Farokh Engineer was one of the most flamboyant cricketers of his time. The Manchester-based former India wicketkeeper talks G Krishnan on the Kevin Pietersen saga, MS Dhoni’s successor, wicketkeeping and a lot more…
As you stay in England for most part of the year, how serious is the Kevin Pietersen issue? Which side are you in, the KP side or the ECB?
It is not the question of taking sides. KP is a great cricketer without a doubt. He has had an excellent track record, on merit. Of course, he should be in the team without a doubt. On performances, he should be in the team. But they have taken heed of off-the-field events like Tweeting the opposition captain about (then captain) Andrew Strauss, and his weaknesses in batting. You just don’t do those things. He has proved (he was) not being a good team man and that is the only reason that has gone against him. A lot of people are divided. Even cricketers are divided. On merits, he should come to the team. Had England done well in the West Indies, had England won the series easily, I don’t think he had a chance to come back into the side. But drawing the series against a weak West Indian team, the alarm bells are ringing for England cricket, that they need to bolster their batting. When you say bolster the batting, KP has got to come back to the team. But Andrew Strauss is the new director of England cricket and does not have a very good relationship with KP.
Strauss has said that that KP does not figure in the short-term plans but at the same time has not banned him. Is there a lack of clarity?
English people are known to sit on the backside, not express their opinion properly. That’s England. English people are never forthright in their things. That is the only thing I don’t like about English people. They sit on the bench. Now, there is no time to sit on the bench. It is time to take decision. A ‘Yes’ or a ‘No’. Is it good for English cricket? You ask that question. If they think it is good for English cricket… After all, the Tweet messages he sent, I don’t think he will be welcome in the team anymore. He has made far too many enemies in the team. Against Broad, Anderson, Prior… He has made some vicious remarks in his book and people don’t forget these things. While he is getting 200, 300 runs, it is OK. But the moment he starts failing, the fingers will start pointing at him.
Can you recollect any similar incident during your playing days, either with Indian cricket or elsewhere?
No. I can’t recall any. I have always considered myself as a team man. I have not come across any selfish cricketer. Sorry to use the word ‘selfish’ but that’s what he (KP) was. Only a selfish person would Tweet about his own teammate. Since then, in his book, he has made fun of his fellow cricketers and after that, too much badness has gone on for him to come back into the team. Somehow, I don’t feel he will come back to the team, but you never know. England need a batsman badly of KP’s ability, surely on performance.
Having yourself played for Lancashire and settled down there, has the quality of county cricket come down?
Yes. It has gone down terribly. In my time, we had overseas players oozing with Gary Sobers, Clive Lloyd, myself, Barry Richards, Viv Richards, Mike Procter, Rohan Kanhai, Michael Holding, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, you name it… Now-a-days, a handful of Test cricketers, that too second or third grade cricketers, play. Because people earn so much in IPL, BBL, Caribbean league. People play far too many cricket. If the guys keep on earning money, they play. But county cricket has certainly gone down in stature since my day. One would expect Cheteshwar Pujara to amass runs in county cricket for Yorkshire but all that he has managed to score is only one fifty (57) in 5 innings and (0 vs Worcestershire, 57 vs Nottinghamshire, 23, 33 vs Warwickshire, 18 v Hampshire – 131 runs @ 26.2. This before Wednesday’s unbeaten 133 against Hampshire.
That’s not good enough. Yorkshire are the champion county and they won’t tolerate that. He could be dropped or be back here. Over there, if you are an overseas cricketer, you are expected to score runs, take wickets or keep wickets brilliantly because you are an outsider, they are paying you more to get you in the team.
What did you think of MS Dhoni’s retirement from Tests?
Surprise. Very surprised to have seen that. All the money that he has been making, I don’t think his children or grandchildren or even great-grandchildren will ever have to work. He has made so much money. He is a lovely guy, I love him to bits. He has improved his wicketkeeping tremendously, been a very good captain both in One-dayers and Test cricket. He will be solely missed. But it gives an opportunity to younger players. There is Wriddhiman Saha, Parthiv Patel, Dinesh Karthik, all potential Test players. But the one I feel should really come is Sanju Samson because he has really impressed me with his maturity. He has got to learn a lot about wicket-keeping. They tell me he is not a regular wicketkeeper and he is just a batsman.
