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Interview with M.R.Baig

We are pleased to have interviewed M.R.Baig, former Ranji and Duleep Trophy Player and a well known coach for the past 30 years, based out from Hyderabad. Our Reporter Srinivasan V.R. was able to talk to the former Ranji player and veteran coach in an exclusive 45-min chat.

Introduction:

MR BaigMr. Baig played first class cricket from 1958 to 1970, mostly for the Services Team. Owing to some sterling performances in the Ranji Trophy, he was selected to represent the North Zone in the Duleep Trophy, when he played along with the likes of Rajinder Goel as an off-spinner of some repute. However, he has made his living as a cricketing coach after obtaining his “coaching-training” from NIS, Patiala. Throughout his coaching career spanning more than 30 years, he has directly or indirectly been involved in the development of several international cricketers, particularly from the South Zone.

Our interview focused on his early cricket career, his coaching career, his thoughts on coaching, and different methodologies of cricket coaching and other opinions of his.

On his playing career:

Cricketfundas.com: Sir, tell us about your earlier playing career. What/Who inspired you to take up cricket as a career?

Baig: I started my Cricket when I was in 8th-9th. I started playing Ranji at the age of 17-18. I used to play at the Lal Bahadur Stadium. I was inspired to take up off spin bowling by watching Ghulam Ahmed bowl. In fact I used to imitate his bowling action, which made people call me as Ghulam Ahmed 2(smiles). I have played Ranji Trophy for Services for a period of nearly 10 years. I also played in the Duleep Trophy. Some of the illustrious names that I played against and with, were Pataudi (Pataudi Jr), Rajinder Goel, Dani (HT ‘Bal’Dani) etc. I played against the likes of Pataudi, Polly Umrigar, and Vijay Manjrekar. I did get beaten for 100’s of runs but we felt proud that only such great batsmen hit us. I have even bowled alongside Rajinder Goel in the Duleep Trophy and it was a great learning experience for me to bowl with him.

Cricketfundas.com: Please tell us more about Rajinder Goel. We keep reading that he is one of the best players who never played for India. We feel that it was because spin talent in Indian cricket during those days was extremely abundant. Are we right?

Baig: See..Rajinder Goel has more than 500 Ranji Trophy wickets! (Cricketfundas.com reminds him that Goel has 750 First class wickets). There was so much to learn from him. We used to plan dismissals very carefully while bowling in those days. In my opinion, the spinners in my era were much more competitive and very much better than today’s spinners. I never regretted the fact that I never made it big, because the standards of spinning in that era were very high. During my time, we had Venkataraghavan and Prasanna playing in the Indian team as off-spinners and they were superb.

Another point I would like to make is that most of the cricket followers call Shane Warne as the best spin bowler in the world. I don’t quite agree with the hype and their opinions. In my opinion, Subash Gupte, who was the best spinner in my time, is also the best leg spinner ever. I have nothing against Warne, but Gupte was a greater spin bowler. He didn’t get his due recognition, which is why he migrated to the West Indies. He was the person who took 9 wickets against a very good side of West Indies. Other great spinners who inspired or played with me were Ghulam Ahmad, Chandu Borde and Salim Durrani (who played for Rajasthan).

Cricketfundas.com: Who was your favorite cricketer during the days you played?

Baig: Those days there were no ODI’s. We had only Test Matches. So a person who batted long used to be liked by everybody. I loved the way Vijay Manjrekar played. He played for Rajasthan and I remember seeing him bat. It was a pleasure.

MR Baig DoosraCricketfundas.com: You were an off spinner. So, I believe this question should be of relevance to you. What do you think about the chucking controversy vis-à-vis Murali’s Doosra?

Baig: Whenever a bowler is doing really well, everybody calls it chucking. But when he is not very famous or not doing well, nobody raises any objections.

Cricketfundas.com: That might be a perspective about the cricketing /cricket watching world. But what are your thoughts on Murali’s action? Do you think that it’s illegal when he bowls the doosra?

Baig: I feel Murali is not chucking because when you bowl and if your elbow is bent at an angle of 90 degrees then you can term it as chucking, but in Murali’s case the elbow bends in this fashion (bends his elbow… trying to imitate Murali’s action)… In fact Prasanna used to bowl the doosra in the 60s in first class cricket. I also can demonstrate how to bowl it. Saqlain was a master till not long ago of the doosra but he seems to have stopped bowling it well these days.

Cricketfundas.com: Tell us something about the value of coaching and some thoughts you have about coaching in India, the reputation that the profession has, etc.

Baig: Coaching is a very important profession but unfortunately many trained coaches who have produced dozens of international cricketers who have went on to become good, are being neglected and are not given their due. Coaches are the ones who groom the players from younger ages to international class-ready. But when it comes to plum postings such as coaching state/national teams, only those are appointed as coaches who have played the game as players and without any formal coaching experience. The result is that there are a lot of mistakes made at international level which could have been prevented had trained coaches been considered. For example, in Multan, the person who was closest to the stadium, was born and brought up in that city, Inzamam, took 3 fast bowlers in the side when he should have taken 3 spinners. This shows that players cannot read the pitches well. This is related to coaching too. Players who have captained squads but have not won any major trophy are made coaches without formal experience. This is not fair at all. Coaches need more recognition for their efforts.

Cricketfundas.com: You are from Hyderabad and the city has produced a lot of illustrious players right from M.L.Jaisimha to Mohd Azharuddin to VVS Laxman of today. You must have interacted and coached a lot of players from the city. Have you noticed any significant change in them throughout the years?

