Abhishek Nayar: ‘Sulakshan never liked me’

Abhishek Nayar is often remembered by cricket fans as an all-rounder who was neither utilised with the ball or bat during his limited opportunities in the India colours. But ask any cricketer who has been a part of the Mumbai change room in the last decade and Nayar is easily the most popular and respected figure in the team.

Abhishek Nayar is well aware of his limitations and he says this is what gives him total freedom while playing.   -  Vivek Bendre

Abhishek Nayar is often remembered by cricket fans as an all-rounder who was neither utilised with the ball or bat during his limited opportunities in the India colours. But ask any cricketer who has been a part of the Mumbai change room in the last decade and Nayar is easily the most popular and respected figure in the team.

On the eve of Mumbai’s Ranji Trophy Group A clash against Railways at the picturesque Gangotri Glades Cricket Stadium in Mysuru, the most experienced Mumbai player in the current set-up opened up on his topsy-turvy ride over the last few seasons.

Question: How would rate your season so far?

Answer: So far I think it has been pretty good. Satisfying because performances have helped the team well. I think personally I am happy when my performances reflect in the team’s victory rather than just getting runs and the team not winning. So in that context I am quite happy.

Has it been a transformation of sorts for you this season?

Not really, I think before last season, previous two years I had a lull in my performances. Before that for the past eight years every year at least three games — if not single-handedly — I made major contributions in the season, in the Ranji Trophy particularly, so I think in the last eight-ten years I have played quite a few important knocks.

Obviously we ended up winning and someone made a bigger hundred but I remember I played at least three games in which I played very important knocks, according to me, or bowled the team to victory. Yes, when you get a hundred, it automatically stands out. That’s how it is. Even if we see how the man of the matches are given, normally it is nominated to who has not got the most important runs but to someone who has made the highest runs.

I think that’s when it actually stands out for everybody, but personally for me, initially I was always thinking of playing impact innings and making sure I play an innings in which your teammates remember what you have done.

I mean if people are around and they have watched those innings, then they are counted far more. Like if in my first or second innings, if the selectors were around, it would have made a bigger impact. But getting 45 not out eventually doesn’t count too much; doesn’t matter too much, but then the team wins and we get six points and that is what matters to me.

So basically for me, it’s about how impactful my innings could be for the team and in the bargain, like (Chandu) sir said, batting at No. 7 you sometimes don’t get the time or good partners to make a century. So you’ve got to be happy with whatever you can get. I think I am quite a content person in my life. I don’t crib a lot and I think I am pretty happy with what is happening.

Did the insecurity crop in the lull period?

Insecurity always creeps in. I think for me, the most amount of insecurity was when I led the side against Jharkhand and in the following game, I was dropped as skipper. So for me at that time of my career I had brilliant three seasons before that. I came into the season scoring 500 runs in India A and Challenger and I think I got wickets in the first three games I played, and things went down from then.

I think Sulu (then coach Sulakshan Kulkarni) wasn’t very happy with me, which is okay because he never liked me and I have never had a problem with that. So it automatically showed in the kind of decisions he would make when it came to me.

So that time I had kind of lost my confidence as to whether the team management had confidence in me because I had put in a lot of efforts in the past three years. But then the next year when Pravin sir came, I think I was batting pretty well, I was batting on 70 and I fractured my toe. Then I came back, I was again batting well and I fell on my head, so that was an up-and-down season for me.

So when Chandu sir came, he and Milind Rege both of them kind of told me that they believed in me. I think that mattered a lot to me. Adu (Aditya Tare) taking over (as captain) was a big deal because we had a good friendship even before, so all those things I think came by me after two years. I think getting right people at the right position kind of helped me personally to get to a position I am now.

How did you deal with the ‘nowhere to go’ feeling that often follows insecurity?

It’s the worst place to be in. Luckily I have been through it so much in my career that it kind of helps. The experience kind of helps. I am not doing well or getting dropped or being told that I am not good enough. I have heard it enough, so I think it doesn’t hurt me as much as it should. I know people are going to say that I am not a Rohit who is renowned for talent, so I am quite used to that and I understand that myself as well. So I believe in having good friends around and I have a lot of good friends in this team. Even the young and the oldest. I love hanging out with the 21-year-old Shreyas (Iyer) or a Shardul (Thakur) or Siddhesh (Lad). I love their company and we go out often.

