My life revolves around cricket: Joshi
Mumbai, June 23: Some people are destined for greatness; others achieve it with sheer stubbornness and will power. But while these great men are born to rule, there are those who were meant to serve. They devote their lives to the object of their passion and serve it unflinchingly.
Hours after Sunil Joshi announced his decision to call time on his 20-year-old first-class career, he said, “My life revolves around cricket. I eat, breathe, sleep cricket”. The 42-year-old left-arm spinner from Karnataka, after 160 first-class matches (15 Tests, 69 ODIs), 615 wickets and 5129 runs, still sounded like a wide-eyed teenager obsessed with the game.
Taking time out to speak to bcci.tv, he reflected on his career with fondness and shared his coaching dreams.
When you look back at your two-decade-long cricket career, what’s the one thing that makes you proud to have played this game?
Coming from a small town, a rural place in northern Karnataka called Gadag, and reaching here today makes me proud. I look back at those 10 years of getting up in the morning, catching a 4 am train and reaching Hubli. If fortunate, I got a seat and managed to close my eyes for a while. The passion and the burning desire to just play the game in the heat, rain or cold was so high – the only thing on my mind was to play cricket.
Was the decision to retire a tough one?
It’s very tough for any cricketer to leave this game. You’ve lived this game for 20 years and it’s become a part of your life. I’m sure every cricketer would feel the same. All of us wish we could’ve have done something more. But you have to draw a line somewhere and take into account how your body and mind are responding. At the same time you have to look at the next generation and allow them to take the torch forward.
Which is your most cherished cricketing moment?
Getting an India Test cap is a big thing for any cricketer. Nothing will ever match that feeling, any player will. Every cricketer grows up with the dream of wearing the Test cap one day but it’s not easy.
My second most cherished memory was the five-for against South Africa in Nairobi in the 1996 LG Cup. I registered bowling figures of 10-6-6-5. I still remember every bit of it and can narrate every ball I bowled. It was a historic moment for me. Wisden rated it the sixth best bowling performance in ODIs and it’s a great honour to be on that list.
Could you talk us through that performance?
South Africa were fresh from their 1999 World Cup semi-final performance. The day before the match I had this very unusual feeling and I didn’t know what it was. The match started, I went on to bowl and Herschelle Gibbs got beaten off the first ball. I went up to Rahul [Dravid] in the slips and told him how I felt. He just told me not to worry and keep bowling. Off the third ball, Rahul took an outstanding catch to give me Gibbs’ wicket. Again I told him, ‘Rahul I don’t know [what it is] but I’m feeling [something strange].’ He again asked me to concentrate on my bowling. The feeling remained with me throughout that innings and I haven’t felt anything like that ever again. Now when I look back at that match I realise what a fantastic feeling that was.
Could you tell us a little about your 92 runs and five-for in the Test against Bangladesh?
That was Sourav Ganguly’s first Test tour as captain and Anil [Kumble] was injured. When we went to Bangladesh, Sourav told me, ‘You’re going to be under the spotlight in Anil’s absence’. I told him I’d do my best. In that Test, Bangladesh scored 400 and we were some 170 for five or six down. Sourav was at the crease when I went in to bat and I remembered his words. He came up to me and said, ‘Just bat, don’t worry about the runs, I’ll score them’. He got out after scoring a beautiful 90 and when I went back to the dressing room after the day’s play, unbeaten, he said ‘Jo, I’m impressed. I hope you go on to get a big score’. These words from my co-players came as a fresh bout of motivation. They made me stronger each game and each day. I got a five-for in the next innings and we won the match.
What do you think is the reason behind the young Karnataka players not being able to cement their place in the national team?
I remember in the late 1990s, five of us – Anil Kumble, Rahul Dravid, Venkatesh Prasad, Javagal Srinath and myself – played consistently for India in both formats. That happened because this group of players was so dedicated. The amount of hard work that you put in each and every day will eventually give you the [desired] result. I have been working equally hard each day till today. It’s a never ending process.
Who are the people that have touched your life in some or the other way during your journey as a cricketer?
Anil, Rahul, Srinath and Prasad are my inspiration, my pillars of support. I also have a very strong [bond] with Sachin Tendulkar. I have so much respect for that man; he’s an amazing person. There were so many people who mentored me at various stages, including my coaches and teammates. Their words were a huge morale booster and inspired me to push myself harder.
I’ll be forever grateful to my mentor, Bishen Singh Bedi. I was out of the Indian team from 1997 for a year-and-a-half. I remember spending most of my time with Bishen Sir. Every morning and evening he put in so many hours with me in the nets just for my benefit. When I look back at everything that’s happened in my career and all the people I’ve met, I know that if given a chance to relive those 20 years, I’d not want to change anything. This game has given me hundreds of friends and well-wishers. This is a wonderful game.
You’ll start a new innings now, as a coach. You did coach the Hyderabad team last year. How was your experience?
I had a stint with the Hyderabad Ranji team last year and we did remarkably well as the results will show. I found that it became much easier for me to communicate with players while I was still playing the game myself. As a coach you need to understand the player, his background and most importantly, break the language barrier. If you communicate with the player in the language he understands, half the job is done there.
What are your views on the younger talent in Indian cricket?
You look at someone like Rohit Sharma or Virat Kohli and you say, ‘What a talent!”. They are the future of Indian cricket. But the question is, are they willing to put in the kind of work and dedication that their seniors have over so many years? You look at players like Sachin, Rahul, [VVS] Laxman – the day before he announced his retirement, Rahul was there at the NCA sweating it out in the nets. They practice for hours together. Why do they have to do it? You realise this is the reason why they’ve carried the Indian flag high for so many years. You cannot replace these players but as a young player you can draw inspiration from them. The BCCI gives the best of facilities to every player and it’s up to the individual how hard he wants to work to get to the top.
What is your take on India’s spin bowling resources?
There’s no dearth of spinners in this country. Their development depends on how they’re identified, protected and mentored. We have R Ashwin, Pragyan Ojha, KP Apanna. Look at Piyush Chawla – what a talent he is. If they’re guided in a proper way, they can serve Indian cricket for long. The most important thing for a spinner is to bowl for long periods. You cannot bowl 30 balls and say, ‘That’s it’. A spinner needs to bowl more in order to get his body, hands, fingers and the overall rhythm in place.
What would be your advice to the young Indian spinners?
I’ve seen Ashwin and Harbhajan [Singh] bowl and one thing I’d like to say is, whether you’re playing Tests, one-dayers or T20s, your bowling style shouldn’t change. One odd faster one or yorker is fine but ultimately you’ve got to understand that you are a spinner and you’re expected to spin the ball. You cannot bowl fast. [Muttiah] Muralitharan is the perfect example. He never bowls fast in any format. The slower he bowls in the air, the more difficult it is for the batsman to time him.
How challenging is it going to be for you to not play the game anymore?
It’s going to be very challenging because my body is so used to getting up in the morning and training. But having said that, even as a coach I need to stay fit. You need to set an example for the players. As a coach if you cannot run, you cannot expect your players to do so.