'I've realised that opening's not for me'
In this second part of the interview with AYAZ MEMON, taken in England, Rahul Dravid talks about captaincy and what makes him the person he is.
You've been at times wicketkeeper, sometimes asked to open, in and out of the one-day team... Have you ever felt cheesed off at being used like this simply because nobody else is willing to put his hand up?
No I'm not. Sometimes people think I am being diplomatic when I say this, but, honestly, I have always loved being part of teams and doing everything. I've always loved team sports from the time I was a kid. I also played hockey in school. I did try some individual sports when I was a youngster, but I always kept getting drawn back to team sports.
When I kept in one-day cricket, at that time, we didn't have [Mahendra Singh] Dhoni, a batsman-wicketkeeper at that stage, and by my keeping we could play that extra bowler or batsman as the situation required. Obviously, after the 2003 World Cup I struggled with the keeping. I genuinely felt at that stage that we needed to invest in a batsman-wicketkeeper and Dhoni came a year later. I knew no one's ever going to ask me to keep again when Dhoni's around [laughs]!
Opening is something I've tried to do but I've realised that opening's not for me. I haven't had enough success with it. I know I've scored the odd hundred here and there. But, as someone who prides himself on contributing to the team, I feel, in the long term, I've not made enough of a contribution to justify my actually being in that position. In the short term, if someone gets injured, obviously you need to bail the team out...
Image: Rahul Dravid
'Captaincy was a draining period'
You chose to open when you were captain...
I tried, but it didn't seem to work out. My performances as an opener were never good enough for me to, and, obviously, once Veeru [Virender Sehwag] and Gauti [Gautam Gambhir] have come in, that debate has been settled. It's not that I'm against opening. It's just that I didn't perform well enough as an opener to justify my being there.
To take you back to 2007, a very eventful year in your life and in Indian cricket. You had a disastrous World Cup as captain, but you won in England after 21 years and yet gave up the captaincy....
I had captained for about two-and-a-half years. It was a draining period and I reached a point where I wasn't enjoying the job.
Most players would give up an arm and a leg to become captain...
Yeah, but I felt if I'm not enjoying it, and won't be able to do a good job, there's no point doing something just for the sake of it. Captaincy was something I loved and I treasured. But I wanted to do it for the right reasons and knowing that I'm fully committed and enjoying that job. I don't know, maybe it was our early knock-out in the World Cup... I thought it was the best time at that time to walk away and try and do what I enjoy, which was batting.
Image: Rahul Dravid
'Hundred against England in Mohali saved my career'
You've had this great surge of runs in the last year or so. Is this a second wind or has something changed?
I went through a difficult 2007-2008. If you compare these years to my heydays -- 2002-2006 -- my performances hadn't measured up. In the last couple of years, though, I've had some good series. But you're probably right. I set a benchmark for myself that was really high and people expect that every time. Fair enough. I've set those standards and I've got to live up to them.
But it wasn't that bad when I was not scoring heavily. I did score the odd century even at my worst phase. In my last 25 Tests I've got a lot of runs. When I got the century at Mohali against England in 2008, I was really going through a slump. That knock probably saved my career. After that I don't know the exact number, but I think I got six or seven 100s, which is not bad in 25 Tests (10 in his last 28)
But, obviously, in between I've had some tough periods, some low periods. And then at this age and this stage expectations are high because of the standards that I've set. Moreover, people don't look at a bad series as just loss of form, they look at it as 'the end'. And it's natural, that's life, that's sport and we deal with it all the time. Whenever I padded up for this series, I knew that if I had a tough one people are going to raise the question of age and energy and so on. But that's what you have to deal with in sport, that's part of the journey, part of life. I have no qualms about that. I just get on with what I have to do, I still enjoy it.
Image: Rahul Dravid
'We have got to give the youngsters experience'
There's a whole horde of youngsters coming along in Indian cricket, and, at least playing within the country, seem to be doing very well. Do you see this as a challenge or a threat?
Actually I'm excited. I really think there's a good group of youngsters coming through in the batting though the results of this series might speak otherwise. History will tell you that Indian cricket has produced good batsmen regularly that fears of what happens when Sachin [Tendulkar], [VVS] Laxman and myself leave are unfounded. There might be a period of time where we may struggle...
