Monday, August 2, 2010

Rehmat Baig - Cricket Coach Par Excellence

I met Baig saab when I was first selected to play for the All Saints High School in 1982. It was my last year at school and I somehow picked up some courage to give the school team a shot. I was selected even though I was raw, having had no formal coaching at all in my life till then. And Rehmat Baig saab was already a BCCI coach for South Zone. He was invited by the school to give the new school team a one-week coaching session.
Baig saab and I - At the Golconda High School shoot August 2010)
During the very first session, I knew he meant business. While giving catches he noticed me standing lazily with my hands on my knees and ticked me off. And the way he ticks you off leaves a big impact. I don't think I ever stood like that ever again while taking catches. And he has a way of correcting you without complicating your mind. A minor correction, a small drill and things just worked out. I had some serious problems with my follow through as I was stopping myself with the back leg from following through smoothly. So when Baig saab took us aside to work on the run-up, action and follow-through, I fell down each time I followed through. Baig saab was very patient, took me aside and made me practice the follow through enough times so it never bothered me again.

That one week was good enough to make me believe in my ability a bit more and I performed quite creditably for my team in the league, both with the bat and the ball. In the Inter-School Mano Trophy we did quite well reaching the semi-final stage before losing to HPS, Ramanthapur. I picked five for 25 against a HPS, Begumpet side which was packed with established cricketers and we caused an upset defeat. I had done enough that season to warrant being in the Under 15 side and I was.
It was quite by fluke that I played the tournament for Hyderabad but it worked well for me. I did well against Andhra in the first game and we made the final against Karnataka. The match hung on the first innings lead and against a Karnataka total of 243 we were cruising along at 180 for 3 when there was a slide and we were 208 for eight. I was at the crease with Chetan Joshi, and all hopes seemed lost. I knew Baig saab had come from Hyderabad to watch the match and maybe it was his presence or my ignorance of the occasion, but I swung my bat merrily to make 27 of the most valuable runs for Hyderabad and secured a 4 run lead. The celebrations were crazy, our skipper and my good friend Masood was in tears and the only thing I remember when I walked back was seeing Baig saab's handsome face break out in a smile. And his friend patting me on the back and saying 'You can never write off Hyderabadis.'
Giving catching practice during a break in the shoot

I was selected to play South Zone that year and we went to Calcutta. That summer the BCCI organised a one-month coaching camp for the South Zone boys and Baig saab was our coach. In that one month I learnt much from him. From knowing how to bowl outswingers, cutters, bouncers, batting basics, fielding skills, fitness - it was fantastic. Baig saab would do everything with us. Running long distance, demonstrating each shot, demonstrating bowling, throws, catches.
On returning to Hyderabad I had no team to play for and that was when Vidyuth asked me to play for the MCC. Playing under the legendary M.L. Jaisimha was a great experience. I did fairly well playing in the A-1 division, though not outstandingly. But to my disappointment, I was not considered for any camp, not even one, despite being in the South Zone camp the previous year. That nearly broke my spirit because I could see far more mediocre boys playing with no performance at all. The season passed.

I knew Baig saab was coaching at the Lal Bahadur stadium which was rather far so I preferred practising at the Ameerpet ground. This is a big mistake. For a good coach, it is worth travelling miles and it can make all the difference. I don't know what made me go, but sometime before the next season, Ram and I, went to Baig saab's SAAP nets at Paradise, Secunderabad. I think we went for about two weeks and in those two weeks he corrected most of the things that were going wrong. And that was the difference that season.

