Interview with Arshad Ayub, former Indian off spinner
Arshad Ayub was one of India's most promising spinners in the 1980s. A competent late order bat as well, Ayub made telling contributions in quite a few ODIs while playing for India in the late 80s. He however couldn't manage to hold on to his place for longevity in the Indian squad, a trait quite similar to other very promising spinners in the 1980s, .viz Maninder Singh and L.Sivaramakrishnan. Ayub however was a stalwart for the Hyderabad Cricket Team for a long time with whom, he won the Ranji Trophy in the year 1989, by contributing to the victory with a string of decent performances.
Our Cricketfundas.com's reporter V.R.Srinivasan had the opportunity of interviewing Arshad Ayub in his Cricket Academy premises. Special thanks to Ashwat Ramani for bringing out this interview.
Cricketfundas.com: Good Evening, Mr Ayub. To start with, we would like to ask you about your first first class match which was a big time one at that. You played for a U-22 Team against the mighty West Indies in 1978. What were the feelings that you were carrying into that match and can you tell us about that match too?
Arshad Ayub: Well the game was something basically! We faced a team that was actually a new one for the West Indies, because most of their other players had gone on to play in the Kerry Packer (World) Series. So players like Marshall came into the scene that time, so did Sylvester Clarke and others who actually turned out the West Indies team in a way too...because Marshall became a legend and Sylvester Clarke was probably the fastest bowler during that time. The team was led by Kallicharan and because of their strength we were indeed under some great pressure and people were thinking this could be an one sided affair. But I guess, we gave them a very good fight and I was also there to avoid the follow on (Cricketfundas.com reminds,” You scored a 58 in that game"). Yes, I scored 58 and we could save the follow on and save the game actually. So it was a good experience for me, and I think probably during that time, there wasn't any protective gear such as helmets to wear. It was a big thing and quite a fact that I could play Marshall and Clarke without protective gear and score a fifty and it turned out that after that game I never felt overawed by any bowling actually.
Cricketfundas.com: Sir, at that point of time when you were 20 years of age, were you an out and out off spinner or an all rounder? You scored 58 runs in your first big game so at that time you must have considered yourself as a decent all rounder?
Arshad Ayub: Actually if you look at my school records and my U-22 records, I have always been an all rounder. I used to bat No.3; I used to open the Innings so it was never a middle order batsman also in the sense I never used to bat lower than 3. Only in the Ranji Trophy did I bat a little lower down. Otherwise if you look overall, I batted No.3 for my School Team, U-22, and Junior State etc. So I was more of an all-rounder than anything else. Even if you look at Ranji Trophy, probably till… I think 1988 I had an average of about 45. (Cricketfundas.com reminds “Sir, Actually in one season you actually scored more than 700 runs”)
Cricketfundas.com: Sir, when people are young they try to contribute in every aspect of the game; they fancy their chances in everything. Then comes one point in their career where they decide that now is the time to become a specialist in a particular field. So when exactly did you feel that you are going to be an off spinner with a great caliber and going to represent India. When did you feel that you had to concentrate on your off spin specifically?
Arshad Ayub: I think only when I played for India, I mean if you look at it in that way, I mean till then I was playing for the state as well as for the Zone, so I had to perform in both, bat and ball, because I used to bat at No.6 as an all-rounder and I was the main off-spinner in the team. So I had to perform in both the things. So I never felt that, I must concentrate only on one thing. I always concentrated on both the things. But yes, When I went into Test Cricket, that was the time when I couldn’t bat No.6 or No.7, I was sent into bat at either No.8 or No.9, that was the time I thought that, although I got some runs for India in matches whenever it was required, but I think I played mainly as an off-spinner there. I think that is where I thought that probably I must start concentrating more on my bowling.
Cricketfundas.com : You were one of the Premier off-spinners during the 80’s and you were transcending after a generation that was probably the best ever spin-bowling generation in any nation. We had the spin quartet and very talented spinners like Dilip Doshi etc, so was there a kind of pressure and lot of expectations on you to live up to that generation, when you started your career as a national Off-spinner?
