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Couch Talk

'I ensured there was no regionalism in selection'

Former India batsman Chandu Borde reflects on the challenges of being a national selector, his success as team manager in 2007, and standing up to the West Indians

Subash Jayaraman: Based on the experiences of your playing career, what were the things you wanted to implement when you became the chairman of selectors?
Chandu Borde: When I became the chairman, I saw to it that the selection was done by our committee. The talk about regionalism, we never bothered about that. We only thought about the country and how to give the country the best Indian team we could give.
SJ: In modern-day cricket, where information about every player is available at your fingertips, what is the logic behind still having a zonal system for selectors?
CB: Ours is a very big country and there are many cricketers. So what happens is that everyone tries to push a person from his zone. But then we used to sit together and watch some of the matches arranged by the board, like the Duleep Trophy or Ranji Trophy, or some other selection committee matches. After watching those players, we used to see what kind of talent they have and the most suitable person for the team. Who are the best openers, the good middle-order players, the good bowlers and allrounders? We used to discuss all these players from different zones and select them.
SJ: But we still have a system in India where selectors are chosen based on a zonal basis. Should we stick to that system or go to a central system?
CB: Presently a number of matches are watched by the selectors. In the past they used to only watch games in their zone or go to another zone. What we had decided that time was that a person from the South Zone would watch matches in the North Zone. One from East will go to West etc, so that there is no partiality when we discuss players while selecting the team. We used to get to know the players who we wanted to select. Now also, all selectors go and watch the different matches and they have the data with them too. The media is also showing some of the matches on TV. What they get to see, every selector gets to see. It has become easy for them, I would say. They are selecting the team according to their performances and talent. They are selecting on merit, I am sure.
SJ: Can you give us some insights into what a selection meeting would entail when you were the chairman?
CB: Many times, the selectors used to push their players, but if we saw that two players are of the same kind, we used to discuss them. Who would be more useful to the team? We used to convince each other and then select. Sometimes there are so many cricketers of the same level but their contribution as good fielders or specialist batsmen or allrounders would differ. We used to talk on those aspects and select.
SJ: There have been a lot of players who made their India debut under your watch. Are there players you persuaded the other selectors to have patience with?
CB: Mohinder Amarnath, for instance. During our time he could not perform well in the first couple of Test matches. But we still persisted with him because we knew about his talent and his contributions will be very useful. He performed well in the Test matches after that and he never stopped. He served Indian cricket beautifully.
I will give you another example: [Mohammad] Azharuddin. It was South Zone v MCC in Hyderabad, and the way Azhar played there, I was very impressed with his technique, his fielding and timing. That is why in the next Test match we selected him in the 14. On the day of the match, in Calcutta, when Sunil Gavaskar was the captain, we both went to the ground and saw the wicket. I suggested Azhar's name, said I watched him in the earlier match. Sunil said, "Okay, we will pick him." He wanted somebody else with experience, as a newcomer will find it very difficult in front of a big crowd. But I convinced him and he agreed to it. We selected Azharuddin and he performed wonderfully in that match. He scored a century. He scored centuries in the next two Tests. I was very happy when Sunil Gavaskar said, "Sir, thank you very much. You were right and I was a bit confused." This sort of thing, with experience if you can convince the captain, then I think they also know who is good and who is bad.
SJ: On the other hand, are there players that you believed would come good for India but did not?
CB: Not all the players could meet our expectations. I used to feel very sorry to drop a player. Where did I go wrong? Where did my committee go wrong? I used to ask myself those questions. To select a team is easy, but to drop a player is difficult. If you look at it from that angle, you can serve Indian cricket and select the best team in a successful way.
SJ: You had a long playing career - 55 Tests - and you have been with Indian cricket for so long. Who would you rate as the greatest players you have played with or selected or seen?
CB: To name a particular person, I will be doing injustice to others. That is not correct. But still, I like to mention that I was fortunate to play with Vijay Hazare. During that time, he was the best in the country. The second was Sunil Gavaskar, when he was playing for the country and I was the chairman of the selection committee. Afterwards it was Sachin Tendulkar. He was 16 years old when he went to Pakistan. That time, I was the manager. He performed very well. I had associations with these three great players. Also, other players like Kapil [Dev], Sourav [Ganguly] and Kris Srikkanth. There are many others too - Ravi Shastri etc.
