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Nothing stumps Kiri

Former wicket keeping ace Syed Kirmani thinks Indian cricket needs good all-rounders

Photo: C.V. Subrahmanyam

THE CRICKETING fraternity during his playing days called him by different names - the media called him "the crisis man", opposition team members called him "specialist night watchman" and for his team members, he was simply "Kiri" - the safest pair of hands behind the stumps. You got it right, he is Syed Mujtaba Hussein Kirmani, the eagle-eyed wicket keeper of the Indian team that won the 1983 World Cup.

. In conversation with Metroplus, journeying down those nostalgic moments of 1983 when he held the Prudential Cup aloft with the rest of Kapil's Devils, he speaks on his personal contribution.

"I have played quite a few good innings, especially when the team was in crisis. But that 190-run partnership with Kapil Dev against Zimbabwe in the 1983 World Cup was most memorable for me. We were down five chips with the score reading 17 runs when I walked in to join my skipper. Kapil's 175 not out is by far the best innings played by any cricketer. Though I scored only 29 in that match the partnership saw us through to the final."

The "crisis man" lived up to the sobriquet till the last match he had played. But on the present crisis in the Indian team, he comments: "There is no crisis as such. Individually, the players are extraordinary by their own merit. What is lacking is commitment and positive thinking. And I don't blame them for this. It is the commercialisation of the game that is taking its toll. Today, cricketers are not born but made. Where do we see natural cricketers like Kapil Dev, Sandeep Patil, G.R. Vishwanath and Tiger Pataudi these days? The present-day parents insist that their children take up the game irrespective of whether they have any natural ability or not or whether they like the game or not. These days, commercial interests overshadow the honour and pride of playing for the country."

Being the former chairman of the selection committee, he was very critical about the composition of the present team. He feels the present team lacks quality all-rounders. ""The standards of all-rounders have dropped so badly that Ajit Agarkar is branded as an all-rounder. We need to groom quality all-rounders. Maybe, we could try out Irfan Pathan and Zaheer Khan, both of whom can bat a bit."

Why didn't he try to groom all-rounders when he was the chairman of the selection committee? "There is something called the think-tank, an informal coterie, in the Board. The fate of cricket and cricketers in this country is in the hands of its members. I was vehemently opposed."

Kirmani is against (the most controversial decision of) vice-captain Rahul Dravid keeping the wickets and bluntly says that the BCCI is messing up the wicket-keeping issue.

"A good wicket keeper is one who takes up the gloves by instinct and not by choice. A wicket keeper is the nucleus of any team. He is the navigator. He is best positioned to guide his bowlers and the captain. I sincerely believe that the Indian cricket team should have two specialist wicket keepers on any tour."

So why has the country not been able fill the gap after Nayan Mongia? "Grooming is the problem. Today, the Board wants somebody like Adam Gilchrist behind the stumps. Mind you, Gilchrist was not born overnight. He was groomed by Steve Waugh over a period of time. He came in as a specialist wicket keeper and later blossomed to a flamboyant batsman and today he is the best in the business. Even I was groomed by Faroukh Engineer. Where is the grooming today? Another problem with our Board is that they are looking for a batsman-cum-wicket keeper and not for specialist wicket keepers. Batting should be a bonus, but it should not be the other way round. Remember, catches win matches."

"We have academies for bowlers and batsmen, but there is no academy for wicket keepers. I intend starting one if I can muster the required support," he signs off.

SUMIT BHATTACHARJEE

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