I got five wickets against Syndicate Bank and we beat them, six against Andhra Bank and we had them on the mat though we lost, three against SBI which had Azhar and again we had them all out for a paltry 202. MCC did extremely well that year with a new young side mentored by ML Jaisimha, led by Vivek Jaisimha and having young rookies like Venkatapathy Raju, Vidyuth Jaisimha, Sunil Phillips, Imtiaz Ahmed, Pawan Kumar, Sanjay, Srinivas Chakravarthy and yours truly. And that year I played everything from Under 25, Under 22, Under 19 and was in the probables for the Ranji Trophy. In the same momentum, I played the Ranji trophy a couple of years later and did commendably well. However I lost the momentum and after seven matches I was dropped and though Hyderabad went on to win the Ranji Trophy, I was relegated to the sidelines.
There was no Baig saab to go to as he went away to Maldives on a six-year contract. Baig saab was never a man to compromise or pander or politic to get his way. He believed he knew what he was doing and always wanted to do it well. his mission, to educate as many young cricketers as he can in his lifetime. His knowledge of the game from a coaching perspective is amazing. He can handle a toddler as well as a test cricketer, treating them both with the respect each deserves. He says only as much as required for the ward to know, not a word more and not a word less, and you know the immediate difference it can make to the performance. To me, he is the best coach technically, that India has today.
With Executive Producer Prasad Nimmakayala at the GHS shoot

Unfortunately, many of his own wards who went on to play much bigger cricket chose to forget him and his contribution. Every single test cricketer that modern cricket has produced from Hyderabad before Laxman were his wards - notably Azharuddin, Venkatapathy Raju, Shivlal Yadav, Arshad Ayub etc. At the national level he has coached Ravi Shastri, Chandu Pandit, Lalchand Rajput, L. Sivaramakrishna, W.V.Raman etc. Sadly even the institutions, BCCI which hired him thirty years ago, HCA which used his services many years ago, refuse to tap into his vast reserve of knowledge. As a chief coach, he can set several things right but it only appears that the powers that be do not want him to. It is a sad commentary on the state of things that we let such passion and knowledge go waste.

But Baig saab is not one who will let these things hamper him. I was working in the IDBI when I went to a couple of smaller cricket camps to advertise our bonds. I saw Baig saab there, in an obscure coaching camp in Masab tank, in another in RTC Cross Roads, once in Jubilee Hills, doing what he loves best - coaching young minds. To him it was not whether the camp or people were of a stature that he befitted, it was enough that there were young wards ready to learn. And he was off on his scooter at six in the morning and again at three in the evening imparting cricket knowledge to hundreds of youngsters.

When Vidyuth wanted to start his indoor Academy, I told him that it was best to have someone with the commitment and passion as Baig saab to be his Chief Coach. We traced him to a camp in Jubilee Hills, went and met him and he instantly agreed. And since then, its been more than seven years, he goes to the Academy at 6 in the morning on his Kinetic Honda, rain or sun, working at his wards with the same passion I saw thirty years ago.

Baib saab was one of the first persons I gave the manuscript of 'The Men Within' to and it passed muster with him. At the book release function, he was very pleased to receive a copy of the book. Vijay commented that evening - I don't think anyone ever honoured him like that. Which was rather sad.

When the book was being made into a movie, I suggested his name as the cricket consultant to the movie which they hired. I cannot fail to admire the way he brings his boys to the ground, sharp on time, sitting in an orderly fashion, taking sessions while they wait, learning and admiring the craft of the making of movies, doing his best wherever required. At his age, it seems all too much but he is there with a smile. And he is back at the Academy the next day, thinking up new ways to share his knowledge to the boys.

Not once does he back off from learning something new. When he heard of my motivational training he wanted his wards to instantly benefit. And he sat right next to me through the workshop, reading all the notes, seeing the worksheets, adding his bit every now and then.

There is much to learn from such dedication. Teachers who earn respect are made this way. And when we don't respect them, it is we who lose.

Thank you for everything Baig saab and may you continue your journey with all the passion you have.


Unknown said...

