Being in Sachin Tendulkar's company is an education: Amol Muzumdar

Amol Muzumdar… one of the finest batsman India has produced, has been distinctly unfortunate not to have represented the country. Picture Courtesy: SJAM.

The expected return of Amol Muzumdar into the Ranji Trophy team will not happen. In a move that took many by surprise, Muzumdar revealed on Tuesday that he will be representing Andhra Pradesh this season. The highest run-getter in the National Championship till Wasim Jaffer surpassed the mark, spoke to CricketCountry’s Aayush Puthran and Sudatta Mukherjee in a wide-ranging interview.

Excerpts:

CricketCountry (CC): You were expected to return to Mumbai this season. What exactly led you to play for Andhra Pradesh?

Amol Muzumdar (AM): I had a chat with a few MCA (Mumbai Cricket Association) officials, who were nice enough to inform me well in advance that my chances of playing for Mumbai in the upcoming Ranji season would be bleak. MSK Prasad asked me if I was willing to join Andhra Pradesh and I was more than happy to accept the offer.

CC: Are you disappointed by MCA’s decision?

AM: To be honest, yes. I was a little disappointed, am now looking forward to playing with Andhra.

CC: After being dropped from the Mumbai team for the Buchi Babu Tournament in 2009, you joined Assam. Do you think the decision was taken in haste?

AM: No. I still stick to that decision. Given the situation and circumstances I don’t regret it. I personally feel a person or a cricketer reacts to the situation he is thrown at. I felt the situation was apt to move out. I led Assam and I did my best. We came to the elite, we had a successful season. That was the first time Assam came to the elite league. So it was a big thing for them. I enjoyed and I learnt a lot. After playing for a strong side like Mumbai for 16 years you get habituated to a bit of a luxury and comfort. Going to Assam and Guwahati, it was an eye-opener and it really taught me a lot. I came across some cricketers who come from adversities and try and overcome them with the best of their abilities. Those two years were amazing. I did my job. I don’t think I took the decision in haste.

CC: How different was the cricketing culture there from what you have experienced in Mumbai?

AM: The difference is unbelievable; I cannot put it on record. When you play in Mumbai, you are rubbing shoulders with some top players, Test cricketers. In Assam it was totally different. The net facilities, the practice facilities were not the best. You had to adjust a lot. You had to convince the officials to bring about changes and that something could be done. It was unbelievable. We fought hard. The players were focused. They concentrated really hard. They responded well. It was a successful campaign. Players like Abu Nechim and other guys contributed a lot for Assam to come to elite.

CC: You broke Amarjit Kaypee’s record of highest run aggregate in Ranji Trophy while playing for Assam. Do you still feel you would have preferred going past the record donning the Mumbai cap?

AM: I was 35 runs short of that mark when I left Mumbai. I could have achieved that record playing for Mumbai. It would have been nice if I had got there wearing the Mumbai cap, but that wasn’t to be. I am firm believer in destiny. I live in the present and the future; I don’t like to dwell too much in the past.

CC: In mid-90s, many expected you to break into the Indian team. But Rahul Dravid sealed the spot and you didn’t get an opportunity in the future. Do you believe you didn’t get your due or you were hard done by the selectors?

AM: If you look at the yearly run aggregate, there were quite a few important knocks played and quite a few runs scored. I wouldn’t say I didn’t get runs in important games. Sometimes they say it is important to get runs in semi-finals, final. I was getting runs. So I didn’t find any reason. It is thus a very hard, very tough question. I have been answering this question for the last 20 years now as to why I was not picked to play for India. The only thing I knew was to perform. Yes, Rahul Dravid came in and sealed his place. That’s fine. But there were others who came in as well. So not to play for India was my destiny. And I don’t regret anything, and if I was to redo everything, I will do the same things again. I don’t dwell why I didn’t play for India. I’m satisfied that every time I took the ground I gave my 100% – whether it was Mumbai, West Zone, India A, my office side, club side in England. I have always played the way cricket is supposed to be played. So I don’t have any regrets. I have not played for India, that’s one thing missing. But that is not I would really focus on. I have done whatever I had to do in my 20-year career.

CC: A lot of your long-time Mumbai teammates like Wasim Jaffar, Sairaj Bahutule, Ramesh Powar, Avishkar Salvi, etc. didn’t get a long rope at the international level despite performing consistently well at the domestic circuit. What are your views on that?

AM: They have been great servants of Mumbai cricket. Wasim Jaffer is a modern great for Mumbai. Nobody has scored more runs than him (in Ranji). So it tells you a story. There are lots of other players like him: Sairaj Bahutule has picked up 600 wickets in First-class cricket. You don’t achieve such feats overnight. It has to be done over a period of time. I did what I had to in the 90s and was really consistent, yet I didn’t make to a single India camp. That really boggles the mind. How can I not be picked in the first 30 of India! It’s unbelievable.

CC: Top cricketers are no longer from metros and Mumbai doesn’t dominate Indian cricket the way it used to in the past. How do you view this situation?

