When Roger Binny was in his early 20s, Hemu Adhikari, the former all-rounder turned coach, spotted a peculiarity in the young medium pacer’s bowling action during a summer camp in Mumbai.
In his pre-delivery stride, Binny’s non-landing foot pointed backwards – a habit from his javelin throwing days. Old school army man Adhikari tried his best to reposition the foot. He first tapped Binny’s ankle, later even tied bamboo strips. But nothing worked.
“After a week or 10 days they said go back to the old thing. It was a natural movement for me. I had been bowling thousands of balls before that. I knew what worked for me,” Binny recalls.
“Patience is one of my virtues,” says the 1983 World Cup winner, known to speak his mind but unlikely to rock the boat.
He has been keen about fishing since his playing days, rescues injured and abandoned dogs, is a passionate golfer, loves nature, and spends time on his farm in Bandipur. On the eve of the BCCI annual general meeting, Binny is assessing the damage caused by the latest visitor to his farm – an elephant which destroyed mango trees.
“The BCCI gave me the opportunity, I took it because cricket administration is up my alley. I don’t have any hassles, I am an easy going person. If I like something and I think it needs to be done I will do it. But I stay away from controversy and things where there is trouble. I don’t like people who create controversies,” Binny says days after he submitted his nomination papers for the post of BCCI president.
The unassuming cricketer-turned-administrator is part of a power panel dominated by politicians, most with ties with the ruling BJP. As replacement to the incumbent president Sourav Ganguly, Binny may have to resort to more than diplomacy to put his point across.
On a day when BCCI appointed Roger Binny as their new chief, they also made it clear that they will back the current International Cricket Council (ICC) chairman Greg Barclay to retain the post and the Indian board will not be endorsing Sourav Ganguly’s name for the same.
A prominent member of Bangalore’s Anglo-Indian community, Binny has worn many hats – an allrounder with a lovely outswinger, a veteran Karnataka State Cricket Association office-bearer, a coach and a national selector.
Three years ago, when the cops blew the lid on spot fixing in the state league, Binny had taken over as president.
“It was done the previous year but picked up when we took over. It was sad for us and cricket. We let the law take its own course.”
Binny’s three-year stint as selector caused a stir because it coincided with his son Stuart donning the India jersey. Binny recused himself from meetings when the medium pace all-rounder’s slot was discussed. However, Stuart played almost all his cricket for India when Binny was a selector.
A former colleague in the Sandip Patil chaired selection panel described Binny as non-confrontational. “At times he made his opinion known. But he didn’t push his views beyond a point. He was always calm but one got the impression he did want to ruffle feathers,” the ex-selector said.
In 2000, Binny tasted World Cup success again, as coach of India’s Under-19 team which won its first-ever title. Mohammad Kaif, the captain of the team that lifted India’s maiden Under-19 World Cup trophy talks of a ‘chilled out’ coach who gave him freedom, didn’t hog the limelight and was invested in training sessions. When a young Kaif got carried away in the middle, Binny saved the day.
“I enjoyed captaining India because he (Binny) allowed me to make decisions, including the best XI. I have played under so many coaches and most of them feel since they are in-charge they need to keep talking all the time. He was not like that. He spoke only after giving a lot of thought. He was not insecure at all, he was not trying to be in the limelight, never made an attempt to portray that the team was doing well because of him. He made sure the atmosphere was calm. Even in the winning photo he was standing at one side and not waiting to grab the trophy,” Kaif says.
Binny also made a crucial intervention when Kaif was getting carried away by sticking to attacking fields in a Group game.
“We had made 240-odd and Sri Lanka had lost three-four wickets before crossing 50. I was an aggressive captain when it came to field settings and we had a good bowling attack too. There was one Sri Lankan batsman who started hitting boundaries. The score reached 150 and 160 but I kept attacking. At that point he sent me a message through a player. Binny sir told me to give bowlers more protection on the fence. He was right, I was overattacking and giving easy runs,” Kaif says.
Before the Under-19 World Cup, Binny didn’t let influential voices cloud his cricketing judgement. When a young Yuvraj Singh was on the cusp of playing in the U-19 World Cup, Binny, the coach of the team, didn’t listen to certain ‘stalwarts of Indian cricket’ who felt he was not suited for international cricket.
“We had a camp in Chennai and all were saying this fellow can’t play cricket, he is playing everything cross and he has got so much of bottom hand. But that was his strength You should let someone play the natural game. If I had told Yuvraj to change it would not have been his natural game. He became one of the deadliest One-day and T20 players. I kept it as simple as I could. Just because you are coach it does not mean you go to the nets and say ‘this is wrong’ and ‘that is wrong’. It does not work that way,” Binny says.
