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Interviews

'When you step on the ground, it doesn't matter what team you're playing for'

Amol Muzumdar, who has announced his retirement from first-class cricket, reflects on his career, missing out on Test cricket, and more

"India was a dream but it wasn't to be. But at this moment, I am a completely satisfied man as far as my cricket is concerned"  •  ESPNcricinfo Ltd

"India was a dream but it wasn't to be. But at this moment, I am a completely satisfied man as far as my cricket is concerned"  •  ESPNcricinfo Ltd

Will you continue to play club cricket?
Yes, I would be playing in Holland. I have re-signed for the club over there. I have retired from first-class cricket in India, all forms of domestic cricket.
When are you shifting to Holland?
Well, next year I would be eligible to play for Holland. The rule is that if you play five years continuously over there, you qualify to play for Holland, so I don't know. As far as shifting goes, I would be based in India.
It's been a long innings for you. How would you describe it?
At the moment, I have got an absolutely satisfying feeling. That's one of the things I realised this morning. And I think I would describe my long innings as a good, solid, satisfying one. No regrets at all. Every cricketer or every sportsman, I think, he craves that satisfying feeling. When you play a sport, you give your best, no matter which team you play for. It's been a satisfying journey all through my 21 years in first-class cricket.
Will not playing for India keep haunting you?
Of course I dreamt of playing for the country. I would be lying if I say I didn't. But over the years, I came to terms with all those things. And I think, at the end of it, what I have realised is that as soon as you step onto the ground it doesn't matter which team you play for. Whether it's your club team or office team or first-class team or even international cricket. As long as you give your best the moment you step on to the ground irrespective of which team you represent.
Of course India was a dream but it wasn't to be. But at this moment in time, I am a completely satisfied man as far as my cricket is concerned because I have given my best every time I have stepped on to the ground.
When do you think was the closest you came to a Test cap?
I have come close many times but the closest I feel was in 1996-97, when I got four hundreds in Ranji Trophy and 97 in the Irani Trophy. I think that was the closest I felt that I would get into the Indian team. But after that also, I felt that I would play for India. Maybe in 2004 and 2005, but I think there was a generation shift in Indian cricket in 2003 and 2004.
When did you realise it wouldn't come?
I think it was in the 2005-06 season, when I got a lot of runs and I wasn't picked in any of the India A squads also. That was the time I felt it was a closed shop.
Did you think the selectors were expecting something else from you?
No, I didn't feel that way. I just thought there would be an opening somewhere. Because I was scoring. And I was always on a hope that this year I would make an entry. It never happened.
You never made any changes to the way you batted…
As a cricketer or as a batsman, you tend to evolve. In India, when a batsman scores 150 or 200, he is branded as a Test player. Or as a four-day player. But if you look at the record, you may see that I have always played according to the situation of the game because I was taught by [Ramakant] Achrekar sir to play to the situation. I have never allowed the game to go out of hand. In India, you tend to brand somebody. But I never thought of changing anything in my style of play.
You will be perceived as a domestic giant. How does it feel?
It is a very satisfying feeling. Yes, I did not play for India but that is a part of my life I have kept aside and I have moved on. From 2003 onwards, I had a different mindset. That is mainly because of my family. They made me shift my focus. Yes, I only played domestic cricket, but I wanted to be the best over there.
"As soon as you step on to the ground it doesn't matter which team you play for. Whether it's your club team or office team or first-class team or even international cricket. As long as you give your best the moment you step on to the ground irrespective of which team you represent"
Did you get a feeling that the selectors had completely shut the door on you between 1996 and 1998?
I didn't get that feeling that they had shut the door. I got that in 2003 but 1996-97 I was still in hope. I was scoring runs at that time and I felt there would definitely be one season where I would crack through the middle order. As I said, 2003-04 was probably the season where I got a lot of runs, about 800, did not still manage to break in. That's the time I felt they had shut the door.
Do you think the tour game against South Africa in 1999-2000 was your last chance?
After that I didn't really represent any India A or Board President's XI teams. But I got runs in international cricket also. One of my better knocks was against Australians at the CCI here in Mumbai in 2004-05, so I don't think that I was not looked at beyond that one particular game.
Do you think you were perhaps born in the wrong era?
To be honest, I was plain lucky to have been born in that era. It was a fantastic era to have played cricket in. You had four greats playing for India - Tendulkar, Dravid, Sourav and VVS. And they went on to play 125 Test matches without a break, so it was very tough to break in at that time. But I feel blessed to have played my cricket in that era. Definitely. I don't think that I lacked anything. It's just sheer coincidence that there were four players who played 125 Test matches. You have got to accept it and move ahead.
Who else in your era do you think also missed the bus?
Hrishikesh [Kanitkar] , maybe, but he did play Tests. S Sharath never played. Sharath is the only one who comes to my mind.
