accurate line and a bouncer variety also. But somehow he is not doing well. It is necessary to bowl in different line and length in IPL and in ODIs and Tests.
Conditions in England, New Zealand etc suit him well. He has to pick up and perform to his potential.
- How do you view Ravindra Jadeja? Is he a Test material or someone suited only for the limited versions, be it the 50-over of 20-over? Should he have a regular place in the Test squad?
Well, Jadeja is a very useful player. But compared to his potential he has not delivered. He is more of a ‘limited version’ player than a Test player.
- Would Kumble who is known to be a strict disciplinarian, hard worker and a great motivator be successful in passing on these good qualities to the guys in the dressing room? Should he be given a longer run to establish his credentials?
Well, Kumble has taken up as the coach of the team. As I said earlier, Team India has been doing well for the past 7 to 9 years. They have done well under John Wright, Gary Kirsten and even under Duncan Fletcher.
Ravi Shastri managed them well post World Cup 2015. Team will do well and the support staff also would get the credit.
- BCCI is into a lot of problems with Justice Lodha Commission recommending sweeping changes. How do you think the things are going to work out in the days to come?
It is too early for me to offer any comment on this.
- Did ever the idea of participating in the operations of BCCI, cross your mind? If yes, what kind of role were you interested in?
Well, BCCI is important for us. We are nothing without BCCI. I would be interested in any kind of assignment related to the game, if given to me by the Board.
- Do you have an academy of your own? If not, do you have any idea of starting one? Cricket Academy has been the toast of most of the former cricketers and quite rightly so.
No I do not own any academy now. I am only working for BCCI. It is difficult to say anything about the future.
- What is your take on IPL? The games are more ‘batsmen-inclined’ with the bowlers getting clobbered all over the park. How can the bowlers develop and improve under such conditions?
IPL is a great entertainer. It throws out new talent every year. Spectators love it. Like Vidya Balan said, “Entertainment, Entertainment and Entertainment”. Players are also paid well.
Bowlers should take the risk and try to get the batsmen out. It is not all that easy for the batsmen too. They also take a lot of risk in scoring the runs.
Cricket over the years has always been ‘batsman friendly’. If a bowler takes 5 wickets in a game he is appreciated. But if a batsman scores a century, he is appreciated and remembered too for a very long time.
- Finally, what would you like to advice the youngsters who always dream of an IPL cap even before they grow a moustache?
My simple advice to the youngsters is, “Don’t look for IPL cap. Look for the State cap. Ultimately look forward to play for India. IPL is secondary”.