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March 6, 2000


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The Rediff Cricket Interview / Mohammad Azharuddin

'Everyone gets dropped from the side sometime or the other. That does not mean relationships get soured'

PART I: 'If I was aloof I wouldn't have been able to win so many games'

When was the first time you met Sachin Tendulkar?

Mohammad Azharuddin I met him during the nets in 1988, when we were playing New Zealand.

What kind of a relationship do you share with him?

I have never had problems with him. Our relationship has been fine. I wonder why all these things crop up in the newspapers about us. I don't reckon so. I have never had any problems with him at all.

How has your relationship with Ravi Shastri been?

I have never had any problems with anybody. I got my first two hundreds with him at the crease. At that time he was already there in the team and he helped me a lot. I got a lot of help from Jimmybhai (Mohinder Amarnath) as well.

Your relationship with Shastri soured during the World Cup, whenhe was dropped from the side after the first couple of games.

That should not be understood as the relationship has gone bad. Everyone gets dropped from the side sometime or the other. That does not mean relationships get soured. Ravi and I never had any problems.

Tell me about your experience of playing county cricket with Derbyshire.

It was good; I really enjoyed it. There was no pressure at all on me. It was a new experience for me to be playing every day. I used to drive down to the ground daily. I enjoyed shopping there as well. Whenever I was not playing I would go shopping. That was one of my favourite past times when I was in England.

I used to take long walks in England. The second time I went there, it helped me to lose a lot of weight. When I wasn't playing I used to spend the whole day walking. Going from shop to shop.

I started performing well after a month. The first month was very cold and windy, I struggled a lot. But the first time was really good because I got two thousand runs. Only two people had got it before me. There were a lot of expectations and I was happy that I didn't fail. If you've done well for your country against England in England, then the expectations increase. There was a fair amount of pressure.

What is your view on crowds rushing on to the field? You had been mobbed on a couple of occasions...

I think it is terrible. I think that when you are at the ground there should not be too many people because the ground is only meant for players. In India you see a lot of people just hanging around the ground doing nothing. It hampers the practise session; they stand behind the nets or on the ground. The people who don't matter should not be allowed on to the ground.

Even at the Wankhede during the first Test (against South Africa), there were lots of people asking for photographs and autographs. It should not be like that. When the players go on to the ground they have a job on hand and they have to practise and they should be left alone.

Do you set yourself immediate goals or long-term goals?

For me the Test in Bangalore is very important (this interview was conducted before the second Test). I really want to do well. I will strive hard to do well. I think the team has not done too well and, hopefully, if my performance will help the team to succeed. I will be the happiest person; I will be delighted.

What ails Indian fielding? Barring you and Jadeja we have not had too many outstanding fielders?

I think one needs to do a lot of fielding practise. You need to improve your running and reflexes. One must take a lot of catches and be in the game all the time.

Were you always a brilliant fielder or did you work towards it?

I was not so good. I was a good fielder in the gully in my college days. But in the outfield I was not such a good fielder. I learnt a lot when I came into the Indian side. I would never stand outside; I would always stay close -in. Then I realised the importance of standing out as well, because a lot of the senior players wanted to stand in the slips.

So then I realised that it is not my time to stand in the slips. It was my time to run. I realised that and it improved my game a lot.

How much emphasis did you lay on fielding when you were captain?

A lot! All the time. You have got to field well. If you don't bat well you can still make a difference by fielding well. There are times I have played games just because of my fielding. I was not doing well with the bat yet made it to the side, and then one good performance and you cement your place in the side.

Another reason why India doesn't field well is because of the grounds. Even Andrew Leipus (current trainer of the Indian team) said the grounds here are not conducive to diving. What is your take on that?

That is true to some extent, but not hundred per cent true. You have to stop the ball. The grounds are bad but you still have to learn to field well. I have also played on the same grounds. The grounds were worse during those times but no one gave much importance to fielding.

Is your best still to come?

I will try my best like I always have. So when I give my best you will see.

When Sachin was captain there was this phase when you were just living on a prayer. You were completely on the offensive. What was the thinking behind that?

I felt it was the need of the hour. I felt that I should change my style because I was getting stuck trying to be defensive, and I was getting out too often. Then when I got hit in Calcutta I went on the offensive and it helped me. I got five hundreds and 1,600 runs.

I think when you are playing at the international level, there is so much television exposure that people are looking at your weaknesses and strengths and you need to fox them at times. You have got to do something different.

Then why did you change that approach?

It will not work for a long time. You can't play like that all the time. You have to change accordingly. The moment you get out 4, 5 times the pressure is on you. You get it, score, then leave it. Then come back again. As an international cricketer you have to do it. You can't play the same game you have.

If the bowler thinks that if I bowl to him there he will not be able to do anything, then you have lost the battle there and there itself. You have to make sure that he bowls to your strengths.

Tell us about that partnership with Sachin in South Africa. Many regard it as the finest exhibition of batting ever witnessed.

When I went in to bat, I thought they bowled really well. After lunch when we went in to the bat I thought there were a lot of loose balls. So we started hitting out. There were four boundaries in the first over and three in the second -- that's seven boundaries in two overs. I just felt it was my day and then I didn't bother about anything.

Sachin at the other end was playing some great shots; there were a lot of boundaries coming in. It was a tremendous experience batting with Sachin that day.

What went wrong in the West Indies?

I was disappointed. I was playing well. Where the ball was bouncing I got a shooter; and where the ball was keeping low I got a lifter. I was batting well just that the runs weren't coming.

After you got the captaincy back in 1998, you responded by crushing the Aussies in the Test series. What kind of a strategy did you chalk out?

Nothing really. We just decided to play positive cricket and take advantage of the home factor. There were some brilliant innings from Sachin in that series which turned the series in our favour.

What was the key factor in winning that series?

Batting. Scoring a lot of runs and putting the pressure on the opposition. Once the batting clicks, then everything falls in place.

You seem to really fancy yourself every time Lancer Klusener comes on to bowl.

It's not like that. He has got me out as well on several occasions. There have been times I have converted good balls into boundaries.

Photographs: Jewella C Miranda

'If I want to do something for myself, I think I should be allowed to do that'