You mentioned about changing your mindset since 2003 but you had a horrible season the previous year. How did you manage to come out of the poor season?
I will never forget that season, 2002-03. Because that season taught me a lot. I didn't get runs at all and that was a sort of a wake-up call for me. In the last eight-nine years, I had continuously got runs for Mumbai. I had never gone through a bad patch. I never thought I would not get runs. I went into a shell I feel. It was interesting how I got out of it. I almost gave up cricket in 2003. I had completely packed my bags. But I had signed a contract in England and my dad asked me to keep my promise. "If you wanna give up after that, give up, fine. But keep the commitment that you have made," he said. I personally didn't want to go. But my wife and my dad convinced me to go. And in England I found my way.
When I was a kid, I used to hit a hanging ball about 500 times a day. Over the eight-nine years I had played the Ranji Trophy for Mumbai, I had never bothered to do that. My dad had slipped a hanging ball into my bag, and in England I got a chance to do that. I hung a ball absolutely beside my bed. I woke up, I picked up a bat, hit 200 balls. Before sleeping I hit 200 balls. So in a day I hit about 400-500 hanging balls. And the passion started coming back to me.
I also worked on some of the statistics sent by Makarand Waingankar about the strike rate. It all helped. All those things mattered. I came to Mumbai and started scoring in Times Shield as well. So it was a good journey from 2002-03 season where I absolutely didn't have a clue where my next run would come from, to 2003-04 where I was the highest run-getter.
When you played your last game for Mumbai, in 2008-09, was it a closure of sorts?
No, I did not think it was closure. I felt I could offer something more. I played 16 years for Mumbai and then went on to play five more years outside. Yes, it was a closed chapter for Mumbai, which was very close to my heart but I felt at that time that I could offer something more to the states I went to, Assam and Andhra. I think I contributed something over there because Assam qualified for the Elite for the first time ever in the first year that I went there. I knew I had something to offer to youngsters. It was difficult and different.
There are lots of incentives to prolong a career by turning professional these days, aren't there?
Of course there are. But it depends on the individual cricketer. I wanted to give something back. I knew I had something to offer in the last five years. A cricketer thinks that way. If he is looking at the monetary aspect, yes, there is some gain out of it nowadays in first-class cricket. But I was always of the opinion that I could offer something and give the teams in the Plate division a bit of a boost and change their mindset. That is the reason I went there.
In 2012-13, you scored five hundreds through the season. How did you manage to keep yourself so fit?
Fitness, I dedicate it to my father. At a very young age, he instilled in me in the late 1970s the importance of fitness. He used to take me out for jogs early morning. When everyone was sleeping, I was out there jogging. Fitness is something I have grown up with and it has stayed with me right throughout. Now I realise when I am turning 40, how important it was in lengthening my career. If I wasn't fit enough, probably I would have closed the chapter five years ago when I shifted out of Mumbai.
Would you say the 2006-07 season was the toughest for you?
The 2006-07 was one of the toughest seasons I have played for Mumbai for the sheer fact that we had lost three games in a row. I was the captain of the side and people were talking about relegation. And I still remember the game against Hyderabad. They were all talking about Mumbai getting relegated. In fact, I got a lot of calls and SMS-es from Mumbai stalwarts saying that in their lifetime, they don't want to see Mumbai getting relegated. So there was a lot of pressure. And somehow it changed. In the remaining league games, we had to have a win with a bonus point and it happened. Again in the semi-final, 0 for 5 and then...
In the first innings, the 97 I scored was one of the best knocks I played. It was such a tough wicket that I scored 97 in the first innings and the average [team] score of the remaining three innings was around 150. It wasn't a fast wicket but it was dicey. I was also happy that I broke Kaka's record [Ashok Mankad's record of most Ranji runs for Mumbai] over there in his presence.
You were among the prolific domestic players who were overlooked for the IPL. How did you deal with it?
That's a good question. See, I was disappointed. I will not shy away from saying I was disappointed. When IPL started, I was leading Mumbai, so I was disappointed not to have got a break. But again, that India moment had triggered a mindset shift. In the same way I handled that disappointment and I had moved on. I had a different set of ideas, different set of planning, different set of goals, and I went on to achieve them. Even if IPL didn't happen, that's fine. You can't look back. I am always of the opinion that you have to stay in the present but keep looking ahead. And that's probably one of the reasons why I have played for 21-22 years.
What next? Is commentating an option?
Yes, that is one of the options. I like talking about cricket, so you will definitely see me talking about cricket. I also like coaching. I have been doing my coaching in Holland. I have been the batting consultant for the Netherlands team for the past one year. So coaching and the media is an option.
Would you be willing to coach India Under-19 or A teams?
