Chandu Borde in good nick at 85
Pune-based former India captain and chairman of selectors is probably as fit as he has ever been in his retired life
Middle-order batsman Chandu Borde's leg-spin was good enough for cricket pundits to rate him as an all-rounder in his 1958-59 to 1969-70 international career (55 Tests, 3061 runs, 5 centuries, 52 wickets)."
After his playing days, he continued to be an all-rounder through his roles that entailed heading the selection committee spread across five terms and managing junior and senior teams. Then, out of the blue, he was picked as manager of Rahul Dravid's 2007 team that won the Test series in England, not long after the World Cup debacle in the Caribbean.
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Pune-based Borde turns 85 today and is probably as fit as he has ever been in retired life. "My fitness regime is nothing extraordinary – 10 minutes of free-arm exercises as soon as I freshen up in the morning and a 40-minute walk at Poona Club in the evening. If I don't sweat, I feel lazy," he says.
Not many former players are summoned to manage an international side at 73, but Borde was, in 2007. He never gave the impression on the tour that age was a handicap and he dished out advice to his players whenever necessary. The Indian team had no head coach, but Robin Singh was the fielding expert and Venkatesh Prasad, the bowling coach. And there was Borde, who was game for a net or two with batsmen and bowlers. I remember a few elderly autograph hunters being so delighted to see him in the squad because they had missed out on his inscription in 1967, the last time Borde had toured England as a Test player. He was also a tigerish fielder and more than safe catcher.
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Borde, a Christian, has kept in touch with Indian cricket and will rejoice in the fact that Mahendra Singh Dhoni, still a junior in that 2007 Test squad, emerged as an all-time great and that fact that Sachin Tendulkar, who was written off in some quarters after the World Cup, went on to play with distinction for another six years. Ishant Sharma was a rookie in early 2007, but later that year, he was troubling the best Australian batsmen in their den. And Dinesh Karthik, who did a good job as Test opener, partnering Wasim Jaffer, is still an India player.
Chandu Borde on the 1967 tour of England
Borde is pained at India's 2019 World Cup exit through their semi-final loss to New Zealand. Like several former stars, Borde feels selection was at the heart of India's problems.
"They should have picked Ambati Rayudu and Ajinkya Rahane. These two players would have boosted the middle-order in English conditions. And I don't know why Kedar Jadhav was not persisted with. He scored a half century (second highest scorer with 52 after Virat Kohli's 67) in that tense game against Afghanistan," says Borde.
'Just love the way Rohit bats'
As chairman of selectors, he was not exactly outspoken. Many a time, he toed a diplomatic line. That tone was noticed even on Saturday when I asked him if Rohit Sharma should be now given the captaincy of the one-day side. "I just love the way Rohit bats. I am aware that he is a successful leader of the Mumbai Indians, but it's up to the selectors," he says. And should India have a new coach? Borde responds with a question: "Should there be a change after only one (knock out) loss?"
Picked Azhar, recalled Siva
Borde is happy to turn back the clock when he was chief selector. "It gives me great satisfaction that there were a number of young players who went on to serve the country well," he says of his 1984-85 to 1985-86 and 1999-2000 to 2001-02 tenures in the big seat. Borde's committee picked Laxman Sivaramakrishnan and Mohammed Azharuddin for the home series against David Gower's Englishmen in 1984-85. Siva struck in his very first Test on Indian soil — at Mumbai's Wankhede Stadium — where he claimed 12 wickets — and Azharuddin was picked for the Kolkata Test — where he scored the first of three consecutive centuries. The Borde-selected team also won the World Championship of Cricket in Australia in 1985.
If cricket lovers were surprised at India's turnaround and eventual victory in the 2001 home series against Steve Waugh's all-conquering Australian team, the then chairman of selectors was not. "Yes, we lost the first Test by 10 wickets in Mumbai, but I was sure we would bounce back because we had a good side," he said of the epic series that ended 2-1 in India's favour.
Hazare, a perfect batsman
If that 2001 triumph was one of the highlights of his selectorial stint (he won't pick the best), his performance against the West Indies in the Delhi Test of the 1958-59 series is more than just a cherished memory for him. Borde made his debut in the opening Test at Mumbai and recalled how swift the West Indian opening bowlers, Wesley Hall and Roy Gilchrist were. "Gilchrist was crazy and Wes's run-up nearly started from the sightscreen. We were not scared, but we had not faced such pace before. It was a ploy to rattle us," he recalls.
At Delhi, Borde was set to score his second century of the Test. But when on 96, his foot touched the stumps and was out hit wicket. Thus, he missed emulating his guru Vijay Hazare, who took two centuries off the Australians in the Adelaide Test of 1947-48. "Hazare was my idea of the perfect batsman," says Borde, politely declining to name his No. 1 bowler and captain.
Borde is pained at India's 2019 World Cup exit through their semi-final loss to New Zealand. Like several former stars, he feels selection was at the heart of India's problems.
"I played under several captains and faced many great bowlers — Hall, Fred Trueman, Brian Statham and Ray Lindwall too. I remember Lindwall troubling me in the Kolkata Test of the 1959-60 series and he was 38 then."
Australia's Graham McKenzie was another fast bowling great Borde had to tackle and he remembers falling to the Western Australian (caught by Ian Chappell) in the first innings of his final Test at Mumbai. Two days earlier, he scored a hundred for West Zone against the same opposition. There is no trace of regret in Borde's voice while talking about his final Test, never mind the fact that only in the previous Test he contributed (41 and 65 not out) to India's win over New Zealand at Auckland. He acknowledged that he was getting on in years and young blood had to be infused.
At 85, there are no regrets, just memories. Borde's childhood recollections are vivid: "I used to stay at the YMCA in Pune with my uncle and that exposed me to an array of sports, so I was always very active.
"I was most happy carting the kit of the YMCA team for friendly games and I soon became popular with the players. One day, a regular player could not make it and I was included in the XI for YMCA's match against NMV School. Mr Pentana, our captain, introduced me into the attack in the dying stages of the game and I claimed three wickets.'
"Mr Pentana bowled off-spin, but I was fascinated by the ball turning from leg to off which Mr Salve did as a leg-spinner. I didn't look back after that."
One of India's most prominent cricketers in the 1950s and 1960s was never coached. He adopted the watch-and-improve policy.
He's still watching and his cricketing brain is constantly ticking. Sunday mass is on top of the day's agenda on his birthday, but those 10 minutes of free-arm exercises will not be skipped.
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