Baig: Yes. There is a significant change in the way players play today from the past. In those days players like Nadkarni used to bowl 14 odd overs and all of them were maidens. That shows how much control he had. When the shorter version of the game came, players like Kapil and Binny used to give 5-8 runs an over at a maximum, then Prabhakar and co would give up 17 runs sometimes and now Agarkar gives up more than 20 runs in an over sometimes. The height is, Shoaib Akhtar bowls 14 ball overs with a lot of no-balls!. On the other hand, batsmen are also scoring a lot of runs. Now a days teams are scoring 700 runs out of which 300 is scored by a single batsman. Players are scoring even 400 runs.

Cricketfundas.com: But again, isn’t this because pitches are prepared very flat keeping in mind the spectator interest and other such factors. What we feel is that cricket is played with a very batsman-friendly focus and bowlers are finding it very difficult against batsmen on wickets tailor-made for batsmen.

Baig: Well, wickets were flat even during our days. And conditions were more difficult for bowler then too. The seam of the ball would cut our fingers and they would bleed during the month of December in Delhi. The fact remains that spinners in my era were more superior. Jasu Patel got out Australia for a mere total of 69 runs off him with 9 wickets. Nowadays the spinners do not spin the ball enough and that’s why they struggle to get wickets.

Cricketfundas.com: Tell us something about your coaching career.

Baig: I coached 25 players who made it to the Ranji Teams in the South Zone. I was made a recognized coach by BCCI from 1977 to 85 when I used to go once in 3 months to Kerala, Goa and Andhra and I was in charge of coaching Ranji team probables and other players.

Cricketfundas.com: Can you name some players whom you have coached directly?

Baig: L Sivaramakrishnan, WV Raman and other players from TN, Sadanand Vishwanath, Raghuram from Karnataka, Laxman, Azharuddin, Venkatapathy Raju, Arshad Ayub, Noel David, Vanka Pratap, Faiz Ahmed, MSK Prasad from Andhra have also been coached by me directly or indirectly. As also Vanka Pratap who made to the India A team in Holland and many others. I have also coached cricketers like Sanjay Manjrekar, Kirti Azad who is now an MP (smiles).

Cricketfundas.com: Do you think that Indian cricketers need to be coached in a particular kind of way?

Baig: To answer that, I would like to tell you about the different methods of coaching which is related to the way each country plays. England play 100% text-bookish cricket, very orthodox and they follow a very rigid technique. Australians, however play a game that is 30% natural and 70% text bookish, with a lot of emphasis on the onside. The West Indians I should say are 50% natural. Their hand and eye-co-ordination is a feature of their natural game. They have a great reliance on their physical powers and so they know exactly when to take a break from the game. That’s why Richards and Lloyd retired early in my opinion even though they could have played for far more. Now looking into all these, coaching is designed for such players. In the Asian case, which I call Oriental cricket, we follow a mixture of all these techniques while coaching the players.

However in the recent years, coaching is being taken up by former players instead of trained coaches. This is why there is a slight fall in quality in some areas in cricket especially in areas such as fitness. We cannot make Indian players go through Australian methods of training. For example, Australian bowlers are made to bowl with chest on action, while we are more comfortable bowling side-on. How many fast bowlers since 1970 have been injured for India? Players like Kapil Dev, Abid Ali, and Dattu Phadkar were never injured and only got injured in their late careers. Now our fast bowlers get injured so soon. Look at Zaheer. He was made to lift a lot of weights and that is the reason why he is so unfit. Only properly trained coaches who have lots of experience should be made to coach squads.

Cricketfundas.com: What do you have to say to Ian Chappell’s statement that coaches aren’t exactly essential for National sides?

Baig: No I don’t agree with that. A captain can set the field, chose the opening bowlers, select a team etc. But can he teach Kapil Dev how to bowl, or can he teach Kumble how to bowl when he is not bowling well.
Even geniuses like Maradona improved better because of coaching and fitness training. So coaches are very necessary.

Cricketfundas.com: Most of the high profile Hyderabadi batsmen have been stylish and very elegant and classy. Could you look at your students and identify that aspect when you first saw them? How did you go about coaching them? Was it because of the seniors that the juniors played stylishly?

Baig: Yes, I could. There was a talk on the TV about VVS Laxman copying Azharuddin. That is not true. Laxman has his own way of playing, which he has perfected because of good coaching. It is similarly with Azharuddin. Both have got their training from the same coach. For me if the boy is talented, I would like him to get better at his talent and that’s what the coaching will focus on.

However, only some players are good enough to make it big. Cricket is like graduation too. Once someone comes through good coaching from basic levels, he progresses on to the next level where he learns and tries to get better and then reaches graduation level and then on to lecturer to professor etc. Only a few like Azhar who hit three back to back centuries on debut and Laxman have become “professors” in batting because of their ability to get better. It is a continuing education.

Cricketfundas: So, you mean to say that there is a different method of coaching for different players?

Baig: Yes. A marathon runner cannot swim a lap in the swimming pool. A man who crosses the English Channel cannot bowl 10 overs in cricket and so on. Every different sporting activity has its own stamina levels and coaching should concentrate on that differentiation.

Cricketfundas.com: Thanks a lot for this very interesting talk. Can you give a message for Cricketfundas.com?

Baig: In our days we could not watch the Matches on Television. We just used to play it. Nowadays due to electronic media and other sources and Television people and even very young children are able to watch the Matches like World Cup and can watch people like Sachin play on TV.

Some people who find it boring to go to the libraries etc. go to cricketing sites and so Cricketfundas.com is doing a wonderful job by sharing knowledge and spreading it through out the world. You can pass out this knowledge to every corner of the world. Passing experience to other people, the thing which I have done in 25 years you are passing it in 25 seconds which is wonderful and so I wish Cricketfundas.com all the best.

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