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Cricketers reflect on their lives and times

Gundappa Viswanath

'Experience is about learning, not just playing'

One of India's finest batsmen looks back at his career in the game

Interview by Suresh Menon

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"Nothing came easily" © ICC
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I picked up the game watching my brother Jagannath and my neighbour S Krishna, both of whom were good club players. My brother was a great fan of Australian cricket. He would wake up early, and wake me up too, to listen to Test match commentary from Australia.

My early hero was the Australian left-hander Neil Harvey.

I led India in two Tests. It is a great honour to lead, whether it is a club side or the national team. To say, as some journalists did, that I did not enjoy captaincy, is all wrong.

I was never formally coached, but that didn't matter because I was willing to listen to my seniors.

The first Test I ever saw was in Madras in 1967, between India and West Indies. We went in a group and stood in the queue from around three in the morning. I didn't miss a single ball of that match.

Cricket has been my life.

I didn't play state schools cricket at all. I heard that I was kept out because I was too thin or too small or too ugly. (laughs) One of the selectors told me later that he was scared I would get hurt and everybody would blame him.

Tiger Pataudi made my career. When I scored zero in my first Test innings, he told me: "Relax, don't worry, you'll get a hundred in the second innings." And that's exactly what happened.

I have seldom been a very consistent performer, whether in a three-Test or a five-Test series. I tended to take chances.

Let there be no confusion about this: I worked for my innings. Nothing came easily.

On the 1971 West Indies tour, ML Jaisimha told me about spin bowling and how to "listen" to the ball when our great spinners were bowling.

In my early innings I tended to get out for good 30s and 40s. Tiger told me that one reason was that I was tiring my eyes watching the ball. He told me to walk around, take breaks, stay loose. It was a simple suggestion, but it was so effective.

Experience is not just about playing 40 Tests but about learning from each of them.

My personal favourite century is the 139 I made in the 1974-75 Calcutta Test against West Indies. Their bowling overall in that innings was superior to that in the next Test, in which I made 97 not out - which most people regard as my best innings

Polly Umrigar advised me to roll my eyeballs when I was preparing to go in to bat. These are small things, but they make a great difference.

In my time, no one took one-day cricket seriously. It wasn't fashionable. I don't think we as a country took it seriously till the 1983 World Cup win.

Playing with Sunil [Gavaskar] gave me confidence. No one concentrated harder. He was rock-solid in defence, while I tended to attack more.

That 97 was against a rampaging Andy Roberts. Whatever I played in that innings came good. After the first 40 or 50 runs, when he saw the mood I was in, he let up, especially since we had lost six or seven wickets by then, and concentrated on getting the other batsmen.

There is always pressure every time you go out to bat.

As a match referee, when I saw a tricky situation developing, I discussed it with the umpires and tried to defuse it before it got out of hand. My aim was to be effective without being visible or voluble.

I wouldn't change anything if I had to live my life over again. Except for one-day cricket; I would have tried harder there.

Suresh Menon is a writer based in Bangalore. This interview was first published in Wisden Asia Cricket magazine

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Suresh Menon Suresh Menon went from being a promising cricketer to a has-been, without the intervening period of a major career. He played league cricket in three cities with a group of overgrown enthusiasts who had the reverse of amnesia - they could remember things that never happened. For example, taking incredible catches at slip, or scoring centuries. Somehow Menon found the time to be the sports editor of the Pioneer and the Indian Express in New Delhi, Gulf News in Dubai, and the editor of the New Indian Express in Chennai. Currently he is a columnist with publications in India and abroad, and is beginning to think he might never play for India.
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