Former India cricketer W.V. Raman on his approach to cricket and food

He took to coaching like fish to swimming. A voracious reader, Woorkeri Venkat Raman would begin his day by solving the crossword in The Hindu. A traditionalist who respects the modern changes in the game, he has played and lived cricket with distinction, but will remain an underachiever with just 11 Tests and 27 ODIs against his name. He did play 132 first class matches but Raman, a fine student of the game, never could do justice to his potential.

During a private visit to the Capital, we met at Mist in The Park. Centrally located, it is a well-frequented restaurant with an element of water in the design. The buffet offers a superb range of Asian and Mediterranean selection, an ideal setting for a relaxed conversation with the ‘lazy’ Raman.

“I was not lazy. Some called me casual. It depends on your perception. If I was lazy or casual, I wouldn’t have played 18 seasons of first-class cricket with many comebacks. I took things in my stride and never became a cause of trouble in the team,” he smiles. I prod him. Were you not a shirker? He avoids the bouncer well. “If I were to reveal a few things now it would not be nice. There were others who were shirkers. If someone called me a shirker then he would need a check up of the neck up. I batted low down the order for the state and one fine morning was asked to bat at No. 3 against the West Indies. Without batting an eye lid I agreed. Mind you, if you were to see the score sheet you would find some acclaimed names in that team who were not at No.3.”

How about some gol gappas and mango-mint cold soup to begin with? “Not a bad idea,” Raman takes guard and opens the innings at a slow pace. Having quit the game in 1999, he lost little time in coaching. “I have been coaching since 2001 onwards, began with Bengal, then NCA (National Cricket Academy), Tamil Nadu and last three years with Bengal.”

As a coach, Raman, 48, has watched the game evolve at a rapid pace. “Cricket has travelled to rural areas. Earlier it was major cities. We now have a captain from Jharkhand, the roots have gone deeper and it’s a good sign. The fielding quality has changed a lot, primarily because of the increase in the quantum of the shorter versions of the game. The infrastructure has improved. Right from the under-14 group the players travel by air, get to play on good grounds, the living conditions on tours have improved amazingly. But the improved infrastructure is the most prominent sign. The importance of training in proper manner has made the difference, something which we were never aware of.”

Raman remains committed to his food trail. Roasted leg of lamb (with country mash) and a helping of steamed fish in light soy sauce, very Oriental, keeps him busy. Reflecting on the role of the coach, the graceful left-hander of yore, says, “Initially it was a case of a former cricketer who would double up as manager, a kind of consultant in cricket matters, who would guide the players on key issues with his inputs. Then it was an administrative manager and cricket manager, roles had been divided. But more than the game the process of coaching has evolved, a lot of things from other sport were embraced by cricket, picking up all the good things from other sport. Today, coaching, with all the support staff, is huge.”

As stuffed chicken breast with peppercorn jus, a recommendation of trainee Riya Mukherjee, occupies Raman’s attention, he talks of analysis in cricket. “Coaching doesn’t necessarily mean how to tell the guy to bat and ball because every individual has his own method. Coaches will be someone who will motivate, push the trainee to be positive. It is more mental and you have to control this deviation from his job, make him aware of that deviation so that he avoids doing things that cause his downfall."

How could Raman ignore rice at Mist? Steamed rice and ajwaini fish curry arrives to his delight. “India can dominate world cricket,” he declares. “The team is playing good cricket. The one team that can challenge India is South Africa, which is good in all formats. We have a good crop of players, similar to what Sourav (Ganguly) had, a lot of youngsters, who went on to become a bunch of men. This bunch can produce leading world performers but you have to dominate like West Indies and Australia did, for close to decade and a half. I don’t know if India can do that.”

On a concluding note, Raman reveals his secret likings for food. “I used to be fussy but became indifferent; travelling has taught me to accept whatever is available. I have my favourites though. I prefer South Indian vegetarian, nice and light. Breakfast onwards the intake keeps receding. I don’t follow a strict regimen but I do indulge once in a while if I find something mouth-watering.” He is eyeing the confectionary counter….

“I don’t live to eat my friend,” Raman smiles. But he lives for cricket. “I didn’t play to please others. I played cricket for my enjoyment. I have lived with this lovely thought.”

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