SJ: You just mentioned Hazare, Gavaskar and Tendulkar - three of the greatest batsmen India has produced. How would you rate their technique and temperament?
CB: In 1967-68, when we went to Australia, I captained the side in Adelaide. They had a tradition where the teams would have lunch together. The visiting captain would sit on the right side of the chairman of the board. Sir Donald Bradman was there. While talking about cricket, he suddenly asked me, "How is Vijay Hazare?" I was surprised. I was playing with him in Baroda that time. I said, "Sir, he is very fine. I played with him." Bradman said, "Oh, he was a great cricketer, a great batsman." That was a tremendous compliment coming from Sir Donald Bradman. Then he talked about Vinoo Mankad and [Lala] Amarnath also. But to hear this from great cricketers, you feel happy that you were associated with these people.
"Fast bowlers would overstep the crease and bowl from 18 yards. There was no restriction on bouncers. They could bowl three or four in one over. Sometimes, Gilchrist and Hall bowled beamers"
SJ: You had a very special relationship with Tendulkar. You had seen him from a very young age - a coach-mentor kind of thing and then as manager/selector. What was that relationship like?
CB: That was a very, very close relationship on the field. When he was 16 years old, in Pakistan, I found that he was so enthusiastic. When we used to go for practice he was the first person to go to the ground and the last person to leave the ground. Sometimes the groundsman would say, "Sir, please stop this youngster because we want to start the match and remove all the nets." He was such a dedicated person. In those days the manager was also the coach. I did give him a few tips in the nets when he used to bat. The way he hit [Abdul] Qadir out of the ground [in Peshawar], we felt that this boy is different and we selected him in the next match.
At Sialkot, the wicket was a greentop and they had great bowlers like Waqar [Younis], Imran [Khan], [Wasim] Akram, [Aaqib] Javed. In fact, the two umpires asked, "Where is the wicket?" Anyway, when we were three or four down, Sachin went in to bat and Waqar was bowling. The third ball hit him on the face when Waqar bowled a bouncer. Blood was coming out, and I went on the field along with the physiotherapist. After dressing the wound, we said, "Let's go inside." He said, "No sir, I would like to bat." The next three balls, he sent them to the boundary fence. It was then we knew that here is a person who would serve Indian cricket for a long time. He never stopped after that. His determination, concentration and confidence level was amazing.
Later on, in 2007, I was the manager on the tour to England. In Ireland, he was out in an ODI to a ball that pitched on the middle stump and hit his off stump. It swung so much. When he came in, I allowed him to settle down and later I told him that the ball that he tried to play to midwicket, he should have played to mid-on. We went in the nets and I was just throwing the ball on the middle stump and he started playing straight. You will be surprised that after that in the same series, he missed three centuries, getting out in the 90s. He was playing so beautifully. Here is a person who, when he makes a mistake, would go to the nets and correct the mistake and never try to repeat it. Tremendous. There is a lot that others can learn from him.
SJ: Who were some of the greatest non-Indian players that you watched or played against?
CB: Oh, there are so many. The people who come to my mind - Peter May was a beautiful player. [Colin] Cowdrey was a good player. Sir Garry Sobers - what a fantastic allrounder. I am yet to see a better allrounder. Sir Frank Worrell was a very stylish, elegant player. Rohan Kanhai, Neil Harvey. They were great players.
Bowlers like [Roy] Gilchrist had speed. In those days we didn't have helmets or chest guards or thigh pads. It was very difficult to play against them. Even [Fred] Trueman was nasty, but [Brian] Statham was very accurate. Alec Bedser, though he was getting on in age when we played him, the way he bowled against us in 1958-59 was fantastic. There were so many great players. [Richie] Benaud was another one. Bob Simpson and Bill Lawry, the way they batted against us, they were fantastic. Lance Gibbs was a wonderful offspinner. On the uncovered wickets, the wicket would be different every day. The front-foot rule was not there. The fast bowlers would drag and overstep the crease and bowl from 18 yards. There was no restriction on bouncers. They could bowl three or four in one over. Sometimes, Gilchrist and Hall, Gilly in particular, bowled beamers.
