I contacted Anshuman Gaekwad over telephone on the afternoon of June 7 while researching the Drugs and Cricket story. During the course of our conversation, I asked Gaekwad about the prevalence of performance enhancing drugs like steroids in the Indian cricket team and whether it had contributed to the improvement in performance of Indian cricketers. Mr Gaekwad's reply was "I agree to that'' and he further talked of how players today are required to keep themselves fit and elaborated on the "burn-out phenomenon".
I specifically told Mr Gaekwad that the magazine was trying to put together a story on the use of performance enhancing drugs by Indian cricketers. On this subject, I requested him to give me a detailed interview. Gaekwad promptly agreed. In fact, I told him that if he was reluctant to discuss some aspects of the subject "off-the-record", he was free to do so. He, instead, assured me that he had absolutely no problems to discuss the matter openly.
When I asked him if I could come over to Baroda that weekend (June 9-10), Gaekwad told me that he would be in town and was not travelling out till the end of the month. His reply was:"Come anytime. There are no problems.''
Without losing any time, I landed in Baroda the next morning (June 8). I could not inform him of my travel plans the previous night for he had left the office and his cellular phone was also switched off.
On June 8, I called up Gaekwad at his office (10 a.m.) on my arrival in Baroda. Inititally, he said we could meet up the same afternoon but since he was caught up with work, he postponed our meeting till the next morning -June 9 The next day, Gaekwad, himself picked me up from Sayaji Hotel at 9.05 a.m. where I was put up, and drove me to his Gujarat Fertilisers and Chemicals Limited office. During the twenty-minute drive from the hotel, we talked of many things including the state of cricket following the match-fixing scam.
At one point, Gaekwad remarked: "Yes, indeed....the match-fixing was a bad phase in cricket..so much so that every match that we lose, is suspected to be fixed.''
He also talked of how the number of youngsters aspiring to be cricketers had reduced in numbers after the match-fixing scam and that fewer parents were encouraging their children to opt for cricket as a career option.
The interview began around 9.30 a.m. at Gaekwad's office:
Following is the unedited and complete interview which ran for over an hour and a half.
A: Okay, so what is that you want?
O: Mr Gaekwad, as I told you, we (Outlook) are doing a story on the use of performance enhancing drugs by Indian cricketers. But to begin with, what are the significant changes you think that the cricket has undergone. For example, you have been associated with the Indian cricket scene for last 25 years as a player and then coach...
A: Oh yes. Cricket has undergone a major change in last few years. Batsmen have become more impatient... The game has become very fast. The changes began from 1983 onwards and picked up in the 1990s. The frequency of one day internationals to Test matches has gone up. More so it is the ODI mentality that is now prevailing over the Test matches. The analysis of the game has improved.....the plan of the game has improved..... Sanath Jaisuriya changed the profile of the game. He took most of the strike initially and scored most in the first 15 overs. This was just the opposite of our traditional style you see. Like we were careful of not losing the wickets and relied heavily on the slog overs.
O: It is generally said that the Sri Lankans added pace to the game...
A: That's true....they put the game on fast track. So, earlier while a little over 200 would be considered a big score, today even 300 is not seen as an impossible task....One more reason here is that fast pitches are delivering good scores....
(The conversation on playing conditions and cricket pitches carries on over a cup of coffee with brief halts, as Gaekwad checks his email and clears official work)
O: Do you see any noticeable changes in the Indian team? .....Like their performance.
A: Certainly. The unbelievable enhancement in the performance of cricketers is the most significant change in Indian cricket. We are producing more successful bowlers and batsmen, something we could have never imagined. Moreover, cricketers have become health conscious. In fact, many of them have their own personal fitness trainers.
O: But like you said the other day that modern drugs like steroids which enhance the performance have helped the cricketers a lot....
A: Yes...It has helped cricketers tremendously.
O: How prevalent is that.?...could you elaborate..
A: When I was coach, a few batsmen and all the fast bowlers would have it during (the drinks break) to pep them up.
O: Could you tell what was the composition?
