Exclusive: We groomed Dhoni, but current selectors didn't groom a successor to Kohli, says Vengsarkar

Former India captain Dilip Vengsarkar smiles during an interview with Khaleej Times at a hotel in Palm Jumeirah. (Photo by Rituraj Borkakoty)
Former India captain Dilip Vengsarkar smiles during an interview with Khaleej Times at a hotel in Palm Jumeirah. (Photo by Rituraj Borkakoty)

Dilip Vengsarkar also opens up about the changes the game has seen since the advent of T20



by

Rituraj Borkakoty

Published: Tue 8 Feb 2022, 12:37 AM

Last updated: Tue 8 Feb 2022, 7:18 AM

At a plush hotel in Palm Jumeirah, Dilip Vengsarkar, the man who enthralled the connoisseurs with majestic off-drives, was greeted with admiring glances by a few aspiring local cricketers. The legendary former Indian batsman comforted the kids with a warm smile and even autographed their mini cricket bats.

Three decades after he walked into the sunset, Vengsarkar, 65, takes more pride in grooming youngsters at his academies in Mumbai and Pune than the 17 Test hundreds that he scored — six of which came against the fearsome West Indies line-up of Malcolm Marshall, Andy Roberts and Michael Holding.

Giving a platform to talented cricketers from the slums of Mumbai is more gratifying for him than the three Test hundreds he famously scored at Lord’s and the two-year period in the mid-1980s when he held the world number one ranking as a batsman.

During a freewheeling chat with Khaleej Times, Vengsarkar, a former chairman of the selection committee, expressed his sadness over the current regime’s failure in grooming a long-term successor to Virat Kohli.

Q. The world now hails MS Dhoni as one of the greatest captains that ever lived. But what did you see in him back in 2007 when you, as the chairman of the then selection committee, made him the captain?

Virat Kohli with Mahendra Singh Dhoni during the 2019 World Cup. (AFP file)
Virat Kohli with Mahendra Singh Dhoni during the 2019 World Cup. (AFP file)

When I saw him for the first time, he was not even the captain of Jharkhand (in domestic cricket). But I liked his attitude, his approach to the game. He was aggressive (in his approach), he was positive. So I asked the senior players from the team about him. And they said about his intelligence and good cricket sense. The senior players were really impressed by him. So we groomed him (Dhoni). And before making MS Dhoni (all-format) captain, we made Anil Kumble the Test captain. But the unfortunate part about this current selection committee is that they have never groomed anybody. India A team should have a captain who can become the next captain of India. You just can’t make anybody a captain. There needs to be proper planning.

Q. Rohit Sharma will soon be 35. If they give him the Test captaincy now, it will not be a long-term solution to the vacuum created by Kohli’s resignation as Test captain...

Yes, they will probably go for Rohit Sharma. But he is 34 now. Of course, he is a fantastic player. His place in the team is certain definitely. So Rohit should be a stop-gap arrangement. But they have to groom somebody who can take over and play for a long time. Otherwise, it will be like a game of musical chairs, which is not good for the team.

Q. Rohit has finally become the main man in the team. But are you disappointed with the fact that it took him so long to show a level of consistency in Test cricket?

I had lot of expectations from him in Test cricket also because he is such a fantastic player. He has all the shots in the world and plays them with so much authority. But the unfortunate part is that his fitness level has gone down quite a lot in the last few years. So it’s definitely a disappointment because he is a player with such huge talent, but he is not playing all the matches because of fitness issues. If you look at Virat Kohli, his fitness is amazing. I think if he wants, he can play for another five years without any issues. He is probably the fittest guy in world cricket. His work ethic is so admirable.

Six of Dilip Vengsarkar's 17 Test centuries came against the fearsome West Indies bowling attack. (ICC Twitter)
Six of Dilip Vengsarkar's 17 Test centuries came against the fearsome West Indies bowling attack. (ICC Twitter)

Q. You were among the world’s best batsmen in the 1980s. But do you wish sometimes that cricketers of your era had the same privileges that players enjoy now?

