|The Rediff Interview
pitches at home are not to my liking "
In 1996, when you made
your debut, and now, how have you changed, as a cricketer and as a person?
I would say I've changed
a lot, both as a player and as a person. In the time I have been playing
at the top level, I have seen both sides of the game, success and failure,
and that has contributed to my growth. I think today I am a much better
cricketer than I was three years ago.
These three years have brought
about changes in me that, if I had not been playing international cricket,
would have taken longer to bring about. Essentially, it has made me a stronger
person, though I guess I still have a long way to go. The experience of
having played in different conditions against different countries has been
terrific. I have toured almost all the countries except Australia, so that
in itself has been an enriching, broadening experience.
Everyone acclaims you as
our most technically accomplished batsman. Yet, when checking your record,
it is evident that you flourish on foreign soil, but don't get as much
success at home. For a batsman like you, where does the hitch lie when
it comes to playing at home?
You know, it is a tricky
situation. I have done well abroad, but I haven't done terribly badly back
here either. But yes, the pitches at home are not too much to my liking.
We haven't had many tall-scoring series in India in the past few years,
if you have noticed. Either we have had turning tracks, or tracks of low
Playing abroad has always
been a challenge for me. You know, the extra bounce on the wickets there
have been conducive to my back foot game.
Is the crowd pressure
at home part of the reason?
Not really. I have done
pretty well in one-dayers back home, if you notice, I have scored two hundreds
here, so it is unfair to say I have a bad track record here. Its just one
of those things that hasn't happened. I have missed out on a couple of
occasions by getting out in the nineties.
But what is it with technically
accomplished batsmen, like Manjrekar earlier and now you, getting stuck
in a rut?
I think it is one of those
things that happen, and it is very unfortunate that it happened. I think
I haven't faced too many problems as such. I was dropped for a while from
the one-day team and that is fair enough, you can't expect everything to
go your way all the time. It happens sometimes that things are not going
for you, or you fail to find favour with the selectors. It can happen to
anyone, and you know it is a very sad thing that if you are technically
accomplished then you tend to get labeled as a Test player -- which if
you remember happened to Sanjay for some time. I think that was very sad,
because I thought that he was a very good Test player as well as a one-day
During that period when
you were out of the one day squad, what were you up to? How did you work
towards shrugging off the label of being only a Test player?
It was not much of a lay-off
because I was playing Ranji Trophy. I played a couple of matches and I
practiced quite a bit on my game. I always backed myself, and I believe
that what I had was good enough for one day cricket. I knew that it was
a matter of time before I would be back in the one day side. You see, there
is a difference between not having the ability to do it, and having the
ability to do it but being out of form. In my case, the latter was true,
I had the ability but not the form, and that can happen to the best of
You can't keep performing
at your highest level all the time, there will be ups and downs. And just
because you have a down doesn't mean you are not capable of playing Test
cricket or one day cricket. You tell yourself it is a matter of time, and
if you are confident, you figure that when your form is back, your time
will come and then you can make the most of it.
But during that slump,
you had that awful innings, one run off 21 balls, against Bangladesh, what
was going through your mind then?
Actually I was not thinking
about anything. We had some 120-odd to chase and I thought since there
was no pressure to score quickly, I wanted to stay in, spend some time
in the middle. And I remember they had this left arm spinner who was bowling
some pretty neat overs, he was spot on and we had only to score at two
an over, no pressure whatever. I think I was unfortunate to get out when
I did, had I stayed for another 20 balls and scored 17-18 runs I would
have been 18 of 40 balls and that would have not looked so bad in context
of the game.
Of late, the form of the
team appears to have slumped, there seems to be a lack of effort going
in, what would you attribute this to?
I don't think that there
has been a lack of effort. Most of the players are putting in their best,
but yes, most of all against the Pakistanis we haven't done particularly
well. But other than that , we have done pretty well against all the other
sides that we have played.
So what is the problem when
we play Pakistan? Lack of killer instinct, as the analysts say?
I don't think there is any
problem as such, they are playing some very good cricket against us and
they outplayed us. And we missed Sachin, of course! We had some players
out of form, some injury problems. Actually, it could be various factors
you know, I can't pinpoint any one factor and say look, this is the problem.
It was basically, a lot of problems, all coming at around the same time.
There was this match against
Pakistan, you and Robin were batting after an early collapse and you guys
looked to have given up, you were batting very slowly, not trying for a
In that game we were chasing
290 and reeling at 40 for four, survival at that stage was very difficult.
