Transcript: Couch Talk with Hemang Badani

Couch Talk Episode 66 (play)

Guest: Hemang Badani

Host: Subash Jayaraman

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Subash Jayaraman– Hello and Welcome to Couch Talk. Today’s guest is former India cricketer Hemang Badani. He talks about his time in the Tamil Nadu system, explains why TN players haven’t really made a big impact in India colors, his move to Vidarbha, his ICL days, and some of his cherished moments playing for India, amongst other things.

Welcome to the show, Hemang.

Hemang Badani– Thank you. It’s a pleasure.

SJ– How are you doing? What has been keeping you busy now that the Ranji season is over?

HB– I’ve been good, just about finished my stint with Vidarbha. We had a pretty good season. We almost qualified for the quarter finals. We were just 1 point away from qualifying. Pretty happy with the way things have gone by this year. it is pretty exciting to be playing for another state, in the sense that it is far more challenging and you spend more time with newer players, try and pass on cricketing knowledge and find out what talent is available in the country. It is exciting.

SJ– You turned 36 couple of months ago. You last represented India in tests 12 years ago, and in ODIs 9 years ago. Reaching a point in your professional cricket career, when you are closer to the end than where you started. So, what keeps you motivated to get up every day to hit the gym and take up the field?

HB– I enjoy the challenges of the bat and the ball, I enjoy the challenges on the field. It excites me to stand there for 90 overs, to chase the balls. At the end of the day, it hurts more than it used to hurt earlier. Not denying that. Still, the challenge keeps me going. I can still perform, I don’t see a reason why I shouldn’t play. It is all about the passion being kept alive and striving to play cricket which is what is the most exciting part of my life so far.

SJ– For example you must have come across characters in the Indian domestic scene like Sitanshu Kotak– he has been playing first class cricket for 20 years and never got the opportunity to play for India. What is it that keeps these professionals going?

HB– If you notice, there are a few guys playing today, who you can say that they don’t get anything out of playing apart from just playing for the passion of it. It is not even the money. It is nowhere compared to other games or other formats of the game. When we started playing, there was no money involved in the game. it was more so that players in our era started playing because we liked the sport. We enjoyed playing, being on the field, fielding, we have been on the field for a long duration. A lot of the younger kids prefer the shorter version, they are not very intent on playing the longer version. In the long run, if this trend continues, we will not produce enough quality Test match players.

There are a lot of senior players playing. There is (Hrishikesh) Kanitkar who is still playing. Sairaj (Bahutule) was playing till recently, he just retired. Sanjay Bangar was playing, and retired recently. S.S. Das is still playing.  There are a quite a few guys who continue playing.  It is just another opportunity to be on the field and play against the best players, to play some of the better bowlers, at Ranji level, if you come here and play. That is a different challenge.

The fact that every innings, every where, you have keep adapting and changing. It is not a routine job to do the same thing every day. The way sports is, no matter if it is the same task, the challenge between the bat and the ball, there are factors that make it a new challenge: the atmosphere, the environment, the wicket, the bowlers, the situation you play in a game. they keep varying every game and that is what excites every player. Otherwise, if it is the same 9-to-5 job where you have to stare at a computer screen and keep making business calls, that is the same thing they would do every day. That doesn’t excite much. I’ve heard from many of my friends, they are well off, but they say that their job is boring. I do make X amount of money, I do have a car, I do lead a family and I eat at the nice place. But he says that the point is that atleast you guys are lucky to be earning as well as living your lives where you see new challenges every day.

SJ– You mentioned this briefly, you played for Tamil Nadu for 13 years and then you moved to play for Vidarbha. What prompted the move, how has your experience been with Vidarbha and how is it different from being in the TN system?

HB– Tamil Nadu was a totally different system in the sense that it was a far more professional set up and TN was one of the polished side in the Ranji set up. Having said that, we have won only twice, which is a bit of disappointment for whoever has played for TN. In most seasons, you would find us in the quarters and the semis and in the finals which we haven’t made to many. I have been in two finals, which we lost to Bombay. That is disappointing. TN has been a professional set-up. We have been producing players over the years. We have a good coaching system going on. It is a far more professional set up than Vidarbha.

