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Cricketers reflect on their lives and times

Syed Kirmani

'I excelled without knowing what wicketkeeping was all about'

Syed Kirmani on being a self-taught wicketkeeper, 1983, and his peers

Interview by Vishal Dikshit

September 30, 2013

Comments: 59 | Text size: A | A

Syed Kirmani waits to collect the ball, India v England, 1st Test, Bombay, 3rd day, December 1, 1984
"Nobody taught me the details of wicketkeeping" © Getty Images
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I was offered a job at the age of 17 by State Bank of India and I appeared for my class ten exams after joining the bank. I was employed and sat in the bank for a week and then applied for leave to appear for my exams.

We just had a manager in our time. We never had any support staff the way international teams have right now. We looked at other teams' top players and assessed ourselves and corrected ourselves on our own after making mistakes.

There was a lot of discouragement from my parents about getting deeply involved in sports. Their concern was for me to get a degree and a government job. I used to take part in sports in school on the sly.

I achieved high wicketkeeping standards by keeping to the three legendary spinners - Bishan Singh Bedi, Erapalli Prasanna and BS Chandrasekhar. To start with, I played with Chandrasekhar and Prasanna as a schoolkid. When I played for the country, I kept to Bedi also.

Wherever I played, my consistency brought me into the limelight.

As a kid I lived in Jayamahal Extension in Bangalore. The local team used to play with cork balls. Once, the captain of the team said, "Go and stand behind the sticks and stop the ball." Now, how do I stop the cork ball? There were bricks lying there. I picked one up and started stopping the ball with it. The bricks would break and I would get a scolding from the contractors who were constructing buildings there.

I have never read a single book on anybody or any topic till date. It's all just personal experience.

I liked the style of Bob Taylor the most among all the wicketkeeper-batsmen, and I tried adopting his type of technique. I admire his skills more than Alan Knott's and Rod Marsh's.

At our school there was only a PT master.

Nobody taught me the details of wicketkeeping. If somebody started keeping wicket, he was told to keep every time. I excelled without any technique, without knowing what wicketkeeping was all about. Nobody told me about technique.

I ran barefoot, as my father could not afford to buy canvas shoes for me.

I never had a role model in my life, never idolised anybody. Having said that, I never shirked from admiring anybody who was doing a great job in whatever walk of life - be it sports or academics or anything else.

In 1965-66, an Australian schools side was touring India and I was selected in the Indian schools team. We played three "Tests" and I scored 121 in the first match in Chennai, 132 in Hyderabad, and 75 in the third, in Bombay. I was then picked as the vice-captain of the Indian schools team to tour England in 1967 - the first-ever Indian schools team to tour abroad.

When I was a schoolkid, Keki Tarapore, my mentor, used to come and pick me up to prepare me for school cricket tournaments. He used to say, "Keep the ball down", that's all. That was his guidance or coaching.

My first captain in the Ranji Trophy was V Subramanya. Budhi Kunderan was the first Indian wicketkeeper I saw. He used to play for Karnataka/Mysore as an opening batsman and wicketkeeper then.

Once, when I was having dinner with Knott, Marsh, Jeffrey Dujon and Taylor during the 1983 World Cup, I said, "I consider all four of you the best in the world." Knott interrupted me and said, "Kiri, wicketkeeping ability is judged only when a wicketkeeper stands up to spinners, not to fast bowlers. And you have kept to the best [spinners] in the world."

 
 
"We looked at other teams' top players and assessed ourselves and corrected ourselves on our own after making mistakes"
 

I was the baby of the Indian team in 1971 when I was introduced under the captaincy of Ajit Wadekar. From 1971 to 1975 I was in the reserves, and they retained me because of my consistency in the side games we played in England.

No captain I played under lived up to my expectations. That is my assessment of who a leader is, who a captain is.

In my first match on English soil, against Hampshire schools in 1967, I scored 104 not out. That was the beginning. When I returned from the tour, I was picked as a specialist batsman for the Mysore Ranji Trophy team at only 17 years of age.

The first sport I participated in in school was athletics. I ran 100 metres, 200 metres, and relay at state school level. My second sport was hockey, and then cricket and football. I used to excel in my team, in my group. I had god-given ability.

I have always appreciated the efforts of Sunil Gavaskar and Gundappa Viswanath, who are batting legends.

I have been taking notes on some big corporates of late - Narayana Murthy, Azim Premji, these big icons who have been instrumental in the development of our economy.

Viv Richards was the world's best batsman of our time on an all-round basis.

