Does India's performance in the Champions Trophy suggest that Indian cricket faces bigger problems? That's the key issue Karan Thapar discussed on Devil's Advocate with the man they consider India's greatest living former Test captain, Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi.
Karan Thapar: Tiger Pataudi, let us start with India's performance in the Champions Trophy. M S Dhoni has gone on record to say, "It's a little difficult for me to say whether the performance was bad." What's your opinion of India's performance?
MAK Pataudi: It was bad in the sense that we had done well in Sri Lanka. I think we should remember that the Sri Lankan wickets suited us. Also it was the spinner who got the wicket in Sri Lanka and they won't get wickets in South Africa.
Karan Thapar:As regards the performance in South Africa, you have no doubt in saying that it was bad?
MAK Pataudi: I say it's bad in the sense that the bowlers didn't do well because they weren't in a position fit enough to do well. Not necessarily physically, but as bowlers because the wickets didn't suit.
Karan Thapar:Let's begin by taking up the issue of fitness. Sehwag, Zaheer Khan, Yuvraj weren't fit enough to play, Sachin wasn't fit enough to bowl, Gambhir wasn't able to play in all the practice matches. Would you say that fitness was a serious problem for the Indian team?
MAK Pataudi: Well, that is the problem. I think we have to study it because a majority of cricketers are not physically agile or physically athletic. If you go back even 50 years from Vijay Merchant to Gavaskar to even Sachin and Rahul Dravid, you wouldn't say they would run a 100 yards in reasonably quick time.
There are very few Indian players who are full of agility and quick movement in the field, and the catching has been poor. There are several reasons for this. When we learnt our cricket in the 60s, the facilities were not really that good.
Karan Thapar:Would you say that fitness was the reason why India's fielding was so poor in South Africa, particularly in the game against Pakistan?
MAK Pataudi: No, I don't think it's in a particular game. Throughout the history of Indian cricket, fielding has been very, very poor. That is because the people don't have grounds to learn fielding. We don't know how to dive; we don't know how to slide because we don't have ground where we can slide on.
Karan Thapar:Fitness is the Achilles heel of Indian cricket?
MAK Pataudi: Fitness and to some extent commitment.
Karan Thapar:To some extent commitment as well?
MAK Pataudi: Yes.
Karan Thapar:On that point, would you say that in the Champions Trophy match there was an issue about India's commitment or temperament and attitude because I noticed that Wasim Akram has gone on record to say, "It's the first time I have seen the Indian body language was wasn't there."
MAK Pataudi: This is not correct because this has happened before. On several occasions, when I was playing, our body language wasn't aggressive or perhaps that positive as it should have been. So it's a bane that has been in Indian cricket for a long, long time.
Karan Thapar:Like fitness, which has been a bane of Indian cricket, commitment has been a question mark against Indian cricketers for a long time.
MAK Pataudi: Certainly, some cricketers, yes.
Karan Thapar:Both Yuvraj Singh and Younis Khan broke fingers on their right hand during practice, but whereas Yuvraj didn't play at all and left for India. Younis Khan missed one game but was there on the field against India. Was commitment a factor in that?
MAK Pataudi: Actually, it depends on how badly it was broken. I don't think it's a question of commitment as much a question of how actually bad the injury is.
Karan Thapar:Many people feel that India's bowlers simply weren't up to the challenges they were facing in South Africa. In your opinion, how bad or poor was India's bowling?
MAK Pataudi: It was poor in the sense that we can't even expect to win 50/50s in these conditions if our bowling is going to go on like this. As I said, we got away with it in Sri Lanka because the wicket suited the spinners.
In South Africa, they were sort of helpful to seam bowling and I just haven't got the seam bowling or at least the seam bowling is not fit to bowl well enough. So the spinner can't do the job in South Africa.
Karan Thapar:Wasim Akram has gone on record to say, "India's fast bowlers are actually slowing down." Would you agree?
MAK Pataudi: Of course, yes. I don't think they were fast to begin with. I consider fast in the late 80s and very early 90s, but these guys are sort of bowling late 70s or very early 80s kilometres per hour or miles per hour. I am not sure. They are not fast. At best they would be called medium fast.
Karan Thapar:Why aren't we throwing up good quality fast bowlers? Is it because fast bowling is not part of the Indian temperament or the genetic make up, or is it because we don't have the training or is it something to do with commitment?
MAK Pataudi: It's more to do with the first three that you mentioned, including of course the most important (reason), is the wickets because they don't suit fast bowling. Indians are reasonably intelligent people and they don't see why they should flog away on wickets that are actually not going to help them. So most of them become batsman or spinners.
Karan Thapar:In other sense, we take, in other words, the easy option?
MAK Pataudi: I don't mean that, what I mean is that if India wants to produce fast bowlers, I think it's the responsibility of the BCCI to produce the kind of wickets that would encourage people to bowl fast.
Karan Thapar:Here the fault lies with cricket management?
