The Sportsworld Interview

(Thanks to Anupama Srinivasan for typing this out)

Till about nine or ten years back, cricket was not really a sport that parents encouraged their sons to pursue. How did you start off and did your family encourage you or discourage you?
My parents have been very encouraging and supporting of my cricket. They never forced me to play cricket or forced me to do any particular thing. They saw that I had an interest in cricket and they never discouraged me. Nor did they put any additional pressure on me that I must do this or do that. They just let me develop as I went along. And I always loved playing cricket and I just kept playing it and was lucky enough to make a career out of it.
I started off while I was studying in St. Joseph's Boys High School. We had a good junior team, which won most of the tournaments, and I began playing for them. There were regular practices in school and that's where I started enjoying the game. From there, I got into the State Under-15 side and then got into the system at the K.S.C.A. I played a lot of junior level cricket before graduating to the Ranji Trophy level, etc. I used to play a little bit of hockey and football in school, just to be with my friends, and just because it was a season, but cricket was always my first love and I always wanted to be a cricketer.

Tell us something about your formative years - cricket in school, college, etc. and who was the major influence?
As I said, I got my initial encouragement at the St.Joseph's Boys High School. Mr.Keki Tarapore was my coach in my formative years. He was the man who taught me the basics and guided me. That was a very big benefit in the early years. Then I joined St.Joseph's College of Commerce, which had a rich sporting tradition. That's how I gradually got into the system at K.S.C.A.

Cricketers these days get lucrative jobs even when they are in the midst of their careers. Where are you employed and what does your duties entail?
I'm deputy general manager in the marketing division of India Cements Limited. Actually at the moment with so much of cricket around, I haven't really been able to do much of marketing for the company. But at the moment, mainly my job is to play for the company, which has a good, strong cricket team in Chennai. I play a lot of league and outstation tournaments for them, and try and promote the company's name wherever I can. In fact, India Cements have been great employers to me, providing a lot of encouragement. They are very good to me.

Having made a name in cricket, you are marketing a company's name too.
Yeah, I think that's what tends to happen. If I do well, a lot of credit must, and deservedly so, also goes to the company as well.

Have you appeared in any ads of India Cements?
No, not yet (laughs).

Like international tennis, cricket also seems to be dedicated by TV channels. They dictate the venues, teams, and even the times of tournaments. Is there too much of commercialisation?
Not really. I think you have to strike a balance between commercialisation and the game. In the end you need a bit of commercialisation because to run a sport like cricket, and to make it as professional as possible, you need money coming in. You need television and you need sponsors. I mean, you've got to strike the right balance. I agree that the game should not be played for television alone. But I think you've got to keep the interests of that media in mind. Because in the end, that helps promote the game and brings in more money which helps bring in more cricketers, and helps in the development of youth programmes.

Cricketers in India these days are big role models. Even though you are one of the most easily recognisable faces in the Indian team, you do not do too many commercials. Is this out of choice?
(Laughs). I do quite a few. People complain that I've been doing a lot of commercials.  But I just do what I've been offered. I'm a little choosy about what I do and what I don't. I think at the moment I've been able to strike a right balance, not spending too much time on commercials. It's just that I spend a few days in a year for these commercials. I enjoy doing that, as it not only helps me financially, but also in my personal development.

You are a role model for many aspiring cricketers. A lot of young guys even go through the practice regimen that you endorse in the Pepsi ad. Do you think that the cricketers should go out of their way to be ideal role models?
Yeah, I think as cricketers and public figures we have a responsibility to be role models. Since the media glare is on us and we know that a lot of children are looking up to us, and so we have a responsibility. That doesn't mean we've got to change as a person.
I think we should try and be what we are naturally. I think people tend to accept if we are our own self, instead of trying to act and be someone else. That's the best role model one can be to anyone. But having said that, we cannot be blamed for everything that goes wrong. I feel the parents are the best role models for the kids today. Nobody can take their place.

Unlike the previous decade, cricketers in India now are an enormously wealthy lot. A lot of the public view cricketers as having a get-rich-quick mantra. These days even if an Indian cricketer has a short career, he makes much more money than his former contemporaries. Does this too-much-money-too-soon phenomenon affect the competitiveness of the players?
I don't think so. I agree there's more money in the sport than when the earlier generation was playing the game. But that's true of everything in life. I`m sure that the earlier generation had more money than their previous generation. In mean, it's just a cycle. I'm sure that the future generations that play cricket after us will have much more money than us. All of us cricketers realise that we can only make money and we can only succeed in the sport if we do well all the time. And to do well, we've to put in that much amount of hard work and we've to be professionals.
All of us welcome the fact that there is more money in the sport today, which is a very good sign. Because most of us have short careers. A career in cricket, or any sport is very short. I think most cricketers sacrifice their lives playing the game. Once we finish playing cricket, we wouldn't have learnt any other skills to really survive in the outside world. Considering this short career stuff, it's important that there should be money in sport, and I don't think that our competitiveness ever gets affected. In face, I think in a way it might even enhance our competitiveness.