So I think it doesn’t matter for me what age you are. I have made sure that we have a good close knit group. I remember when I was not doing well and I was dropped from captaincy after the game against Jharkhand, seven of us went for dinner — after losing the game — we had a good discussion. I remember those times because it matters to me. What I remember so clearly that we had something to talk about. Even at that time, I could see they believed in who I am. It didn’t matter that I had played for India A and scored loads of runs. I also didn’t feel like I was the guy who did so well last year. Those guys made me feel that I was good. So I think it is important to have good people around. And I have been very lucky with that.

What is your thought process while playing with the tail?

I just enjoy it. To be honest, when I was in school, I used to love batting with the tail. You get a free hand. I know people think it’s a lot of pressure but it’s actually no pressure. There’s no pressure because the opposition is kind of defending against you and trying to get the other person out, so you have all the liberty to go after them to play your shots. Yes, execution becomes a problem but I think I have always enjoyed that. If you see, Siddhesh Lad, he always does well in those situations, but I always felt that in those situations, I never felt pressure.

Obviously when you’re chasing a game, there’s a lot of pressure but when you are batting first there’s no pressure. You have to go out there, play your shots, there’s all the freedom and nobody is expecting much out of you. If you end up not executing it a couple of times then there’s some pressure. But I have got some great tailenders – the guys who have really stood up. It is always helpful when somebody comes and gets a fifty or sixty, it helps the batsmen batting at 6 and 7. I have been lucky and I always say sometimes luck favours you. It has been favourable this year.

Does your popularity in the dressing room help you bat freely?

I think what matters to everybody in this team, and not just me, that they believe in their ability. I think for any cricketer – young, old, doesn’t matter what your age is – when you go out to bat and know that everyone believes in you, it gives you a lot of confidence and that’s what we have tried to build in this team. Chandu sir, Omkar (Salvi, bowling coach), Adu everyone is working towards that. We understand that for players like Jay (Bista) or even Armaan (Jaffer), making sure they understand that just being a debutant you don’t have to prove yourself.

You already have proved a lot to us. We know how good they are but I think making them understand that they are that good and keep playing the way they play is of utmost importance. For me, it matters the most. You know that your teammates want you to do well; understand when you are not doing well and even when you are not doing well, respect you as much when you are not doing well, respect you as much when you are doing well, I think these things matter a lot to me and I try and make sure that everyone understands that.

How do you manage that?

I believe in communication. If I am angry or not happy with someone I make sure I go and talk to them one on one. I don’t like to create a scene in front of others. If I feel that there’s something needs to be told to Chandu sir or to anyone that the guys are uncomfortable with – if there’s some kind of communication gap, there needs to be someone to fill that void, so I do that. Adu has a lot of responsibilities so I try and help him.

I have said this before that a captain is not always going to make the right decisions. A lot of players are going to be unhappy, he may make wrong bowling changes; he may give someone more (overs), he may give someone less. I think it’s my responsibility as a senior member of the team and I have that trust to make them understand that a captain tries to do the right things. Adu has always had his heart in the right place. Point is to reiterate to all those guys that he is on our side. A lot of times when you are not doing well and suddenly the captain doesn’t believe in you, doesn’t give you the ball and you start feeling that he doesn’t care about you; but that is not the fact.

So at that point, someone in the team has to stand up and say he is doing it for your own good so that you don’t lose more confidence or he will get you at a time when it’s best for the team. What is important is that we are trying to build that camaraderie in the team; understand that the team comes first. If we can achieve that, which we have been, we’ll have more success.

How do you explain the fact that you have started more games despite the growing injury list?

The one thing I always wanted to do ever since I was young was to bowl like Brett Lee, something I could never do. So, I always wanted to bowl fast, fast, fast because at that time the Indian all rounder always bowled quick, so I tried my best. Not that I cant and I know what my limitations are, I bowl as much as I can. The one thing that offends me a lot is when someone talks about my bowling. They can talk about my batting and it doesn’t offend me at all but if someone talks about my bowling – because I have rated it so highly ever since I was young – that hurts me.

So, I try so hard even if I am broken, battered doesn’t matter. While bowling I will go all out and even if I am on one leg I will try and bowl. I am very egoistic about my bowling. I bowl as much as I can and I will never say no to my captain if he gives the ball in my hand even if I have bowled 20 overs.