MAK Pataudi: To some extent yes, but not necessarily BCCI but also the local associations.
Karan Thapar:To come back to the Champions Trophy, Dhoni faced a lot of criticism for the bowling changes. For instance, during the Pakistan game when the scores stood at 3 for 65 and Pakistan was clearly under pressure, Nehra was taking wickets but he was called back, and two part-timers were brought in. Dhoni was widely criticised. Would you agree?
MAK Pataudi: I have no choice but to agree but its not really the reason what Dhoni did that we lost in South Africa. There are deeper reasons for this. A captain takes a decision, he can go right or wrong and it is easy for us to sit back after the match and criticise.
Karan Thapar: One other point that was made against Dhoni was that he didn't bring Harbhajan on earlier than the 26th over. Shoaib Malik, the Pakistan captain, went on record to say, "If Harbhajan had begun to bowl at 3 for 65 and taken a wicket, Pakistan would have been under serious pressure."
Do you think that was a wrong judgment called by Dhoni?
MAK Pataudi: As it turned out probably because I don't think Shoaib Malik is being one up but I think he is right. They would have been under pressure because Harbhajan was bowling well, but it's a decision left to the captain and in a 50/50 there isn't not much time to make up your mind.
Karan Thapar:In the past, Dhoni has got a lot of praise for his captaincy, this time around in the Champions Trophy, were you a little disappointed with him?
MAK Pataudi: I think the media tends to over praise far to quickly and then of course they have to bring them down. I have not been disappointed of his captaincy. I think he is still a good captain and I think he will be come a better captain.
Karan Thapar:Are there any learning lessons from to pick up from this?
MAK Pataudi: One learns throughout.
Karan Thapar:From this experience in particular?
MAK Pataudi: Yes, he has to learn because every experience teaches you something.
Karan Thapar:Many people ask if beyond fitness and bowling, there are in fact bigger problems that face Indian cricket. What's your answer?
MAK Pataudi: I think what we are not doing is actually is that we are not concentrating enough in our junior cricketer because that is where cricketers are made. There is no point in coming into test cricket at the age of 21-22 and still having your basic fundamentals wrong.
Fundamentals like running between wickets or calling, keeping your eye on the ball when you are fielding or even throwing it at the right end. Unless we get those right before we enter, it's very difficult for the international coach to start you on the fundamentals. It's a waste of time. So, we have to organise our coaching and our facilities much better, at least at a level of 16 or even slightly earlier.
Karan Thapar:So you are saying that people who become national-level cricketers at 21 have actually got their basic fundamentals wrong?
MAK Pataudi: I am saying exactly that. Instead of keeping their cool and keeping their eyes on the ball, you will see lot of Indian cricketers getting flustered and often throwing the ball at the wrong end. They run badly between wickets. These are very basic things which one is supposed to know before you enter the international field.
Karan Thapar:It suggests that the people who become international-level cricketers for India are in a sense half or three-quarter baked?
MAK Pataudi: Absolutely. This is the fault not only of the cricketers but also of the coaches.
Karan Thapar:Which actually means they are not ready to be international cricketers when they become that?
MAK Pataudi: In a way, certainly yes.
Karan Thapar:Has the T20 attitude and temperament militated against India's ability to play the longer 50 overs one day games?
MAK Pataudi: I don't think this is quite correct. It is obviously difficult to adjust to three forms of cricket by the same player, very few people can actually do it but they have to do it. I think India has done well in all aspects of these three games at times but not consistently enough to be thought of as a No.1 position.
Karan Thapar:Is that absence of consistency due to commitment or fitness or both?
MAK Pataudi: I think it is training, mental training--the training that you should be 100 per cent committed throughout the 365 days in a year and that you have nothing else to do. This is the way professional cricket is now played. And the fact that you should get to the top and you must get to the top and that's the whole idea of playing.
Karan Thapar:Why is that mental training lacking? Is it something to do with individual players or is it to do with the system?
MAK Pataudi: I think it's lot to do with outside pressure, especially media pressure or other kinds of temptations, when a player is not used to it. Especially money when you are very young and you are from a reasonably humble background and you suddenly end up with lots and lots of money.
How do you deal with that kind of situation? It is not easy for young Indian cricketers.
Karan Thapar:Would you say that the performance of Indian cricketers has been affected by the country's obsession with cricket which results in every cricketer being treated as a celebrity and quickly becoming a crorepati (multi-millionaire). Has that affected their performance?
MAK Pataudi: It is bound to affect their concentration, because they are a little flustered. They don't know what to do with the kind of attention and fame and fortune that they have suddenly gathered in a space of very short time, especially when they are not used to it.
Karan Thapar:Does their ambition to play well get affected by these things because in a way they have achieved whatever they wanted to achieve by then?
MAK Pataudi: I depends on the individual. You take the example of Sachin Tendulkar or Rahul Dravid or Kumble, they have remained just as committed when they first started as when they ended but there are one or two players whom I don't wish to mention who had been affected and lost out because of their lack of ability to adjust to their new fame and fortune.
