Maninder Singh

'I never realised how good I was'

One of India's most promising talents looks back at an all-too-brief career

Interview by Sidharth Monga  |  

"I was brought into Test cricket too young" © Getty Images

My first memory of watching cricket is Bishan Bedi bowling in a Delhi Test. I wanted to become just like him: I was a left-armer like him, I was a Sikh like him. He was so smooth that it was beautiful to watch. It attracted me.

I had these vague memories of when the team went to Pakistan in 1978. I saw our great spinners bowling against their batsmen. Their batsmen were very good, no doubt, but the umpiring was very poor. And that was on my mind when I made my debut there in 1982. A couple of lbw decisions were not given early on, and the memories of 1978 came back.

A couple of times I have watched my videos and I think, "Wow". I never realised that I was that good.

It was a joy to bowl on absolute flat tracks in Delhi. I used to enjoy bowling on wickets where there was a challenge, where you had to bring the art of spin bowling into play.

I always used to dream that I would play for India one day. I used to dream of cricket. While eating I would see a pitch in my roti. When drinking water I would see a field in the glass and I would be bowling in it. It was so much in my subconscious mind that it came true ultimately.

Kapil Dev used to say, "You build your character in the nets, and then reveal it on the field." He was a natural, both at batting and bowling. He never bowled a no-ball in the nets.

I first met Bishan paaji just before the Pakistan tour of 1978. My coach had requested paaji to have a look at me. The next day he gave me new spiked shoes. I was 13 then. My relationship with paaji has not changed, really. He is a fantastic human being and a lovely person to talk to. That respect will always be there for what he has done for me. I have felt his love as well.

When I did well in England in 1986, I thought I had finally got the grip. I thought I would make it big then. I started bowling long hours in the nets. And that's when I thought I belonged.

I was brought into Test cricket too young.

Sunil (Gavaskar) was a fantastic human being. He was a joy to be with. When I and L Sivaramakrishnan started, he used to take us for dinners, call us to his room, make us feel comfortable, try and get the pressure off us. He was a fabulous character. I always enjoyed his company.

I went to England in 1987, and I wasn't too well there. I used to keep getting a fever. Then it would come down and I would start training again. Then the fever would come back. I kept training and bowling, and getting weaker and weaker. In that process I lost my action. I had a double jump as I reached the stumps while bowling. I lost that jump. When I lost that jump, I lost everything. It was the jump that used to give me the nip and bounce I used to get. I started getting the yips once I lost that. I started feeling the ball was not coming out of my hand right. Sometimes the ball used to get stuck in my hands and not come out. I kept watching my videos, trying too hard.

Compared with wrist spin, left-arm spin is limited in terms of variation. Still, you can bowl from behind the crease and that becomes a variation. You have the arm ball, you can go to the corner of the crease, you can bowl from closer to the stumps…

You don't think of breaks when you're in a slump. You think things will get further and further away from you if you take a break. Maybe a break could have helped me.

I was so addicted to the game that I took an umpiring test after my retirement. I cleared the exam, but there are too many people in the board to discourage you. Their main grudge was the TV jobs that had come my way. Despite my good reports, the board took ages to promote me. Then I let it go because I didn't want to call people and say, "Sir, sir, give me this match, give me that match."

Spinners and batsmen can be given more time in first-class cricket so they can see the ups and downs and handle them better at international level.

Kapil and Bishan were very positive captains. Kapil would go for wins even if that meant risking a loss.

I played only one Test under Mohammad Azharuddin, but he was a very good captain for bowlers. Because he would just give them the ball, ask them the field and stay back till he thought the time had come to intervene. He would let his bowler do what he wanted to.

The board should look into the matter now and forgive the match-fixing bans. You can't keep somebody away from cricket for life.

It has become my nature to give up too early. I have got into the habit of telling myself, "leave it". Even outside cricket. There are so many people who have borrowed money from me, but I haven't tried hard enough to get it back. When I realise something is hurting me, might as well leave it and get on.

Gordon Greendige was brilliant against spin. If he felt he was getting bogged down, he would invariably come up with a couple of shots that were out of the world. Zaheer Abbas was, without any doubt, the No. 1 player against spin. Javed Miandad and Saleem Malik were good too, and in India, Ashok Mankad and Brijesh Patel were fantastic.

Bishan paaji tried to help me, but I thought I could do it on my own. I should have trusted him or my coach.

"If Lasith Malinga was in India, he would never have played anything. We would have tried to bring his arm from closer to the ear"

If you run after something too hard, that thing starts running away from you.

In India we ridicule people who admit to having a problem. In Australia, in England or in South Africa when they own up to their faults they are helped. Here when you do, people are quick to shunt you out.

I was absolutely numb when I went in to bat in the Tied Test. One run and we would have won. There's no point talking about that decision now. We didn't realise then that we had become part of history. Now you know that whatever happened has happened, and you will always be remembered for that Test.

People often take me as too critical on TV. My criticism is always constructive. I never want to bring anybody down. With certain people, if you say something negative they might say, "I will prove you wrong." I hope they do.

Coaching helps heal. It acts like a balm when you think of what you could have done when you were playing, and if you can help somebody else achieve that instead.

It was a joy bowling to Sunil. In my first season, in the Irani Trophy I got him out twice. I will never forget that. I always enjoy drawing a batsman out and making him drive.

After Sachin Tendulkar, the most talented player I have seen is Siva (L Sivaramakrishnan). He was a fabulous bowler, he could bat, he was a great fielder. Unfortunately his career also didn't take off. It hurts at times when I think about myself, LS, Chetan Sharma and Sadanand Vishwanath. But we don't discuss those things. There are certain things that hurt and you want to keep them suppressed.

I received a lot of criticism, rightly so. I didn't take it well at that time. Maybe a sports psychologist would have been a help. I used to get angry, I used to argue; I used to get rude with umpires, with my fellow players, with the press. I realise now that if I had taken that criticism constructively, things could have been different.

If Lasith Malinga was in India, he would never have played anything. We would have tried to bring his arm from closer to the ear. Or for that matter Ajantha Mendis. We would have told him from childhood, "You are not doing that. Just concentrate on one thing."

By the time I played my last Test, against Zimbabwe, I got seven wickets. I had just started getting my rhythm and confidence back. And I was dropped that evening. To be fair to Venkatapathy Raju, it was wrong to actually have dropped him and given me a chance. It was equally wrong to have dropped me after I had done well.

I lost the hunger to play international cricket, to play the game at all. It was a tough decision to retire at such a young age, but thankfully my dad was alive then. I told him one fine day, "Dad, I am not enjoying it and I want to leave." He said, "Just go and retire." I really wish dad was still here, because there are certain decisions in life I still can't make. He was a very intelligent man.

Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo