Member of the 1983 Prudential World Cup (cricket) winning Team India Syed Mujtaba Hussain Kirmani appeared for an interview yesterday where he refused to accept the argument that today’s game required a different skill-set. After attending a function in Chandigarh yesterday, the former Indian wicketkeeper, who played in 88 test matches and 49 one-day international (ODI) matches for India and remained the country’s top wicketkeeper in the late 1970s and 80s before he retired in 1986 with 2,759 runs and 198 dismissals in test matches and 373 runs and 36 dismissals in ODIs, advised youngsters aspiring to be wicketkeepers.
Asked about the changes he has observed in cricket since his time, Kirmani told The Indian Express, “Well, every era comes to an end and it happened with the West Indies cricket team, followed by the rise of the Indian team in the 1980s — including the 1983 Cricket World Cup. Then we saw the dominance of the Australian team and players like Ricky Ponting showed their mettle.”
“Then came cricketers like MS Dhoni, who became perhaps the best wicketkeeper-batsman and captain for India. Whichever era or format comes, the key for any cricketer is to show consistency and to be a better player,” Kirmani said.
On the historic partnership with Kapil Dev against Zimbabwe at Tunbridge Wells in the 1983 World Cup, the household name of the 1980s recalled: It was a historic match for both of us. We need to win the match to qualify for the knockout stage and the Indian team were 17 for 5 at one stage. When I joined Kapil, the scoreboard read 140 for 8. As the recently released movie 83 shows, my first words to my captain, Kapil Dev, were ‘Aise nahin marne ka. Maar ke marne ka agar marna hai toh.’
“We built a wonderful partnership and it was the most devastating knock of Kapil that I have ever seen. Such knocks happen once in a century or even a lifetime. My target was to feed the strike to Kapil and the rest is history. We won the World Cup, but if that knock by Kapil or the partnership did not happen, we would have returned home.”
Asked about Indian wicketkeepers of this generation, Kirmani said, “In our times, there were only specialist wicketkeepers. But all of that changed when the likes of Farokh Engineer, under whom I spent time as an understudy for more than five years, came along. One suddenly understood the need to be a good batsman as well as a good keeper, for all-around abilities. Apart from batting, I would also spend a lot of time bowling in the nets (laughs). I remember bowling off-spin to Geoffrey Boycott when he told me that I could be a good offspinner too. In the current crop of wicketkeepers, the likes of Rishabh Pant, KL Rahul, Sanju Samson and Ishan Kishan are extremely talented and it’s nice to see so much competition for the wicketkeeper’s slot. They can take the game away from the Opposition at any moment and that makes them special.”
His mantra for youngsters to become successful wicketkeepers is “to practice and spend time on the basics of wicketkeeping first. I remember that I wore a batting glove as my thigh pad in my debut Test series against New Zealand in 1976. We would also tie hand towels for protection. But the main focus was to be a better judge of the swinging and the spinning balls. Keeping wickets against the likes of the famous spin quartet of Erapalli Prasanna, S Venkataraghavan, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar and Bishen Singh Bedi was the toughest test for me.”
“Against pacers,” Kirmani said, “one stands at a distance and has time to judge the movement or speed of the ball. Among the four spinners, Bedi was special in his own way but it was always Chandrasekhar, who made my task the most difficult. The ball would come above my knee and till my shoulder and I used to have bruises all over my body while making the legside collections. That’s what made me strong technically.”
He does not make much of IPL speedster Umran Malik. “… nothing disrespectful to Umran, but I have seen bowlers who bowled in excess of 160 km/h. There were bowlers like Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Malcolm Marshall, Joel Garner, Dennis Lille and Len Pascoe and plenty more whom I saw bowling. And we learnt a lot watching them bowl or how the ball behaved when they bowled. The pitches were too fast during those times.”