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|April 26, 1999||
The Rediff Interview / Rahul Dravid
'The pitches at home are not to my liking'
Trouble, though, is that his telephone is almost invariably on the answering machine. Several tries later, I was on the verge of leaving my nth message: "Rahul I am in Bangalore, please call me at..." when his voice cut in: "Yeah, hi, how about we meet at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in about half an hour?"
He also checked to ensure that I was carrying my press card with me, security at the stadium being pretty strict. Which was how I found myself at the stadium a half hour later, wending my way towards the Karnataka team's dressing room where I saw Rahul Dravid, attired casually in jeans and a T-shirt, sitting next to mentor Keki Tarapore, intent on their conversation.
After a while, Tarapore left, and Dravid settled down for an extended conversation with Faisal Shariff. Excerpts:
Between 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?
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?
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...
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.
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