Nari Contractor, who captained India from 1960 to 1962 in 12 Test matches against Pakistan, England and the West Indies, said circumstances reflect the excellence of a captain, but pointed out the oft-repeated cliché that “a captain is only as good as his team”.
The 82-year-old Contractor was one of the keynote speakers — the other being Ajit Wadekar — at the 105th birth anniversary of Vijay Merchant celebrated by the Legend’s Club at the C.K. Nayudu Hall. Cricket Club of India (CCI) on Wednesday.
Under Contractor’s captaincy, India drew eight Tests in a row against Pakistan and England before winning at Eden Gardens and Madras against the latter. He suffered losses at Queen’s Park Oval and Sabina Park against West Indies.
Hit on his head by a Charlie Griffith short ball in a tie against Barbados, Contract was unconscious for six days. His Test career ended with this head injury.
Giving an insight into captaincy, he noted: “Captaining a side is never a bed of roses. The captain’s ideas have to be implemented and it was difficult. Those days, one had to bring the team together; they came from different parts and were of different caste and religion. It was quite different leading a side against Pakistan.
After the drawn Test at the Brabourne Stadium, when the team checked into the hotel in Kanpur, the first letter I (as captain) received from the manager of the hotel said this: “Congratulations on being appointed captain, but we would like to warn you that the team must somehow win the series. If you cannot win the series, at least draw the series, but you cannot afford to lose the series.”
Contractor also revealed that it was difficult to lead a side that had many seniors. “Like Polly Umrigar, who was my coach at college and was also my captain. There was also this instance when the seniors did not like me consulting England’s Colin Cowdrey before the series against the West Indies.
“I had told each and every member of the team to come up with suggestions. They did not utter a word at team meetings in the previous series against England and also against the West Indies. England had won the 1960 series against the West Indies and asked Colin what should I do. He told me that the West Indians are stroke players and don’t give easy runs. I consulted him only because the players were not coming forth with suggestions.
“I was the seventh captain after Umrigar, G.S. Ramchand, Vinoo Mankad, Hemu Adhikari (all against West Indies at home), Dattajirao Gaekwad (in England), G.S.Ramchand (against Australia at home). I was the captain for the first two Tests against Pakistan. So I was on trial.”
After the series against Pakistan, Contractor took a decision to change the fixed pattern of players sharing rooms.
“Earlier the manager asked the players with whom they would like to share the room. But for the series against MCC (England), I changed the room allocations for every Test match. I made it compulsory, whether they (players) liked it or not. That’s the way, I felt the players would come to know each other.
“I also introduced, for the first time in Indian cricket, team meetings at the end of the day’s play to discuss the performances, including mine. But by doing this I put extra pressure on myself because at the meetings not a single player would express his opinion, although I said that everyone in the room had the right to give his views freely. I was very open about it. But the response from the players was very poor. And this is one reason, why I said that captaining a side is not a bed or roses.”
Wadekar spoke at length about Bombay’s cricket culture, named Vijay Manjrekar, Subhash Gupte and Ramakant Desai a number of times and explained why Bombay dominated the Ranji Trophy in the 1960s.
The former India captain, who won a series for the first time in the West Indies and England in 1971, was stopped by his wife Rekha (sitting in the front row). “Ajit you are talking about Bombay; you have to talk about captaincy, so please talk about your captaincy,” she pleaded. The audience, startled by the sudden interruption, had a good laugh.
But in spite of his better half’s prompt, Wadekar did not utter a word on captaincy. He did so only when a question was asked: “How it helps when a captain is named before the team is selected in India, whereas in Australia the team is selected first and then the captain.”
Talking of Merchant, the Legend’s Club president Madhav Apte said: “A part of our training those days was to watch Merchant bat from behind the nets, especially the way he used to leave the ball. I also joined Fort Vijay Club to see him play.”