Arshad Ayub: No, not really. I felt that you know I had it me to be a good bowler and I never felt the pressure put by anybody for that matter throughout my life. I played my cricket very hard. So right from the beginning, I had really you know had a competition from the Hyderabad state team. When I came into the side there were guys like Ramnarayan, Shivlal Yadav, Naushir Mehta, 3 off spinners who had established themselves. So I had to break in when all these off spinners were there. So I think I always played hard so I never felt any pressure as such when I played for India, I didn’t want to compare myself with Prasanna, Venkatraghavan or anybody, I wanted to create my own mark when I played. I think during that time I felt that I should make my own mark rather than copying anybody else and living up to their expectations. There were different times, like when I was there the Cricketing phase was completely changing. So I was in a changing phase. When I left, the phase had changed completely. So during that phase a lot of things were happening, the one-dayers became the more kind of stable game during that time. During my time, you know we were playing about 12-13 ODI’s in a year and after that the phase changed and they started playing 35-40 games in a year.
Cricketfundas.com : So, you played for Hyderabad throughout your career, and Hyderabad for a long time has been a very talented team. So do you think that as you had to work hard to establish into the ranks, that was a reason why you made into the national team and it was a kind of seamless integration into the national team?
Arshad Ayub: Well, I don’t think so exactly. I mean to say that, that kind of thought never came into my mind. Because if you look at my career, right from my school days, my performance levels were always above average and I remember that I had got a "Best Student in India" too very early. From then onwards, I never looked back actually, and whenever I had the chance of batting or bowling, I always used to prove myself. My whole aim was to play for the country, and I did go through a lot of Ranji Trophy and Domestics Struggles. Infact I couldn't get into Ranji trophy easily either inspite of the 58 against the visiting WI. I fought it out and finally made it. I got a chance to go to the WI in 1980; the tour however was cancelled because Sunil Gavaskar didn't want to go. Then after that I got a chance in 1984, where I did well in the trial games and was tipped to go to Pakistan, which didn't happen again. There were the Australian games in 1985 and I thought my international career could take off there because I had performed at my best but still didn't make it yet. All these hardened me and probably I think the near misses made me stronger and made me feel that I could make it whatever be the circumstances around me. That was one reason why I could contribute well and win the Ranji Trophy for the first time in Hyderabad after about 49 years, I think. In the semis, I got around 200 in the first innings and also picked up 4 wickets then in the final. In the final too I scored a century and a 80 in the same game and I relish the fact that I could give back to Hyderabad cricket after all that I got. I think we haven't won the trophy since then, so that win was something huge and big.
Cricketfundas.com : Sir, you had a very stylish kind of bowling, very unique at that time. For Off spinners, we generally don’t associate style over substance with off spin bowling as such. So was there someone who inspired you to bowl in that manner or was it your own style.
Arshad Ayub: My bowling style I think probably was my own; I hadn’t copied anybody as such. But, I think basically I always used to look up to was probably Prasanna as he was the greatest spinner of his times, so he was one particular person I used to look up to but I don’t think I have copied anyone as such consciously that you would know.
Cricketfundas.com: Were you coached by Prasanna and other off spinners?
Arshad Ayub: No, not really. M.R.Baig coached me actually. He was a very good off spinner. He had played for Hyderabad, Delhi, North Zone and Services. He was a good off spinner. But, he was basically my spinning coach only. Batting wise, I must thank Mr. Bhupathi and Mr. Ibrahim Khan, they were the legend coaches of Hyderabad I think those were the people who taught me. Bhupathi actually taught me how to hold a bat properly. I think Ibrahim Khan Saab worked a lot on me and on my stroke making. So I think both of them get the credit for my batting.
Cricketfundas.com : If you look at Hyderabad cricketers as such, they have been consistent in their own ways. But there is something that distinguishes them from the others, that is the way they play ….say Md Azharuddin, yourself and V.V.S Laxman they all are stylish. Why is it that Hyderabadi batsmen have their own kind of style from the days of M.L.Jaisimha to V.V.S.Laxman.... style has been one constant theme that has influenced Hyderabadi Cricket very much. So do you attribute it to the coaching that you had or what is the basic reason?
Arshad Ayub: Probably, I would say you know…. Matting wicket is one of the cause, so you have to be very wristy because of the bounce that is one thing you know you have to come into the line and play across the line most of the time and you try to fetch a lot of the runs on the on-side and so basically I think matting wicket is one of the reasons..... but generally if you look at Hyderabad Cricket they have been stroke makers from the beginning so I think probably the trend goes on ..…if you watch somebody before you blaze, you try to copy him in a way … you know .. That is probably the reason I must say you have kind of heroes in your mind. For ex: there are a lot of people who want to copy Sachin Tendulkar or Sourav Ganguly, but very few of them would like to copy Rahul Dravid because he is not a very exciting player to watch, Virender Sehwag for that matter is an exciting player, Similarly I think for a young boy who is coming up, for him a good impression is a person who is making lot of strokes, playing out of ordinary basically which gives him an attraction to follow him. Probably that is one of the reasons why Hyderabadis are looking at their seniors to develop this kind of game.