Is Saha the best to replace Dhoni in Tests?
He is the most favoured at the moment. I can’t say he is the best. He is not a great ‘keeper. In this day and age, I don’t think there is any excellent, great keeper. They are all batsman-wicketkeepers. They can score the runs and stop the ball. In Test cricket, you need specialist keepers.
Wicketkeeping is not a specialist role anymore…
We were all-rounders. I reckon I was an all-rounder, scored loads of runs in Test and county cricket. Unfortunately, IPL was not there in my day. I wish it was there, then because I would have been the highest-paid cricketer.
Dhoni was not a wicketkeeper of the classical mould but still got his work done in his own effective way. How did you look at his keeping skills?
Dhoni came in as a package. His weaknesses in wicketkeeping were more than covered by his attacking batting or his captaincy. I have seen him make a lot of blunders in captaincy and in wicketkeeping and everything. On the whole, you take Dhoni as a package, and you have got a very good package there, and it is the package that counts.
What do you make of Virat Kohli, the Test captain?
A fantastic player, super guy as well. I think he is the right person to succeed Dhoni as captain in every format of the game without a doubt. He is a complete cricketer. He had a lean run in England and they were blaming his girlfriend for it. It was so ridiculous blaming a girlfriend for his bad form. He just had a bad run and we all knew he would come out of this and would come back stronger.
…which he did in Australia, didn’t he?
Australia, that’s what we were all surprised when India came to the semifinals of the World Cup because we expected India to do so badly. But suddenly, one-day and T20 cricket is our forte. This is what we have been playing well. We are not a good Test-playing nation. We are a very good at limited-overs as we have got very attacking, good stroke-making and innovative players. I think to regain status as world No. 1 Test nation, we are far away from there.
What should India do to improve in Tests?
They play better cricket internationally. Test cricket is a different animal. Test cricket is the pinnacle of cricket. You talk about records, Tendulkar scoring so many Test hundreds, Gavaskar getting hundreds, Murali getting so many wickets. They all adhere to Test cricket as the main thing. One-day cricket is great fun.
Is limited-overs cricket to be blamed for India not doing well in Tests?
Could well be. They play certain shots in Tests that should never be played. You try and lift the ball with six balls to go for lunch, you are getting a fresh batsman in. These are the things you don’t do. These are the things you can do in one-day cricket because every ball is important. It is a completely different thing. That is why India is very good in limited-overs and not in Tests.
You have been involved in IPL previously as referee. Did you enjoy it? Did you trust it?
Yes, very first year. I enjoyed immensely. But I was not asked the next year, I could not believe it. After doing such a fantastic job the first year, getting Harbhajan and Sreesanth together for the sake of Indian cricket. A lot of people wanted me to ban Harbhajan for life, and I was not ready to do that. He is a young guy, he made a mistake, he slapped somebody in the fit of temper, but he has got a mother and father like anyone else, he has got a heart and soul. I punished him heavily. He did not play for the rest of the season. He was very happy with the decision. I would not mind if they got another cricketer or somebody, but you have a guy you have never even heard of. Some colonel is a match referee. Has he played any cricket? Does he know to govern cricket? Does he know how to handle a situation where two Test cricketers are fighting against each other? Colonel may be good in an India-Pakistan war. I can’t understand these decisions that IPL makes sometimes. I can’t understand the decisions the franchises make sometimes. Bidding stupid money, throwing away money. Yuvraj Singh Rs16 crore, Dinesh Karthik Rs12.5 crore, This is idiotic advice, franchises don’t know about it. They are relying on their cricketers and mentors to give them right advice and if mentors give such ideas, they should be sacked straightaway. In business, this would happen but here they are getting away with it.
Do you think AB de Villiers would have been a success in any era?
