What will a Mumbaikar not do to lay his hands on a Mumbai cap? People in the maximum city run from pillar to post, face years of gruelling competition in club cricket before they are conferred with a chance to don the ‘Lion Crest’ and represent the most decorated team in the history of Indian domestic cricket.
ShishirShantaramHattangadi has a different story though. A representative of the star-spangled Mumbai team from the 80s (a period during which they bagged two Ranji titles), Hattangadi burst onto the scene by cracking an unbeaten triple hundred in the inter-collegiate final at the Wankhede Stadium. He was soon rewarded with a call-up to the state side at the tender age of 19 and the following decade saw him cementing his place at the top of the order alongside Sunil ManoharGavaskar. An alumnus of Podar College and one of the best players of swing of his generation, the right-handed batsman featured in 60 First Class games and amassed 3,772 runs at a healthy average of 43.78 with 10 centuries and 21 fifties.His affair with the Lion crest could have lasted longer had he not given up with his cricketing career at the age of 29; an age at which a batsman is believed to be in his prime.
But the erstwhile teammate of Gavaskar, DilipVengsarkar and Ashok Mankad is made of different stuff. In 1992, he bid adieu to the game having stopped enjoying it. In the realms of Indian cricket in general and Bombay cricket in particular, such things happen once in a blue moon or never occur at all. But Hattangadi was not one to extend his career lackadaisically. In spite of putting in impressive performances for Mumbai season after season, he never received a chance to play for the West Zone. Reflecting on his rejection from the West Zone side 24 years since his retirement, the 55-year old nonchalantly says that it’s all part and parcel of life. Hattangadithough hasn’t ruptured his relationship with cricket altogether. Today he appears as a cricket-expert on some of the leading news platforms of the country and occasionally pens articles which serve as a reflection of his views on the game. He also had a brief fling with the lucrative Indian Premier League for two successive years (2008-09) where he was appointed as the Head of Cricket by Deccan Chargers and Mumbai Indians respectively.In a candid conversation with Cric Fit correspondent RitamBasu, the former Mumbai captain and Chairman of Selectors of the MCA talked about his decade-long cricketing career, his first impression of a teenage Sachin Tendulkar, thecrisis looming over the BCCI at present, his views on the changes proposed by the Lodha Commissionand whether he intends to foray into cricket administration in the future. He also picked an all-time Mumbai team for us.
Q: What inspired you to take up the game of cricket?
Hattangadi: I was fascinated by the history of the game. Environment matters and I imbibed a lot from that. From environment it was hearing commentary, watching cricket at grounds, playing in the building, trying to copy some of the players that one became passionate about playing it wherever and whenever one got an opportunity.One doesn’t take up passion; it just allows you to do what you want to do unconditionally. I guess it’s the same with all.
Q: Any role model who exerted a massive influence on your childhood days?
Hattangadi: Tiger Pataudi for his flair, charisma and pedigree. Playing with a handicap and yet being revered.Then post 71 it was Gavaskar for his achievements.
Q: The Bombay team was brimming with a host of match winners when you started off your career. Did you ever imagine yourself donning the Lion crest and opening the batting for Bombay alongside Sunil ManoharGavaskar?
Hattangadi: When you do well, like all who excel, one nurses a dream of rising to the next level. I was no different. As I said it was about doing well at the level I was playing, it suddenly strikes you that you may be on the laundry list of players to move up when you see your team mates who are doing well at that level get selected. To answer your question, when I started playing I knew one had to perform to get noticed, and with a bit of luck, yes it was a dream that had a possibility of fructifying.
Q: You had scored 323* in the inter-collegiate final for Podar College at Wankhede. Was it after that game that you were drafted into the Bombay side? Who informed you of your selection?
Hattangadi: No, it was the start of being noticed. I got picked after scoring 192 v/s Maharashtra when I was captaining Bombay in the Under-22 finals. It was after GulamParkar suffered an injury that I was drafted into the team.
