Now and Then | Delhi

Meet Madan Lal, the man who bowled the first ball of any World Cup ever

Madan Lal's characteristic  'bowling leap'

Madan Lal's characteristic 'bowling leap' | Photo Credit: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

The rigours of cricket in Amritsar made Madan Lal the tireless performer that he is best remembered for. His Delhi stint gave him the mental toughness he tries to inculcate in his wards as coach. “I came to Delhi in 1972 with just a train ticket in my pocket,” he says.

Things are vastly different now, and at 68 today, Madan greets you with that familiar, disarming smile. Life has given him reason to be pleased. He retains a great deal of the physicality of youth, through his active lifestyle.

“I want to look smart and young. I love training and the beads of sweat on my forehead inspire me.” He was always known for his fitness, and today it’s a passion: “Every day, I set aside 90 minutes in the morning for my workout. I love to train in the rain. You can’t imagine the joy it brings,” says the man who had a chequered international cricket career spanning 13 years.


Few remember that Madan’s delivery to England’s John Jameson was the first ball of the inaugural World Cup in 1975. Most Indian fans recall his game-changing dismissal of Vivian Richards, caught brilliantly by Kapil Dev, in the final of the 1983 World Cup.

Woods and iron

Today, he takes great pride in running his coaching academies, one in the Capital’s Siri Fort Sports Complex and the other in a school at Rudrapur, in Uttarakhand. “I have a passion for coaching. I believe in character building. The stronger the character, the better you are as a player,” declares the man who has worn several hats — player, coach, selector, administrator and commentator.

Madan has the same commitment to coaching as he once had for playing. “I’ve always found time to do what I love doing. If my academy has my name, and parents send their wards to me, then I am morally bound to be there with the trainees. Every Thursday, Friday and Saturday between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m., you can be sure of finding me there, even if it’s 45 degrees.” He is an avid golfer too. “My handicap is around 10-11,” he says with pride.

This dedication comes from years of struggle. His first job was with the State Bank of India, at Lajpat Nagar. Madan stayed at different places with friends for the six months that he endured Delhi. “The city did not suit me. I would fall ill frequently. So I went back to Amritsar, but returned after two months. I wanted to fight and make my place.”

Madan Lal with a replica of the Prudential Cup

Madan Lal with a replica of the Prudential Cup


An offer from Mohan Meakin (the breweries group) gave him hope, but it was still a dhaba roti-subzi existence: dal was a luxury, he says. “I shared a room with another cricketer [Jasbir Singh] in Mohan Nagar Sports Complex, and we’d travel to Delhi on a Yezdi, or sometimes by train. I struggled a lot.”

His first car, a Fiat, came in 1983, after a great deal of scrimping and saving. “I would do odd jobs like whitewashing (when playing club cricket in England) to make extra money, work part-time at a central-heating company. In England, I learnt to cook, wash and iron clothes. I can do all that even now if need be,” says the man whose first house was a two-bedroom flat in Mohan Nagar, after he married Anu Mohan.

Cricket and beyond

Besides his commitment to a television news channel for cricket commentary, Madan tries to spend as much time as possible with his family. “I travelled a lot during my playing days and I still love travelling [Madan played club and county cricket in England for 22 seasons]. But these days, I have cut down on my travel by turning down outstation coaching assignments. This gives me more time with family [wife, son, daughter, and grandchildren].”

He does have his share of regrets though. “As a batsman, I struggled with short-pitched deliveries. I was not scared of the rising deliveries but had technical flaws. When I went to my coach, Gyan Prakash, in Amritsar, he sorted it out quickly. By the time I made a comeback to the Indian team, I had slipped from 6 to 8 in the batting order. I realised the delay cost me a lot.”

His advice to the boys he coaches is: “Once God has blessed you with talent, go all out to make the most of it. Refine your skills, work harder, stay focussed and be patient. Your process has to be correct.” His cautionary note to parents is to remember how mentally and physically strong their child is. “Temperament and attitude count; skill alone doesn’t guarantee success.”

As for his relationship with Delhi? The traffic’s frightening, but “Delhi gave me everything: love and affection and a career to make my life”.

Former Cricketer Madan Lal with wife Anu and children, Kunaal and Kanika. K.N. Chari

Madan Lal with his wife Anu and children, Kunaal and Kanika.

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Printable version | Feb 19, 2022 5:21:53 pm |