Combining talent and hard work

RAHUL DRAVID was the most sought-after man in Adelaide, after having laid Australia low with a masterly performance with the bat.

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

RAHUL DRAVID was the most sought-after man in Adelaide, after having laid Australia low with a masterly performance with the bat. He really let his bat do the talking. An intense cricketer, he played a major role in deciding the course of the match. That it ended in a win for India made him all the more happy. In this interview to The Sportstar at Hobart, Dravid gives an insight into his passion for batting and love for the game.

Excerpts:

Question: How will you reflect on this achievement — individual and team's?

Answer: It was important from the team's point of view. All the work that you put in all these years you feel it's going in the right direction. It's nice to get some positive results for the efforts that you've put in as a team and as an individual.

What makes results positive? Is it victories or the progress in your field?

I think the way we played. Obviously winning helps. It's important that you win. I think it's the way we played and competed.

What were the reasons?

Lots of them. A combination of things. We've had good team ethics, a good team culture over the last few years. Also I think we're better prepared than the teams that had come to this part of the world before.

Rahul Dravid reacts after hitting the winning run in the Adelaide Test. -- Pic. AP-

Does it help that the nucleus of the team has remained the same over the last few years?

It certainly does. The nucleus is the same that came here in 1999. Sachin (Tendulkar), Sourav (Ganguly), (V. V. S) Laxman and myself were in Australia four years ago. And now we are back four years later with that much more experience. It's definitely a good thing. We are better players than what we were four years ago. That definitely helps. It helps to have the same guys around for some time.

Do you think the motivation for this success has its foundation in that epic victory at Kolkata?

That was a long time ago. Much has happened since that win. I won't say that it was the turning point. I would still say that it was an important happening for the team, but not the thing. Those were early days for us as we tried to develop into a unit. But that series helped the unit to stay together for a while. From then on we have built as a team. So I would say it was an important thing to beat Australia.

Dravid with Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly. The nucleus of the Indian team has remained the same for the last few years and it is now beginning to bear fruit. -- Pic. V. V. KRISHNAN-

What are the strong areas of Indian cricket?

The talent. We have some amazing talent available. And then the love for the game, the enthusiasm for the game in India is incredible. We're lucky to have such a following because not many countries have that. It is a huge privilege that cricket is the number one sport in India. When you travel to other countries and see how other sports take precedence over cricket, you realise how privileged we are in India. We certainly have that advantage. It is a big plus and we need to build on that. But just being a popular sport doesn't help unless you make it work for you.

How do you manage to stay so intense?

Even as a young boy I loved to compete. I always had that intensity. Even when I played tennis ball cricket on the street with my friends and my younger brother I wanted to win. I always played seriously. I couldn't allow anyone to make a joke of it. Some of this intensity has probably come naturally, but international cricket toughens you up and makes you realise the importance and value of it. It makes you aware that you have to perform consistently and drives you to have that focus to do well at this level. Everyone else you are playing against has that focus and if you don't have that focus then you get stagnated at some level.

At what point did you discover the confidence to achieve your goals?

I can't say there was a particular moment. You set small goals on the way. You begin by playing junior cricket, and then state cricket, and then you play for your country. You move on from there. No particular moment or a phase. You learn along the way. Even now I'm learning, setting my goals, setting my targets. That's very important.

When did you learn to value your wicket?

I've always enjoyed batting. I just love batting, and love playing cricket. You can get enjoyment only if you compete in the middle. You can't learn or enjoy by sitting in the dressing room or sitting out. When you get the opportunity to be there in the middle you must try and make the most of it, try and spend as much time in the middle. You can't score runs sitting in the dressing room. You have to be part of the action by being in the middle. You must know how to make your stay in the middle count.

Dravid with Kapil Dev. The ace Karnataka batsman loves talking to former greats and eliciting their views. -- Pic. N. SRIDHARAN-

How much do you analyse your batting?

A fair bit. I'm a bit more relaxed and I trust myself a lot more now than when I started my career. I wouldn't say I'm over analytical, but I definitely do think about my game and keep trying to learn and improve. Not only about my cricket but about myself as well, how I react to a situation and how I can get better in handling situations.

Why are you so obsessed with technique?

I think people have a wrong notion that I'm obsessed with technique. I am not. I just try to get better with what I have. I look at certain areas of improvement. Look at the different shots that I play. How I can improve my strokemaking. How I can improve little, little things. I understand that everyone is different and cricket is not an exact science. You can play differently and be successful. The history of the game shows that you can have a different technique, play differently and still do well. There's a place for everyone. At the end of the day, it boils down to how you make the best of what you have and how you control your mind. I don't worry about my technique. I just try to figure out what my limitations and goals are.

