Team India is a top team and no one can mess with them, says Milind Rege
Milind Rege is indeed an all-rounder in a true sense.
From being a genuine all-rounder on the cricket field, to captaining Mumbai in First Class Cricket to holding a corporate job in Tata Steel to becoming a secretary of Tata Sports Club for more than two decades to being a Chairman of Selectors for Mumbai cricket, Rege has given it everything for the betterment of Mumbai cricket and is a source of inspiration for the current as well as the aspiring generation of cricketers.
In an exclusive interview with sportskeeda writer Meit Sampat, Milind Rege opens up about his long journey of being associated with cricket and regaled Meit with anecdotes of his career on and off the field:
SK: From being a cricketer to captaining Mumbai to being a selector, how will you describe your journey?
Rege: I have enjoyed every bit of it. The earlier part of playing was for the love of the game like every other Mumbai cricketer.
It was a part of pursuing my goal. During my days there were no goals as such which were set out. Modern day cricketers are lucky as such.
They are guided into what their goals should be and have people to help them. During my time there was no such guidance. You just played the game under the guidance of your seniors and made your way.
You carried on for the love and passion for the game. You only played for your welfare or passion in those days. Today the game is completely different. One can make a career from game of cricket.
But of course it is not very easy and you need the talent and opportunities for it. For example, if you want to become a doctor or an engineer you study and then everybody has an opportunity.
In cricket, you need the talent, the talent needs to be nurtured and then you need to be selected.
Making a career out of cricket is not very easy because only 15 players are in a squad and 11 play in a team out of thousands who try to make it.
There are around 39000 people who are registered for Mumbai cricket but only a few can make it.
SK: Did you get your parents support when you decided to play the game of cricket?
Rege: My parents never discouraged me from playing the sport. I do not think my parents saw the cricket I played.
In the good old days, things were quite different. But I cannot say there was no support. Playing cricket those days was not a career seeking goal. It was more of a past time.
SK: How was your tenure as a selector for Mumbai cricket especially considering that selection is a thankless job?
Rege: The thing about being a good selector is to visualise how a particular cricketer if put in a higher bracket, would perform.
The first basic thing is to see whether the cricketer has got the temperament and you visualise the temperament very minutely and then take the decision.
During my playing days, there was no long-term hope as such in the team. If you failed in one match, you would not see the Mumbai team again.
Take the case of Gavaskar. He failed in one match and then in spite of scoring many hundreds he could not find a place in the Mumbai team for two to three years. At that time the selectors were very strict.
The selectors in my time did not watch enough cricket in the maidans like today's selectors do or I would have done.
There were far better cricketers than many of us who never got a chance to play for Mumbai.
Today there is so much media pressure on the selectors. There is so much information available about the cricketers.
A good selector is a one who visualises a particular pattern in a player. Let us take the case of Sachin Tendulkar.
We spotted Tendulkar and decided that this guy is good. Despite opposition from my colleagues, I happened to be the U-16 chairman also, I proposed the name of Sachin.
There was opposition. But Mr Naren Tamhane, who was the Chairman of Selectors selected him on my insistence.
Mr Tamhane also made it clear that Sachin would be given at least four to six opportunities to fail. Mr Tamhane was a very good selector and I learnt many things from him.
Today take the example of Prithvi Shaw. I took the decision of picking Shaw even though he had not played much cricket.
But there was a lot of talent. And he is doing well. There has to be tremendous rapport amongst the selectors.
I was lucky to have a good rapport with my co-selectors. It was a very happy selection committee. I had made it a point that the buck stopped with me.
I would be responsible for everything. While discussions took place, there were never any arguments.
SK: As a cricketer, you have played 52 First Class matches. You have also captained Mumbai in a few matches. Can you tell us something about your playing days.
Rege: Cricket was completely different when I played. There were not many figures added to our names. This was because we played a three-day game, 70 overs in a day.
So only 210 overs in the match, unlike 360 overs which are played these days. We played five to six games in a year that too 70 overs a day.
The Mumbai batting line up was so strong and powerful that one hardly got an opportunity to bat.