Cricketfundas.com : When you were playing for India or when you were in the reckoning or coming back for India, throughout that period, India had spinners who promised a lot people like Sivaramakrishnan, yourself, Shivlal Yadav, Maninder Singh to emulate the feats of the earlier generation but couldn’t exactly match the feats of the earlier generation. What were the factors, which curved the complete maturation of bowlers like you, Siva and others.
Arshad Ayub : I think probably Siva was the most talented boy who came across during that time and I feel he got carried away rather soon and lost it. But in my case and Maninder's case it’s a different story and I don’t want to blame anybody in this matter but yes we were treated a bit badly during that time when we were performing really well. We did well when we came back from Pakistan although I didn’t get any wicket in that series because of placid tracks, India scored 500 odd runs and Pakistan scored 650 odd and 15 wickets fell in 5 days. So you can imagine the state of the wicket and that was the only failure I had in my life as such. We weren’t treated, as we had to be I think probably we had the potential to play for another 3-4 years but the selectors thought it otherwise.
But Shivlal, I think he played about 30 odd test matches and got 100 wickets so I think he did fairly well but remember one thing, you are as good as the captain thinks, its always like that... Pras (Erapalli Prasanna), Chandrashekhar, Bedi, Venkatraghavan; they all had a very good captain who believed in spin bowling...Pataudi really used to believe in spinners. But on the other hand, Sunil (Gavaskar) you know was ok with the left arm spinners but he didn’t have the same amount of confidence in off spinners. So Shivlal was in and out in and out majority of his times.
There is a little bit of history linked with all these things if you look into it. When Dilip (Vengsarkar) came in and he was the captain I think I performed the best, because he had lot of confidence in me. Then Srikkanth came in and I remember him saying during my university days that he wouldn't mind even if he had just one bowler in his squad! But again he was a different captain in Pakistan where he relied a lot on his bowlers.
In the Pak scenario, if you go back into history, people like Bedi, Chandrashekhar all lost their places after the Pakistan Series. So what happens is that, as Pakistan are rivals, people think that if you don’t do well against Pakistan you are axed without any accountability. So that was the kind of factors that probably played against us.
Like if you see there wasn’t any off spinner in the side for around 2-3 years after I left the side. After much longer than that, Rajesh Chauhan came into the side who was an off spinner. (Cricketfundas: “ It took almost 10 years for an off spinner to take a 5 wicket haul after you had taken a 5 wicket haul”). I had taken 50 wickets in the Ranji Trophy after being left out of the squad, but I didn't get a chance to come back. Basically our planning changed during that period and there wasn't much necessity for an off-spinner probably, even though I had improved a lot and was playing at probably my best after being left out. Anyway it's all part of the game and you need to take it in your stride, no blaming on anybody, but these are the reasons you know can be given what happened during that time.
Cricketfundas.com : Sir, the focus of our Cricket is more towards the Ranji Trophy, where you play longer innings suitable for Test Matches as such, but you were used more as a One-Day Bowler, infact you played a lot of ODIs before you started playing Test Cricket regularly, if I am right. So was it easy for you to suddenly jump into the whirlpool of One Day Cricket after your domestic experiences?
Arshad Ayub: No, actually I think I started off with Test Cricket first. My debut was in Delhi, so I started my international cricket with Test Cricket first. After that series, we straightaway went into One-Days. So, it was a question of you know probably you need to adjust to the game as quickly as possible, because if you want to become a quality player you need to adjust and we can’t complain about that. But, there is a problem; you can’t mix it around like you playing 1 Test Match and then suddenly 1 ODI and again 1 Test Match and 1 ODI. There must be some balance there, like you finish your Tests and then go back to the One-Dayers, and vice versa.
Cricketfundas.com : The emphasis for an off spinner in Test Matches is always to flight the ball but in the ODI’s he can sometimes commit hara-kiri by flighting the ball because its not controlled cricket as such...and other such factors...All these nuances which made up for the adjustment. Did it come naturally to you?