You make it a point to talk to former cricketers. How much does it help?

I like talking to people who have played the game before. People who have achieved a lot of success in the game. Achieved success in life. It's not just about their game. You learn a lot more from them. Not just learning about technique. You get to know what sort of mind they had, how they thought. It gives an insight into what makes a great player or a great champion. Sometimes you can learn from that. Regardless of what you gain, it's always nice to know the success stories of other people. How they achieved greatness. Not just in cricket but in any walk of life.

How much does the history of the game interest you?

A lot, honestly. It interests me a lot. I know a fair bit about the history of the game. I follow it with great interest. I've read quite a few books about it. History is important. You must know where you are coming from if you want to know where you are going.

What does batting mean to you?

Batting means enjoyment. I just love batting. I enjoy batting. I can't use another word to describe it. It's fun. Even when you don't do well, you still learn.

How will you describe good batsmanship?

Scoring runs, I think. At the end of the day, batting is not a science, it's an art. Different people play differently. What matters is the result and how you go about doing it. What important knocks you play. What is your role in the side. Do you fulfil your roles? Little things like that. Batting is about scoring runs and making a difference to your team.

Can you give us an insight into your preparation for a game?

I think it's important to prepare for a game. That's something I try to get better at. I try and prepare well for a game. If you're a good professional, a good cricketer, you need to prepare well for a match. Every match is a new match and you can't bask in the glory of the previous one where you may have done well. People tend to relax when they get runs and don't prepare well. You need to guard against such complacency. Such a preparation helps when you hit a bad patch. You have to be consistent about your preparation, the right attitude, the right mental state. Sometimes you succeed and sometimes you fail. As long as you know you have tried your best, you can't be disappointed.

Do you put yourself in a zone from the time you pad up?

I try not to get tense in the dressing room when waiting for my turn. I usually chat with the guy next to me. I do watch the action in the middle, like the bowling changes, the field placements. Look at what the bowlers may be trying. I observe what goes on in the middle, but don't concentrate too hard. That is left when I get to the middle. I try and stay relaxed. Being tense doesn't help. Actually, it can be tough mentally when you are batting, so why spend that energy in the dressing room when you might need it in the middle.

Do you respect a good bowler?

Of course. You do respect people who have achieved good things in any walk of life. When you are in the middle, you play the ball, and not the bowler. Even a good bowler can give you a bad ball or a good batsman can play a bad shot. You do admire good opponents. Don't play the reputation.

You always tend to play down your achievements. Why is that?

Each one is different with strengths and weaknesses. It's possible for you to do things with different techniques. I don't believe in copying anyone. I tell all youngsters not to copy anyone. Be yourself. When you reach this level it becomes obvious that you have the basic talent. It is always a question of getting to know yourself better and your game better, getting to know your mind better.

What is the secret of your success overseas?

I enjoy the challenge of playing abroad. As I grew up, people told me that doing well abroad was important. I took that as a challenge. I wanted to be known as someone who does well overseas. I think that challenge inspired me. People respect you when you do well overseas. To achieve that, you have to be honest with yourself. The analysis has to be better. Work on the areas to strengthen your mind. Prepare to play fast bowling, high quality fast bowling. Find ways to face that. When the challenges are different you have to practise differently.

How much does education help in one becoming a good cricketer?

To be honest, education does not help you to play cricket any better. No doubt education is important. I personally feel it's important to pursue cricket and education. Unfortunately, in India cricket is not a professional sport and it won't be advisable if a kid just wants to make it big as a cricketer. There's a lot of competition in India and to achieve success you need luck, too. If things don't fall in place you need a back up to keep you going. Education helps you then.

What is the other side of your cricket grooming? How much of it was talent and how much hard work with your family's support?

When you reflect on your success as a cricketer, you realise that you need to have a lot of luck, need to have talent, the support of your parents, the right guidance, the right facilities. You realise things have fallen in place for you to achieve your goals. But you have to work hard. When you have the talent you need to ensure you don't waste it. If you have a gift then try and make the most of it because you have been fortunate to have been given that gift.

Was it talent or hard work that saw you through?

I think a combination of both. You need to have talent. You need to work hard on that. You need to have the drive and desire. Talent without hard work does not carry you far. I combined both.

What would make you happy as a batsman?

I don't have any goals really. Maybe winning a series overseas would make me happy. I don't have statistical goals. At the end of my career, I'll be happy to be recognised as someone who tried his best. That will be good enough, can't ask for more than that.