It is great to be writing this just before India's first Test on their latest tour of England, a place where I loved to tour. Unlike in my playing days, the team must have been followed by a whole lot of mediamen but that is just one of the many changes the sport has undergone in this country, mostly for the better, I must add. Rarely do you find a pot-bellied player now, while in our days, at least as far teams from the sub-continent were concerned, it was not out of place to sport one.
A bigger change has to do with the way the game is played. No longer is it just a sport; it is a much more serious affair with bat and ball these days. Amateurism was the way of the past, true professionalism is today’s strength. Cricket has improved tremendously in its pace, power involved and certainly the equipment. It has also turned into a rewarding career and it is wonderful that more & more people now live off the game.
I may have stopped playing when technology started to deliver better equipments but I am not complaining. I may prefer playing golf nowadays but it doesn't mean I am not involved with cricket. After my retirement I have ensured that I stay in touch with the game by being associated with it in various capacities such as coach, selector and even as an ICC match referee till recently. I also handle my share of responsibilities at the Karnataka State Cricket Association.
In my columns during the India-England series, I shall try and dissect the exploits of Sachin, Rahul, Sourav and Laxman, four batsmen I am excited to watch. Rahul says this may be their last tour of England and I am sure they will be keener than ever to pull off a series win.
Just thinking of a series win in England takes me back to our 1971 tour under Ajit Wadekar. What a wonderful time we had, with the best moment coming thanks to my good friend Chandra's exploits. He destroyed the English batting at the Oval and gave us our first series victory over England. I still have vivid memories of batsmen like Sunil Gavaskar, the late Dilip Sardesai, Wadekar and Ashok Mankad being backed by legendary spinners Bishen Bedi, Venkatraghavan and Chandra. We also had one of the world's best ever close-in catchers in Eknath Solkar. I also cannot forget that I batted nearly three hours for my second innings 33. It just shows that wins don't come easily.
It was great team effort that fetched us the trophy and a tremendous reception back in India and I think a similar effort by the present team can bring similar if not better results. The key to the series, apart from the batting trio mentioned earlier, will be Anil Kumble, who in many ways is similar to Chandra. I have been watching Anil through his career and he has impressed me a lot. It is very well to expect the quicks to do well in England but your best bowler is always your best bet, irrespective of conditions. Finally, as I have always believed in fairness, I must say 'May the best team win,' but I am rather hoping that India is the winner.