Q: You were nurtured by Mr.VasantAmladi who is regarded by many as the harbinger of scientific coaching. How was his style different from that of the other coaches in the circuit back then?
Hattangadi: Amladi was a magician. He saw where you were going wrong and suggested multiple options to rectify shortcomings. He never forced himself,said what you are comfortable with because it’s you who had to deliver at the end of the dayand not him. He was a pragmatic coach who was open-minded to his wards and emphasised their strengths and areas of improvement.
Q: You and Ravi Shastri rose through the ranks at the same time. How was Ravi as a youngster?
Hattangadi: Ravi was a childhood mate; we grew up together, so his presence was calming and made me feel at home.
Q: Talk us through your debut. Not too many people are blessed to break into the Bombay side. And we are talking about an era when the team list had names such as Sunil Gavaskar, Ravi Shastri, SandeepPatil and DilipVengasarkar. Did you ever feel that you were standing at the edge of a cliff where one poor outing could plunge you into darkness? How did the seniors motivate you?
Hattangadi: Sharing the dressing room was a big enough motivation in itself. I only wanted to give a good account of myself even if I batted for a few balls. I wanted to show my team I wasn’t a misfit.I looked at it as an opportunity and not a threat.
Q: Your experience of captaining the side.
Hattangadi: I had captained at all levels in junior cricket. As a captain, I observed other captains,spoke to seniors,coaches and managers. I was and still am a learner. It helps if you believe there is always something to learn.
Q: Your first impression of a teenaged Sachin Tendulkar.
Hattangadi: A genius with no manufacturing defect.
Q: Any funny anecdote from the star-studded Bombay dressing room that you would like to share with our readers?
Hattangadi: Fun was a part of the Mumbai dressing room. There are way too many to mention.
Q: You hang up your boots at the age of 29; an age at which a cricketer is believed to be at the heyday of his career. The reason you cited was that you stopped enjoying the game. With the stats that you have to your credit, you could have made it to the Indian squad. Why did you opt for that puzzling decision then?
Hattangadi: I always felt at 29 you can’t play a decade for India. I had to make way for youth, I didn’t want to overstay.We are guests of this great game;we all should know when we are overstaying.
Q: Was playing for India never your ultimate goal?
Hattangadi:Everyone who plays First Class cricket aspires to earn an Indian cap. Some achieve whilesome don’t.
Q: You were famed for reading swing. How did you brush up on that aspect?
Hattangadi: The nets in the Podar campus helped my cause.Playing the new ball became a habit much like brushing one’s teeth after waking up.
Q: What do you make of the current Mumbai squad? You reckon they will be able to defend their title in the ensuing Ranji Trophy season?
Hattangadi: I have immense faith in the boys as a former Mumbai player. They will fight tooth and nail to retain the title. It will take someone to be more powerful than the lions to snatch the Ranji Trophy from them.
Q: Two or three Mumbai players according to you who are on the threshold of making the cut for the Indian team.
Hattangadi: Shreyas Iyer and Shardul Thakur.
Q: Don’t you think Shardul Thakur should have been tried out by now? Even after Ishant Sharma’s injury, the selectors named JayantYadav and not Thakur as his replacement for the 3rd Test against New Zealand at Indore.
Hattangadi: Yes I do (think that Thakur should have been given a go ahead). He has done a lot to get that lion, he won’t give up.
Q: Is the fall of the Kanga League a major concern for MCA? What efforts do you think should be put in on the part of the MCA to revitalise this traditional league?
Hattangadi: I think the unavailability of the big stars to play local cricket is the bigger problem.It’s not their fault but that of their jam-packed schedules.
Q: Mr.Hattangadi, please pick an all-time Bombay team for us.
Hattangadi: It will be a great team….too many good players to ignore. Can’t select this one.
Q: OK, let me just tweak this question a bit. Which two players would you choose as your openers?
Hattangadi: Sunil Gavaskar and Wasim Jaffer.
