Karsan Ghavri is fondly remembered as the left-arm pacer who took five wickets as a spinner in a Test against England in 1977 at home. The only frontline pacer in an era dominated by the spinners, Ghavri played 39 Tests and 19 ODIs for India from 1975-1981. Having represented Saurashtra and Mumbai in the domestic circuit, the 69-year-old’s career came a full circle when he was named the head coach of Saurashtra for the 2019-20 season. Along with a young captain in Jaydev Unadkat, Ghavri guided Saurashtra to their maiden Ranji Trophy title. In a chat with cricket.com, Ghavri talks about the era of Indian cricket in which fast bowlers were almost non-existential, the 1977-78 tour of Australia, his encounter with a heart attack and his second innings as a coach after retirement.
How did it feel to be a fast bowler in an era dominated by the spinners?
When I was playing for India, we had a spin quartet which was the best in the world. We had B.S Chandrasekhar, E.A.S Prasanna and S Venkataraghavan. Then a little later we had Dilip Doshi, Shivlal Yadav. Those were quality spin bowlers but in those days, the wickets prepared used to be spin conducive so the fast bowler used to get very little chances. And fast bowlers were even told that they will not get more than two to three overs. But it is a part of the game. We had the best of spinners.
Slowly and steadily when Gavaskar became the captain in 1978-79, the fast bowlers were encouraged and the spin quartet declined. So that was the time we got more opportunities to bowl with the new ball. This is how it started. As the time progressed, fast bowlers like myself, Kapil Dev, Madan Lal and later on (Javagal) Srinath and Zaheer Khan and all started getting much longer spells in international cricket.
And as of now, the kind of fast bowlers we have are great but we don’t have quality spin bowlers. We have four to five quality bowlers like Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma. We’ve been able to take 20 wickets in Test matches.
There was not much emphasis on fitness in those days. How did you keep yourself fit?
The gym culture was not there at all at that time. But our exercise and drills would be different – like push-ups and pull-ups. We did a lot of cricket related exercises like bowling more in the nets or fielding more on the field. Fitness level every individual had to look after himself. We never had any trainers. Now every team has a trainer, physio, dietitian, batting coach, fielding coach and all that. We didn’t have such coaches. We learnt everything on our own. Like watching great cricketers like Sir Garfield Sobers, Dennis Lillee or Clive Lloyd or Viv Richards. Or Bob Willis or Michael Holding. Dekh dekh ke seekhte thhe [You used to watch and learn].
Tell us about the 1977-78 tour of Australia. That was India’s best chance to win a Test series Down Under. Later we won it in 2019 under Virat Kohli
The first two Tests Australia won and then third and fourth we won. The fifth Test was a decider and that was one of the very interesting series we played. Unfortunately we could not cross the finish line. But I think otherwise India played really good cricket and entertained the spectators.
You suffered a heart attack in 2016. What kept you going as a coach even after that?
First few months I had to take care of myself. But now everything is normal. There is nothing to worry about. Those few months I didn’t do much as a coach. Just followed the doctor’s advice and followed a diet. Of course I have to take certain medications even now which I do religiously but everything is normal now and nothing to worry about.
Tell us about the pitch in the Ranji Trophy final. Bengal weren’t too happy with it
I think it was a very good pitch. And everyone can judge that. The result came only on the fifth morning. So there was nothing wrong at all wrong with the pitch. We scored 425 runs in the first innings. And Bengal also ended up scoring 381 runs. Pitch was good and I would like to congratulate the pitch curators in Rajkot.
Tell us about the process you followed throughout the campaign
We just took it match by match, day by day, team by team. We tried that the good batsmen didn’t make too many runs or that we play out the spells of the good bowlers. Saurashtra Cricket Association officials are doing a wonderful job. The team played rock-solid cricket throughout the tournament. They are a good bunch of boys, very disciplined. They support each other on and off the field.
Don’t you think Saurashtra’s bowling was a one-man show this season?
Well I think Jaydev Unadkat bowled very well throughout the tournament but he was well supported by Chetan Sakariya, Chirag Jani, Prerak Mankad and Jadeja. Support is very important if you want to win. Jaydev was supported by these guys. The result can be seen. We became the champions. Also, he led the team very well this season. He led from the front. He is a great fighter. Everyone was fighting but he is the kind of person who will never give up till the last. He has shown time and again that winning has to be a habit.
What do you think of Jaydev Unadkat’s future in the Indian team? We have too many established pacers already
After this year’s performances, he should be included in the Indian team soon. And I think shortly a series is coming up against Sri Lanka, and he should be included in that. If the team management decides to give some of their fast bowlers a rest or something then Jaydev’s name should be on their mind.