From 1983 to 83: EXCLUSIVE chat with P.R. Man Singh

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Tue, 11/01/2022
83 movie: PR Man Singh
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For Simran and Anisha, their Dadu is the absolute hero – as is he for all of us. One of them is addicted to the sport; the other, not as much. But then, that is how the world is: there are only two kinds of people, those who love cricket, and those who do not. 

Irrespective of which side of the line we stand, however, the story of their Dadu is one we can all look up to. Cricket is, of course, at the centre of it – as it was on the breakfast table when the two were growing up, listening to some of the most significant moments in Indian cricket history from the best source possible. 

Simran, the elder, was just six when one Sachin Tendulkar came to their house to inaugurate her Dadu’s cricket museum that boasts of some of the most coveted cricket memorabilia, including a replica of the Prudential Cup that was given to every member of the 1983 India squad on the 25th anniversary of their win.

They tell me how he is a man of few words unless you are talking cricket to him. 

‘Over the last four years, we’ve seen him being so excited regarding the small things about the movie’, they add. 

And just like them, we have our own set of did-this-really-happen questions to ask of the former Indian cricket team manager, their Dadu, P.R. Man Singh. From 1983 to 83

CricketNews (CN): The movie has been received very well, even in the pandemic times, what was your experience like watching it for the first time?

P.R. Man Singh: Movie dekhke toh badi khushi hui. The things we had done 38 years ago have been depicted really well to make the film. And there’s nothing false that has been added. Yes, to attract the audience there are big stars who have been cast. But it’s a wonderful movie. Over the years, this will stand out for what happened in 1983.

CN: Pankaj Tripathi plays your role in the film. What were your observations of his portrayal of P.R. Man Singh?

P.R. Man Singh: Pankaj did a great job. We had met only once before the movie, when we had a long chat. Quite a bit of incidents were already shared with the director, Kabir Khan. I had a lot of conversations with Kabir, regarding mostly the things that happened off the field, and what my role was within the team and during the tournament. 

I must give a lot of credit to Pankaj. It’s not easy for one to consistently speak the old Hyderabadi language. The smooth usage of Hyderabadi language, from a person coming from Bihar, so effectively, is a great job.

CN: That brings us to the Indian dressing room, which has always had the luxury of having different individuals with different characters from different states at times speaking different languages. Did you find any difficulties in dealing with managing communication between players who weren’t able to understand each other? 

P.R. Man Singh: It wasn’t an issue for me. The advantage that I had was that I had known all 14 players for some years. Even when they were playing Under-19 cricket, they would come to Hyderabad to play Moin-ud-Dowlah Gold Cup, inter-state matches etc. And I, as an official of the Hyderabad Cricket Association would come in contact with them. We had an old equation before the World Cup. 

My ustaad, Mr Ghulam Ahmed, former India captain, was a very efficient cricket administrator and had been manager of the Indian team on the tour of West Indies (1962). He had a lot of experience of managing a professional team. In a way one can say Nari Contractor owes his life to him. When he got injured, all the essential things that Ghulam-sahab did have played their role in him being alive today. 

He used to guide me a lot and would say that no team should be treated like a flock of sheep. You should study each player separately, know their likes and dislikes, and interact with them accordingly. All of that helped me with the team, and since I was with them for some years, they used to think of me as an elder brother. 

CN: When did the cricket passion start blossoming?

P.R. Man Singh: Bhai aisa tha, my cousins were interested in the game. In 1952, when the Indian team travelled to England, they would tune in to the radio commentary. I would join them in listening to what was happening. I think my interest for the game started from that point. My father was a good sportsman himself. He had played the All India Inter University Tennis Tournament. Being a military canteen contractor, he had started his own football and later cricket team in the establishment. 

CN: How smooth was the shift from cricketer to administrator for you? It isn’t necessary that if you are good at playing you’d be good in administration of the game and vice versa…

P.R. Man Singh: I had gotten opportunities to manage at a lot of stages, even while playing the game. When I was doing my intermediate, I was the captain of the junior college team. [I] became captain of the university team later. 

