March 13, 2000

Mushtaq Ali accuses selectors of regional bias

In his playing days, he was a dare devil who bewildered bowlers and entertained spectators by jumping out even to pace bowlers or by hitting the fastest deliveries from outside the off stump to the mid wicket boundary. He was also unafraid to speak out his mind, as those who have read his autobiography `Cricket Delightful' will testify. This probably restricted his Test appearances to only eleven, but Syed Mushtaq Ali has always retained - and relished - his image of the gay cavalier.

Even today, when he is 85, little has changed in Mushtaq Ali's attitude. Still fit as a fiddle, he retains his popularity and is a much sought after personage. Not unexpectedly, he was the cynosure at a book release function in New Delhi on Saturday. Speaking after releasing the book ``Cricket Vignettes, Old Masters and Memories'' by Pushkar Johari, a former diplomat and cricket commentator, the former opening batsman appealed to all 'brother cricketers' not to be harsh and critical of the current lot of players and preferred to hold the selectors responsible. ``We all have made mistakes, dropped catches and lost matches. Have we not made mistakes in life? These things happen and as a brother cricketer I feel we should not criticise.''

Mushtaq, who was speaking to an audience which included a fair number of former players, said it was for the selectors to pick the best team to represent the country. Taking a trip down memory lane, Mushtaq Ali said he was picked by three English selectors to play for India. ``They selected me because they thought I had the talent to play for India. Nowadays, you have five selectors who are more interested in picking players from their region,'' he said.

Mushtaq also picked the occasion to appeal to people to pray for the three of the four players of 1936 Test squad who are surviving. Apart from himself, they are MJ Gopalan (93), Lala Amarnath (88) and CS Nayudu (85).

Another cricketer always prepared to call a spade a spade even during his playing days was also present. And Bishen Singh Bedi joined issue with Mushtaq on the subject of the conduct of the present day players. Known not to hold back his punches, the former Indian captain said that the current day players continued to make the same mistakes and hence should not be pardoned.