Arshad Ayub: It’s like this; first of all you need to be a very good reader of the wicket. If you have a little experience of how the wicket is playing or if you know that you are going to get some bite out of the wicket, then you feel like here, OK, I have a chance that I can give a 50 % chance for the batsman to get runs and I also have a 50% chance to get a wicket. So if I can get 3 or 4 wickets then it can change the whole situation. Similar thing happened in Dhaka in the final game where I got 5/21 against Pakistan, I could see that there is a little bit of turn in the wicket, I could see that there is a little bit of moisture in the wicket, so when I saw that I thought ok, this is the time when I can bowl a little slower than required. So I bowled a bit slower and it got good grip from the wicket.
There were other occasions where the wicket is not at all going to help me, where I knew that I for sure am going to go for not less than 50 runs, then that is the time I needed to think a lot as to how to give less than 50 runs. That was the idea, because in those days, 250 was a big score and a score like 260-270 was considered unachievable except for one odd occasion when Pakistan chased 280 runs. But, otherwise 250 runs was always a winning score at that time. So I used to adjust to the ODI game by bowling good Yorker length balls, you know, block hole deliveries, which helped me, curb the run rate. That’s how I was able to cut out the 50 run margin in 10 overs to 40 odd runs. To sum it up, I had to make some calculations as to how to cut out the runs on flat wickets instead of directly going for taking wickets, and focus on how to induce a mistake by the batsman and thus buy a wicket. For any off spinner, this is how one needs to work on, bowling in ODIs. And with experience; one gets better in ODI bowling!
Cricketfundas.com: Sir, talking about the 5/21 against Pakistan in the Asia Cup in Dhaka, was that your most memorable performance?
Arshad Ayub: I think, yes in a way that you know it was unexpected in a One-Day match and especially during that time, 5-21 was a big thing and especially against a side which had Javed Miandad and the likes of Salim Malik. I mean those guys were among the best players of spin bowling. So I was thrilled.
Cricketfundas.com : It took almost 10 years to break your record, like Anil Kumble broke your record with his haul of 6/12 against the West Indies. So did you have mixed thoughts during that time…Oh my god I am missing a record?
Arshad Ayub: No, not at all. I think records are meant to be broken. I did well during my time; they are going to do well during their time. Now for example: look at that Walsh record now, its gone now, the 519 wicket record, who would have thought that one would take 400 wickets, but this fellow has taken 520 and he never looks like stopping.
Cricketfundas.com : Taking this conversation into controversy mode, you are an off spinner, Muralitharan is an off spinner, and there is always a 50-50 reaction of what Murali is doing. We as Indians, and with certain inclinations to support Sri Lankan achievements, probably feel that Muralitharan is a genuine bowler, but again lots and lots of hue and cry has been raised about his action, his doosra was questioned recently, so what’s your opinion about that? Does he bowl the illegal delivery often or is he a genuine bowler?
Arshad Ayub: I think what he does for the normal delivery, you can call it a fair delivery, because there is a bend in his arm, he is not using the bend properly to straighten his arm he is bowling with that bend. And then what he is doing is that he is rotating his wrist so much that it looks like he is actually chucking the ball but I think he is not. But that I think is as far as the normal delivery is concerned.
But for the other one that is going out, I think that is where the suspicion comes in. I think even the best of the supporters of Muralitharan, have got a doubt in their mind because in that particular delivery, there is an angle of straightening, because he is bending a little bit and there is an angle of straightening for that particular ball. So that is where everybody suspects about him. If he bowls it like he bowls the regular ball I don’t think there will be any problems. But when he is bowling the doosra (trying to imitate Murali’s action), he bends his arm like this and it pitches and straightens and that is where the problem arises and the controversy is going on because of that.
He has gone to Australia and proved his action to be ok again and again, but it's still controversial. I would not like to say that it is very clean or not, but its still controversial. Its also a bit tough on him, because of the controversy, everybody is watching him and the limelight further makes the whole issue more controversial. It affects a bowler psychologically and it affects your thought process. On the whole, I think that the outgoing delivery is a very difficult ball to bowl, whether by Saqlain or Murali.
Cricketfundas.com : Sir, now that you have finished your career as a player, you are into coaching now, so if you find youngsters who try to imitate Muralitharan, so what would be your advise to them... would you prevent them from bowling in the same manner?