You've pre-empted my next question...
[Laughs]... but players like Tendulkar, Laxman, Sehwag, [Sourav] Ganguly or myself weren't made in a day. It takes time. You've got to give these guys experience. And probably to gain that experience, they're going to take a bit of time. But, I think, in terms of talent and ball-striking ability, we've got it all.
There're some great groups of young kids. I'm excited about those guys coming through. I don't see them as threats as such. I believe that if I do what I need to do, score runs and enjoy my game and keep my numbers on the board, I should be fine. I don't really look down to see who's coming behind me, to be honest. I'd rather look ahead than look behind and see what's happening.
One important thing surrendered in this series is India's number one Test status. I'm sure like most players you covet Test cricket over all others. So how significant was this ranking in your scheme of things? Did it hurt losing it?
I'm not a big rankings-rankings person. But I think being number one was a reflection of two or three years of very good, some fantastic cricket that we played. For me, winning a series is the really important thing. Winning away from home, winning in England, Australia, in South Africa, winning anywhere is as special as being number one. Winning a tough series even more so, and, obviously, if you do well, rankings sort of look after themselves.
Everyone will agree that at this point in time there are three or four teams which are bunched together there's no clear number one like the West Indies in the 1980s or Australia of the late 1990s and early 2000s. I think it was great that we held our ranking for as long as we did. Because we played well for two or three years we deserved to be there. Were we far ahead of the pack? Obviously, not. But no other side is. It's all bunched up and each series among the top teams is going to be hotly contested.
Image: Rahul Dravid
'What we need to do is manage our schedules'
Yet, there is widespread concern that the Indian cricket administration and players are confused between various formats and therefore not focused enough on Test cricket...
It's important that in the long run India realises that there are certain unique demands on the Indian team simply because we're the most sought-after to tour every part of the world. We have the IPL which is there for six weeks....
A contentious subject currently...
Well, it's there. What we need to do is manage our schedules. All competitions are good, but we need to manage how we're going to get the best people playing for India and for Test cricket. It's a lot of cricket. I think the advantage which England and Australia have in terms of managing their schedule is a set season. England never tours during their domestic season. Nor does Australia, or very rarely.
We in India don't have that. That's something we need to start pushing, we need to put aside some months in the year when we are not going to tour. If people want to come and play, they need to come and play on our terms. When I look at the way England and Australia manage their schedules, the fact that they have that home season makes it a lot easier for them. Since we don't have that, we have to keep playing.
That makes it difficult for our administrators to manage the season for us. With the amount of cricket people expect us to play, it's not easy to be consistent. We have to slowly start demanding and expecting our own domestic season. I think that's the way forward to ensure that we're competitive in all forms of the game.
I would love Indian cricket to prioritise Test cricket because I think that is the ultimate form of the game. Players still love playing it, there's no doubt about it. If we can maintain the high standard of performance we've had over the last few years I think our respect across the world will be great. Because people will recognise that we have the opportunities to focus on one-day and 20-20 cricket, but we are also ensuring that we don't neglect Test cricket.
Image: Rahul Dravid
'I'm introverted but quite a positive person'
Let's move on to some personals facets. Do you brood a lot? Perception is that Rahul Dravid is a very, very serious bloke...
I'm an introverted bloke, no doubt about it. I'm definitely not a brooder. I look at the positive side of things a lot. You can't survive 20 years of cricket and 15 years of international first class cricket without being positive about your game, being a positive person.
I may not show that by jumping up and down and by laughing all the time. But I'm actually quite a positive person. I think I deal quite well with failure and I tend to look ahead.
But you won't enter a dance show on television?
[Laughs] I won't do something like that and I admire the people who do. I think these guys must have great courage to do that. But I have a life outside cricket. I have other interests.
So what interests you?
I like reading. I like meeting people. I like going out, exploring different cultures and countries. I like good conversation. I've always been like this.
Are you interested in the history of the game?
I've read a fair bit of the history of the game. I enjoy history generally too. I wouldn't say I'm an expert, I wouldn't win a quiz, but I know my sport and other subjects. I enjoy knowledge and picking up things whether in cricket or some other sport. I find that relaxing. People ask me why I like to read and I say cricket is quite a stressful occupation and you need something to take your mind away from it. Some people watch movies or TV, for me it is reading. I don't read to suddenly become more intelligent! I read I enjoy it, that's all.
