Interview of Cricket Fans – 80 – INDIA
Jay – Thank you for your participation in this interview, tell us your early memories of this sport.
Growing up in Dubai, we didn’t get to see a lot of Cricket in the early ’90s. But the tournaments in Sharjah featuring India and Pakistan were always televised on the local channel. My parents followed those games, while I took time to understand what the sport was about.
Once satellite television came into the picture, it was much easier to watch live cricket, and 1994 onwards there was no looking back for a 9-year-old me. Even if the games weren’t broadcasted, I used to follow all the scores through the news channels and newspaper. Playing it with my cousins and friends was even more fun.
Jay – What is the positive impact of cricket in your life?
Cricket has perhaps been the biggest thing in my life. It’s been a constant companion through all the various stages of life, all the ups and downs that you go through. The feel-good factor that this sport brings to my life is hard to put in words. Twitter has only added to the experience as now you can share your thoughts instantly and learn more from other lovers of the game from around the world.
It has also given me a livelihood as I have been working with Circle of Cricket since 2012 and have had the privilege of working with and meeting some of the best players from India. Covering international cricket and IPL so closely has been a dream come true, and I can only thank God for being so kind to me.
Jay – Which cricketer’s story inspired you the most?
Tough question, as we have some terrific stories of cricketers who defied the odds. MS Dhoni’s journey should inspire a generation or two. But I personally go with Yuvraj Singh.
At his peak as a white-ball cricketer, he won games which seemed lost and then helped India win the inaugural T20 World Cup before giving India the biggest gift with his player of the tournament performance in the 2011 World Cup at home. And that’s when, he and all of us learnt of his biggest battle – cancer.
To fight that disease which scares us even with just a mere mention, and then come back to play again for India tells you a lot about the man. Yes, he wasn’t the same cricketer anymore, but what can be a more inspiring cricketing story than seeing someone defeat death and then watching him represent his country in multiple ICC events.
Jay – It’s clear from your bio that you grew up idolizing Sachin Tendulkar, few words on the God of cricket?
Where do I start? If cricket is my life, Sachin Tendulkar is the oxygen. As I said, I took to the sport in 1994, and it was Sachin who played a huge role. It was his debut innings for India as an opener in ODIs, and he smashed 82 off 49 balls against New Zealand. It was the start of a new chapter for him which saw him become the ‘God of Cricket’ and for me to become a ‘devotee of cricket’ for life.
Watching Sachin take on the best and most fearsome bowlers of his era was an experience that I can never forget. In the first half of his career, the match result usually ended in pain, but there was the medicine of a Sachin masterclass to overcome the pain and bring back a smile.
When he retired, a part of me too retired. The part that saw me more nervous than him as he got closer to his landmarks, and the joy that I had while watching him bat. Yes, I still watch every India game, but it is just not the same.
Jay – There are some quality pacers that India have produced over the years, who is your favourite fast bowler?
Zaheer Khan, for carrying the pace attack on his shoulders for such a long time. He was really an artist with the ball in his hand, especially from 2006 to 2011, I felt he was right up there with the best fast bowlers of that era.
He didn’t always get a lot of support from the other end, but kept going without complaining and helped India win Tests away from home. Even at home when seamers used to take shine off the ball, Zaheer became lethal with the old ball and delivered crucial spells. His performance at the 2011 World Cup was probably just as crucial as Yuvraj Singh if not more – and perhaps he hasn’t got enough credit that he deserves for being a vital part of Indian cricket team under MS Dhoni.
Jay – Would you rather have Ravichandran Ashwin or Harbhajan Singh in your test side if you had to pick one off-spinner? And why?
I would go with Ravichandran Ashwin. In my view, he’s India’s biggest match-winner in the subcontinent since the great Anil Kumble. He comfortably has a superior record when compared with Harbhajan in most conditions, who was never the same threat after ‘doosra’ was taken out of the game.
Ashwin has the chance to finish with at least 500 Test wickets and he has the opportunity to improve his away Test record in the next 12-18 months. He only needs to stay a bit more patient when he bowls in unhelpful conditions.
Jay – Who is your favourite Indian cricketer amongst the younger generation?
From the younger ones, I personally love the way Shubman Gill bats. He has got that extra time to judge the length and is extremely pleasing on the eyes with his strokes. I think he’s got everything it takes to be an extremely successful batsman across formats for India.
In T20 cricket, he still has to find a couple of extra gears, which I expect him to through IPL, but I think he’s absolutely ready for the other two formats and we should try to find a spot for him as often as possible in this season.
Jay – Do you feel the ICC Test Championship is a good concept but not executed properly?
The intention of ICC behind it was right, but the execution was quite poor and extremely hasty. The points system, to begin with, was very confusing and unless each team plays an equal number of games home and away, it’s always going to be unfair. COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t helped, and the latest change with the percentage points system, I think it’s lost whatever little interest it had created last year.
We have to accept that the Test format won’t be able to catch the eyeballs that the shorter formats do, but the beauty of the format is such that those who love the true essence of it will follow whether the Test championship happens again or not. As long as there’s context and players like Virat Kohli, Steve Smith, Ben Stokes are around, who value the format the most, we shouldn’t worry. If the pitches are good, the cricket automatically will take care of itself when the best teams play.
Jay – Your thoughts on ‘The Hundred’?
I am not a fan. We already have three formats and currently, the T20 format is probably at its peak with leagues coming over around the world. Innovation within the format can be encouraged, but cricket doesn’t need another format that is extremely unlikely to ever be played at the international level.
Jay – What would your all-time XI look like?
My all-time Test XI would be of the players who I have seen play. I am not picking any active cricketers as I feel its better to judge players for an all-time XI only when they are done with their respective careers.
Graeme Smith (c), Virender Sehwag, Ricky Ponting, Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara, Adam Gilchrist (wk), Wasim Akram, Shane Warne, Dale Steyn, Curtly Ambrose, Muttiah Muralitharan. 12th man: Jacques Kallis