Has the mentoring role resulted in a change of approach while batting at No. 7?

Not really, I have not changed anything. You know if I have to be completely honest with you, batting at seven is sometimes easier. Akhil (Herwadkar) is playing the new ball, you may face difficult conditions some times but I think I have played for so long that batting at number 7 they are telling me ‘khel le niche aur jo kar sakta hai kar (bat lower down and do whatever you can)’. It’s okay with me. I batted at number 5 in Lahli, that’s where the team required me.

I have batted at 3 for Mumbai and I have had a 700-run season in five games, so I have batted everywhere and for me I never had to change. I don’t bat in different manner every time. I am very limited, I bat in my limitations. So wherever you make me bat, I am going to bat in my limitations. It’s not going to be like I outdo myself anytime or I am going to say that today I batted with too much flair. Every time you look at me, I will be ugly, trying hard, playing certain shots and getting runs in those certain shots. That’s how it has always been. So I pretty much play within my limitations and try and do the best.

Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. I don’t emphasise on performances. What I emphasise on a lot is the process I put in, coming into the game, my preparation coming into the season. If I keep that top notch, I don’t worry about the result. I know I will do well if I make sure I have prepared well enough.

You put in that additional effort to make youngsters comfortable in the dressing room. Is that a tradition you are continuing or is it a learning from your early days?

It’s a bit of both. I never felt you see when a Rohit Sharma comes into the team, people know that there is something special. People will always have a different approach towards a Rohit Sharma or a Ajinkya Rahane. But when I came in people thought who got this guy! So to feel loved you have to do something, so when I performed people said ‘chal isme kuch to hai (he has got something)’. Till then you just have to say ‘mein hoon mein hoon, I am in the team’. I always got this feeling. I played with greats in the team, so when I came in there were players like ‘kaun hai yeh, aadam tidam khada rehta hai (who’s this with a weird stance)’.

There were lots of things that I didn’t have, so I had to prove to them that I have it. I see it in these guys and I don’t want anyone to feel that. Though I felt it and I came out of it, I am not sure how many people will. I know a lot of people who played with me, who would have done a lot better than what they did if they had an atmosphere like this. And I am 100 per cent sure because they are my close friends and I know what they have gone through. I don’t want that to happen to anyone else.

I know if someone comes in, they go out only because they didn’t do well. Not because the atmosphere was such that they could do things they want to do. That’s from personal experience, I have seen my friends around me, my teammates who have gone and played for other States now, is what they felt. So now, when these guys leave, they should feel that I want to be in that dressing room. Not “saala 23 mein zyada khush hoon; udhar apne friends hai (I am happier with the U-23 squad since I have friends there). I want them to think that tomorrow they say that ‘Nayar tu chxxxxx hai (you are a fool)’, then I should smile back and say ‘haan hoon’. The reasons for someone to go out should be sheer performance and nothing else.

You know your limitations. Will people be more successful if they actually realise it?

I think lot of people talk about how you need to improve but I think one should know how much you can improve. You know I see a lot of guys, medium pacers, who try and bowl fast because of the norm. And they come and lose out on even playing first-class cricket because they are trying so hard to become something they cannot be, or they are not gifted with, that they end up not doing well. I went through that with my bowling. So now I kind of realise that running after dreams is good but running after unrealistic dreams is foolish and I think knowing your limitations helps you do better. Because playing in your limitations also makes you push harder because you know that you have to be that much better.

If I try to become a Rohit Sharma today, I will fail 20 times and succeed once. But I try to be Abhishek Nayar then I will hopefully successful 50 per cent. So I think it is important that people understand who they are and not prove to someone who they are. We run after proving I am good I am good and want someone’s approval. You all think I am good, shouldn’t matter. What should matter is what your teammates think, what the people closest to you think.

Like I told Aarman, what’s important is what your father thinks about you and not what we think about you. He is the one, you walk back to. He has taken you through life. You need to understand whom you really want to impress and I think the most important person you need to impress is the guy in the mirror. If you are going to impress someone else, you will struggle. If you know who you are, what your identity is, whenever it is, it is never too late. Be content with that and just push in that capacity. And that’s what is more important.