Vidarbha is a far more up-coming state. Lot of raw talent. They still don’t know how to go about it. They don’t have many players from the past who have gone on to play for the national side. They don’t know what route to take, how to get there and what it is to be a national sportsman, what it is to excel at the highest level. They just got Umesh Yadav this year. Apart from that, they don’t have anybody who is of real repute who has gone on to do anything extraordinary for them. Maybe, there is Pritam Gandhe who has done very well for them at state level. He has played about hundred first class games for them. But having said that, there haven’t been anyone who has gone on to play for the country and hence they haven’t produced many sportsmen because they don’t know what it takes to play for India. They all play and train hard, similar to what we all do. They just need proper guidance. Being a smaller state, they need to get in a few more better coaches, get a few more players like us to pass on the knowledge to them and motivate them, give them inputs that they otherwise don’t get in Vidarbha.

SJ– Now, you are a senior citizen in the first class circuit in Vidarbha. What is your role in the team? Do the younger guys look up to you?

HB– First and foremost, the role of any player is to play for the side, score runs. Whether you play for TN or Vidarbha or India or even for a league game or in my gully cricket. I have to still score runs. Then, the difference in me being a professional is that when I was in TN my main job was that of a batter, I had to score runs, put runs on the board for the side and strategize how to beat other sides. That was all that I had to do.

In Vidarbha, I also have to guide the youngsters, try and take them through situations, try and tell that this is the best way to play right now, this is the best way to bowl to the batsmen. That is because they may not have the same amount of experience or exposure as players from other states like Karnataka or TN. They have enough senior guys who have played for the national side to pass on their experience to the youngsters. In Karnataka there have been enough guys who played for India. There are enough guys in Delhi who played. There have been many in TN also who have played a lot. We still have a lot of senior guys who keep passing on the knowledge to the junior guys, and that keeps going on. We haven’t had that kind of players coming out through [Vidarbha]. So, we seniors have to also work with them on their technique and work with their mental aspect, make them stronger and help them believe that they could beat the bigger sides. Those kind of things are also what we are expected to do. It is not written in the contract, but it is understood that when you play as a professional in a side of youngsters, you also become a mentor.

SJ– I want to follow up on another thing that you mentioned. You mentioned that TN won Ranji only twice, but at the same time, produced very promising talents. But, for whatever reasons, we have not had players from TN establish at the national scene.

HB– I’m going to be straightforward and answer this. If you look at the players, there have been a lot of players who have gone on to play for India. A couple of them have gone to do that for a little longer than most of us. The reason we really haven’t gone on to make a mark for long is that there is no one from TN who has played 100 Test matches or 300 ODIs. The most prominent ones that I can think of, of some repute, are Krishnamachari Srikanth, S. Venkataraghavan and Robin Singh. Robin played about 130 ODIs. Srikanth played about 100+ ODIs and 40-odd Test matches. Venkataraghavan sir has played about 50 Test matches.

Apart from that, we have seen V.B. Chandrashekhar to T. Srinivasan to W.V. Raman to myself  to Badri to Karthik, none of us has really made a big mark at that level. Yes, we showed promise. Yes, we have had times of genius or good run. Someone had a hundred against Australia, in a Test match. But, none of us has been able to play for 100 Tests or say, 300 ODIs. i think the reason is that one tends to be very satisfied too soon. We seem to be happy that we have donned the Indian cap and think that we are happy with becoming an Indian player. We tend to get a bit soft. In other states, that is not the case. A lot of what I have seen is that it is not drilled into our heads.

I’ve played at the highest level, but haven’t played for long. What it takes to sustain it is seen in players like Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble from Karnataka. I can mention some more from Mumbai- Sunil Gavaskar to (Sachin) Tendulkar to (Dilip) Vengsarkar, and the list goes on. But, we don’t have anyone from TN who has gone on to play that much. They know what it takes to sustain them there and they know what it takes to keep continuing to do that. The problem is, we really work hard to get to the mark and get into the national side, and then we have a couple of brilliant innings that make you think that we have found someone great, who is exciting and would serve us for 10 years But, in another one year, he fizzles out. There is enough talent in the state. Dinesh Kartik is talented. So is L. Balaji. Yes, they have done reasonably well for the national side. But, none of them are superstars. We never produced a Rahul Dravid or a Kumble or a Sachin Tendulkar or a Virender Sehwag or a Saurav Ganguly or an Azharuddin or a VVS Laxman. We just get satisfied too early and soften ourselves. One you get there, work has to be done day in and day out. You have to work harder there, is what I have learnt now. You can’t take your leg off the pedal.

SJ– Let’s take a look at your India career. You came into the side in 2001, after the match fixing saga, which opened up middle order spots. You could bowl, and were a good fielder. Do you have any regrets that weren’t able to fulfill some of the things you promised when you came in, as a 23 year old?