Surely. Why not? I would definitely love to give something back. I am here because of cricket. I am here because the board gave me the opportunity to showcase my talent. These 25 years I have played cricket, right from junior to first-class cricket. And I would definitely be available to any cause of Indian cricket, whether it's Under-19, whether it's anything.
What change in mindset do you see in today's young cricketers, especially batsmen?
I really don't know what goes through their minds now. It's a different game, different era. When I grew up, I grew up watching Sunil Gavaskar, Dilip Vengsarkar, Mohinder Amarnath, in the 1980s. We were always told that if you want to make any progress in your career, you need to make big runs. And big runs in Mumbai, they only meant double-hundreds. I remember when I was playing for Sungrace just before my first-class debut, one of the very senior players said to me, "If you want to make a mark in Mumbai cricket, hundreds won't matter. You need to get double-hundreds."
I grew up in a different era. Today's youngsters, they are in tune with the modern game which is T20 also. We can't say that they don't have the mindset, it's just that the game has changed a little bit, according to me. They have become more unorthodox. They play some mind-boggling shots. Come back to the game in which I made my debut, in that 260, I never lofted a single shot in the air. Because I was taught never to do that at that time. We were always told, even by my dad, "Just play along the ground." We were not told to lift the ball in the air. That was a different era and now is a completely different era. Now if you tell the guys to play along the ground, they would say, "What is he talking about?"
" It was a fantastic era to have played cricket in. You had four greats playing for India - Tendulkar, Dravid, Sourav and VVS. And they went on to play 125 Test matches without a break, so it was very tough to break in at that time. But I feel blessed to have played my cricket in that era"
Is that style of cricket taking a back seat now?
I don't think there is any danger to it. Yes, the style has changed a bit. The youngsters like to hit the ball in the air. They like to play expansive strokes. But it's a sort of a cycle. Each generation has a different style to it. In the 1980s there was a different flair to batting, in the 1990s, it was different. Sachin Tendulkar brought strokeplay into batting. Of course there were other batsmen earlier who were great stroke-players but I am just saying that there was a shift in the generation. Each generation offers its novelty. This generation's novelty is IPL, I think. It's been seven years since the IPL has started. Youngsters see so many players playing so many unorthodox and different shots, so they are bound to emulate them. The game is surely changing and I feel that change is always good.
Who is the best Mumbai captain you have played under?
Ravi Shastri. His presence was enough. He was fantastic. He was a great leader of youngsters. He was very encouraging. The first year I came in, there were all youngsters - myself, Sairaj [Bahutule], Jatin [Paranjpe], Sameer [Dighe], Abey [Kuruvilla] was in his second-third year. And the way he [Shastri encouraged us was fantastic, was brilliant. His presence in the dressing room and on the ground was magnificent. Why I say that is because he inspired us so much. After 21 years, I still remember the team meeting before the Ranji Trophy final against Bengal at Wankhede. We were all charged up. At 8 o'clock the night when the meeting ended the day before the match, we were all charged up to play the game there and then. I still remember that meeting after 20 years so you can imagine the impact he had on all the youngsters.
Which is the best compliment you have received?
You will have to ask my wife. Jokes apart, Sachin sent a lovely message today. He said that the longevity of your career shows your determination and your commitment towards the game.
I would like to thank a lot of people here. First of all, thanks for turning up. I would like to thank the BCCI to have given me the opportunity to play, to blossom and to showcase my talent for the last 25 years. The set-up in India is fantastic. The junior set-up and the graduation to the senior set-up is fantastic, so thank you. I would like to thank Mumbai Cricket Association, who gave me the platform to build my career.
And personally I would like to thank firstly my dad who encouraged me to play cricket, who pushed me when I was six-seven-eight years old, he made me watch all his local games. That's how it started, so thank you.
Achrekar sir, without him, I don't think I would have been sitting here. I met him this morning and he didn't say much. He smiled, so I knew he was happy. I just want to thank him. Without him, I wouldn't have been a cricketer.
There are a lot of other people who I would like to thank here but if I miss out, I will thank them personally. Here I would like to state a couple of guys who really pushed me ahead. It was Babu Nadkarni from MB Union who gave me the first opportunity to play B Division cricket. Not many cricketers get that. Generally as a 11-12-year old, you start your cricket from E or F Division. But he gave me a chance to play in B Division in my first year. Mangesh Bhalekar, I would like to thank him. He gave me a lot of opportunities to play.
And finally, my family. My wife is sitting behind. My little daughter and my mother, they have been pillars of my life. Every time I came back with emotions, with happiness, with sorrow, with despair, with disappointment, they were just there for me. Without them, I don't think I would have been able to handle these 21 years, so thank you very much. My wife has played a major role and my mother has played a major role in shaping my career. And my uncle has come. I grew up with him. My uncle and my dad, both have been cricketers, so thank you very much. Now I have been playing for Khar Gymkhana for the last 10 years. I will keep playing for them.

Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo