The Rediff Interview

" The 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 bounce. 
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 player. 

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 cricketers. 
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 win... 
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 down fighting... 
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 league phase. 
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 rain? 
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 accommodated. 

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 his thing? 
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 your bowling? 
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 team. 

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 off stump? 
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. 


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