We used to travel outside Hyderabad for games, which surprised quite a few, even in the team.  There’s a town by the name of Shabad where Associated Cement Companies have a big factory. They had their own cricket team and ground. Back then, quite a few top India players had been employed by ACC – Polly Umrigar, Bapu Nadkarni, Dilip Sardesai, even Gavaskar in his initial days. 

Some of them were posted from time to time in Shabad for training, and we used to go there every second month. As a captain, I used to look after the management aspect of all these trips. Then we decided to tour Sri Lanka. From that tour, I got more opportunities to travel with Ghulam-sahab

When I was selected for the Ranji Trophy team, we had the likes of [M.L.] Jaisimha, Abid Ali, Abbas Ali Baig and [M.A.K.] Pataudi in the Hyderabad team. I was a middle-order batter and an off-spinner, but with these gents in the middle order, I didn’t get many opportunities to play. It was only when they were injured or unavailable. 

One day, Ghulam-sahab came to me and said, ‘Miyaan tum kab tak bench pr bethe rahoge. You have the aptitude for administration. Concentrate on that.’ That’s how I got encouraged to get to the other side.

I made my team, Hyderabad Blues, an occasional team. In England, two very prominent correspondents, Ron Roberts and E.W. Swanton had come up with such teams, comprising only the England county league players. 

From 1967 to 1975, Hyderabad Blues toured all over the world. Our team had a minimum of four Test cricketers with us. It was through these tours and my conversation with the officials there [that] I got an even deeper understanding and experience of management. 

Later, I became joint secretary of Hyderabad Cricket Association, with Ghulam-sahab as secretary, and took over as secretary when Ghulam-sahab became the BCCI secretary. 

CN: You were also part of India’s first tour team to Pakistan in 20 years (1978), right? Which was also Kapil Dev’s debut series.

P.R. Man Singh: It was more a goodwill tour than a cricket tour. Our PM had the idea that a politically astute individual should go with the team to lay the foundation for good relations between the two countries.

Three BCCI members were MPs back then – the Maharaja of Baroda, N.K.P. Salve and B.C. Mohanty. They were told that one of them should go to oversee the political aspect of the tour. The Maharaja of Baroda was the one, and he requested the BCCI for me to join him as assistant manager. 

From the 1983 team, a lot of players were present on that Pakistan tour. Kapil [Dev] and Yashpal [Sharma] were the two uncapped players on that tour. It was a difficult tour, for there were restrictions based on security reasons. Movements were very little, mostly only for matches or practice. 

There weren’t many big hotels at that time. We used to stay in guest houses of the local industries. For example, in Faisalabad, there were five of us in one room. So I interacted a lot with the players on that tour. 

CN: So even before the 1983 World Cup, you had a worldly experience of managing a cricket team, in a foreign country.

P.R. Man Singh: Another advantage for me was that I had done my post graduation in production engineering in Manchester, and had played league cricket there for two years, so I was very much aware of English cricket. And I had already become a member of MCC before I left for the World Cup in 1983. That had its advantages too. 

CN: You had a lot of roles to fulfill back then. From being the team manager, logistics head, coach, an elder brother and what not for that Indian team. Was it just you, or was that the case with most team managers back then?

P.R. Man Singh: See at that time, there was no money in the game, as we see now. The board couldn’t spend much on employing various professionals like today. Every manager had to wear these multiple shoes. I used to discuss with the managers who were before me, and with the players as to what their expectations were from a manager. 

CN: What were the daily allowances back then and how did you manage daily expenditure from that?

P.R. Man Singh: 83 mai 25 pounds milta tha daily. And these 25 pounds would cover your lunch, dinner, laundry, telephone, and any other expenses of yours. Only bed and breakfast were free. Rest you had to take care of on your own. They’ve shown in the film the things that a player and a manager had to do on their own. Like you’ll see [spoiler alert] how Kapil (Ranveer Singh) was being advised to wash one’s clothes on their own, and to not give it to the laundry. 

In those days, individuals had to do many tasks, but we were okay with it. Over the years, the requirements of the game have increased. It has become more professional. It was a lot more about playing for the pride back then. It is there today as well, but so is the money in the game. 

