Playing at home can be tough. In a way, it can be easy too. To tell you the truth, I loved playing at home for the simple reason that I was doing something that I was used to. In the past, I had heard stories of how our players could not give their best because they were not aware of the playing conditions. It has changed now. There is not much to differentiate between the playing conditions barring the weather, which, in any case, is beyond your control whether you are playing at home or overseas.
I grew up playing in conditions that were hostile. Even club matches set up fierce competitions and later the first class matches were contested in a most combative manner. I would wonder what good the home conditions could do to a team, but later came to realise that the advantages are more when you play in familiar environs. For example, the pitches that we prepare when playing at home, whether in domestic or international fixtures, can give you an upper hand over the opposition even before the first ball is bowled. Who would like to let go this advantage?
The home support from the fans can put you in a comfort zone that you are used to. When you play a good shot or take a wicket and no one responds from the galleries, it tends to pull you down. Suddenly you realise that your good work is not being appreciated and that sort of puts you in a position of discomfort. In contrast, the loud cheers in response to every good act from you can boost the confidence manifold. Of course, home support some times means great expectations from the supporters. It is fine as long as it helps you raise the game to the next level.
The pressures of playing at home can be both good and bad. Some players don’t like to play in front of the home crowd because they are unable to handle the jeering. I am never affected by what the crowd says in negative terms. They obviously expect us to do well always. The same people applaud when we do well. So one has to accept the plus and minus points that come with playing at home.
In the 2011 ICC World Cup, the expectations from our fans were high. We were a strong team with a fabulous batting line-up. The team had set a process and we were in a zone where we would actually shut ourselves and just concentrate on what lies in front. You can do that — shut yourself from the audience. It means you have to concentrate hard. And we managed to do that match after match.
Each good performance brought good result and carried us to the knockout stage where Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina capitalised on the support of the fans at the Sardar Patel Stadium, Motera (Ahmedabad), to guide India to victory against Australia in the quarterfinals. When we travelled to Mohali for the semi-final against Pakistan, the pressure on us was enormous. Yes, we prayed for the crowd to support us and realised what a huge boost it is to play in front of the home crowd. The pressure suddenly vanished once the players realised they had tremendous backing from the crowd.
Personally, I always treated the pressure from the crowd as a good wish from them. I value the emotions of our fans and it has helped me play a bigger role on bigger stages. Pressure helps us to do something special. That is how we won the 2011 World Cup, and I am sure the Indian team would do the same at the ICC World Twenty20 now. We are the best team.
(As told to Vijay Lokapally)
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