I was a genuine all-rounder. How could you have got an opportunity in a line up comprising of Gavaskar, Parkar, Wadekar, Sardesai, Mankad, Solakar and then me.
I have never batted with Wadekar in my entire career and have batted just once with Gavaskar.
There was no opportunity because Mumbai never lost. So Mumbai was never really tested. There was only once we lost a game that was one game in 16 years.
SK: You had some health hazards at a young age, How did it affect your game?
Rege: I was an all-rounder. At 25, I felt ill at the pink of my cricket career. I had a bypass surgery later. I had already played for seven years for Mumbai until then.
Then I did play for two more years as I was recuperating and it’s a record of sorts that I made a comeback to First Class cricket.
But I stopped bowling completely as it was strenuous. But I came back to the Mumbai team as a specialist batsman.
I was really determined to get back on the cricket field. Who in 1974 could ever think of making a comeback and playing.
I was really determined. I played 10 years of cricket after that. That kept me happy. I was content with playing a secondary role in a team which had so many great players. But no regrets at all.
SK: Can you describe your long association with Tata Steel? When did you first join Tata Steel? Now that you have been a secretary of TCS for more than two decades, it must be like a second home for you now?
Rege: I joined Tata Steel in 1968 when I was only 18 years old. I was interviewed by Mr JRD Tata at that point of time.
Initially, I had some queries regarding joining Tata Steel. I was studying in Xavier’s college and I did not want to give up my studies.
I did not want to join morning college. Sunil Gavaskar and my parents insisted that we study first and give it a priority.
For example, when we played for India Schools First which is like an U-19 tournament, Sunil and I did extremely well and at that point of time, I was almost going to captain the team to England.
But Sunil and I were not allowed as we had our final exams. Players like Khirmani, Surender, and Mohinder got the chance.
We were told that we could not skip an exam to play cricket and that cricket could come second.
Mr Vasu Paranjpe and Mr Naren Tamhane told me to join Tatas when I played for Dadar Union.
When I was interviewed by Mr JRD Tata, he inquired how I would manage work considering my college and cricket. I told Mr Tata that I was not interested in joining in that case and everyone was staring at me when I gave that reply to a personality like Mr Tata.
He then asked me what time would I report for work? I replied at 2:30 pm and would leave at 3 pm. He just stared back at me. The great man then asked me how many years would I continue working like this? I said for 3 years.
Again everyone started staring at me.
Mr. Tata being a man of great vision told me to attend office from 2:30 pm to 3 pm in the cricket season and when there is no cricket season to attend office on time.
That is how I got placed in Tata. So for six months, I used to come to the office at 2:30 pm and the remaining six months at around 9 am.
I gave up cricket at 29 because there was no career in cricket and I was getting a very good opportunity to head the corporate communication department of Tata Steel and I had finished my eco stats from Xavier’s college.
I had studied around one and a half years of management also. I was basically a first-class student in school and college both and I would say that education helped me a lot.
I really worked hard for Tata Steel and went up the ladder and in the meanwhile, I wanted to give something back.
That is why I was offered Secretaryship of Tata Sports Club and was in charge for 20-25 years.
I did a lot of time management. I went to work at around 8 am and worked till 7 - 7:30 pm for almost 30 years.
I did not take up commentary because I had a very good career, unlike many other cricketers.
SK: Your passion for Mumbai cricket is very well known. The Mumbai team did not give a very good domestic season last year. What do you think the team is lacking?
Rege: In our times, there were six great batsmen in the team. But there were five equally good bowlers.
What Mumbai lacks today is a good bowling attack. The batting is really good. Mumbai needs to find bowlers.
It is surprising that Mumbai lacks good bowlers despite the tremendous infrastructure. I think T20 cricket has ruined bowlers here.
Naturally, you cannot expect bowlers to chop and change from one format to another in a month's time. Bowling is a practice-oriented thing.
I think Mumbai's bowling strength is depleted. Except for Shardul Thakur there is no other bowler.
If Shardul breaks down or has an international commitment there is no one to go back to. Without Shardul, Mumbai struggled last season. Mumbai has to give far more importance to club cricket to find good bowlers.
