"Opposition teams fear to prepare a green track, considering the current Indian bowling attack" - Shishir Hattangadi
Shishir Hattangadi made his first-class debut at the age of 19 for Mumbai. He played 11 seasons in domestic cricket and scored 3722 runs in 60 matches at an average of 43.78. A right-handed opening batsman also lead the Mumbai Ranji team.
Post-retirement, Shishir was one of the selectors of the Mumbai Cricket Association. He has also worked as Head of Cricket for the IPL team Deccan Chargers in the year 2008 and took up a similar post for Mumbai Indians in the year 2009.
In an exclusive chat, with Sportskeeda writer Meit Sampat, Shishir opens up about his playing days, experience as a captain, tenure as a selector, experience in the IPL, the current Indian team and much more.
Excerpts from the Interview:
SK: How did you get into the game of cricket? Did you idolize any cricketer during your childhood?
Shishir: I grew up in an era where there was no television, very little exposure to all mediums that are available today. I grew up on stories from my family, elders, anecdotes etc. I used to go to maidans, gymkahanas, stadiums to watch cricket and the cricketers in action.
There was an appeal of a fabric of cricket in India in those days. I saw my first Test match in Chennai in 1969. I was fortunate to watch a player like Bill Lawry live in action. I watched players and developed an interest in the game.
I tried to pick up whatever little I could from watching the players in action. I tried incorporating whatever I learned in gully cricket when I played with my friends. There was no other distraction in those days. I used to come back from school and used to play in my building. The whole experience was of learning cricket through watching.
My passion and love for cricket grew in the year 1971 when India toured West Indies. From thereon, it was about following Sunil Gavaskar, who really played exceptional cricket on that tour. The full generation of young cricketers looked up to Gavaskar as a hero considering what he achieved on his first tour. When you are 9-10, you really look up to a player who plays well for the country. It was all about numbers and scoring runs during my younger days.
SK: How was the experience of sharing the dressing room with Sunil Gavaskar, Dilip Vengsarkar, Sandeep Patil, Ajit Wadekar etc in the Mumbai team? Kindly share your experience of playing for Mumbai.
Shishir: It was a step up to play with the above-mentioned cricketers. It was like icons turning into team-mates. It was humbling that you had made a move to the next level.
There was a lot to learn from these cricketers. Getting into top space after playing U-19 and U-22, and sharing a dressing room with cricketers who had played at the highest level was a great experience. I always kept my eyes and ears open to learn whatever I could from them.
All of my seniors were always helpful and encouraging. Mumbai always had that culture of seniors welcoming the juniors and to make them a part of the team.
SK: You had the opportunity of leading the Mumbai Ranji team. How was it leading a top team like Mumbai?
Shishir: It was a culture. I was already leading Tatas. Mumbai cricket was strong in those days. I was aware of the culture of the team. I was aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the players and inspired them to give their best.
It is better not to be the best player on the team. I was never the best player. As a leader, if you are not the best player, you can manage your resources better.
SK: You had the opportunity to witness a young Sachin Tendulkar play for Mumbai. What was your first impression after watching Sachin bat?
Shishir: Sachin played for CCI when I was the captain. When a youngster walks in the squad for the first time, you always welcome him in the team. You do not give that much importance to his batting until you watch him bat in a game. Even if a youngster bats well in the nets, you tend to overlook it at times, since it is not an actual match.
Sachin played his first game and scored a hundred and batted really well. I knew I was watching a special cricketer. We all prayed that Sahin should stay fit throughout his career as we knew that numbers would never let him down. We were aware that if all went well, he would deliver big numbers. No one in the team was surprised or shocked by how he played the game.
SK: You quit the game of cricket at the age of 29. Any specific reason?
Shishir: In those days, everything in the Mumbai team was on a ten-year tenure. I came into the team at the age of 18. At the age of 29, I thought that even if I had a purple patch, I would play a maximum for a season or two. I realized at the age of 29 that I needed to do something else. There was no other motivation. There was not much money involved in the game. I needed to get on with life. I have no regrets. 10 years was a long time and I am happy I played for a decade for Mumbai.
At the age of 29, I was just playing Ranji cricket and there was no real motivation. I thought it is the time for the youngsters to make a case for themselves in the team. I did my best for the team and contributed to its success. Sometimes co-actors also have a dream of becoming the protagonist, but the dreams are rarely fulfilled. I have made a contribution as a co-actor and contributed to the success of my team.
SK: You have been a selector of the Mumbai team. How different is a selection from actually playing the game?
Shishir: The first thing in selection is to back your vision and numbers. Take the example of young Sachin. He would have been selected due to the vision of a selector. He had the ability and caught the selector's eye. The other category is the numbers. He keeps scoring runs and you have no option but to pick him. The secret of a good selector is to realize that a certain player has it in him to succeed at the next level and play for India.
There is another player who you will pick because you know that he will serve your state very well. Selection is about a lot of intuitions. It is about putting your foresight as a player and is a process of managing people. I found it a little difficult managing people. You may manage players while playing the game, but when you move outside the realm of a cricket ground, managing people can be a weakness. Maybe that is the one area where I cannot get a tick in the box.
SK: What are your views on the current Mumbai Ranji team?
Shishir: Mumbai cricket is currently going through a high and low situation. In today's day and age young cricketers are coming up from all parts of the country. In olden days, if you scored runs for Mumbai, you would make it to the Indian team. But that is not the case today as there is enough talent all over the country. People used to come to play in Mumbai to get recognized.
But now it's a different situation. A cricketer needs to be consistent which is not happening because there is so much cricket being played these days. The problem with so much cricket is that youngsters are not able to go back to the basic technique which is hampering their game. There is no time for the players. Once the domestic season gets over, the IPL starts. In IPL, the technique is of least importance. Coaches are also hapless as they cannot work on the technique of a player in 6 weeks during the IPL.
SK: How do you rate the current Indian team? Your views on the current England tour.
Shishir: This Indian team is a fantastic outfit. India has never looked so strong especially in the bowling department. India has always boasted of a strong batting line up. The bowling suddenly looks strong. The opposition teams will fear to prepare a green top considering the current Indian bowling attack. This was lacking during my generation.
The challenge of playing in England is always there. But India is touring at a good time. The pitches will be dry. The ball will turn a bit. India will not struggle during the series but it will be a good test for all the players. They will need to carry the momentum. It will be vital especially in Test matches that the openers give a good start, as it will set the tone for the rest of the batting line up.
SK: You have worked as Head of Cricket for the IPL team Deccan Chargers in the year 2008 and took up a similar post for Mumbai Indians in the year 2009. How has IPL affected Indian cricket?
Shishir: It's all about what happens in the 47 days. The analysis, strategies, picking the right players is of vital importance and the same has to be incorporated during the IPL. It's all about delivering numbers and victories once the IPL starts. The outlook of IPL is much different as compared to traditional cricket that was played in India.
It is a means for ends for a lot of players. The motive is to play well in IPL, get recognition and to eventually get selected to play for India. The main worry is when it becomes an end in itself. The urge of youngsters to play domestic cricket dilutes, with the money they get in IPL. BCCI will surely look into this factor. It would be a good idea to play in domestic cricket before qualifying to play for IPL. That will make domestic cricket a priority and Test match cricket the top-most priority. Lots of players have made it to the next level because of IPL, but one must not forget that a lot of players have lost their places and their careers have been affected due to failures in IPL.
SK: Any message to youngsters who want to take up the sport?
Shishir: Play for the right reasons and success will follow.