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"No instructions on the pitch for 2nd Test" - Sudhir Naik

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The second match of the India-England series will be held at the Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai. The chief curator of this 2011 World Cup Final wicket is Mr. Sudhir Naik. A former Indian Test player, he also happens to be Zaheer Khan’s first coach. He was the one instrumental in providing Zaheer with guidance and a way into the Ranji Trophy, India’s domestic tournament. Holdingwilley caught up with Mr. Naik and asked him about Zaheer, Sachin, the England series, pitches around India and a tad about the
future of Mumbai cricket.
 
You were Zaheer’s coach in the early stages of his cricketing years. How long do you think he has?
 
Zaheer has been playing cricket for the last 12 years. For a fast bowler, that is a long time to survive at the international level. Today, he is India’s strike bowler and is also guiding the younger fast bowlers. Unfortunately, I don’t think his body can continue to take the strains of fast bowling for more than a season or two. As a fast bowler, the joints and muscles start aching more and it’s hard to sustain the
same level of proficiency as one grows older.
 
Who do you think will be the leader of the attack after Zak?
 
Umesh Yadav looks good. He is quick but has to learn the tricks of the trade. As long as Zaheer is around, he must learn and develop as a fast bowler. Ishant Sharma is also a good bowler. But injuries have not allowed him to develop. Let us hope and see if he lasts this entire season.
 
What about the other bowlers? Do you see any Test quality bowlers in India?

No. We don’t have any good quality bowlers. For me, a good fast bowler starts off as a youngster bowling at 140+ kmph. After 5-6 years, maybe he can cut down on pace a little, to around 135. With the experience he gets, he can certainly manage to capture more wickets even with a slight drop in pace. At the moment, none of the youngsters around the Indian team can bowl consistently at 140 kmph.
 
Do you think the new BCCI directive to produce sporting pitches in the Ranji Trophy will help produce good fast bowlers?
 
Yes, it will certainly help. If the bowler gets a bit of assistance from the wicket, he will definitely work harder. At the moment we have slow pitches which don’t help fast bowlers. In our local language we call them ‘paata wickets’. Bowlers are generally hammered. For a bowler or even a batsman to develop, they must enjoy the game. Bowling on flat wickets is not fun for any bowler. Providing seamer friendly wickets will help them grow. The good length areas on a flat wicket and a seaming wicket are completely different which our bowlers need to learn. Hence, even when provided with wickets conducive to fast bowling abroad they struggle to take wickets.
 
You are the West Zone member of the BCCI’s Ground and Pitch Committee. How seriously is this directive being taken?
 
All over India we are trying to prepare sporting wickets. We are looking to prepare harder and grassier wickets. But in places like Rajkot such wickets cannot be prepared, because the soil is entirely different. Similarly in East Zone, even if we leave grass on the wickets, the pitches are inherently slow because
of the type of soil. The BCCI has decided to change the soil, but it is a slow process. We have to mix soils from other zones. The BCCI needs to be after the groundsmen and provide the necessary facilities. It is a long process of say, 7-8 years.
 
The Wankhede (Mumbai) wicket has always been a sporting wicket. Have you received any instructions from Dhoni and co. about what kind of wicket to prepare for the second Test?
 
No, we haven’t received any instructions yet. We generally provide wickets which have a bit in it for the fast bowlers initially and then for the spinners in the latter part of the Test.
 
To what extent does the home team captain decide the nature of the pitch?
 
The final decision always rests in the hands of the curator. But, obviously we try to favour the home team. To what extent, is a judgement call on our part. We need to find a balance. We can’t provide under-prepared pitches for a Test match.
 
How do you feel about preparing rank turners?
 
I think this is a bad thing that is happening in cricket. When we go to England or Australia, they provide fast, bouncy wickets and then when they come here we prepare absolute turners. This is harmful to cricket on the whole. I think we must prepare more sporting wickets. Sporting means, day 1 should offer something for the fast bowlers, days 2 and 3 should be slightly easier for batting and on days 4 and 5 the wicket should begin to turn. If a batsman is good enough, there is no reason why he can’t score on Days 1, 4 and 5 too. It is more enjoyable for the audience as well.
 
What’s your view on this India-England series?
 
It should be a good series. It will be tougher for India, because now we are without Dravid and Laxman. Only Sachin is left from the fab four. So a lot depends on his form and how he performs.
 
How long do you think Sachin can carry on playing?
 
I think this series will provide us with a clear answer. If he performs well, up to his standards, then he will carry on playing for one more season. If he fails this series, I think we might see him call it a day. I don’t think anyone needs to talk to him about it. Every cricketer knows when his time is up. Sachin has always been the kind of person who knows his body and game the best. So, he is the best judge of when he should retire.
 
After Sachin, who do you think is the next number 4?
 
Right now, only Virat Kohli looks capable enough. We need to continue trying the other batsmen out. Rahane, Tiwary, Raina and the others need to be given time. It is important that we show patience with these young players.
 
What about the opening pair of Sehwag and Gambhir?
 
Not much needs to be said about Sehwag. He is one player who is never in form nor out of it. I am worried about Gambhir. He has lost his confidence. He needs to play one good innings and he’ll be back. If he fails in the first Test against England, it will be hard for him to come back.
 
Should Sehwag be pushed down the order? He scored a century against UP in the first Ranji Trophy match batting in the middle order.
 
Sehwag can bat at any position. Perhaps with the new ball out of the way, he has a better chance of scoring a big hundred. But the problem with Sehwag is that since he relies more on hand eye coordination and not so much on footwork, he can play his shots against fast bowlers much better. Starting against spin for such batsmen is a bit of a problem.
 
Finally, just a little about the future of Mumbai cricket. Any good batsmen or fast bowlers coming through?
 
Currently, there is no one special as such. As far as fast bowlers are concerned, there is a real dearth. Even Dhaval Kulkarni is not a bowler who can run through a line-up. Up and down bowler who can be utilised by Mumbai only. I don’t think he can graduate to Test level. There is one bowler Shardul Thakur who is quick. Mumbai should start giving him chances. Amongst the batsmen, Siddesh Lad looks a promising talent, but he is still young and has a long way to go.
 


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