I feel sorry for HCA and BCCI who are not using his vast experience, Baig Saab was my Coach in LB stadium and he is so technically sound.
If you learn fielding from BAig Saab , your shoulder will never be injured.
I saw Vvs laxman attend his nets and learned the best of batting techniques , I guess Vvs is the only batsman in world cricket who could play one single delivery off spin in 3 directions ( covers, mid off and mid on ) according to the field set to find the gaps, he learned to bat the best of swing bowling in BAig saabs nets, unfortunately the bowlers never played for INdia EHtesham and HAbib.
Vvs laxman is INdias best batsman with a great technique .
He never gave credit to BAig Saab and he paid the price not playing a single World Cup match (karma)

I still vividly remember my days at Lb stadium under baig Saab guidance.
I may not have played cricket for the state or country but my batting grip, fielding, follow through ,forward defense toe on onside is far better than international cricketers.
I have learned the discipline and a great sportsmanship which has helped me a lot.
Thank you Baig Saab .

Hari your blog is appreciated.

Anonymous said...

Very Well written about Mr. Baig Sahab. He was my coach, when I Played for A-2 Division league for Vijay Hanuman. You can say my role model for cricket. He perfectioned my technique and indirectly taught us about discipline of a sporstman.

Even today, when I play in (gulf)Bahrain league,the viewers appreciate the grace & style of my batting.

It was really honoured to be a student of Mr. Baig Sahab.

Omer Mohammed.
Kingdom of Bahrain.

Imran Farooqui said...

Its such a shame a talent like this has not been used more effectively and as often as should be by our country. Sheer brilliance when it comes to the basics of cricket and abundant talent through experience. Whether you are a novice or a seasoned cricketer at any level, you haven't tasted great coaching until you have spent some sessions under his umbrella.

Anonymous said...

Sincere thanks to Harimohan for this article, though its been written some time ago, was made aware of this quite recently and being an ardent fan of Baig saab, couldn't resist writing my two bit, I can only hope this is read by the countless people in whose cricketing life and life in general Baig saab has made a huge impact and difference and also I hope and wish its read by the thankless people who benefitted from him and didn't even had the courtesy to acknowledge it.....
Gem of a teacher and one of a kind... Thank you. Raj M.

Siddharth said...

Thanks for writing about this great man. I just bumped into one of the episodes of 'Spin Talk' between LS ShivaramaKrishnan and Murali Karthik. LS immediately showed a picture of him and young Baig sir in the first few minutes of the program. My mind traced back to the times I was a wannabe wicket keeper. As Hari Mohan referred to his coaching stints near RTC X Roads, I was a part of an academy near VST. It is known as Sarojini Devi cricket academy. In the year 2002-2003, he was working over there. I must admit that Baig sir's recommendations, once incorporated into by the players turned them into different players overnight. I remember this rookie fast bowler who was told to include a jump into his bowling and lo and behold, he started bowling at least 5 yards quicker. Baig sir also looked out for his wards. I remember another fast bowling kid who could not attend his classes everyday due to college. Baig sir asked him to bring his dad the next day and told him how talented his son was. God knows where that guy is now to attest this story. VVS Lakshman was in the camp one day and he was all praise for our Baig sir. I personally thought he could never tolerate non-sense else he would have had lot more friends and lot more recognition. But it was perhaps too much to ask him to adjust with mediocrity. Kudos to him and his achievements. I hope he stays free of bad health. Thank you Sir for making my cricketing days complete with your presence.

Harimohan said...

Thanks Siddharth for such a lovely comment. I will share it with Baig sir. In fact, I spoke to him just yesterday and he was his usual self. I'll try to get the link of LS and the Spin Talk reference - he would love to see it. Let me put out Baig sir's number here for anyone who wants to reach out to him as well - it's 98851 40677.

Anonymous said...

Still playing cricket in the UK for Div 1 and prem leagues. I was one of his fav students at the time in LB stadium pre-2000; he made my childhood enjoyable just like for many others.

A strict yet friendly coach who knew when to discipline and when to applaud.

A true service to the game of cricket by this forgotten hero.