Surinder Khanna Image Credit: K.R. Nayar/Gulf News

Surinder Khanna, the former Indian wicketkeeper-batsman, who is a member of the Indian Premier League (IPL) Governing Council as representative of the Indian Cricketers Association (ICA), is currently in the UAE for the league.

Speaking to Gulf News from the Oberoi Hotel last week where he is undergoing the mandatory quarantine, he said: “This is one tournament that the entire cricketing fraternity of the world, especially youngsters, hopes to play for the glamour, fame, and money. This is also a competition where cricket is the theme of a three-hour drama where there is a lot of action happening. In the earlier days, we used to go to the movie theatre for entertainment, but now people come to the ground to get entertained through those brilliant episodes of fielding and catching, power-filled batting, and some great contests. In fact, it is not only the youngsters who enjoy the IPL, even elders have also been taking a liking to it, and by the time the tournament ends, you feel you haven’t had enough of it. The IPL has been designed in such a way that one does not get bored of it....but the feeling of wanting more continues.”

Khanna is the first international cricketer to emerge as the hero of the first-ever international match in the UAE. Thirty-six-years ago, when Sharjah Cricket Stadium hosted the first edition of the Asia Cup, he had bagged the man of the tournament award. “It is always nostalgic to come back. It was on a Friday the 13th when we played Pakistan, and I feel proud to have contributed to the victory and bagged the man of the tournament award. I had a great captain in Sunil Gavaskar who gave me the chance to play as the wicketkeeper-batsman, and I am happy I was able to deliver. I have come back here after 36 years in a different role.... as a member of the IPL governing council.”

Talking about the absence of spectators for this IPL, Khanna feels that although they may not be allowed to go to the stadium, there is a lot one can learn by watching the greats on television. “We’ve all seen greats like Virat Kohli, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, and others who have played for a long time and remained at the top. They have mastered certain strokes, but one cannot try to play those strokes right away. One must first learn the basics from a coach. Get the foundation solid, and then build on it slowly but surely. Strokes like the scoop and reverse shots are played by cricketers only after they’ve mastered their basics. It is also good to understand that one must play with the full face of the bat and get technically sound like Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, and Jacques Kallis. Don’t try to play like AB De Villiers right away. They all have mastered their techniques and hence can do magic with the bat.”

Khanna also revealed how cricket is different now from his playing days, and what it takes to be a winner. “In 50 overs cricket, one has time to recover even if the team has lost three-four wickets. In a T20 format, there is very minimal recovery time since it goes very fast. So one must be at his best throughout. What I have seen over the years is that the side that concedes fewer extras has been able to win matches. Fewer wides and no balls, and combined with good fielding that team can win.”

“In our playing days the best fielders were Mohammad Azahurddin, Jonty Rhodes, Kapil Dev, and Herschelle Gibbs; but today there are outstanding fielders in every team. This is because then there was nothing like support staff to back you. We only had a manager and a captain. Now, like in football and rugby, there are many others to help you get to top fitness levels before your next match. There are people who can help you get rid of any pain in your body, remove your fatigue, and get you fit and raring to go. Players like Virat Kohli believe that everyone must be super fit. In our days it was only our performance that mattered, and nothing else. Today it is a 360 degrees change and every player must stay 100 percent fit, both mentally and physically.”

With regards to the person who would step into Dhoni’s shoes, Khanna is of the opinion that he should not to be burdened with expectations. “It is a huge shoe to step into. Greats are born and they leave an imprint. A newcomer must not be judged by Dhoni’s standards. Instead, he should be judged by the way he plays and give him time to master his skills and do well at the international level. He should be given time to settle in his job and role. To have that kind of fitness and cricketing acumen and play like Dhoni, and that too for such a long time, after playing and traveling for nearly 250 to 300 days a year isn’t easy. Dhoni did exceedingly well and the fitness standards which he set as a wicketkeeper, captain, and an explosive batsman is remarkable. That would be too much of a burden to put on a new wicketkeeper. But it is important to have an idol. I had Farookh Engineer and Syed Kirmani to look up to. Youngsters of today should learn from the greats and keep themselves motivated.”

Khanna has urged one and all to act responsibily to make IPL in the UAE as a success. “England, by hosting West Indies, proved to the cricketing world that one can organise cricket but a certain set of parameters needs to be followed with discipline. One should not break those Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) which are helping the league to happen. Even if one person breaks it, he jeopardises the entire tournament and also the lives of his colleague or other team members. So being disciplined during the league is vital.”

Complimenting all those who took up the challenge to host IPL in the UAE, Khanna noted, “The BCCI, UAE, and IPL Governing Council, everyone who is involved in this IPL need to be complimented. The broadcasters, franchise owners, and all others have shown tremendous courage in these trying circumstances to ensure that we enjoy 53 days of cricketing action. I pray that all goes well.”

- The writer is a veteran cricket journalist who has covered 12 ICC World Cups