That is the only problem. The batting seems to be well settled. The batsmen are in their mid-20s. I have seen Shreyas Iyer grow. Prithvi has started on a good note. Hopefully, they carry on the mantle. But the bowling will have to improve.
SK: What are your views on the current Indian team? How do you think the team under Virat Kohli would fare on the Tests tours of England and Australia this year and the World Cup in England in 2019?
Rege: The Indian team is a top team. No team can mess with team India at this moment. India has got a good crop of fast bowlers and spinners apart from the rich reserves in the batting department.
In the past, India lacked a good bowling attack. But now that issue is sorted. We have six to seven bowlers who can bowl fast and good reserves in the spinners department too.
There is a bit of up and down in the Indian batting and for India to succeed in England, a couple of batsmen will have to aid Virat Kohli by scoring runs.
If out of six players, three contribute, it will be very difficult for England to beat India. Those days are gone when Indian batsmen would fear fast bowlers.
Our team will be on top. I will be surprised if India lose.
SK: Who will be India's biggest competitors in the 2019 World Cup?
Rege: England will be a good side at home. Even South Africa and New Zealand have got a good team.
I do not think other teams will trouble India much. New Zealand have never gone the distance in a World Cup but they can surprise everybody on their day.
The World Cup will be an interesting and India will be one of the favourites.
SK: Being an all-rounder yourself, how do you rate Hardik Pandya?
Rege: He started really well. We all had a lot of hope in him. But he has mixed up as to what he is doing and what is expected of him.
He has mixed up whether he should be concentrating more on his batting or bowling. There were so many expectations from him as if another Kapil Dev was born.
Kapil Dev is born only one in a million years. Everyone started comparing Hardik with Kapil Dev including Kapil Dev himself.
Hardik is still young and has a long way to go. Let us not form an opinion about him. The management will have to nurse him properly as he is playing all the formats of the game.
To make him bat at No.6 especially atNo.6 is a big task. He has definitely got the talent but lacks the temperament still.
SK: Your take on the current Indian Women's team?
Rege: They played exceptionally well in the World Cup last year. Gone are the days when people used to think that Indian girls are meek.
The team is a good one but India will have to build a team for the future considering that Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami are coming to the end of their careers.
SK: How has IPL changed Indian cricket and in what way?
Rege: A young Indian cricketer has completely become fearless with T 20s and the IPL. When I played my first Ranji match, there was a crowd of 35,000 at CCI and when I was fielding, Chandu Borde and Tiger Pataudi were batting. I felt I had no feet. I was so tensed.
With the introduction of IPL, you rub shoulders with the top cricketers of the world. The game has become more difficult.
The more I watch cricket on television, with DRS and all cricketers in my time would have scored 20% lesser runs and the bowlers would have got 25% more wickets because umpires give you out often these days.
An Indian cricket has definitely become fearless due to IPL. Cricket is much difficult these days because you are watched by everyone, are constantly under scrutiny.
Today the umpires do not hesitate in giving the big players out because they too are under scrutiny which was not the case in our days.
Everything is absolutely top class in world cricket today. In our days apart from a couple of cricketers, no one could be filed. There was no emphasis on fielding.
And look at the fielding today. The game has certainly evolved. IPL has been a boon to Indian cricket.
Rege is now ready for the rapid-fire round:
Batting or Bowling: Bowling
Best friend from the cricket fraternity: All from the Mumbai team including Wadekar and Gavaskar are still my friends. We meet once in two or three months.
Favourite Holiday Destination: England
Best captain to have captained India: Tiger Pataudi
Any funny moment on the cricket field: When I was bowling for Dadar union, it was too hot and after 25 overs I told my captain Vasu Paranjpee that it is very hot. The skipper told his peon to come out with an umbrella. He gave me an umbrella and told me to bowl with the umbrella.
Hobbies apart from cricket: Reading. In my younger days I read every single book on cricket and every other book also. These days I read newspapers consistently say 4 to 5 daily.
Message to youngsters: Work hard. There are no shortcuts for achieving glory. Work hard and set a goal for yourself. Set a goal of playing for India and then slowly strive towards achieving it.