In 1983, we got a total of INR 15,000 for the entire tour. The board wasn’t in a position to give the team prize money after the World Cup. Lata Mangeshkar was present in England when we were playing the final. N.K.P. Salve reached out to her if she could do a concert in India, the earnings from which could go to the players. 

She very graciously accepted, and that was how the players got prize money for winning the World Cup. The game has come a long way since. 

CN: I guess the chain of events that took place in Indian cricket from that 1983 World Cup have led to the change. The modern cricketer doesn’t have to think of the things that you all had to, back then… 

P.R. Man Singh: Woh toh hai. Ek main basic difference batata hu aapko. In those days, I think until the early 90s, almost 10 out 11 Indian players were graduates, and they were employed by the companies. They were never classified as professional cricketers. There were professionals, such as Vinoo Mankad, who used to play leagues in England. 

Today, with all due respect, and, I would stand corrected when I say that no one in the Indian cricket team is a graduate because they can earn big from the age of 17-18.  They don’t have to worry about economic stability. 

Back then players had to hustle for leaves to play cricket overseas. [S.] Venkataraghavan got his first job at Parry & Company. He had to convince his employer hard to grant him leave for playing cricket. Usi tarah Abbas Ali Hindustan Ferodo mai the, unko bhi leave bahot mushkil se milti thi.

CN: What were the thoughts in your head before you and the team were leaving for England?

P.R. Man Singh: I was confident enough that this team would reach the semi-finals. If this team didn’t, then no other Indian team would. 

We have a retail shop of wines and liquors. When we were leaving for England, my father said, ‘Ek showcase kholke saaf kar ke rakho, mera beta cup leke aaega’.

Before departing from Bombay, I had  given an interview to All India Radio. When I said the same about my expectations from the team, the interviewer chuckled. I said to myself, ‘Time would tell’. I was confident.

CN: Were there any difficulties that you and the team had to face back then during the tournament?

P.R. Man Singh: I wouldn’t say difficulties. In those days, every player had to sign a clause in the contract that their wives wouldn’t stay in the same hotel with them, not even in a separate room. And that they wouldn’t travel with them in the team bus. I remember, after one of the games, a player was concerned because his friend hadn’t arrived to pick his wife from the ground. He was worried as to how she would travel back to the place where she had been staying. The other players were tired after the game and wanted to leave.

In the next team meeting, I said to the players that I didn’t have any objection if any of the wives travelled in the team bus, but they should have a consensus on this. Similarly, I told them that they could ask their wives if they wished to stay in the team hotel as well. A few of them were worried and asked about the clause in the contract. I reassured them that it was my responsibility to deal with that. I would face the consequences, if any.

It’s good to see that the current players don’t go through any of this and that there’s an understanding between the board and the players on their families traveling with them.   

CN: Cricket as a sport has come far as well. The incident when Dilip Vengsarkar was hit by Malcolm Marshall’s bouncer comes to my mind. What were the on-ground facilities available back then for a player in that scenario and what did you have to manage on your own?

P.R. Man Singh: The government doctor on the ground put a balm on his wound. I thought the cut that he got was bigger and required more attention, so I took him to the hospital and got him stitched up. The match was over by the time we were done at the hospital, so we returned straight back to the team hotel. I think if Dilip wasn’t hit in that game, we would have won it as well. Given how Jimmy and him were batting, we looked in a strong position. 

CN: The film has talked about this as well but what was the English media’s reaction to the team, and was there any ‘outside noise’ that you had shut reaching the dressing room during the tournament?

P.R. Man Singh: Not during the tournament, no. 

I’ll tell you about an incident. In the group tour at the Lord’s Museum, if there are Indians present, the guide shows them the Prudential Cup. A while back, a friend of mine from Hyderabad had visited and was told by the guide that the Indian team forgot the cup here after drinking lots of alcohol while celebrating the 1983 World Cup win. He asked me if it was true when he returned. I did not pay much heed to it then.

A few years later, my son Vikram, who is very fond of the game, has played Hyderabad junior and is a good administrator himself, visited the museum with his family. The guide told the same story to my son and he told me about it on his return home. 

