Bowlers do not get their due credit: The yesteryear speedster, Madan Lal, has been travelling a lot. He also runs an academy of his own where he spends a lot of time in sharing his experience with the young minds.
Our correspondent, Subramanian Krishnamurthi, caught up with the legend to pick his brains and also to take him down memory lane to his playing days, his struggle, his ‘come back’, his memorable innings etc.
Opening up the discussion and speaking about his engagements, Madan says, “I have been travelling a lot. I am also involved in coaching the youngsters, I have my consultancy work, I am featuring in various television shows and I also play golf. All these activities keep me busy”.
Madan Lal enjoyed great success at First Class level, scoring 10,000+ runs and picking up 625 wickets. Due to his batting ability to score useful runs down the order, he was also nicknamed ‘Maddat Lal’ by his fans and followers.
Does he consider himself to be an all-rounder? “Well, yes”, says he. “I have been a bowling all-rounder, wthout a doubt”.
Such a wonderful domestic performance was rewarded with the call for national duty with Madan making his Test debut in 1974 against England at Manchester.
Going back in times to the 1981 home series against England, the First Test of which was played at the Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai, Madan picked up a single wicket in the first innings but went on to bag as many as 5 wickets in the second and helped India win the game. Kapil also took 5 wickets in the second innings. Did they bowl to a plan?
The yesteryear speedster says, “Me and Kapil just wanted to bowl in the right areas and keep trying. The plan is in your mind. You know you have to get wickets and you keep trying till you succeed”.
“We restricted the opposition to a very low score and helped India win the game”, he adds.
Madan’s batting skills came to the fore in the First Test against Pakistan played at KSCA Stadium, Bangalore, in the 1983 series. He batted at No 8 for 278 minutes and scored a valuable 74 runs. From a position of 85 runs for the loss of 6 wickets after Gavaskar fell, he and Roger Binny added 155 runs for the seventh wicket. Binny remained unbeaten on 83* runs.
Ask him about the planning, strategy between him and Binny, he says, “There was no specific plan as such. We went on playing the balls according to their merit. We did not want to throw away our wickets. We knew that if we play according to the merit of the ball, we would be able to score big, and that we did”.
Since making his Test debut, Madan Lal was a regular member of the Indian team till 1977-78 tour of Australia. Thereafter he was dropped and was not part of the team.
However, he came back into the squad against England in 1981-82. Ask him to explain this situation, Lal, without mincing words, says, “Well, getting dropped was because of my own fault. I had problems with the short-pitch balls and was unable to handle them properly. However, I went back to the domestic circuit, got the problem ironed out and made a comeback into the national team”.
From 63 Test innings in his career, the medium pacer had picked up 71 wickets and from 64 ODI innings he had picked up 73 wickets. What does he have to say about his performance?
Honest in accepting the fact that he should have performed much better, Madan says, “The numbers are definitely not attractive. Given my ability and potential, I should have done much better. The numbers should have been much better than what they are”.
He goes on to add, “Let us not forget the fact that those were the times when our spinners were ruling the roost and not many opportunities to bowl came our way”.
The focus shifted to the ICC prestigious tournament, The World Cup.
Madan Lal was the bowler who bowled the first ever ball in a World Cup encounter when he sent down the opening delivery to Denniss Amiss of England in the tournament opener on 7th June, 1975, at Lord’s.
He also ended the game picking up just 1 wicket in 12 overs and that wicket was of Denniss Amiss, but not before Amiss had scored a wonderful 137 runs. How did it feel bowling the very first ball in a new format and in a prestigious tournament?
Says he, “It was definitely a wonderful feeling, being part of a historical moment. Though I could not understand much in those days, but subsequently looking back, it really feels great”.
Focus moved on to 1983 World Cup, when India stunned the entire world by going on to win the Title, virtually from nowhere. Being left out for the 1979 edition, Madan made his way into the Indian dressing for 1983 edition.
In the match against Zimbabwe at Turnbridge Wells, he had scripted a 62-run partnership with Kapil Dev, when the team was in dire straits. How did he and Kapil plan the innings?
“Well, the idea was to hang around and not do anything silly. The team was in dire straits and Kapil was batting exceedingly well, taking the fight into the opposition camp. I just had to hang around and give company to him and take the score forward”.
In the same match Madan also took 3 crucial wickets and restricted the opposition 31 runs short of the target. How does he look back at that encounter?
“It was a very tough situation that we were in while batting. But somehow we could put up a respectable total, due to Kapil’s knock. We realised that we definitely had our chance if we could bowl well and win the game. We did well to restrict the opposition well short of target and won the match”, he recalls.