Arshad Ayub: No, the thing is that you never really prevent anybody from bowling anything. Let me be very specific about it, you see…when you see a youngster bowling, if he has got a natural action for anything, no matter if he is an off-spinner or a leg spinner or a medium pacer, then you don’t change his action. You try to manage that action in such a way that he gets the most effective delivery and stays within the laws of bowling. So that is what you as a coach should do. Coach must have an eye to watch a player, which is the most important thing. If he has an eye like what is required for a particular player, then he can be a good coach. But if he doesn’t have the eye to find the good and bad qualities of a particular bowler then its going to be very difficult to separate the both. So he needs to understand what is good and what is bad, so that he can take the bad out of him effectively, Good has to remain there.
Every player has got this unique way of batting or bowling; a talented player always shows that he has a unique way of doing things. So you need to understand that and come up with the best solution for it that is going to work for him. You cannot change it like you have to bowl like Dennis Lillie or you have to bowl like some other bowler ….no that is not the right way to do it. He can’t be a Prasanna, he can’t be a Bishen Singh Bedi, he can be himself, but he should learn the good things from these greats and add those things in his bowling.
Cricketfundas.com : Sir, Any prospects that you know, who will make into the team from Hyderabad as spinners now?
Arshad Ayub: We are trying to find some. There are some young boys who are doing well, but I think they are very young right now and I don’t want to comment on that because it might go into their head and can prove really bad for them. There are young boys who are coming up and I think they are doing well, and we have got lot of hope on those boys, but if you look at the state level scenario, there are hardly any quality bowlers, whom you can talk about. But the youngsters are coming up and the future seems to be better than what we have right now because I think the not very long ago there was some neglect of spinners and spin based training. Everybody was thinking like…you know... they wanted to have a fast bowling camp, they wanted to have an MRF Camp etc. But nobody thought of having a spinners camp, which came in very late probably last 2 years ago or so, there was a thought process, which went through BCCI that made them think that we must also have a spin-bowling academy. So there is a Mac academy now, they have started a spinners academy. I think 2 yeas back they started it... VV Kumar is there, I think, so there is some thought process going on there and my academy is also there. Now we are thinking of doing a special training thing for spinners and we have been doing this since the last few years.
There are a lot of youngsters who are coming up, I don’t want to name any body at this point of time, but yes in the next 4 or 5 years, you will see some better quality spinners.
Cricketfundas.com : Are you still involved with the Hyderabad team?
Arshad Ayub : Not as a coach, but I think I was putting in so much of time with the Hyderabad Cricket and 8 months or so I was losing on that, so I stopped last year and I thought I will take a break from there as I was there for 4 years. Once we went to the finals, once we went to the Semis, but after that I thought that I will take a break, and now I am helping the youngsters here to groom them and I have started a special class on Sunday also for the boys who cant make it everyday but want to learn, that Sunday class basically…it’s a personal coaching class, because I take it myself and I don’t take other coaches with me, I do it myself and I have Fayyaz Baig with me so both of us look after the boys during that time.
Cricketfundas.com : Anything else what you would like to tell as ….a message probably to budding cricketers?
Arshad Ayub : Well, Cricket has been the bloodline for the Indian people now, it has been more than anything more than the film industry, more than any other game and people have been attached with cricket, and are attached emotionally. I think cricket has come to stay in India and I think there should be a balance between watching cricket and studies for youngsters.
For any budding cricketer, he should concentrate on studies too and not just cricket alone and should not stay up late or have a third focus such as watching television etc. That way they would end up not achieving both in cricket and in studies!. If youngsters concentrate on just 2 priorities, I think they will have a very good future.
Cricketfundas.com : We personally feel that Hyderabadi Cricketers as such are models to follow; all of them are of a simple humble background who made it big and have maintained their character throughout so do you think we are right?
Arshad Ayub: Well in effect yes, you can say that about most of the cricketers but I think most of them come from very good families. That was the main thing...they had a very solid family background.. If you have a very good family background then you don’t tend to waver around. So you have a support system there. So I think most of the cricketers from Hyderabad had a support system, irrespective of the fact that whether it was a joint family system or a single-family system, and where the person in you was treated same as everybody around.
So when you grow up you have that extra bit of confidence, which made you feel above the crowd, and still players such as ML Jaisimha, Abbas Ali Baig and other later on were very humble because of a solid family background. In fact they were also very charismatic, like Jai (Jaisimha), Abbas (Ali Baig) and Azhar. All of them were very charismatic but they were still very humble as far as their nature went and as regards their interaction with the general public.