Image: Rahul Dravid
'Playing professional sport I'm opening myself to criticism'
How much does money or material well-being mean to you?
That's a deep question [laughs]. Obviously, money's given me a lot of comforts and is important in a way, but I know it's not the be all and end all of life. There's only so much money you can have. My achievements for the Indian team, my experiences, the job satisfaction I've got playing cricket means more to me than money could ever do. But I do recognise that money is important for you and your family to have a certain quality of life.
There is a criticism that there's so much money in Indian cricket that a lot of players are become soft and not achieving or actualising their potential. Do you think that's a threat?
I think people have to learn to cope with it. Fact is, this is a new development. It took me 10 years of playing international cricket to think that I would be comfortable in life. The earlier generation took maybe 20 years. Luckily for us, cricket is sport where there's more money coming in, so it's become easier for the next generation which follows us to get the kind of money which will make them feel comfortable at a younger age.
It is a new phenomenon because of the IPL and people have to learn to cope. To attribute failure (or success) to just money is to be simplistic. In every generation there are those who achieve their potential and those who fail, whether there was money or not. That's sport and that's life.
But I agree this is something youngsters need to be aware of. I think it's a good thing that people are making the kind of money they are today; it's great for them and their families. But there are challenges that come with it, both on the field and off the field. People who cope with it better will have longer and more successful careers, people who don't will fall by the wayside.
Do the opinions of your peer group, former players, matter to you? Do you get hurt or flattered easily?
I don't get hurt or flattered easily. I have that balance. But I wouldn't say that I've never got hurt or flattered. Over the years I've learnt to keep that balance. I do recognise by playing professional sport I'm opening myself to criticism and for people to comment and pass opinions. I'm making that choice and while I'm making that choice and how I deal with it is up to me. At some stages I find that some criticism does help me and sometimes people are way off the mark. As far as possible, I try not to react. If you don't want to deal with it, walk away and do something else.
Image: Rahul Dravid
'Sachin and I have huge amounts of respect for each other'
Do you have any unfulfilled ambitions at 38? Is there a Rahul Dravid grand vision that is unfulfilled?
The vision is to keep playing as long as I'm enjoying it and contributing. I've learnt from Sachin a lot in that. The way he's played in the last few years has been phenomenal. The fact that he's focused on the present and doesn't think too much about the future and what's going to happen, or he doesn't talk about or discuss it, is a way that works well. So I've tried to stick to that.
There's no internal friendly rivalry between the two of you... let's see who can score more runs in this series kind of stuff?
[Laughs] Not really. I think we have huge amounts of respect for each other. I've been privileged to have played in an era that has Tendulkar, Laxman, Ganguly and Sehwag. It's going to be regarded as some of the great batting line-ups of the game. To be part of that line-up for so long gives me great joy. There's a huge amount of respect for all these guys and what they've achieved and there are friendships. But I don't really go around trying to compete with or compare myself to these guys. Better we compete with the opposition [laughs].
People believe that when Dravid quits, he'll probably delink himself from cricket completely. But you are involved with the Karnataka Cricket Association?
I really don't know about the future, Ayaz. But it's a game I love. I can't see myself walking away completely from it. How much I'll be involved I don't know. I have a young family. I don't think being away from them for long periods of time is something I'm going to enjoy. My kids are at that age when people say I shouldn't miss being with them.
But I'm enjoying my involvement with the Karnataka Cricket Association too and passing on my ideas about the kind of tournaments we need to hold and the younger players. Whenever I can I speak to Anil (Kumble), (Javagal) Srinath and others. I do follow Karnataka at the domestic and junior level. I have so much that I want to give back to the game. It's vain of me to think that I can ever give back what this game has given me but I'd like to share my experiences. I have some views on the way young players can develop and grow and my platform with the KCA gives me that opportunity without being 'involved involved' -- if they want it.
I'm sure anywhere in the country they'll be happy to have whatever Rahul Dravid can give them. Thanks so much for speaking to me.
Image: Sachin Tendulkar with Rahul Dravid