Caling his attention to the title clash with the then defending champions, West Indies, and wanting to know what did Kapil advice all in the team-meeting about the approach and strategy, Madan says, “There was no specific plan made in the meeting. Kapil said ‘we have reached the Final and we have nothing to lose’. There was no pressure on us and we all decided to just go out and enjoy the game”.
Madan took three crucial wickets – Desmond Haynes, Vivian Richards and Larry Gomes – and literally broke the back of the opposition. Thereafter they never recovered. How would Madan like to recall his bowling efforts and Kapil taking the catch of Richards, running backwards?
Says he, “It was good to rip through their battng after Balwinder Sandhu got the first wicket. I really bowled well and could put pressure on the opposition. It was a wonderful catch taken by Kapil, running bacwards, that put an end to Richards’ innings. We were all trying hard”.
Asked, at what point of time in the match did the team feel that they could win the clash, Lal said, “It was after Mohinder Amarnath sent back Michael Holding to the pavilion. You never know. One good partership could change the outcome of the game. Even the No 11 batsman could cause you trouble. So we waited till the last wicket fell”.
How did the team celebrate? Madan says “Not much of an impact immediately. We were happy to have won the Cup. It took some time for the facts to sink in and then the celebrations began”.
As the discussion progressed towards the period post retirement of the yesteryear cricketer, he had a lot to say about his coaching stint with UAE. He says, “I have been the coach of UAE for the 1996 World Cup. It was a wonderful experience and I had a great time. They qualified for the U19 World Cup when I coached them”.
Between Sept 1996 and Sept 1997 Madan was part of the BCCI Selection Committee. Ask him to describe his experience as a selector, he says, “It is really a tough job being a selector. You want to do justice to the responsibility given to you and at the same time you would not want to spoil anybody’s career. A lot of balancing act need to be done”.
“You have to be honest while selecting a player or while dropping him. It is really a tough job given by BCCI”, he adds.
Lal runs a cricket academy. Does he involve himself with the academy?
“I do”, he says. “There is a lot of expectations for these kids and their parents. The kids should have the necessary talent to make it to the top. It is not material whose academy a child attends. Nobody can assure a career to a child unless the kid has the potential and the talent”.
Reacting to the questions like does Madan Lal regret not having been able to play something like IPL? Is IPL really needed? Does he think the Test and ODI would eventually make way for T20s, the legendary cricketer of many summer says, “IPL is not a must. Players should target to play for their respective states and eventally for the national team. The pride to play for the country is above all. The youngsters should aim to play for the nation”.
Giving his opinion on the current Indian team, Madan says, “We have a healthy crop of fast bowlers in Ishant Sharma, Mohd Shami, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar. But generally bowlers get no credit. Lot of importance is given to the aspect of batting and bowlers do not get due credit”.
Rules in Ranji Trophy have undergone change in that the matches would be played at neutral venues so that there is no question of ‘home’ advantage to any team. Would this help in getting quality bowlers from the domestic circuit?
“We have to wait and see what happens. We need to see what kind of wickets are being prepared even at the neutral venues. Let the season start. We will wait and watch”, remarked Madan Lal.
Gujarat youngster, Jasprit Bumrah has shown a lot of promise. He was also not overawed by the situation while playing at the highest level. Madan says, “Bumrah should be playing in Tests, sooner than later. He exudes a lot of confidence. Only issue is that of injury, which he needs to take care”.
Referring to Virat Kohli’s taking over the reins in all formats of the game, Madan says, “Kohli should take over but that has to happen only after Dhoni retires. When to retire, is entirely upto Dhoni. He has been a great captain and has done really well. No point in rushing in Kohli. He is doing well leading the Test team”.
In March 2009, the cricketer tried to enter politics. The Congress Party fielded him for the bye-elections in Himachal Pradesh. Does he still have a political ambition?
“Oh no”, says he. “It was really a bad experience. I do not want to waste my hard earned money”.
Madan also made foray in acting. In April 2013 he appeared in a TV soap Hum Ne Li Hai Shapath. Was he serious in a career in acting?
He says, “Obviously not. It was a very small role and had to oblige a friend. I am definitely not keen in that sector”.
Ask him to advise the younsters, he says, “There is no short-cut to success. Be confident, believe in yourself and develop your skill. Be optimistic and stay focussed. Put in your hard work and keep trying. Success would reach you, sooner than later”.
So much words of wisdom from someone who has gone through the grind himself and also has reached the pinnacle by dint of sheer hard work and dedication.
The 65-year old veteran signed off with a smile.