No. He would not have succeeded in any era. Now-a-days, they wear helmets and some of the shots that he plays, the scoop, for example, you can play only with a helmet. Otherwise, you can easily scoop the ball on your face and look like an idiot. Well, de Villiers has tremendous eye, tremendous talent, is very very entertaining and a fantastic cricketer. Hand-eye coordination, timing superb, he has got the gift, he sees the ball before anyone else does. He gives himself more time to play some very inventive shots. But only with the helmet, he can play certain scoop shots, otherwise, he will have a bloody nose.
In your days, the pre-equipment days, you still had some great stroke-makers…
We had very bad equipment, very poor. The bats were made from a Booke Bond ‘chai ka dabba’. No middle at all. You had to hit the ball on some very strong spots to hit the ball out of the ground, and I hit the ball out of the ground regularly. At Cricket Club of India, a clock was there. There was Rs 10 prize if you hit the clock. I hit all around the clock but never on the clock. Pads, we used to get horrible buckles, break your hair. Shoes, horrible spikes that would get into your feet. Now-a-days, tough equipment. Physios, masseurs, all those people to keep you well. They should take advantage of the same. They should consider themselves extremely lucky to be playing at this age. For me, I would like to think that my generation laid the foundation for these cricketers to succeed and enjoy the cricket more.
Who was the AB of your generation?
I was the one. I used to hit the ball very hard. I am not blowing my own trumpet. It is with confidence that I am saying. I used to love hitting sixes and into the crowd. Salim Durrani and I, we hit sixes on demand.
Where do you see Indian cricket going?
Indian cricket is in a very healthy situation because we have some very good young cricketers. Due to IPL, a lot of talent is being unearthed.
Is it time for an Indian coach to take over?
Absolutely. There was a time for an Indian coach to take over five years ago, 10 years ago. Why now? Duncan Fletcher, in my opinion, was absolutely useless. He did not have anything to offer. I have spoken to some of the English boys and they also did not rate him. He has got some absolute admirers like Nasser Hussain or Michael Vaughan. He gave them captaincy. They are just repaying the debt there. On cricketing merit, as coach, he was not proactive. He was behind the scenes. If things went wrong, he should be there, supporting the team. I have spoken with the guys in the team and I don’t think he was highly rated.
Could things have been different in your playing days?
Of course, they could have been much better. I was deposed of captaincy for suggesting of flying from Bombay (Mumbai) to Calcutta (Kolkata). We used to go by AC train. But what really caught on my nerves was the Australians and English players would always fly, two-and-a-half hours flight would be a two-and-a-half days train journey. Did not make any logistical sense. I spoke up my mind and the chairman of selectors at that time thought of insubordination. So I was struck of captaincy. Next time when I was appointed captain, Mr Chidambaram was the board president. He harmed cricket more than anyone else. He suddenly appointed S Venkataraghavan as captain before a Test match (against the West Indies in Delhi, 1974) not consulting any of the selectors. It was a shambles. There was the incident when I hit Andy Roberts for two sixes and he said, “maan, why are you getting it out on me?” We all laughed but left a bitter taste in my mouth, that my country was not backing me. Here I am giving my life for my country and I expect little thing back from the cricket board. Politics was dreadful in our time. There is far less politics these days, believe me. People who did not know the game were controlling it. People who could not pronounce ‘cricket’ were controlling the game and that was the sad part. Clive Lloyd was the opposing captain and he came to the dressing room to say to me, come out, let’s go out for the toss’. Raj Singh Dungarpur was the manager. He said, ‘there is something very sinister going on behind your back”. I had been appointed captain by Ramprakash Mehra by senior vice-president the previous night and officially told, and suddenly the decision. These are the little things that have left me broken-hearted. The whole team was shocked.
Who among the present-day wicketkeepers has impressed you the most?
Unfortunately, I cannot say I can see a top class wicketkeeper at the moment. Sangakkara at his age was perhaps one of the best around. Dhoni improved a lot in the later stages. I don’t think any country has really (a world-class keeper). If the youngsters have the right coaching, right guidance…. nobody really coached us. We had to learn from mistakes. If I can help any player like Sanju Samson, if I can spend five minutes with him, I can make him a far better wicketkeeper because from experience you know exactly what to do.