India beat Sri Lanka in the finals to win the title. Binny, riding on the success of the junior team, wanted to take over the job of the senior team’s coach. The BCCI eventually gave the job to John Wright, India’s first foreign coach.
Once the new coach was named, Binny moved on without a murmur.
“It didn’t affect me at all. I didn’t get it after 2000 so I went to the Asian Cricket Council and there I was working in the non-Test centres in Asia.”
Binny is unfussed about being overlooked. Him being the highest wicket-taker (18) in the 1983 World Cup is not celebrated enough, even in the ’83’ movie.
“It didn’t even strike my mind. I was on a comeback. I was dropped just a few months before the World Cup. I was so engrossed in winning the World Cup. I didn’t even know I had got 18 wickets till a scorer told me after the final at Lord’s. There was no mention of it otherwise. Those days if you were the man of the match, you get a good handshake and then you are off.”
Binny says there is a Scottish influence in his family but it dates back to four generations. “It was getting difficult to find out. The younger ones didn’t take it up and the older ones found it too difficult to travel.”
Binny played as a No.11 batsman in his first match for Salem districts as a school boy. He was involved in a 40-run last wicket partnership, of which he scored 30. In the next game, he was promoted as opener. Binny was sent to boarding school in Salem. As a guard in the railways, his father Terence, had a transferable job. The young Binny was an all-rounder in the true sense. He played as a left-back in hockey, a goalkeeper in football.
“I did the shot put, the javelin, discus throw and the long jump and the high jump,” Binny says. The Bangalore Schools Under-18 javelin record set in 1973 stands in his name.
One of his fondest cricketing memories is Sunday cricket with the joint family, split into two teams – uncles versus nephews. “The family lived in Benson Town and would get together once a month for a cricket match. We played in a school ground or a church ground. It used to keep the family together and it was pretty competitive also, because the uncles never wanted to lose to nephews.”
Christmas also had a cricket connection for the boys (Binny is one of seven brothers).
“For Christmas we got cricket sets as gifts. My uncles and dad were all cricket buffs. They used to walk up to Central College grounds and take us along to watch touring teams play. That is the encouragement we got.”
Before he turned 18, Binny was throwing the javelin at the junior nationals, playing hockey for the state junior team and was also selected for the school boys cricket camp at the National Institute of Sports in Patiala.
“1973 September… that is when I really started cricket. I played Karnataka schools and then I played South Zone schools. In 1975 got picked for the Karnataka team.”
In his second year, he opened with Sanjay Desai and put on an unbeaten 451 runs against Kerala in Ranji Trophy. A couple of seasons later Binny was handed the Test cap for a game against Pakistan in Bangalore and became the the first Anglo Indian to play for India.
“The Anglo-Indian community was pretty happy. There was no proper television or no proper communication back then but I was honoured at a function by the All-India Anglo Indian Association.”
Timber, teak, silver oak, and mango trees grow on Binny’s farm in Bandipur, a five-hour drive from the city. A Modhul Hound and three stray dogs roam the farm lands. Leopards and elephants are regular visitors.
“A few days ago an elephant destroyed 150 mango trees,” Binny says.
He likes the charm of Bangalore but he needs his break from the city now and then.
Another of his getaways involves fishing. The black-humped mahseer is a game fish Binny catches in Kushalnagar, Coorg.
“I have been fishing since 1974. I have been to the farm since 1994. Bangalore has changed so much, it is still a lovely city, but the traffic, the noise gets to you sometimes.”
When in Bangalore, Binny is on the greens of the golf course twice a week. “I have a lot of patience and to play golf you need to be patient.”
The sanguine former all-rounder says there are a couple of things which get his goat and make him lose his cool.
“Bad drivers… I do shout once in a way. And people treating animals badly. Animals can’t talk, we need to look after them.”
Binny is often ferrying injured street dogs to shelters and is also involved in sterilisation drives.
“So many puppies are being born and run over on the streets. I take abandoned dogs to the shelter. I get so many calls about injured or ill-treated dogs. I carry some food in my car. When my grandson was born, there was a photograph of him with the dog lying next to his bed. I have always loved dogs.”
Binny says he hasn’t changed over the years. He has been married to his school sweetheart for 44 years, and still keeps in touch with his teammates from the Salem district school team.
“I am the same person from the time I played school cricket till now. I may have played for India but there is nothing to go gaga about it.”
Binny’s new role as BCCI president will leave him with less time to pursue his non-cricketing hobbies and passion. He is ready for the change and challenge.
“Cricket has always been my first love.”