They were bowling very well at that point, and we decided that instead
of getting all out, it might be better to try and bat out the full fifty
overs. We thought, if it came to a tie with England on points, then the
run rate factor would come into play and it wouldn't help our cause to
get all out then, without lasting the full distance. There seemed no point
in playing all your shots and falling short by some thirty odd runs, as
might have happened since we didn't have much batting left. So we concentrated
on survival, keeping an eye on the net run rate. Anyway, as it happened
we won the next three games, so all those equations didn't matter.
Media pressure is being
talked of increasingly, these days. How much does it affect you, both as
a player and as a person?
Not much, but subconsciously
it does. I am more careful about it these days, I know how to handle it
better. I don't get too excited or too worried about what the media says,
any more. And I've always had people advising me and writing good things
about me, and that kept me going when I hit that bad patch. It think subconsciously
it does make a hell of a lot of a difference.
You think the media is
playing its part? You know, Ranjit Fernando in an interview to Rediff said
that the sub-continent's media is not as supportive as the media in Australia
and South Africa is. Do you agree with that school of thought?
The media is like the public.
If you are doing well, they will place you up there with the immortals
but the moment you do badly, they will pull you down. That's the law of
life, I suppose. If the media rates you nine on a scale of ten, I think
you are actually a seven. In other words, when you are doing well, the
media tends to blow it up, inflate you a couple of nothces. And by the
same token, if the media rate you three on a scale of ten, I'd figure you
are actually a five.
I guess the media always
takes extreme views, never the middle path, probably because the middle
path doesn't sell newspapers.
Isn't that unfair? That
match were you scored your hundred against Pakistan and we still lost,
I remember the media praised your effort, and applauded the side for going
First up, yes, we had some
good fights against South Africa and Pakistan, but what is the point? We
lost. I don't think in those games, we deserved that much praise. No, I
am not saying you guys should have pulled us down -- but the bottomline
there was, we lost games we should have won.
Look, I am not saying the
media is over- or under-critical. The way I understand the media is that
it is about taking extreme views, and that is the simple economics of that
profession. In any field of life you have to be special, or you have to
be different, to be recognized. Anyway, it is something that doesn't affect
me any more. I am not saying it is right or it is wrong, it is just something
that exists, and has to be accepted. I think a public figure has to accept
the fact that he is going to be analyzed, criticised, and you can't start
worrying about it too much.
The format for the coming
World Cup differs in a lot of ways from what has existed till now. What
difference does this make in terms of strategy? What kind of thinking does
the team need to adopt?
In context of the format
for this tournament, I think it is going to be very important to win against
the top teams. Since you are carrying your points over, starting the tour
well is going to be as important as peaking at the right time. We will
need to perform well right through, and beat the top teams even in the
The national league in England
is in a mess, thanks to rain and snow and all the rest of it. Do you think
it is going to help the team to go there early, given the climatic conditions,
when chances are you guys will end up sitting in hotel rooms watching the
I don't think that sitting
in India in 45 degrees heat is going to be of any help, that's for sure.
I think it makes more sense to reach England and get acclimatized there,
I think it's the best thing that we are doing. Even if it is raining, we
can train in the gym there, do our running and keep fit. Even if we get
two, three days in a week playing time, it will still be better than batting
everyday in Madras in 45 degrees temperature. I think its one of the better
things to happen, you know, most of us have been there and we know what
the conditions are like. When we get there early we will be together as
a unit, and I think that is important too, spending time with each other
is more important than anything else.
Brijesh Patel being appointed
to manage the team -- what is your reaction to the move?
It's a very good move to
have made him administrative manager for the World Cup. He has played in
two World Cups and he has been with the Indian team for quite a long time.
He has a good cricketing brain, and he will be an asset for us in England.
Then again, knowing the kind of person he is, he will never poke his nose
in coaching matters.
Sledging is an issue coming
into sharp focus these days, there was a lot of it happening during the
India-Pakistan series, there is plenty of jawing during the West Indies-Australia
showdown in the Caribbean. Do you think the ICC is doing enough to keep
a check on it? Is the whole thing getting out of hand?
I don't think it is going
out of hand. I am a firm believer that the human element is a very important
aspect of the sport. In the end, we are all trying to do our best. And
during key stages in a match, the human emotion is going to show up. I
think the ICC has been very strict about it and they are doing a very good
job. But I think that the match referee should allow for a human element.
