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Dear Me: Only batting skills cannot cover up for lack of fitness

Dilp Vengsarkar writes to his 12-year-old self and points out how cricket, with its twists and turns, reflects life

cricket Updated: Jul 26, 2017 12:22 IST
Dilip Vengsarkar,Indian Cricket team,Bishan Singh Bedi
Dilip Vengsarkar, former India captain, is the only visiting batsman to score three centuries at The Lord’s.(Illustration:Sudhir Shetty)

Dear 12-year-old Dilip,

One day they will call you the ‘Colonel’. It’s a rank in the Indian Army and takes a lot of hard work to earn. You would be not the first ‘Colonel’ of Indian cricket. A legend called CK Nayudu, famous for hitting sixes, was the original holder of this position. Like all young batsmen, you loved to give the cricket ball a whack. It was an Irani Cup match in 1975. It was your debut game for Bombay and you wanted to make a mark. Up against the dreaded spin duo of Bishan Singh Bedi and Erapalli Prasanna, you were going to face the test of my life. Chasing Rest of India’s 210, Bombay were struggling at 98 for three. Your 110 turned out to be the saving grace. More than the century, to smash seven sixes against Bedi and Pras was an incredible feat. It was this fearless approach to sport that won you the title of Colonel.

READ | ‘Lord of Lord’s’ Dilip Vengsarkar impressed by Ajinkya Rahane

As a Mumbaikar, you were probably born to play cricket. The system encourages you to play the game but one must climb the ladder quickly. You got a chance to bat at No 10 in a Giles Shield match and managed to stamp your intent by hitting two fluent boundaries in the 10 runs scored.

Cricket is a journey in Mumbai. Your started at the Dadar Union Club. The seeds of greatness are sowed in this amazing institution, easily the best cricket academy in the world. At DUC, there was this guy called Sunil Gavaskar who was also cutting his teeth in cricket. Little did one know that you would be playing for the state and country together.

You become quite a fighter at DUC. The cricket culture is so rich that you must learn the ropes quickly and impress too. And you break a lot of sweat. You made your club debut with a bang – scoring a brisk 85 in front of two Indian and Mumbai cricket greats – Naren Tamhane and Madhav Mantri. The knock was quite a confidence booster. Performance gave you dollops of confidence.

READ | BCCI to honour Dilip Vengsarkar with lifetime achievement award

School cricket helped build your career. You played in front of big crowds at Cross Maidan. You enjoyed good performance. Playing Harris Shield, Bombay Schools and then for the University team set you up for greatness. You were quite a leader and loved captaincy.

Playing for India was the ultimate dream. Getting there is not easy but staying in the Indian dressing room is tougher. The system in Mumbai taught you to fight it out. When you perform, no one can ignore you. You made your Test debut in 1976 in Auckland and opened the batting alongside Sunil Gavaskar. While you failed, Sunny scored a century. Failure made you more determined.

Cricket is just a great leveller. You played for pride, not money. Travelling in third class railway compartments with Rs 10 as daily allowance was quite an experience. It is not necessary that team bonding has to be honed in dressing rooms. It can be done in train compartments. The joy of drinking tea in a khullar (cup made of red clay) and smoke from the steam engine hitting your face made travelling so much fun. Life is not about five-star perks. Cricket made one enjoy even the small things that came along the way.

It took you 17 Tests to score a century. It was not amusing. Why did you take that long? Cricket can be cruel. It punishes you for being sloppy and under-prepared. Skills are not everything. Fitness is key and stamina helps raise mental strength. And temperament is crucial to success. You realised this when you saw your Pakistani friend Javed Miandad bat. How easily he converted the twos into threes, the singles into twos. How badly he exposed us.

Your only regret in life was the level of fitness. You thought the ample batting skills will cover up the shortcomings. You were wrong. The boys from North India were so much stronger. Kapil Dev’s physical ability boosted his cricket skills. Wish you had his power. Together with Kapil, you had some of my best moments in cricket. The Benson & Hedges semifinal in 1985 was simply memorable. Nobody gave India a chance but you and Kapil had other ideas. You never give up in life. And cricket presents unexpected twists and turns. It reflects life.

Cricket has been a massive lesson in your life. You can’t cheat the game. Work hard and the fruits will come. There are no shortcuts to success. If you are willing to run the distance, the returns are huge and last a lifetime.

Truly yours,

Dilip

(As told to Sanjjeev Samyal and Sarthak Bal)

First Published: Jul 25, 2017 21:34 IST