Does money inspire you to perform better?
I don't think money inspires you to perform better. But money helps. I'm sure if there was no money in sport, then people would divert their attention to something else to make two ends meet. But since there is lot of money, most of the guys can focus full attention on cricket.

A couple of years back the Banglore brigade was regarded as the new saviors of Indian cricket. They supposedly took over from the Mumbai stranglehold on Indian cricket. Now that has changed. What are the reasons?
This question of Banglore brigade or Mumbai domination does tend to upset a lot of us cricketers. I don't think none of us while playing for India like to be referred to as the Banglore brigade. Because when we play for India, we play as Indians. It's like even though we may come from a particular place, we are representing India at that particular point of time.
It's just happened as coincidence and has nothing to do with any sort of domination or any pride in the fact. It's nice that we're all playing together. But I personally do get upset when people try and make city-dominated or state-dominated remarks. Because we never think that way. We try and win the Ranji trophy and beat any other state. When we are playing for India, I don't need to compete with Mumbai. I'm competing with whatever, the West Indies or South Africa. I think it's a wrong notion that people have that we tend to group together or that we stay together.

Do you think that the Indian cricket fans expect too much from you? Or do you get bogged down by the expectations of the selectors, your captain and the fans?
Expectations are going to be part of our career, and we've got to face it all the time. The most important thing I've learnt over the years is that you've got to live up to your own expectations and standards, that you set for yourself. You cannot match anyone else's expectations and standards.
You've got to have certain goals and achievements in mind, and work hard towards improving yourself to reach them. If you follow somebody else's expectations you might be setting a standard, either too high or too low. I'm sure a person individually knows what standards he must set and try and achieve them, and keep improving his standards. That's the rule I follow and so it doesn't put any additional pressure on me.

Like Srinath, Kumble, Prasad and Joshi, all of whom are from Banglore, you also stay away from controversies and all of you do not court the media. Is this self-restraint or just a part of the South Indian psyche?
I don't think this only applies to the four of us from Banglore. If you have observed, most Indian cricketers avoid controversies and are pretty well behaved both on and off the field. I think the image of Indian cricket is pretty clean thanks to players of all the states. Because we're contracted, there are a lot of media restrictions. We're not supposed to talk to the media when we are on tour, or when we're playing cricket. Because of this we tend not to really mix too much with the media.

Your hobbies?
I like reading and listening to music and going out with friends. I'm quite a voracious reader and lay my hand on all kinds of books/magazines. Normally at any particular point of time I always have a book or a magazine in hand and I just find that relaxes me more than watching television. As far as listening to music is concerned, I've nothing in particular. I listen to slow English rock like Sting or Phil Collins and Chris de Burgh.

Do you miss staying away from home for long periods of time, now that the schedules are so crowded?
Cricket is a way of life, and now I've got so used to being away from home for long periods of time and not being in Banglore much. I've got used to this sort of lifestyle. I mean, you do tend to miss your family and home sometimes. But you've got to accept the fact that if you want to play cricket at the international level or at the highest level, which I want to, then you've got to make a few sacrifices. You cannot have everything your way. These are sacrifices I'm willing to make to achieve success at the highest level.

Even though you still have quite a few years of cricket left in you, have you contemplated on life after cricket?
I've not really put my mind to it as I still think I have a few years of cricket ahead of me and want to concentrate totally on it. Hopefully after I finish my cricket, I might still have the job, or maybe I will do something cricket-related. But you never know what the future holds for you.

Your cool temperament is regarded as ideal captaincy material. Have you ever thought about it?
I've never aspired to become a captain of any particular team. I've other goals and ambitions. I've other goals and ambitions. Becoming a captain has never been my ambition. I mean, if it comes along then that's great. But I really don't think so. At the moment, you know Azhar is doing such a fantastic job. And then we've people like Ajay, Sachin and Anil along the line. And Saurav as well. So captaincy is a long way and it's not at all important to me.

What exactly is your role in the Save Tiger project for which you advertise?
We only lend our names for this project and are not too involved in it. We’ve done that video promotion wherein we just try to make people aware that the forests need to be conserved and the habitat protected. I love wild life and I love going into the forests. It's like a hobby which we are trying to help do something about.

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