On Sunday evening, amid a gathering studded with former cricket stars, the autobiography of Delhi’s venerable coach Gurcharan Singh was launched at the National Stadium, a venue where he trained several international and many first-class cricketers over a period of 26 years.
The book, ‘Pitching it Straight: Memoir of a Cricket Guru’ written with senior sports journalist MS Unnikrishnan, who also served as the sports editor of Patriot from 1984 till 1996, depicts the life and times of the 88-year-old who was bestowed with the Padma Shri this month.
Among those present at the function were former India captains Kapil Dev and Bishan Singh Bedi, besides a host of international and first-class players who were nurtured by the cricket guru at the premises where his tenure as chief coach lasted from 1969 till 1995.
“During his times as a coach, there was no money in cricket but the dedication shown by him and those like him is the reason why Indian cricket is blossoming. The honour and respect they managed to get is priceless and is more important than the money that people earn nowadays,” said Kapil, who played 131 Test matches and 225 ODIs, and was part of the quartet, along with Imran Khan, Ian Botham and Richard Hadlee, which formed the greatest era of Test cricket all-rounders.
Kapil himself was coached in his formative years by Desh Prem Azad, Gurcharan’s colleague at the National Institute of Sports, Patiala but after shifting to Delhi, took plenty of guidance from the coach who has been training kids for the last 54 years.
“He was always a stickler for discipline and that is what is most important,” added Kapil, who led India to the 1983 World Cup triumph.
Among others was Kapil’s 1983 World Cup teammate Kirti Azad, who admitted that the coach cut him to size in his early days as he would act a bit haughty being a minister’s son.
“Whatever I have achieved in cricket is because of him,” he said while narrating an incident when he was thrown out of the camp for a month for beating a fellow trainee.
Former India left-arm spinner Maninder Singh too talked about how his parents were not keen in not making him a cricketer and how it was only upon Gurcharan Singh’s insistence that they were convinced.
“He saw me bowl one day at the nets and was convinced about my talent. He went to my parents and convinced them,” added Maninder.
Ex-India wicketkeeper-batsman Surinder Khanna was also groomed by him.
“He had a lot of passion and determination. The one who had seen partition and belonged to a humble background will definitely be tough. Even today, he is very disciplined,” said Khanna.
Former India left-arm spinner Murali Kartik, India limited-overs skipper Ajay Jadeja, and ex-India players Gursharan Singh and Sunil Valson were the others to mention the coach’s efforts in carving their careers.
The evening also saw veteran sports journalist Vijay Lokapally hosting a talk show with co-author Unnikrishnan and publisher of the book, Renu Kaul.
“What impressed me was the clarity of thought and the sharp memory that the coach has even today. He remembers all the incidents clearly,” said Unnikrishnan.