Sadagoppan Ramesh's philosophy is simple and straight. As he says, the thought comes from words: walk, talk and think like a champion and you become one. Strength of mind has always been the Indian opener's strong point. His teammates would agree that nothing really flusters the batsman from Tamil Nadu.
Ramesh, though, is well aware that there are problems to solve and difficulties to conquer before a good reputation is built. The forthcoming three-Test series against South Africa is a huge challenge, a Test that can make or break reputations. The tour of Australia in 2000 was rather unfortunate for Rainesh, injured in the second innings of the second Test by a Brett Lee kicker that rammed his fnger, forcing him out of the final lest. His scores in that series were: two and 28 in Adelaide and four and 26 retd. hurt in Melbourne. The injury saw him miss the following series too, the two home Tests against Hansie Cronje's South Africa.
Ramesh's career thus far can be divided into two phases: Before Australia and after Australia. After his sensational debut against Wasim Akram's Pakistan at home in 1999, Ramesh knocked up two centuries and five of his eight fifties in seven Test matches came at an astounding average of over 50.
Excerpts from an interview:
After your debut against Pakistan and then your impressive performances against this strong bowling outfit there has been a slump. What do you think is due?
I'd probably say the injury in the series in Australia. It took me out of international cricket for a couple of months. The important thing in international cricket is that you've got to be constantly in touch with that kind of quality bowling. The gap between our domestic and international cricket is really wide. It took me a while to regain my touch. It's probably a phase that any international batsman goes through. Getting out after having done all the hard work is considered a crime on the part of international batsmen.
Why have you become a prey to this?
I'm unable to pinpoint the exact cause. It's probably that I'm too keen to yet to my half century. It's a real nice feeling to get a fifty in international cricket. Thereafter, I tend to get eager to reach the mark and that results in a bad shot. I'm working towards staying cool right through.
You are aware that you have been described as having a degree of looseness in your technique; a tendency to play away from your body and not get your foot to the pitch of the ball. Do you agree with this view and do you think you need to tighten up?
I would have agreed to the view about three or four months back. I have made adjustments in technique over the last lew months and I play away from my body a lot lesser. I think I am far more solid now. I wouldn't say I am moving my feet exemplarily. But I am playing a lot more closer to the body now. I've worked on my game.
Are you a natural left-hander as you bowl right arm? Sourav Ganguly was 'converted...
I've batted left-handed as long as I can remember. I am natural in that sense.
There are reports that Ganguly and Hahul Dravid are opting for lighter bats in South Africa. Are you thinking on the same lines or are you satisfied with the weight you have?
I'd also be using lighter bats. Better for an opener for the ball is going to skid through out there. One adjustment that I made in Sri Lanka is that I used bats with longer handle than what I usually do. I've organised for lighter bats. Normally I use bats between 11 and 11.20. I depend on timing. I need a well-balanced bat more than a light one.
What do you think is the strongest quality that has helped you come this far?
My mind. Technically I might not be on par with say Dravid. But in terms of strength of mind I think I am on par with any of the international batsmen. I've noticed that I'm at my best when I'm under pressure.
Are you working on minor adjustments in grip, stance, position of the head, initial movement?
All batsmen with more exposure and experience are inclined to do so. I have, as I told you earlier. On the Sri Lankan tour I gripped the bat a lot higher than what I did. Owing to this I was playing a lot closer to my body, and a lot straighter. Balls pitched on the middle stump which I used to hit to mid-wicket or square- leg, I was hitting to mid-on.
The best of batsmen have a couple of favourite strokes. Which are yours?
I rarely play straight drives ( laughs ), so when I play them I enjoy them tremendously. Of course, all my shots on the on-side, you know, come naturally to me.
You have a lot of freedom in your on-side play, the hall-mark of a quality left-hander. Can this sometimes be a weakness?
One has to be really selective about his shots. I'm confident of 'connecting' eight out of 10 on-side strokes on any given day off any fast bowler. The point is my productive strokes are the ones I play on the on- side. I can't afford to miss them.
How do you plan your innings? Of course, everything does not always go according to plan. Are you a proactive or a reactive batsman?
Nowadays, I wait for the bad delivery more than going after a good delivery. I am prepared to wait. I play by the merit of the ball these days.
You do like the ball to come on to the bat, as you like to play more on the rise. How do you adapt to low and slow pitches? T
True. I am really comfortable against someone like Gillespie. But not so comfortable against a slow medium pacer who has the ability to move the ball in and out. Now that I am playing a lot straighter. I wait for the ball and play a lot more late. I used to play to mid-wdcket and square- leg because I was early and didn't feel like waiting.
You also have a liking to use the pace of the ball...
This is because I played a lot of my initial cricket with a tennis ball. When a tennis ball is chucked at you at great pace over 16-18 yards, you don't have much time to move your feet. Probably this could be the reason why I am a hand-eye co-ordination player.
You have been to Australia, though the tour was unfortunate due to the injury. South Africa has similar conditions. Also, the South Africans are as hard and competitive as the Australians...
It's a great opportunity for me to prove myself. Being an opening batsman, the game starts even before the match commences. I'm not setting any targets for myself, but I won't be making mistakes either. They will have to earn mv wicket.
Not many people have remarked on this, but you are among the best close-in catchers in the country. Maybe the best. How much have you worked on this aspect of your game?
It is John Wright who spotted my abilities as a close-in catcher and has worked hard with me. He makes it a point that I take 50-60 catches after practise everyday. He has told me specifically that I should specialise in the gully position. It has helped my reflexes in batting too.
Shiv Sundar Das and you have opened together for India in 10 Test matches so far. It is obvi-ous that you both understand each other pretty well...
It's about a year now that we've been opening together for India and we sure have developed a good understanding. We have a chat before every Test match. We target at giving the side a great start. It's not about individual performances for us, for we know that a joint performance would automatically result in good individual performances. We are working towards a grand partnership.
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