A: I didn't know the exact composition but it could have been amphetamines, stimulants or something else.....
O: How did they take it?
A: A readymade powdered formulation, ..imported from Australia... it was mixed with water for boosting energy...... If I am right, the physio, Andrew Leipus, procured it and it was very expensive.
O: But the other drugs...
A: Besides these, steroids and ......cortisones are regularly used by Indian players.....These are very common.
O: Can you cite some examples of players...like who have been benefitted?
A: Take the case of Ajit Agarkar. He hardly had any muscles to back up his bowling stride and action. As a result, he got injured frequently. But once Leipus treated him, he developed stronger legs...... a better shoulder and bowling arm. Similarly, (Javagal) Srinath, who also had a weak back and shoulder, started becoming sinewy and began to put on weight. The same goes for Rahul Dravid. ... Rahul Dravid has also improved a lot....See, now.. Srinath is back into the game.
O: But does it have a tangible effect on the cricketers?
A: (Pauses) See...every cricketer has some limitations as far as his strengths are concerned.... A bowler may have strong shoulders but a weak back. It is here that drugs and fitness therapies play a major role to overcome such shortcomings. Doses of steroids help in quick recoveries and help put on muscle as well. Look at (Mohammed) Azharuddin, he was on steroids during the 1992-93 season, which is why he gained a lot of weight.....In fact, sports medicine has totally changed the outlook of the game. You cannot change the skills of players but this adds to the critical aspect of enhancing performance.
O: What about fitness therapies?
A: The modern technology makes it very simple. The analysis tells you exactly where you need to put in extra effort....and tells you where you can get injuries. Australia and South Africa have such facilities. We had these lacunaes...but now fitness programmes are also helping the players a lot. Andrew Leipus is doing several things....its no more India type medical thing, earlier we hardly had these facilities. Like when we were playing at Nairobi, Dravid and Agarkar would sweat a lot...and had cramps...Leipus gave them some salts and also asked them to drink a lot of water.
O: What are your views on the use of steroids and other performance enhancing drugs in cricket? Like some former cricketers we spoke to.. they said its good if steroids improve the performance of the player. Do you support its use?
A: We have enough talent in our country. We cannot condone the act of any cricketer taking steroids or other external agents to boost performance.....If some players are using it, then everybody should be allowed. There has to be a level playing field. Like Sachin (Tendulkar) is definitely talented. But that extra dose of steroid helps him hit the ball with greater punch. So if you inject Sachin with muscle-strengthening drugs, then its not fair....
Cricketers should play to their natural strengths. Being fitness-conscious and educated about sports medicine is one thing, but that does not mean cricketers should be allowed to use drugs. The use of drugs to gain an edge over others is unethical. The talent has to be original......then its not the real player...whatever is natural....that's best.
O: Performance enhancing drugs.....advanced sports medicine.....fitness therapies....don't you think that the present day cricketers have greater advantages....
A: Absolutely true. Like for us, the pads and gloves were so weak....that we would get hit through it...and thigh pads, we didnt have any....advanced equipments, gears, I don't think anybody would get hit so seriously now...as we used to.....
O: What about team discipline during your times?
A: Our times.....we had nothing like curfew. But discipline has improved now..the players follow the routine on their own.
Q. Do you see any noticeable difference in attitude of the players today?
A. Due to prestige, popularity and the money involved in the game, the players work hard to remain in the team... Which is why they have also become very conscious of their fitness and performance. ...Sachin is very conscious of his physical fitness. He puts on weight quickly and also gets rid of it quickly. He has been seeing doctors in Australia and England for his back problem. There is so much tension in the game as all the time players want to play and perform at their best.
Rahul Dravid and Ajit Agarkar.. these two guys were very particular about their fitness....also Venkatesh Prasad and Srinath.
O: But, like you were coach of the team...and regarded as a strict disciplinarian.....didn't you ever try to object the use of drugs when you were the coach....Or did you try to find out?
A: I did not have a very strong case. The use of steroids and cortisone for injuries was common. But I had no idea what the players took in the dressing rooms.
O: There is one more thing..like with so much cricket being played today, will it have some bearing on the players?