SJ: Against West Indies in 1959, you failed in four Tests, but in one Test you scored 109 and almost scored another century in the second innings - 96. What was different in Delhi, where you nearly scored two hundreds?
CB: Before that match, what happened was that in the first two matches I didn't do well and was dropped from the team. They kept me in the reserves because I was an allrounder and a fairly good fielder. At Madras, one of the players was sick, so I was included in the team. Then in the first innings I failed. I felt very miserable. I went to the hotel. I was in the room after the game and my elder brother was there. He saw my face and said, "What's wrong? It doesn't matter, don't worry. Let us pray together." And we prayed together. You will be surprised that in the second innings I scored 50-odd runs. I don't know what courage I got to bat against them. That was the turning point in my life. After that, I was again selected for the last Test match, in Delhi.
At that time, I decided: these bowlers are hitting me and taking my wicket, why not I give them back? That was my attitude. Instead of fear, I became a more confident player. I decided to face them in their own yard. I scored a hundred and just missed a second by four runs. That gave me tremendous courage. The 56 in the second innings in Madras gave me the courage and confidence. After that I never looked back and was never dropped for ten years.
SJ: In 2007, the Indian team didn't have a head coach after Greg Chappell was fired. What was your influence on the team as a whole, on how they performed and how they won the Test series in England?
CB: There was a lot written in the media about the Indian team's performance in the West Indies [World Cup]. I believe the media wrote that there was unpleasantness among the players and they were not on talking terms. The relation between the coach and the senior players was not very cordial. So they decided to get someone with experience, who is respected, and that is why they selected me. I think it was largely because of Mr [Raj Singh] Dungarpur - I think he suggested it to the BCCI president, Sharad Pawar. I got a call in the afternoon from Delhi and they asked, "Chandu, do you have a passport?" I replied, "Yes, sir. I have a passport." "You are going to England as the manager of the Indian cricket team."
They selected me because I knew all these players. I had coached many of them. When they were 19 years old, I was their manager, their selector, chairman, everything. That is why the boys had a lot of respect for me. When I was selected, because of my presence there, the differences and other things that they had among themselves disappeared and we concentrated on the game and won the series in England after 20 years. A lot of people didn't give much credit to the manager.
SJ: Did you have a meeting with the senior players and tell them what their responsibilities are?
CB: The first thing I did before going to the ground, I called everybody and we had a meeting. I asked them questions and their opinions. I told them, "Listen, I played cricket too. We are here to play cricket. You are much better than these people." That is why we could perform well in that tour. We won the ODI series [against South Africa] and the Test series.
SJ: What sort of the relationship did you have with the captain, Rahul Dravid?
CB: Cordial. Rahul is a knowledgeable boy, there was very little to tell him. He knows the game. He had played against all the countries and his experience was also there. Everything went on very well, satisfactorily.
SJ: India lost 4-0 in England in 2011 and now they lost the series 3-1. What do you think should be done to win the series like they did when you were with the team?
CB: I thought that after winning the Test match [at Lord's], they should have continued with that performance in the remaining Test matches, because this team is full of talent. But England corrected their mistakes. If you noticed, their batsmen used to stand outside the crease and smother the swing of [Bhuvneshwar] Kumar. They changed their technique. For India, only MS Dhoni was coming forward, and to a certain extent, R Ashwin. They came forward, left their crease, and performed very well after that. But the remaining batsmen didn't correct themselves. That was the downfall of our batting line-up. It should have been corrected and implemented earlier. Only Dhoni did that. That was why they lost the remaining games. England also bowled beautifully.
SJ: You have been associated with Indian cricket for 60 years or more. As you look back on your career, what do you feel?
CB: I was one of the fortunate ones to play for my country continuously for a number of years, and then after that serve Indian cricket in different capacities - as a manager, coach and sometimes as a curator also. I have done all these things very sincerely and I enjoyed it enormously. Therefore, when I sit back, I feel so satisfied. I am a contented man. I am thankful to the board for giving me opportunities for serving the game for a long period. I am happy that as a chairman of the selection committee we introduced so many cricketers and they had performed so well for the country and are still doing very well. That satisfaction is fantastic. You cannot write it down in words. It is superb.