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Smoke and fire in Lanka

Updated on: 13 February,2022 07:58 AM IST  |  Mumbai
A Correspondent |

Excerpts from ex-Team India manager Ratnakar Shetty’s new book on what transpired during the 1997 tour of the Emerald Isles, where India lost the ODI series and Asia Cup

Smoke and fire in Lanka

Team manager Ratnakar Shetty watches Ajay Jadeja read a fax copy of a magazine article in which ex-Pakistan wicketkeeper Rashid Latif claimed Indian players were involved in match fixing, on July 22, 1997. Pic/AFP

Back in 1997, I was pleasantly surprised when Jaywant Lele, the Board secretary, informed me about my appointment as the manager of the Indian team, which was to undertake a tour of Sri Lanka.

The 43-day tour comprised the Asia Cup, followed by a two-Test series and then a three-match bilateral ODI series against the home team. Madan Lal, a member of the team which had won the World Cup in 1983, was the coach and Sachin Tendulkar, the captain. 

The mid-1990s weren’t exactly the best of times for the game. Allegations of dalliances between players and bookmakers, and betting and match-fixing would surface every now and then and raise more questions than answers. 

We lost to Sri Lanka in our first game of the Asia Cup and the next fixture against Pakistan was abandoned due to rain. The equation was such that we had to beat Bangladesh by a big margin in our third and last league match to qualify for the final. However, our preparations for the game were overshadowed by a story which appeared in Outlook, a weekly magazine, in which Rashid Latif, the Pakistani wicketkeeper-batsman, had made certain claims. The story featured his references to some cricketers who happened to be a part of the Indian team in Sri Lanka.

The Azhar ‘issue’

Azharuddin, who was one of the players mentioned in the story in Outlook, had shown me a fax, which I was told had been sent to him by Latif, as a clarification of sorts. Latif had mentioned in the fax that he had merely named the Indian cricketers as being among his friends and had not accused them of any sort of misconduct. I called the journalists over to my room and reiterated that we had nothing more to add to the story.

We beat Bangladesh and made it to the final of the Asia Cup, where we lost to the hosts, who were on a roll those days. 

There were changes in the team after the Asia Cup. The arrival of Nayan Mongia, Rajesh Chauhan and Vinod Kambli for the Tests and bilateral ODIs coincided with the publication of an interview given by Madan Lal, the coach, to The Hindu. 

The interview was laced with uncomplimentary remarks about most of the players, which was certainly not an ideal thing to do in the middle of a tour. 

The interview had its consequences. We played a three-day game prior to the first Test, during which, none of the players, save for the captain, talked to the coach. The dressing room was an awkward place to be in and I did what I could by calling for a meeting on the evening of the first day, in an attempt to diffuse the tension. 

I also backed the players in a conversation with Mr Raj Singh Dungarpur, the then Board president. I told him that the coach ought to have kept in mind the fact that most of the players were as committed to the team and the sport as he was in his days as a player.

The tour gave me an opportunity to get to know Sachin and Vinod, both of whom were Mumbai boys, better. I discovered on the tour that Sidhu, who was in the room opposite mine, was an avid reader. He had brought with him a set of books on Swami Vivekanand. Players such as Anil Kumble and Rahul Dravid spent a lot of time discussing cricketing issues with Greg Chappell, Barry Richards, Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri, all of whom were part of the TV commentary team and had also been put up at the Taj Samudra.

It would have been nice to end the tour on a happy note. However, that was not to be. We came close to overhauling a target of 303 in the first ODI, but lost by two runs. We then lost the next two games as well and the reigning World Champions took the series 3-0.

Sachin was disturbed

Having spent a lot of time with Sachin in Sri Lanka, I had sensed that he was disturbed. He wasn’t enjoying the captaincy and I was by no means the only individual who felt that all wasn’t well. There were times when information pertaining to the trajectory of games that we were yet to play, would reach us and leave us wondering. 

The captain, the coach and I wanted to brief the senior office-bearers of the Board about these incidents and seek their inputs on the future course of action, after returning to India. If indeed there was some foul play, then it was essential to take steps to nip it in the bud. We sought an appointment with Rajbhai, as the Board president was known. Madan Lal could not make it as his flight from Delhi was cancelled, and Sachin and I went to meet Rajbhai and Lele at the Cricket Club of India.

I was angry and disgusted

We discussed the tour, the Rashid Latif interview and the rumours, that had been doing the rounds. Imagine my shock then to receive a call later that night from none other than Azharuddin, enquiring about our meeting with the BCCI president and secretary. I was angry and disgusted. The entire purpose of the meeting had been defeated. I called Mr Dalmiya and told him that henceforth, no manager would be frank with the Board. 

My heart went out to Sachin. The apparent ineptitude of some of his teammates on the field had left him frustrated. Unfortunately, it took a while—three more years, to be precise—for people to realise that the ineptitude of some of  the players was deliberate.

Edited excerpts from ON BOARD: TEST.TRIAL.TRIUMPH, My Years in BCCI by Ratnakar Shetty, published by Rupa Publications

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