A: Yes. The more cricket the boys play, more burnouts will happen.....The players are trying to be first all the time. For them, once the time goes it never comes back. So, everyone wants to make the most out of their presence in the team.... It is an unusual trend for the game.
As a result, the game is suffering.......we are not getting enough talent for the team, while the other cricket-playing nations have a choice.... For example, there is no proper guidance for our under-19 players. They do not have any representation in the team and there is nobody to teach or guide them. So, whatever our talent it's all going waste....
O: Do you see any remedies for this?
A: Well...it will take two years to get talented national and international players...the zonal academies are working towards this.
O: Do you think hat despite supplements like performance enhancing drugs, advanced sports medicine and modern equipment, today's players can match the calibre of former stars....like Kapil Dev or even you.. your memorable innings at the Sabina Park....
A: I doubt that....really I doubt that anybody can match Kapil Dev in his dedication for the game.
Q. Then..how do you interpret the abuse of drugs in cricket?
A. At this rate, cricket can go the body-building way. The long-term after-effects of the drugs could be disastrous both mentally and physically..... also one may suffer from depressions... (pauses) Could be that players are ignorant.... If the doctor is giving it to them, who is responsible? If you are recovering from injury and not playing, then it's a different case. But nothing should be allowed that gives you artificial energy.
O: So what are your views on the use of drugs? Like how do you see that it can be curbed?
A: It's high time that we began having random checks for our players. The simple way is to watch the sudden difference in physical strengths and performance levels of cricketers and subject them to dope tests...... The experts can do this and take the random tests.
O: But if you recall in 1998, the BCCI had objected that Indian players should not be subjected to dope tests for this might result in some embarrassment.
A: Right.. I was there with the team.
O: Who all were there in that team?
A: Sachin.Nihil, Ajay, Saurav, Rahul...I think even Srinath.
O: Any of them tested for dope?
A: None from these.....Amay Khurasia...was chosen and he tested negative...
O: What do you think the BCCI can do to keep a check on drug abuse?
A: It should be done universally. .the ICC should do it. It should categorise drugs that will not be allowed. That will make things simpler....Individual boards will have different procedures...so its better that ICC does it. For example, the Olympic code should be implemented. Like, unless injuries..the use of steroids and other drugs can be questioned.
O:What about the Board's role in checking the burnouts?
A: A time will come when they will realise that they have to slow down. We do not have talent like South Africa, England or Australia. For playing cricket... the Board has to draw a line somewhere. Our playing levels are less than the English, Australians, or for that matter even Pakistanis. Their approach.. outlook towards life and eating habits are totally different.
Like in Indian culture....we are generally protected....but they have to fight it out.....the attitude makes a lot of difference.... Then there are other things.....For example, not many Indian cricketers can slide on the ground and also we do not have good grounds to slide on.
O: But some senior players hold the view that the Board acts autocratically, like excluding Nayan Mongia from the team. Many senior cricketers say that injustice was done to him.
(A small discussion on the match fixing inquiry and how the CBI investigations gave a clean chit to Mongia follows.)
A. The Board should come out with a statement. Undoubtedly, Mongia is the best wicketkeeper at the moment. It is beyond one's comprehension why he should not be taken in the team. The board must substantiate its decision...... Don't keep the players guessing on decisions you take about them. Such things only give rise to speculations......Give some reasons at least....this is no way....
O: Yesterday, throughout the day I was trying to get in touch with Nayan Mongia, hoping perhaps he would talk on this subject....He is sort of avoiding...
A: Yes...you can do that....He comes everyday to the Moti Bagh Palace grounds for practice....I see him there.....you can catch him there.
(Right through the interview, Gaekwad was forthright and direct. He was warm and hospitable and got me dropped back to the hotel after the interview was over. After returning from Baroda, I called Gaekwad on June 18 at his residence (0265-433171) for a few clarifications and asked him if could specifically name the drugs which the Indian cricketers were using. He repeated that he did not know of any specific ones except steroids and cortisone which he had already mentioned as being commonly used.)