Balvinder Singh Sandhu, the former Indian medium-pacer and the man who famously bowled Gordon Greenidge in the epic 1983 World Cup final, talks to Arunabha Sengupta on sharing the new ball with Kapil Dev, the T20-Test cricket dilemma and working with Akshay Kumar and other Bollywood stars.
Excerpts from an interview:
Cricketcountry (CC): Hailing from an era when there was one Kapil Dev, the perpetual phenomenon at one end, partnered at various times by Karsan Ghavri, Roger Binny, Madan Lal, Balvinder Sandhu himself, Raju Kulkarni, Manoj Prabhakar or others, it must be heartening for you to see a profusion of fast bowlers now, many of whom can bowl consistently at 135 to 140 kmph.
Balvinder Singh Sandhu (BSS): The new guys are bowling real quick. There’s lot of exposure, input and feedback that is available to them. However, there are differences between the individual bowlers. Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron have good actions for real fast bowling, and if they can add the ability to swing the ball more they will be even more effective. Vinay Kumar, on the other hand, does not have the action to be super fast. He needs to concentrate on the art of moving the ball.
All this started with Kapil Dev. Before he came on the scene, a medium-pacer was just someone to take the shine off the ball before the spinners started operating. However, Kapil demonstrated that an Indian cricketer could also make a name for himself as a fast bowler. He was the one who paved the way for future generations. He changed the way Indians thought about fast bowling.
CC: And what are his recollections of bowling with the great man?
(BSS): Sharing the new ball with him was an education. I always tried to bowl after him in the nets, trying to repeat whatever he did, work on my release like him, and pitch the ball where he pitched. It was a great experience and helped me to become more accurate.
I played in the Ahmedabad Test against the West Indies in 1983 in which he picked up nine wickets in the second innings. I was not originally slated to play in that match, but at the last moment Madan Lal was unavailable. In the second innings I picked up one wicket, Desmond Haynes caught in the slips by Sandeep Patil. Kapil bowled unchanged and brilliantly, got the other nine wickets.
Unfortunately, it turned out to be my last Test match. I did not bowl too badly, but I did not get enough wickets. I have no regrets in that regard. I simply believed in myself, in my cricketing ability and in God. If I was not picking up wickets and had to make way for someone else, so be it.
CC: The first picture that comes to mind when the name of Balvinder Singh Sandhu is mentioned is that famous June afternoon at Lord’s in 1983, with Gordon Greenidge shouldering arms, the ball coming back to hit the off stump. Is that the most memorable moment of his career?
(BSS): There have been many memorable moments, but because of the setting, the stage, because of having reached the final for the first time and because we ultimately won the World Cup, it has become the most unforgettable one. That particular match is memorable not only for me but for the entire team.
CC: While remembering you primarily as a medium-pace swing bowler, people tend to overlook that you walked out to bat at No 9 on you Test debut against Imran Khan bowling at his best, and top scored with a hard-hitting 71. In the following tour in the Caribbean, you scored a fighting 68 after coming in at 127 for seven against Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Malcolm Marshall and Joel Garner. How did you rate yourself as a batsman?
BSS: I never thought of myself as anything more than a bowler who could bat. For me batting against pace bowling was never a problem. Of course, in the office and club games I used to bat at No 4 and got a lot of runs, but international cricket is a different ball game. I took care never to throw my wicket away, and had a simple approach to batting. I had a few shots, but did not try to do too many things. It helped to play alongside the likes of Sunil Gavaskar and Dilip Vengsarkar in the Bombay side.
CC: Mumbai, the team you played for, was recently plagued by the controversy surrounding Ajit Agarkar. What is your take on the matter?
BSS: I always believe cricketers have to be respected. If someone has served the side for long and is nearing the fag end of his career, it needs to be communicated to him with tact. It needs to be made known to him what the policy is and that someone is waiting in the wings and what is good for the team in the long run. Everyone has a sell by date, but it has to be handled well and communicated professionally. It was definitely not done in this case.
At the same time, I think Ajit also overreacted. It is the responsibility of a senior cricketer to be there and help others contribute, provide feedback and suggestions. He was in a very angry state of mind and I’m sure he would surely have regretted whatever took place once he had cooled down.
CC: What is your take on the Indian Premier League (IPL) and T20 and the impact they have on Test cricket?
BSS: IPL will have a big impact, and there are positives and negatives. I always tell youngsters that a Test cricketer can adapt himself to the T20 game, but the converse is not true. There is a lot of money that have attracted the players to IPL, but performances in Test cricket will always be more respected. I always remember what happens in Test cricket, but don’t recall a single stroke from the last IPL. To me, T20 is like fast food, and nothing more.
On the positive side, the players become more open to playing shots; they reinvent themselves for the format and take this confidence into one-cay cricket and Test cricket. The financial security is also excellent. However, it also breeds arrogance in a lot of corners. IPL has created a lot of arrogant young superstars. The respect that can be earned from playing Test cricket can never be replicated in T20. If one does not reach the goal of playing Test matches, he can fall back on the security of IPL and T20. That is the way it should be and T20 should not be the primary goal to begin with.
In India, Test cricket does not see many people in the grounds nowadays unlike in England,Australia and South Africa, but there are a lot of fans who follow the action on the television or internet. There is a lot of interest. To make the crowd come back to the grounds, the administrators need to take some steps – from moving the games to smaller centres, to reducing ticket prices, to investing in future fans by making it free for the young kids. As I said, Test cricket provides moments that one remembers for a long time. It is the format which is the real test of cricketing skills and needs to be promoted with proper strategy.
CC: Finally, how does it feel to be part of the Celebrity Cricket League and coaching Mumbai Heroes?
BSS: It has been a very enjoyable experience. I have been coaching for more than 20 years now, but this has been a nice change. I am working with Mumbai Heroes, the team of Sohail Khan (with Salman Khan as their icon player). Sunil Shetty, Ritesh Deshmukh, Bobby Deol and Sonu Sood are some of the stars whom I am training. It has been a learning experience as well. I can make out how much hard work goes into film making. A while back, I worked with Akshay Kumar and it was also a great experience. I got to know a lot about how movies are made. I am someone who is open to learning and it has been a good journey so far.
(Arunabha Sengupta is trained from Indian Statistical Institute as a Statistician. He works as a Process Consultant, but purifies the soul through writing and cricket, often mixing the two into a cleansing cocktail. The author of three novels, he currently resides in the incredibly beautiful, but sadly cricket-ignorant, country of Switzerland. You can know more about him from his author site, his cricket blogs and by following him on Twitter)