Not really. We had a fantastic time, the adulation was the same. But now the T20 format, especially the IPL, has changed the game so much. The TV rights money, for example, that the BCCI earns for IPL also goes into state associations to build infrastructure, allowing players from smaller states to play for India. It never happened before. Look at MS Dhoni, he came from Ranchi. I mean we never thought that there would be a captain of India from Ranchi!

Q. Which has been the most satisfying phase in your life as a cricketer?

I am happier with what I have done after my retirement. I have got three academies, two in Mumbai and one in Pune. So many kids from my academies got to play for Mumbai, IPL and India. Many kids come from slums. We only take players that are good and that’s why almost 60 per cent of the Mumbai team players are from my academy, from under-14 and under 16 level to the Ranji level. And thousands of kids have got a platform. Ruturaj Gaikwad is from my Pune academy. He comes from a very humble background. Some of the kids are so poor that I also pay for their education. Also, we have Yashasvi Jaiswal who used to stay in a tent house at the Azad Maidan. He used to earn money by selling panipuris (an Indian snack). His coach one day told me to watch him play. I saw him and I was impressed. I took him to England with our academy team and he scored runs in every match. So he was picked in the Indian team for the Under 19 World Cup and then by the Rajasthan Royals for 2.4 crores (INR 24 million). I just hope that they keep their feet on the ground!

Q. When it comes to grooming or encouraging youngsters, you gifted a cricket bat to Sachin Tendulkar when he was only 14...

I had heard about him. Vasoo Paranjpe was the coach of Bombay team that time and he saw Sachin play in few inter-school tournaments. He was so impressed by him that he was insisting that I must go and watch him. But I was about to play my 100th Test match, so I could not go to inter-school tournament. I invited Sachin to join the Indian team nets. I asked Kapil Dev, Chetan Sharma, Arshad Ayub and Maninder Singh to bowl to him. And he batted so confidently. In the same evening, they had to pick the Bombay team for Ranji match. So I mentioned his name. But they wanted to wait because they didn’t want to risk a 14-year-old! Then he finally played Ranji Trophy (one year later) and scored a hundred in the first match. He also scored a hundred in his first Duleep Trophy match and then scored another hundred in his first Irani Cup match. It was after that that he was picked by the Indian selectors for the 1989 Pakistan series. And the rest of the story you know. In terms of talent, he was definitely the best batsman I have seen in my life after Viv Richards.

Dilip Vengsarkar (second right) and members of the 1983 Indian World Cup-winning team with Lata Mangeshkar and Rajiv Gandhi. The legendary singer, who passed away on Sunday, made lunch for Vengsarkar at her London residence after the former Indian batsman scored his third Test century at the Lord’s in 1986.
Dilip Vengsarkar (second right) and members of the 1983 Indian World Cup-winning team with Lata Mangeshkar and Rajiv Gandhi. The legendary singer, who passed away on Sunday, made lunch for Vengsarkar at her London residence after the former Indian batsman scored his third Test century at the Lord’s in 1986.

Q. You were known as ‘Colonel’ Vengsarkar in the cricket world. But how did you get that name?

I came into the Bombay team in 1974 at the age of 18. We had stalwarts in the Bombay team those days, Ashok Mankad was the captain, Sunil Gavaskar, Eknath Solkar, Sudhir Naik, Paddy Shivalkar. So to get into the team was very difficult. But I was hoping I would get an opportunity. So what happened next year, in 1975, those days, the Irani Cup was the first fixture in the Indian domestic season. On the eve of the match (between Bombay and the Rest of India), Solkar was injured and I got an opportunity. So I got a chance to play Bishan Bedi and Erapalli Prasanna for the first time, I scored a hundred in 85 balls. I hit seven sixes. Lala Amarnath was doing the commentary for the All India Radio. He was asked by his colleagues about me, ‘what do you think about this young player?’ “Oh, he bats like Colonel (CK) Nayudu’. So the media started calling me Colonel. You know Colonel Nayudu was Lala Amarnath’s captain right from India’s first Test match in 1932. Obviously, many people don’t know the backstory so I often get asked at various places, including airports, if I was in the army for a few years. They want to know why I was called the Colonel. So that’s the story.


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