Suppose you are given out on a wrong decision, the referee should allow
you to show disappointment -- it is a natural human emotion, and it is
different from dissent. You can't supress human emotions, if you take the
human element out of the game then its going to be just a boring game,
and that will be very sad. A little bit of 'sledging' -- or maybe that
is the wrong word -- a little bit of shall we say gamesmanship should be
There was that famous
showdown in South Africa, Donald swearing at you, and getting away with
it, would you say that falls in the range of 'showing human emotion'?
I am not justifying what
he did. But what I feel is that he was not abusing me, he was just trying
to win the game for his country, and I can understand where that sort of
a feeling comes from. If I was trying to win a game for my country, then
I would also be trying as hard and even my behaviour might get out of hand.
And I would like people to understand that there is a human element involved
in that as well. I am not trying to prescribe what is right or wrong. I
am not the ICC referee.
But I do feel that sometimes
we tend to take the human element from the game. There are some incidents
that are very bad, and they are penalized. There are some others, which
are very bad, and don't get penalized; and some which are very minor and
get penalized. I think some leeway must be given. There is absolutely no
consistency in the decisions.
But how does one cope
with the sledging? Like, how did you keep your cool when Donald was doing
As a batsman I have realised
that you have to keep your cool no matter what. If I get after him, he
has six chances to take me out, and he can keep coming back, whereas if
I make one mistake then I am out, and I am sitting in the pavilion watching
him on television. So the key is to keep your mind on the job, to realise
that you have more to lose by losing your head. I have realised that when
I lose my cool or get aggressive then I tend to make more mistakes.
Everyone talks of India's
over-dependence on Sachin Tendulkar...
We depend on Sachin Tendulkar,
we don't depend too much on Sachin Tendulkar, there is a difference.
He is the best batsman in
the world, he would get into any side in the world today and in any side,
not just the Indian side, he would today be the most important member.
And every side depends on its most important member.
The West Indies depends
on Lara; the Aussies depend on Steve Waugh, these guys are the best players
in their squads, so the side depends on them. The top players in the side
often affect the results. And when you are among the best players in the
world, you influence a lot of results, that is why they are the best players.
Yes, we do depend a lot on Sachin. I have no shame in admitting that. He
is the best player in the world, and we are proud to have him on our side
and he is proud to be on our side.
Take the example of Michael
Jordan. The Chicago Bulls would have never won so many games without Jordan,
just like Jordan would have never won if he had not played with the Chicago
Bulls. The Bulls depend on Jordan and to an extent, Jordan depends on the
Bulls, that is how team games are, though it is a team game, teams are
built around individual players.
How seriously are you taking
I bowl regularly in the
nets. After I finish with my batting, I bowl in the nets. Hopefully, I'll
get to bowl once in a while at the top level, take a few wickets for my
You've been arguing a
case for Test stars to take more of a role in domestic cricket, could you
elaborate on that thought?
I think it is one of the
most important things. It helps raise the standards of the domestic game
and I think it is a good experience for the young guys to mix with the
senior guys. That's where the seniors can pass on their experience and
knowledge, which makes the younger guys improve and become better players.
I think that if the younger lot can regularly rub shoulders with the seniors,
they will compete well and realise their own potential. I benefited a lot
initially, playing with the senior guys like Kirmani. Then Srinath and
Anil Kumble came along and helped me a lot, too. This I think is why it
is important to for the national players to play domestic cricket.
From the inside, how do
you rate team morale just now?
The morale is pretty good.
I think the guys are disappointed since we haven't been winning enough,
but I think everyone is looking forward to the World Cup and hoping to
prove a point.
If you are never disappointed
you will never improve. The guys have been playing a lot of cricket, and
once we reach England we will focus again and think out our strategies.
Who are the best bowlers
that you have faced?
Quite a few. Curtly Ambrose,
Allan Donald, Wasim Akram, Saqlain Mushtaq and Muralitharan are the best
bowlers I have ever faced
How about that delivery
from Wasim Akram that got you out in the Test, the one that took out your
He showed his class in that
match. He showed that he is one of the finest in the business in world
cricket today. He sent down two, three balls that kept coming in -- reverse
swing was happening at the time. He set me up! I knew what he was trying
to do, but the fact was that the ball he bowled then, the one that left
me and clipped the stump on its way through, it was so good that even before
I knew what was happening, it was over, I was out. Not too many bowlers
have the ability to swing the ball so much.