AM: Earlier, there were few top teams like Mumbai Delhi, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Indian cricket has now grown in stature. Viewership has gone up, too. A lot of young kids watch cricket in rural areas and learn faster. They are ready to put in the hard yards. Other teams have come up in Ranji over the last few years. Rajasthan has done extremely well over the last two-three years. Saurashtra has reached the semi-final quite a few times too. These teams have learnt from watching cricket and putting those hard yards. So they have come up. I also strongly believe if your metros are strong then the surrounding smaller places have to be strong. If Delhi isn’t strong, the places around Delhi wouldn’t be strong. If Mumbai is not strong, places around Mumbai wouldn’t be strong. So it is important for Indian cricket as a whole, if you look at it, metros need to be strong and they are strong.

CC: What has been your best cricketing moment so far?

AM: Possibly my Ranji Trophy debut, where I scored 260 way back in 1993-94. It still is a world record for a First-class debutant. From team’s perspective, I think it was winning the Ranji Trophy in my first season was the best moment under Ravi Shastri. It was a great awakening. I went straight from Under-19 to Mumbai Ranji Trophy side. It was the biggest step you could take as a youngster rubbing shoulders with the likes of Shastri and Sachin Tendulkar. I have played with Sachin right from my school, but playing alongside a Test cricketer was different.

CC: Going back to the days when you played for Sharadashram, you were slated to come in next when Sachin Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli recorded the partnership of 664 runs. What was going through your mind?

AM: To be honest I was enjoying what Sachin and Vinod were doing. We never knew that it was a world record. We as young school cricketers were enjoying, we were saying, “Oh wow! He hit a four” “He hit a six” and cheer our schoolmates. That’s what you do in school. Even though I was padded up to bat next, I was enjoying what was happening.

CC: You have come as a guest on cricket shows. Do you look forward to having a career in media post-retirement?

AM: I have been doing a little bit of media work. Media can be an option. I love doing what I do. But as long as I am playing, I would like to concentrate on my game. Other things will have their own time.

CC: You have shared the dressing room with Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman at various stages of your career. How was your experience?

AM: I shared a room with Rahul before he played for India. We were always roomies when playing for India A. We always refer each other as roomies, when we meet. It was a great experience to share a room with Rahul and how he prepared himself before a game. Sourav (Ganguly) was always a team man in the dressing. Laxman I shared a lot of time. Before he played international cricket and even after he played international cricket. So it has been nice knowing everybody. With Sachin, it has been an education. From the time you spot him till the time he leaves your sight, he has been an education. You just have to be smart to pick up what he is doing.

CC: Do you think their absence from cricket will leave a void that will be hard to fill?

AM: There will always be another generation to take over. There is no cricketer in this world who has not been overtaken. In 80s we felt the world was over, at least my world was over, when Sunil Gavaskar sir retired. But then came Sachin. We knew that he was going to play Test cricket, but we didn’t know that he was going to become the greatest. There will be somebody who comes along. There will be someone who will overtake. But for the next two-three years, it’s going to be a transition period. So we have to be careful which players are we choosing. That’s the most important thing. There is talent available. If you look at Virat Kohli’s record in the last one year, it’s amazing, it’s outstanding. Thirteen hundreds in ODIs, two centuries in Tests and all that he has done in IPL it’s unbelievable. Who could have imagined this two years back! There will be cricketers coming along, as long as our system is strong. But the transition period needs to be taken care of. This is the time we need to pick correct players. And I think we are on the right track. (Cheteshwar) Pujara had proven that he has got the mettle to be in the international cricket. I think the future would be secured, at least for the next five-ten years. There will be a void, of course; those places can’t be filled so soon. Laxman has left a legacy, Rahul Dravid has left a legacy.

CC: India has been not been performing well, they are rough times. What do you think is going wrong for the team?

AM: The results are not as good as it could have been. If you look at the Test record it is not the best. We lost eight Test matches abroad, which is a concern. Somebody needs to address it. If don’t address it, we don’t address this transition period. But if we handle the transition period, if we handle the players we have got, their ability and skills, to play at that level and make them grow as international cricketers, I think everything will be sorted out. I think India needs to improve its record. You can’t be losing eight Test matches with a formidable batting line-up. Look at the team we had: (Virender) Sehwag, (Gautam) Gambhir opening. (Rahul) Dravid, (VVS) Laxman, (Sachin) Tendulkar, (Mahendra Singh) Dhoni. And you know the sixth player, (Suresh) Raina has been playing, Yuvraj (Singh) has been playing. So there are seven-eight guys, lot of international runs behind them. With that side if we are struggling, then we need to address it.

(Sudatta Mukherjee claims to be a Jill of all trades and mistress of none. She is affable, crazy and a wannabe writer. Her Twitter ID is @blackrosegal. Oh yes! You do know her!)

(While enjoying the small joys of life, rarely has anything mesmerised Aayush Puthran more than cricket. A student of Journalism in Mumbai, he is trying to figure out two things: ways to make Test cricket a commercial hot property and the best way to beat Mumbai traffic. He has a certain sense of obsession with novelty. He might seem confused, but he is just battling a thousand demons within his mind. Nonetheless, he is always up for a light-hearted chat over a few cups of coffee!)