HB– Not really, no regrets that I could have done this or that. I was happy with what went through with the national side. I got to play Test matches. I was possibly not playing at the best suited position, but that is not an excuse for not scoring. That happens to everyone, and it happened to me too. That was straight forward. No regrets. I wasn’t batting well, and it kept me out. It all boils down to a job that I didn’t do. If it was not about somebody else doing something and I suffering from it, or not getting a chance because of him. I wouldn’t blame anyone for my Test match career. I had the opportunities, as an opener. I opened in my first test match. I had never opened in my entire cricket career before that, not even in my school team. But, that is fine. I wanted to play in the XI than sit out. I didn’t enjoy sitting outside. Not that I didn’t want to be a help in the nets. But every cricketer wants to be on the field. We want to go out there and play, not sit out. I saw the opening as an opportunity and I said yes to it. I can’t find fault with anyone for not doing well in Test matches. I was not batting at my best, but that is how it goes.

In the ODIs, I still don’t know why I was dropped. I went to Australia, got runs there, we went to the finals. I played another game after that in Sydney, where I was run out for 18. I then played one game in Pakistan where I came in at no.7 and made 8 in 5 balls and since then I had never played. I still don’t know why I never played again. No one has given me answers.

SJ– These days, in the current set-up, there seems to be a longer rope given to the youngsters.

HB– Even at the very point I played, I don’t want to name them- a little bit of home work and you will find the names – there were a few players who got a longer rope than I did. That is fine. That is the way, and I am happy to live with it but, I still don’t know why I didn’t get selected since, even after asking the then selectors. Now, it doesn’t even bother me. I am just happy with my cricket and my life. That is all in the past.

SJ– In 2007, you joined the ICL with a whole host of players and promptly banned by the BCCI. What effect did it have on your career? What were your thoughts as things were unfolding at that point of time, and now, with the help of hindsight 4-5 years hence?

HB– I was someone who always believed that I would not ever play a Ranji Trophy game just for the sake of playing and hold back youngsters. At that time, I was 30. I had a chat with the selectors, and I was given the feedback that I would probably never play a game for India. They were looking at a younger lot, 20-21 year old. I was a guy who was 30, and could serve only 4-5 years, while they wanted to target players who would form a unit for 10-12 years. It was fine by me. Once I was told that I might not play a game, I didn’t want to stay back and hold a spot in the TN side, I was still good enough to play there. I had a lot of seniors in the team when I was younger, they were just holding on to the side. They just wanted to play the Ranji cricket and not see it a platform where a younger player can be groomed to the national side. That had been in there just for the selfish pleasures. I didn’t want to be one of that. I consciously made a decision that if I couldn’t benefit from playing Ranji to get into the Indian team, if I didn’t have an opportunity to play for the national side, I will not continue playing.

It so happened that the ICL came into the picture. I thought to myself that it was very challenging. I am not going to play for the Indian team. There were many more younger guys in the TN team who were doing well. We were having Murali Vijay coming in, Abhinav Mukund coming in, Badrinath was doing well, so was Dinesh Kartik. There were enough young guys who could look after the side. I spoke to the association, and they were fine with it, and they were okay with it. So, I signed up for the ICL. I was just wanting a new challenge. I had not  played much of T20 cricket before. It would be a good opportunity to rub shoulders with good players again and compete with them.

A little later I came to know that there would be something like IPL. IPL came in just after the ICL. It came in because of the ICL. No matter what Lalit Modi says about him having the idea in the pipeline and all that, I am not one who believes that. IPL came in because the ICL. BCCI had to make something to make sure that ICL did not exist. That is fine. I think they do it properly now. It is one of the biggest events of the year. They have done extremely well to be where they are now.

Coming back to the point where I took the call, there was no IPL. So, I thought the ICL was the only challenge left in my life was to play there and compete with guys who have played for their national sides, who are still good enough. They all found a place to play here. Everything fell in place at that time.

It does hit you in hindsight that I could’ve stayed back and IPL would’ve been there. I could’ve been a superstar in the IPL. I could bowl and bat and could field well, perfect scenario. It all seems right when you think of it now. Your decisions are made at that time, with all that is around you.

SJ– The next question is with regards to the ODI game in Mumbai against England that India lost. You were a part of the team, you were unbeaten. That was the match where (Andrew) Flintoff took his shirt off and ran on the ground. There were some news sources that said the captain, Sourav Ganguly, was extremely pissed off in the dressing room and he may have said to you that you may never play for India again. Of course, you did play. Can you elaborate on that?