Q: What about Vijay Merchant?
Hattangadi: I never saw him play. Rusi Modi was also a good player but I have never seen them. On name, Merchant comes first with Gavaskar, Jaffer follows and then the rest.
Q: Only eight more slots are required to be filled in. Whom will the middle order comprise? Tendulkar should be an automatic choice.
Hattangadi: The middle order is really baffling. There are so many names to choose from- Kambli, Wadekar, Mankad, Vijay Manjrekar, Vengasarkar, SandeepPatil and Tendulkar.
Q: And the bowlers?
Hattangadi: Yes, I could pick the bowlers. I would choose Raju Kulkarni, Abdul Ismail,Padmakar Shivalkar, Sharad Diwadkar/ Milind Rege and Subhash Gupte.
Q: Shishir Hattangadi is widely recognized for his balanced views about the game. You tweeted on September 28-‘’nursery rhyme humpty dumpty resonates, say it aloud and you may connect the dots’’. As you have pointed out, it is a clear allusion to the BCCI. What prompted you to use this comparison? (If Humpty and Dumpty happen to be the two topmost officials in the BCCI at present), do you think ‘’all the king’s horses and all the king’s men can never put Humpty together again’’?
Hattangadi: The Supreme Court will ….even if the king’s men won’t.
Q: Your posts and comments on various social media platforms suggest that you are not satisfied with majority of the amendments of the Lodha Commission. Why is it so?Is there something rotten within the cricket board of India, even though there is no Hamlet involved over here?
Hattangadi: Changes were necessary. Yes, some things seem impractical, but I am sure they (the Lodha commission) have solutions.
Q: Would you advocate for the cooling off period proposed by the Lodha Commission? Do you think it will adversely affect the stability in the system? A few of your former colleagues like Ravi Shahtri and Sunil Gavaskar have dished out their opinions against the idea.
Hattangadi: In a clean-up process, some decisions may be bitter pills to swallow but bitter pills make good medicines.
Q: Are you happy with the new selection panel for the senior Indian team? Do you think threeselectors, instead of five (as proposed by the Lodha Commission) will be sufficient for a country like India where cricket is played in every nook and corner of the country?
Hattangadi: If one has 3 good,balanced, honourable men with an empowered support structure, you can do a good job. On the flipside if you have five incompetent men with no opinion whatsoever,even 500 would seem too few.
Q: You have also applied for the post of the selector of the Indian U-19 team. How confident are you about your chances?
Hattangadi: I had no chance but I applied to get a sense of how the board officials think.
Q: Rapid fire round.
Your nickname- Shish.
Your favourite cuisine- Fish.
Your favourite holiday destination- Scotland.
Your favourite ground- CCI, Mumbai.
Most difficult bowler you came up against in First Class cricket- The good guys didn’t allow me to sense any difficulty; they snared me out on most occasions.
Your best friends in the cricket circuit- Most of them, no one specific as such.
Your favourite movie- ‘Sully’ and ‘A Beautiful Mind’.
Favourite actor- Tom Hanks and Russell Crowe.
Favourite actress- No one really but if I have to choose one, it would be Madhubala. I am ancient.
Favourite song- ‘My Way’ by Frank Sinatra.
Your hobbies- Music, cricket.
Why were you called Elvis?- Because Elvis Presley was my god.
Describe the following people in one word each.
Sunil Gavaskar- Watchful.
Ravi Shashtri- Childhood.
Sachin Tendulkar- Special.
Sharad Pawar- Power.
Any superstition?- No.
Most memorable cricketing moment of your career- All.
Any regrets?- No, never.
Q: In spite of bidding adieu to professional cricket 26 summers ago, you have kept yourself concerned with the game in some way or the other. Can we expect to see you in cricket administration in the future?
Hattangadi: I am not association aligned, so it seems difficult to have a role in administration at present. If the system changes, maybe I will offer my services to the administration. I really believe zone-based bias must be eradicated to make us think more about India and not zones..