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An ounce of luck is worth a ton of skill: Hemu Adhikari

During his visit to Chennai to receive the sixth CK Nayudu award instituted by the Board of Control for Cricket in India, Lt.Col Hemu Adhikari spoke to CricInfo on his long and illustrious career as player, manager and coach. The ravages of time have left their mark on the diminutive former India captain, not just physically but also in the occasional lapses of memory that he displayed. Each time Adhikari turned to his charming wife Kamala, or Kemu as he called her, and arrived at the solution after a brief exchange in Marathi. But the gleam in his eyes was palpable as he reminisced about events obviously close to his heart and his commentary was punctuated by noiseless chuckles. Here are some excerpts.

On his debut

I made my debut in 1938 for Hindus. Hindus won the championship that time and Col CK Nayudu was the captain. I regularly played for Hindus but subsequently this tournament was suspended and our activities were confined to University cricket. I played for Bombay University in the inter-varsity tournaments.

On the Don

We watched him so closely that we got fed up and felt it was better he kept away from us because he was a very unique batsman. He made a fool of any captain. Place an off side field and he'd play the ball away to leg. He was a supernatural cricketer. A very shrewd captain but very quiet, modest and conservative. Those were his great characteristics. His concentration was so great. The players asked me how to get him out. I said the only way to get him is to shoot him. It's no joke to score 300 runs in a day. I don't think we'll ever see the likes of him again.

On the Lindwall-Miller duo & Fred Trueman

It's very difficult to compare bowlers of that generation and this generation. Lindwall and Miller were the greatest combination I've seen along with Trueman and Tyson. Sir Don Bradman used them very intelligently. Miller was very fast for a few overs. So he used to bowl Miller for 5-6 overs and rest him. Then he used to bring on Ernie Toshack who was very consistent. He used to attack the leg stump and place a field on the leg side, so you just couldn't score. But Lindwall and Miller were the greatest pair I've played against.

Trueman was not difficult but he used to attack you very much. He wouldn't mind even if you didn't get out. I will blow your brains out, he told me. Keep your brains cool, I replied. I told our batsmen not to talk to the fielders. When Trueman comes you turn around and ignore him, I said.

On the treachery of dame luck in Australia

You see I'm not offering excuses. But an ounce of luck in cricket is worth a ton of skill. Every time we lost the toss and Australia used to bat right upto the next day, then there would be heavy rain. The wickets were uncovered so when the game was resumed they would just play a couple of overs and declare. Every time we were caught on a bad wicket. So much so that in the third Test, the crowd started shouting: Come on Don, be a sport, let the Indians play on a good wicket and you experience a bad wicket because you have to go to England. I got a ball on my chest once. But it was a good education to have. Even writers like Fingleton and O'Reilly said India had bad luck. One Australian cricketer said that when selecting Yardley as captain for the England team, the chairman of selectors asked: Is he lucky? Because we want a lucky captain. That's how he was chosen. Luck plays a very great part. Of course Yardley was a good cricketer also.

On the pride of place he gave to fielding

When I was in school and college, I used to read books and they said fielding is the key to success. If you get 100 runs but give away 5-6 boundaries and drop a couple of catches, you are not worth your place in the side. But even if you score zero and save 45-50 runs, you have +50 to your name. So fielding is the basis on which you must build up your cricket.

On his belated ascendance to the captaincy in 1958-59

You see, when this came we were posted in the Army and my unit was in Dharamsala, about 7000 feet high, where you can't think about cricket. I had just forgotten about it. First they sent me a message and I refused. My wife spoke to me about it. I told her, when I wanted it, they didn't want me, so why should I go. She advised that this was not the correct attitude. Meanwhile my chief sent me a message asking me to come and report to him immediately. He told me the same thing: India needs you. Your country is bigger than the individual. Just go and play and let the public feel what wrong the Board has done to you.

On his omission from the England tour that followed in 1959

As a matter of fact, everybody was surprised, all the papers wrote about it. My chief called up the chairman of selectors and asked him the reason. He said somebody had told him that Major Adhikari was not available for the tour because of his professional duties. So my chief called me up saying: "If you don't want to go, why do you put the blame on us. Have I said no to you, I have given you every opportunity." I said that this was not true. I just didn't want to go because I was out of practice. I was in a place where I couldn't see a cricket ball. How can I go and play a Test series without practice?

On his approach on the England tour of 1971

I used to give the boys a lot of fielding practice. We would go onto the field half an hour before the match started and practice. Some of the boys said they will get tired. I said if you get tired in half an hour, you're not a fit cricketer. Someone from outside, a very prominent fellow, came up and said: "See, you're doing this, supposing a player gets hurt, then what will happen." I said it's his bad luck. Supposing you fall in the bathroom on the day of your match. You can't fight against your fate. At the beginning of the tour, I addressed the boys and said whatever individual prizes you get, they should be deposited with the treasurer and distributed equally among the players. Because a bowler for example, cannot take wickets unless the fielders hold their catches. So it's the contribution of the entire team that matters. The players said that myself and my assistant should also have a share. I said we have nothing to do with it, it was your effort. So the boys got it.

On the celebrations after Oval '71

The entire crowd were there outside the dressing room and they wanted the whole team to come outside. Meanwhile a message came and they said that Prime Minister Indira Gandhi wants you on the telephone. She said: "One thing you have to do, the moment you land, you will be escorted to my house. I want to meet the boys and congratulate them for the excellent thing you have done, you have put India on a very different mat." And we did just that.

On his philosophy of coaching

Once you're at the crease, as my own coach had told me: "When the bowler bowls, just forget everything. Watch his grip and follow it till he delivers the ball and see from where he's delivering, from near the crease or away from it. Because he can move the ball from nearer the stumps much more but with the same delivery and same action, if he bowls from the return crease, the ball may not swing or swing less." Whenever our team was going out, I used to tell the Board that I must get the team one month before for practice. India was known to be weak against bouncers. So I got the boys to play bouncers on a cement wicket with a wet ball. I told the batsmen, if you can't hook, just duck it. We practiced first with a tennis ball without wetting, subsequently with a wet ball and then by slowly decreasing the distance between thrower and batsman. I personally feel, though I may be wrong, that a coach must know his pupils physically, mentally and spiritually. A foreign coach may not be able to put things across. My whole principle of coaching was not to change the basics. At the age of 19-20, you can't ask the boy to change his grip or stance. You must improve on what he is. There was an incident when an English cricketer was batting. He played 2-3 drives through the covers with his foot on the onside, nowhere near the ball. So the bowler told him: "My chum, look at your foot, it is nowhere near the pitch of the ball." The batsman replied: "You look at the foot, I look at the ball!"

Parting shot

Remember, the will of fortune can never remain all the time down. It has got to come up sometime, isn't it, it can't remain static. It is coming and it will come up. I am very optimistic about Indian cricket.