HB– It was a loss carried out of proportion. Sourav didn’t say anything like that at all. In fact, Sourav has always been someone who has backed my ability. Someone in the press – They have to find reasons to make it dramatic, and it involved me at some point.

That game was disappointing. I was there around in the end. I didn’t have any batters around me.. There was only so much one man can do. We needed some 50 runs with 5 wickets in hand, and we lost all 5. So, the media ends up with a story where in I made sure we lost the match and Sourav said I was never going to play again. It is a big story, in itself. It was like a script written by a script writer for a movie. Sourav said nothing of that sort. He was disappointed that we lost the game. if we had won that, we would’ve won the series 4-2. Anyone in that position would have been as upset as that. Added to that, the way England celebrated and the way it happened in Mumbai, it added to the entire story and Sourav returned favour the following year. it was more so about the disappointment of the loss than Sourav telling me that I will not be playing for India or anything like that. There is nothing more to it. I did go on to play for India, and Sourav was there too. It is just disappointing that these kind of stories are being published these days.

SJ– Okay.

What are some of your lasting memories from your India career?

HB– Pakistan tour. The biggest of my life- being there with the national side, though i never played after that. The 100 against Australia, that a was very, very cherishing moment. They were the best side in the world. It is always nice to perform against the best in the world. Being the man-of-the-match at Cuttack against Zimbabwe. They were much better than they are today. There is no better feeling than being in the dressing room with the national side. Dravid, Sachin next to you. You always dream of these things. I am a person who would speak to them or call them and meet them stuff like that. But, at that point of time, I was a 24 year old, who had just made the mark in the side, sitting with the big boys. There is a certain rush in that, and you can’t replicate that at all.

Being on the field with at the Eden Gardens in front of 100,000 people. We had India and Australia at Eden Gardens, in the series India won 2-1, and Laxman scored 281. It was the 4th day where Laxman and Dravid played for the whole day. You can go back to the video evidence, there was only one man who took them drinks and water and gloves the entire day. That was me. Laxman and Dravid insisted that only I come in every time. I would bring in water, gloves or banana or whatever they wanted. I was the only one to bring it, they asked no one else to come inside. The entire day. I was the only man to help them out. I actually felt a part of the partnership that day. I was told by Dravid, more than Laxman, “Tu hi aana, aur kisi ko bhejna mat”, which means ‘only you come, don’t send in anybody else”. I kept running in, it didn’t matter to me, there was no hard work in it. It was just one of the things cricketers do. It feels nice to be the someone that they wanted to be there and find some comfort levels that they were okay with.

SJ– Lastly, listener Abhishek wants to know if you are thinking of taking up coaching after your cricket playing career is over.

HB– I will surely volunteer at some point of time. I would be more interested in coaching younger kids than coaching national sides or a domestic side, to start with. I might do that at later time. I want to get down to the grassroots first, try and promote cricket from there. The coaching structure is changing a little bit which is not to my liking. They are going towards the shorter version of the game and that will not help us have enough quality players. It will end up with them just coming in without working on their basics, or techniques but just trying to hit the ball hard. It is a trend, and I know it because I have a 10 year old son and I take him to practice and see many kids at practice. It is very, very scary to see what is happening.

These kids are looking to taking up the sports now, and you can’t blame them- there is so much exposure to IPL and T20 cricket, the shorter version. Kids love entertainment. They like to see 4s and 6s. That is all they see in the IPL. They don’t know what it is to battle against Shane Warne bowling, the challenge of test cricket, while they have to defend them out to play for a draw from a tough situation. They don’t figure it out, they are too young for all that. All that they are excited are about “Oh, Dhoni hits a 4. Dhoni hits a 6.” Or “Gayle hits a 6”. They start doing the same thing. They start imitating the same in nets. I don’t know if it is right or wrong, but they will do that at some point of time. They should get their basics right when young and perhaps when they are 16 or 18, hit the ball harder and start those. Here, the trend is the other way around. The kids are not really working with their technique. That is what is worrying me. Hence, I will like to go to the grassroot level and change the system a little bit. I can’t change it entirely, but I can at least, if I have my academy, I can train the 200 kids I have there.

SJ– Okay. Wonderful. Good luck with that. Thanks a lot for coming on the show, Hemang. It was wonderful talking to you.

HB– Absolutely. Pleasure. Thanks a lot. Thank you so much, Subash. Take care.

SJ– Thanks, Hemang. Bye.

HB– Bye.

Download the full episode here.

Episode transcribed by: Bharathram Pattabiraman