I always admired Knott. When I went abroad, the first foreign wicketkeeper I met was Knott, who was considered the world's best wicketkeeper. After that I met Rodney Marsh, Bob Taylor and Wasim Bari of Pakistan.

The best moment of my cricketing career was during the 1983 World Cup final, when I was recognised as the best wicketkeeper in the world and awarded a silver glove and a silver ball by none other than the all-time great wicketkeeper Godfrey Evans.

Cricket is no more a gentleman's game. Certain mannerisms exhibited in the game these days are not gentlemanly.

Vishal Dikshit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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Posted by VintageCricketeer on (October 5, 2013, 18:11 GMT)

Syed Kirmani was probably the greatest wicketkeeper India has produced and a handy batsman at times. Bit disappointed that he did not acknowledge the ability of Kapil Dev, without whom India would not have won the World Cup in 1983! Mind you, he kept very well when Kapil, Binny, Madan Lal and Amarnath were swinging the ball prodigiously.

Posted by   on (October 3, 2013, 11:30 GMT)

@pitch_curator & sunil vaidya-lets give the devil its due. Dhoni perhaps is the better bat (though I shudder to think his fate on quick pitches facing bowlers like Lillee & Thommo, the Carribean quicks,not to mention Immy,Bob Willis,Hadlee & the like:pertinent to note that neither these kind of bowlers are found aplenty nor are the pitches as spiteful now.). but to pure wicket keeping abilities the distance b/w Kiri & the rest of the Indian keepers are a few million light years. Dhoni is no doubt a safe keeper who has grown into the job but Kiri was in a class of his own & this has been acknowledged by former cricketing legends(Sunny,Kapil Dev,Pras,Bedi to name afew)whose cricketing knowledge is definitely better than ours.

Posted by Jaani_gaddar on (October 2, 2013, 14:01 GMT)

Kiri was a Bowler's keeper,then when chances were rare he gobbled them, half chances whatever.He was so underrated,did his job quietly,was only in news when he made mistakes,also a terrific team man.Some of his catches,stumpings were sensational & without modern days coverage diff to comprehend, one had to watch replay to believe & be amazed by the effort.he took the mudassar catch which would have eluded the third leg slip,was so much outside the screen that from TV we could not make out what happened & then they showed the amazing action replay from a long shot to really appreciate the amount of ground Kirii actually covered.His stumpings were in so quick that leg umpires couldn't quite decide.had he got the 3rd umpire, man one would know his genius. His unorthodox batting was on when the chips vr down. luk at so many record stands with lower order which were broken in recent yrs.Myself a keeper copied his techn & hair style,but to no avail. Cheers Kiri for gr8 intvw & inspiring us

Posted by ramab on (October 1, 2013, 14:11 GMT)

I have seen the eras of both Kirmani and Dhoni. Dhoni is a great one day player/wicket keeper no doubt. But Kirmani was the the best keeper I have seen keep for India especially in tests. His stumping of Mudassar Nazar in Pakistan was a classic. Also, note that Kirmani had to face the WI pace attack in WI (Marshall, Holding, Garner etc) as well as other greats like Hadlee, Imran Khan and the great Aussie quicks and came in tough situations to rescue India. I don't know if a lot of people supporting Dhonii have watched Krimani play and followed cricket in that era. I have not seen Dhoni be a part of rescue team in tests when the backs are on the wall to save a test match. Also note that they did not have as much videos in those days to watch themselves or others to analyze.

Posted by   on (October 1, 2013, 13:40 GMT)

There is no doubt Kirmani was one of the best keepers India has produced. One comment however had me stumped. No captain under whom he played lived up to his expectations. Did he have captaincy ambitions himself? I wonder!

Posted by ravi_hari on (October 1, 2013, 7:26 GMT)

Easily the best keeperIndia has produced. The fact that he did not have any formal training has actually helped Kiri as he kept with his natural ability and spontainity. He was not only safe behind the stumps but also made life difficult for batsmen when he stood up for spinners. He kept to the best spinners in the world, he kept to the best all rounder India has ever produced. He kept during India's best triumphs in Australia and in WC83. I too have that catch mentioned by Matt stuck in my memory. When ever I think of Kiri that catch comes as a flash.Brilliant is an under statement for Kiri. Added to his keeping his batting was both entertaining and very useful to the team. He invented the tennis volley type stroke which people use in T20s now. He was innovative while stealing runs and could have been an excellent T20 cricketer. He was dumped unceremoniously when he had atleast a couple of years cricket left in him. One of all time greats for India and the best keeper ever.

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