I wrote a very nasty letter to MCC, telling them the facts that one of their people had asked for the cup after the final, citing the reason that Prudential won’t be sponsoring the cup and the trophy had antique value. I thought to myself, what was the use of winning the cup and not taking it back home. Next day, I met the MCC secretary and convinced him of the same. 

They executed a bond of GBP 60,000 back then that we had to return back the trophy in three months. 

It was very nice of them then that they wrote a letter of apology after.

CN: In terms of travel within the country, how were things back then for the team?

P.R. Man Singh: The team bus, very luxurious as it was, would remain with us at all times. Comprising a small pantry, washroom, three TVs and a cassette player. There were no bell boys in the hotels and we had to take our luggage to the bus by ourselves. If the journey was more than four hours, we would make a stop for a restaurant.

The travel was very convenient. The driver was very efficient. When we used to reach our hotel, he used to go for a trial ride to the stadium to get an idea of the distance and traffic, and would come and tell me of the same, so that we had an idea as to when we should leave.

CN: How did you feel the crowd reaction in England changed from the beginning of the tournament to after the final?

P.R. Man Singh: Humare matches ke liye koi jyada crowd hota nahi tha. The county club members from respective grounds were obviously there. They were pretty fair in their applause.

There was no pressure at all because nobody gave us a chance. During team meetings, Kapil would say, ‘Just give your 110% on the ground. Haar gaye toh koi kuch nahi bolega. Jeet gaye, toh fayda hai.

Kapil was captain in the 1987 World Cup as well, and I was the manager then too. We can closely differentiate the two events. Back home, wherever we used to go or whoever we used to meet, we’d be given expert advice on what should be done, as is the case in India. In England, hum kisi ko jawaabdaar nahi the. The 15 of us would enjoy each other’s company. The hotel was our first home, team bus our second, and the ground was our office. 

CN: A dressing-room memory that’s special to you from that tournament that you’d want to share?

P.R. Man Singh: Dressing room memories toh bahaut hai. Kuch batai jaati hai, kuch nahi bhi (laughs, we both do). 

In the second game against Australia, Sandeep Patil was in a strong position and looked good in the middle. He played a wrong shot and got out. So when he came to the dressing room, I said, ‘Sandy, that is not the way to bat’. To which he responded angrily, ‘That is the way I bat’.

I realised that it was my mistake. From my experience of playing the game I know that when a batter gets out, they are frustrated themselves and should be left on their own.

So when Sandeep came to me to apologize I said, ‘Chhod yaar, chal coffee peete hai’.

CN: Tunbridge Wells, Kapil Dev, 175, your reaction?

P.R. Man Singh: I want to clear this out. BBC were only interested in four teams back then. England, West Indies, Australia and Pakistan. They used to concentrate on these four. New Zealand, India, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe weren’t on their radar. Okay, they were on strike that day. Even if they weren’t, India vs Zimbabwe wasn’t supposed to be televised. To say that they were on strike, which was why the game never got televised, was a convenient way out to say that after Kapil hit 175. We, however, were lucky that he played that way and made those runs.

CN: There’s the famous incident involving N.K.P. Salve. He was denied passes for the 1983 final and decided to bring the World Cup to India. And then there was the team in 1983 that also brought the World Cup to India. How much impact do you think these two separate incidents had on the game? 

P.R. Man Singh: I believe one of the prime reasons for the first three World Cups to be held in England was the fact that the travel within the country was very convenient. The roads were well-maintained, and the drives weren’t longer than 4-5 hours. The counties were also better equipped to host the games on that scale back then.

When the World Cup came to Asia in 1987, and India and Pakistan co-hosted the tournament, it was a big favour that N.K.P. Salve, Jagmohan Dalmiya and Inderjit Singh Bindra have done for all of us. The popularity of the game increased ten folds after that.  

For me, the toughest place to organise a World cup was the Caribbean, because each island is a country/economy of its own. The currency is different. But even there, you saw a brilliant World Cup hosted in 2007. The game has spread over time, grew over time, and it has a lot of incidents to thank for that. But yes for Indian cricket, the 1983 win did its magic.