Calcutta: Former India captain and chief selector Dilip Vengsarkar spoke to The Telegraph at the Eden on Thursday afternoon. He was, at times, fuming. The following are excerpts:
You made Mahendra Singh Dhoni the T20 and ODI captain and put him in line to succeed Anil Kumble at the helm in Test cricket (in November 2008)...How do you view calls to sack him?
I’m disappointed...At the moment, Dhoni is still the best bet, so stop gunning for him. Quite a few of our new-ball bowlers are unfit...It’s a very mediocre attack...Can you, then, blame the captain? What can he alone do?
So, Sandeep Patil and his colleagues should retain Dhoni?
There’s no question about it.
But India lost eight Tests in a row overseas, with Dhoni captaining in seven of them...Last month, we also lost to England at home...
I accept that, which is why there has been criticism...Constructive criticism has to be respected. But can you blame Dhoni only?
Nobody has been groomed to take over the captaincy. Isn’t that something to worry about?
One hundred per cent...In the past four-five years, we’ve had three vice-captains in the different formats...Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli. That’s not the way to go about it. One player should have been identified as a potential captain and made Dhoni’s deputy.
Are you in favour of splitting the captaincy, possibly getting Virat to lead in the T20s?
No...Dhoni makes the XI in all three formats, so why should he not captain across the board? I wouldn’t like a situation where Dhoni plays under Virat in T20s and, then, Virat plays under Dhoni in Tests and ODIs.
So, who should be the vice-captain in all three formats?
Virat...Make him the No.2. He’s got attitude, he’s aggressive...He’s a good batsman and a good fielder...Besides, Virat has a thinking mind. He has the qualities to lead India.
Given everything that’s going around, what would you tell Dhoni?
Stay focused and try and win matches...I’m happy that Dhoni is back in form...He played a superb innings in the last Test (Nagpur) and produced a great hundred in the last ODI (Chennai). [At the Eden, in another losing cause, Dhoni played a lone hand - an unbeaten 54.]
It’s strange that coach Duncan Fletcher has escaped criticism. What’s your take?
Fletcher should be sacked immediately...I don’t know what his role is, I can’t understand why he doesn’t watch domestic cricket...He’s been there for over a year-and-a-half, but it’s time for him to go...I don’t know who is our bowling coach...Don’t know what he has been doing for the past 10 months.
Joe Dawes is the bowling coach...
Never heard of him.
Sourav Ganguly feels it’s time to have a desi coach. Do you share that view?
We should get the best man, irrespective of nationality. But, yes, it will be an advantage if Fletcher’s successor is an Indian...Being familiar with our culture, he’ll be able to understand the players better, will know their psyche better.
Do you have anybody in mind?
Ideally, the coach should be a former captain, for he’ll then be familiar with man management...You can’t follow the same yardstick for everybody.
Are you happy with our bench strength?
No...We need more players of quality, players who’ll push the regulars hard...Complacency can set in if the regulars feel that they won’t be pushed for places. If there are players who’ve been performing for India A and at the U-19 level, then they should be given opportunities, specifically in the 50-over game.
You gifted a bat to Sachin Tendulkar when he began playing for Mumbai (in 1988-89), so there’s a connection which goes back many years...Should he have retired from ODIs almost on the eve of such an important series?
When Sachin’s going to play Test cricket, then he should have played ODIs too...Playing only 8-10 Tests in a year is going to be difficult for him...Also, he could have used the ODIs against Pakistan to prepare for the Tests versus Australia.
Till when do you think Sachin will play Test cricket?
Don’t know...Sachin could take a call after the four matches against Australia (in February-March). If he gets runs, he may continue...It’s difficult for you or I to say anything definitely...Much will depend on Sachin’s level of motivation, if he’s as passionate...Factors do come into play.
What’s the way forward for Indian cricket?
If the likes of Rahul Dravid, Kumble and Sourav have the time, then they should be appointed mentors to the India A and the U-19 teams...I’d like them to travel with those teams overseas...Secondly, something has to be done about the wickets on offer for domestic cricket...Right now, the wickets are a joke...Thirdly, revive the National Cricket Academy (in Bangalore)...At this point in time, it’s nothing more than a rehab centre for injured players...Surely, that’s not its role. The Academy should actually be producing cricketers.
The other day, Wasim Bari told me that he was disappointed you didn’t win the Mumbai Cricket Association president’s election in 2011. Do you intend having another go?
Yes...I’ll be a candidate in this year’s election.
Finally...What’s the No.1 lesson you learnt when you lost to Union minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, who is no more...
(Grins) That politicians may not know anything about cricket, but they definitely know how to win elections! They unleash a killer weapon two days before the polls and that does it for them.