Rishabh Pant is amazing; Rohit Sharma on peak of his career: Dilip Vengsarkar
Popularly known as the ‘Lord of the Lords' for scoring three Test match centuries on successive visits to London's famous venue owned by the Marylebone Cricket Club, former India captain Dilip Vengsarkar has an astute mind and the knack to spot talent. At Lord's, he scored 103 against England in 1979, 157 in 1982, 126 not out in 1986 besides 102 not out at Headingley in 1986. He has scored in all 1,589 runs against England in 13 Tests at an impressive average of 48. Overall, he has scored 6,868 runs in 116 Tests from 1976 to 1992. In an exclusive interview to mathrubhumi.com he talks about the just-concluded India-England Test series that the hosts won 3-1.
Q. India has reached the final of the World Test championship (WTC). Are you excited?
A. To be honest, I am not a huge fan of the WTC. I would prefer to watch India versus Australia, India versus England and South Africa maybe. But I also hear that the points system was tweaked between. I read Ravi (Shastri) talking about it. It did not help India when it was tweaked. I don’t think it was a right thing to do once matches have been played in the championship.
Q. What’s your reading of the pitches prepared for the recent four-Test series. Two Test matches got over in a combined five days at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad.
A. I would like to watch good, quality cricket. And, quality cricket can be possible only on good pitches. There has to be equal chance for the batsmen, fast bowlers and the spinners. So, every department of the game comes into play. And that gives you exciting cricket.
Even the Indian batsmen have to get used to playing the spinners. But, they play so much of international cricket that they don’t get time to play domestic cricket.
Q. There were two big batting displays -- Root’s 218 and Rohit Sharma’s 161. Rishabh Pant turned out to be a hit with two half-centuries and a game-changing century (101 in the first innings of the fourth Test).
A. Look, on these types of pitches, a batsman has to graft for runs, grind it out. Unless one is a Rishabh Pant or a Washington Sundar, both of whom played absolutely fearless cricket. If you are an established player, you cannot just go after the bowling because there is always a chance of getting out.
Q. Ajinkya Rahane (112 runs in 6 innings) and Cheteshwar Pujara (133 runs in 6 innings) were not among runs.
A. That’s what I said. We used to play the Ranji Trophy, Duleep Trophy and the Irani Cup. We used to play the Times Shield inter-office tournament. We used to play a lot of games in which the spinners dominated.
One can play matches in Bangalore in the months of August, September and October as it doesn’t rain there. So, the Irani Cup and Duleep Trophy can be played in these months.
Q. You have seen Rohit Sharma right through. What difference do you see in him as an opener? He has scored 1,030 runs as an opener in 17 innings at an average of 64.38.
A. Rohit in the middle order would play his shots from the word go. But the way he has improved his defence, in particular against the new ball, has been exemplary. The way he is batting now should make him one of the best in the world. There is no question about his ability. He plays the ball late, allows the ball to spin, seam and plays so late and close to his body. His defence has become impeccable in the long form of the game.
Q. How has he managed the mental shift?
A. He has become tough, you cannot play shots straight away facing the new ball. You have to play the percentage game to start with with and subsequently you can play the shots. But you have to be very careful in the initial 15 overs. That’s not the nature of a middle-order batsman. It’s difficult for a player and a stroke-player like Rohit Sharma not to play his shots. But he has shown he can play another game. Horizontal shots are okay, I am talking about driving.
Q. Do you feel Rohit will have to make further adjustments for the Test series in England?
A. He is at the peak of his career. I am sure he will do the adjustments very quickly. After all, you have to make adjustments when you play abroad.
Q. What about Shubhman Gill?
A. I am really impressed with him. India will hear a lot about him in the future. He is technically sound and I expect him to score lot of runs.
Q. How much value has Pant brought to the Indian cricket?
A. He has been amazing. He always comes at a time when the Test match is evenly poised. And with his complete daredevil batting, he has turned the fortunes of the team around. Going by what he has done so far, he has been fantastic.
Q. Would you say that the Indian lower order would be tough to deal with once Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja return to the team for Test match cricket?
A. And what about K.L. Rahul? He is a quality player. He is sitting outside. There are a lot of options now.
Q. You have been raised on the turf pitches in Mumbai, right from school cricket. So is Rahane. His average overseas is 44.45, but at home it is 36.48.
A. The game is always played with your confidence levels. The important thing with Ajinkya Rahane is that he has to be consistent. He is a good quality player. Maybe, he is getting bogged down or loses his concentration. Another important thing is playing in the domestic tournament. Unless they are allowed to play important matches, they would not be able to learn.
Even at my academy at the Oval ground, the pitches are true and good. But once the kids go to Azad and Cross Maidans, they struggle to play the spinners. So, I tell them to play there also. I tell them to play at 'Akharas’' (akin to wrestling grounds), where they will learn to grind.
Q. The spinners – Ravichandran Ashwin (32) and Axar Patel (27) – took 59 wickets in the series. Ashwin had three five-wicket hauls and Patel had four five-wicket hauls and one ten-wicket haul .
A. It was an amazing performance. Both were excellent, no question about that. Ashwin’s 400-plus wickets is a fantastic achievement. He has been hungry for success, he has more tricks up his sleeve. He is different all the time.
Q. It’s a good headache for the selectors, is it not? Patel and Jadeja. Will Patel make way for a fit Jadeja for the next Test match ?
A. It’s a good thing that there are options. They are all on their toes. No one goes into the comfort zone.
Q. You spotted Virat Kohli early in Australia and gave him an opening. He has evolved consistently in almost all counts, hasn't he?