Karan Thapar: Sachin and Rahul Dravid are clearly amongst the toughest mentally in the Indian team and their commitment is without doubt but others perhaps lack that toughness and dedication and sense of perseverance wilt under the celebrity status and get distracted or tempted?
MAK Pataudi: Yes, they will certainly get confused and get affected.
Karan Thapar:Does the easy money that cricketers make through commercial contracts and through IPL also affect their attitude?
MAK Pataudi: I think it certainly distracts them a lot, many of them. Therefore, they are not committed as much as they should be to the extent they should be.
Karan Thapar:Where Harbhajan Singh and Mahendra Dhoni justified in not going to Rashtrapati Bhawan to receive their Padma Awards or was that a disrespect and discourtesy to the President which perhaps reflects that their celebrity status made them think that somehow they could behave differently than other awardees?
MAK Pataudi: It's difficult for me to answer because I am not sure whether they got enough time to go. Often you are invited to these functions right at the last minute.
Karan Thapar:But they would have got enough warnings similar to the other awardees?
MAK Pataudi: If they had got enough warning, then I think it was ill mannered not to have gone.
Karan Thapar:What is your understanding and your opinion of the Indian cricketer teams collective refusal to accept the WADA testing stipulations? They took the strongest stand on the issue, no other cricket team has taken a similar stand.
MAK Pataudi: A lot of cricketers have not accepted it really. They had to accept it and they have not been able to refuse. I think the Indian team's objections are in some places correct because why should anybody come to you at any time you like and ask you to do something.
Karan Thapar:If Rafael Nadal or a Roger Federer can accept, why not Indian cricketers?
MAK Pataudi: The objection also came from the security that they get. Often they get state security and these people were saying that there is no reason why they should inform where they are 24 hours because it would become more difficult to give them security.
Karan Thapar:So you don't think that this is a reflection of the Indian cricketers beginning to believe that they are special and different and needed to be treated specially and differently?
MAK Pataudi: I hope not, because they shouldn't be.
Karan Thapar:So when people say that even young cricketers, those at the start of their cricketing career, have begun to have an excessive estimation of their self worth, would you agree?
MAK Pataudi: You have to take the individual separately. Some do, some don't. When talking about earning fame and fortune quickly, the BCCI should also look at this angle and have a kind of symposium to teach people how to deal with these kind of fame and fortune which easily come as a reasonable surprise to them.
Karan Thapar:In addition to BCCI stepping in and guiding them, do you think there is also a need perhaps not to pay so much for IPL and commercial contracts because you are tempting young people who may not be used to this lifestyle in to distraction?
MAK Pataudi: I don't think we can actually be judge of that. They should be allowed to make money as much as they like but they should also be guided.
Karan Thapar:And that's the role of BCCI?
MAK Pataudi: If the parents can't do it, if the school can't do it, then the BCCI will have to do it.
Karan Thapar:Would you then stepping back accept that money in a sense is beginning to spoil some Indian cricketers?
MAK Pataudi: No, I think fame where there was no money also spoilt Indian cricketers. But obviously the temptations are much more now than it was in my time.
Karan Thapar:And the combination of money and fame, particularly when it comes easily and early, can be very dangerous?
MAK Pataudi: Well, it is very difficult to deal with for most people.
Karan Thapar:As another corrective, you talked about BCCI's role in training and guiding Indian cricketers, do you think the performance and attitude of Indian cricketers would improve if the Indian people paid a little less attention to them?
MAK Pataudi: I imagine so, yes. Don't be so adoring quite so quickly.
Karan Thapar:How much for the blame for spoiling the attitude of Indian cricketers lies with newspapers and television? Have the usage of superlatives used by the media for the cricketers gone into their heads?
MAK Pataudi: I am not going to blame extraneous reasons for this. I think, the person involved has to sort it out himself no matter how much pressure he is under.
Karan Thapar:Does television need to be much more thoughtful and careful about the language and the adjectival terms that they use to describe them?
MAK Pataudi: The electronic media has to be not only in cricket but in several other means also.
Karan Thapar:Should the electronic media also be a bit more supportive of non-cricket sport, so that cricket itself doesn't be made to feel unique and special?
MAK Pataudi: I would like to see it. Certainly there is lots of talent in other sports in Indian and we like to see that developed also. Otherwise, it becomes totally lopsided.
Karan Thapar:In addition to sending out the message to cricketers and BCCI, there is also message to the media to be more discriminating and stop romanticising cricketers before spoiling their potential?
MAK Pataudi: Certainly to the general public but not to BCCI, because BCCI does not romanticise cricketers.
Karan Thapar:But you want the BCCI to play the father figure?
MAK Pataudi: Yes, they are supposed to run cricket.
Karan Thapar:Tiger Pataudi, a pleasure talking to you.