A. He is a top-class batsman and he has always been good as a captain and on top of the game, one of the best in the world. His confidence drives the team.
Q. India won two Test series without being in full strength.
A. What they achieved in Australia was fantastic. The way the youngsters answered the call, like Mohammad Siraj, T. Natarajan, Shardul Thakur, Pant and Sundar, was absolutely outstanding.
Q. So you would place the 2-1 win against Australia above the 3-1 against England?
A. There is no question about it. Where is the comparison? Winning is always good for the team, its morale and all that. 3-1 is an excellent win against England, but beating Australia in Australia (after what happened at Adelaide) has to be the ultimate win.
Q. Ishant Sharma played his 100th Test. He has been terrific in the last three years after a lull, hasn't he?
A. There are other formats he has played and so it is not easy to play 100 Test matches. He has played across all the formats. So, it’s not easy for a fast bowler, full credit to him. He has been injured and has come back strongly. He has maintained his standard. He is an experienced bowler and maybe his stint in the English County has helped him. I have always believed that the batsmen and bowlers, when they are under-23 or thereabout, should spend a couple of years in England’s County cricket.
Q. How would you sum up the just-concluded four-Test series? It was a unique in many ways, played in bio-secure environment, back-to-back Test matches in Chennai and Ahmedabad. And, the first Test without spectators.
A. Frankly speaking, I did not understand England’s strategy. Their batsmen’s skills and technique against the Indian spinners were below average. In fact, extremely poor. They were clueless facing the spinners. Their defensive technique was poor against the turning ball and the straight ball. I was also surprised with England’s rest and rotation policy that was put in place. It meant that they were not giving importance to Test match cricket. I can understand rest and rotation policy in limited-overs cricket, but not Test match cricket. They should have had the best eleven players on the park all the time.
Q. Were you surprised by their dismal batting display, especially after the first Test that England won by 227 runs and skipper Joe Root scored 218 runs?
A. They did so well in the two-Test series in Sri Lanka and against the spinners as well. A few players returned to England (because of the rest and rotation policy) and some players came straight from England. They had not played in Sri Lanka (like Ben Stokes). So, they went into the Test matches in India without proper practice and without proper preparation.
Q. England’s openers were also vulnerable – Dom Sibley, Rory Burns and Zak Crawley --- against India’s spinners. They were not experienced enough.
A. But they came from Sri Lanka, where the weather and pitch conditions were similar to the Indian environment. And, they were all at sea, looked completely out of place.
Q. Do you think England would adhere to the rest and rotation policy against India at home in July-August? It appears their primary focus is on the Ashes.
A. I hope they realise the mistake of rest and rotation in a Test series after what happened in India (1-3 defeat). I have no clue as to what they will do in the five-Test home series against India. They are answerable to English cricket. I hope they put their thinking caps. Test match cricket is the ultimate competition. We are known by our performances in Test match cricket, not in Twenty20 tournaments and ODIs. England will never do this rest and rotation against Australia in the Ashes.
Q. Having been the chairman of the BCCI senior national selection committee yourself, were you surprised when you first heard about the rest and rotation policy?
A. To be honest, I was shocked. And that too, to try it against India, which is one of top cricket and Test-playing nations. Sri Lanka may not be one of the better teams presently, they maybe in the process of rebuilding its team. But not against India and they knew what to expect in India -- that the spinners would play a big part in the series.
Q. Did England underestimate India in the context of playing on pitches they actually got to play?
A. If a team goes to Australia, it will know that the pitch will afford bounce there. If a team goes to England, it knows that the ball will seam around. So when a team comes to India, obviously it will face slow and turning tracks. Of course, bouncy and seaming tracks can be made in India. Preparation is what matters and England was not prepared. Once a team comes to the sub-continent, it should expect such conditions. But it simply did not have the technique to counter the spinners.
Q. England had support staff in Jonathan Trott and Graham Thorpe who has played some cricket in Asia and were supposed to be good against spinners.
A. It all depends on individuals. A team may have the best coaching staff who have played a lot of cricket. But in reality the batsmen have to implement all of it (the technique) on the ground. If you don’t have it in you to adjust and adapt to these conditions quickly, then this is what will happen.
Q. Would you say that the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) should create all types of pitches in their domestic structure in order to be able to compete in India on a consistent basis?
A. India has been travelling a lot in recent times, with its `A’ teams. They have played in English conditions and Australian conditions. Also in South Africa. So England should send their `A’ teams to the sub-continent and play matches. So, when they play for England, they would know what to expect and how to go about things. These days, preparation is very important. If you don’t, how can you perform? Even in England, you have to play three or four practice matches before the first Test. How can a team go into the first Test, just by playing one practice match? They are foreign conditions, completely. A player may have gone there a hundred times, but even then it takes time to adjust.
Q. Earlier, the visiting teams used to play two warm-up matches in India before the start of the Test series.
A. I don’t know how the tour programme is scheduled, but to play two warm-up games would be ideal before the first Test. Even this is not enough, the preparation starts before the tour. A team has to take Test cricket seriously. I think England was not prepared properly.
Q. England had Jacques Kallis as batting consultant for the two-Test series in Sri Lanka. Do you think a former Indian Test cricketer with the England team would have helped ?
A. One can always guide players. But if you are not good enough to play at this level, nothing much can be done with them.
Q. What about your academy boy from Pune, Ruturaj Gaikwad?
A. He has been getting runs consistently for Maharashtra across all formats. He should get the break at the right time. A lot of players have faded away not getting the break. He is a very good player. He has played very well for India `A’ also. It all depends on when the selectors induct them into the Indian team. They are all talented players.