'England has always been a special place for me'

G.VISWANATH

RAHUL DRAVID batted for nearly 32 hours and faced 230 overs and hit 85 fours to make 602 runs during the recent Test series against England. He bettered Sunil Gavaskar and Vijay Manjrekar's aggregates against England in England and in India. Dravid, known as 'The Wall' because of his tight defence, also became the first batsman to cross the 1000-run mark, in 11 Tests, in 2002.

He played a match-saving innings of 115 at Nottingham, a match-winning innings of 148 at Headingley and once again frustrated England with a 217 at The Oval. He is a quintessential Test cricketer.

-N. SRIDHARAN

"This tour of England, without doubt has been the best. I really enjoyed Australia's tour of India two years ago. That was special as well. It's been a great educative tour. I hope the younger ones in the team have learned a lot. It's been a long and hard tour and well fought out tour. We have had great success. I must say that. We won the one-day series and we drew the Test series. So we can take a lot of heart from our performances," says Dravid in this interview to The Sportstar.

Excerpts:

Question: England has always provided opportunities for cricketers to take their career forward, isn't it?

Answer: England has always been a special place for me. This is the first big tour for me to England with the Indian side. I have come here for a World Cup and a county season with Kent. I have generally done well here. So I have always looked forward to a tour of England with great expectations. I enjoy playing here, enjoy the conditions here and also the atmosphere. Before the tour, I thought it was a great opportunity for me. I took upon it as a challenge to establish myself.

You made your Test debut in England in 1996 and scored runs, too. Then, you made two half centuries. But this tour has turned out to be a fabulous one for you.

I must admit it has been probably one of my best tours in terms of sheer volume of runs I have made and also the way I have batted right through the tour. So I am really happy the way this tour has gone for me. It's very hard for me to assess and say how far I have moved ahead in my career.

You must be tremendously satisfied, scoring 602 runs in four Test matches.

You always get satisfaction scoring runs, whether you are playing your first Test match or you are playing your 100th Test match. To score runs is what we play for. That's why we put in the hard work. There is always pleasure in making runs for the team.

You have also played in the West Indies, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. How different is the challenge in England?

Every country has got its unique characteristics. That's the great challenge of playing international cricket and doing well abroad. You encounter different conditions in different countries, not only different conditions on the field, but different cultures and way of life. England is unique in its own way. It is obviously the home of cricket. It's got all its history and tradition. People know their cricket very well, which is fantastic.

Throughout this summer, the pitches have been good to be frank; they might have tended to seam a lot more, but then, they have tended to be slower as well.

One season with Kent, in 2000, was it an advantage?

I was not playing very well then. I had just had a tough tour of Australia and also a difficult home series against South Africa. I was passing through a lean period. Coming here to England taught me a lot as a person and taught me a lot as a cricketer as well. I learnt to pace myself and play six months of continuous cricket.

I think I am reaping the benefits of that experience and the knowledge I gained then playing for Kent.

The success in the West Indies, scoring 404 runs, must have also boosted your confidence.

We have played a lot of cricket this year and a lot more cricket is to be played as well. That way it is great, because when you are in good touch, you should be playing as much as possible. When you are getting runs and hitting the ball well, a batsman must be craving to get as many innings. So when I am experiencing the purple patch and there is a plenty of cricket to be played, it gives me more chances to score runs.

Coming to the Lord's Test, do you think the series result would have been different if India had drawn that Test? Only three hours were left on the fifth day.

We should have saved the Lord's Test, considering it was a good wicket. But there's no use crying over spilt milk. We took the positives out of that Test match, and came back at Nottingham and Headingley and in fact played very well after the Lord's debacle.

We showed that we are a side that has steel and bottle and willing to fight even when conditions don't suit us. There are a few areas we need to work if we really want to become a world-class side and be among the top. But I am really proud of the guys who showed a lot of fight after the Lord's Test.

Would you say Ajit Agarkar's century and the partnership between him and Laxman helped India a lot?

Exactly. But I think it was in the second innings of the Nottingham Test, we fought really well. People might have thought ... in the past and in similar situations we had caved in. That performance on the last day of the Nottingham Test not only sent a message across to England, but also to us that we have the ability to contest England on even terms. It was a great bit of cricket we played on the last day at Nottingham.

It must have been really exhausting, physically and mentally, fighting for nearly seven hours at Nottingham.

It's a tough tour, but also an enjoyable tour. It was exhausting, but it was exciting as well. I played a part in saving the game. That gave me a big boost. You knew you have made a significant contribution and delivered, when things were most difficult.

That Test was the beginning of a great run for you, Tendulkar and Ganguly. You made 306 runs thereafter.

I would not say that the Indian batting is only about three of us. Sehwag got a great hundred, Laxman has shown good fight, Agarkar got that brilliant hundred at Lord's, Sanjay Bangar played a fantastic knock at Headingley. Obviously, the three of us are the senior members of the side and we need to take the responsibility. I think on this tour we showed that we were willing to do that and we showed that if we three are in good touch, we could be a real force to reckon with.

Now it appears so simple. Ganguly winning the toss, electing to bat and then India making 628 and then bowling England out twice.

Probably it was a dream match. It was a big gamble, I must admit, it was a huge gamble. We showed that we were positive and willing to take the bull by its horns. We knew that the decision could have backfired, but we realised that if we wanted to win the series, do it there and then. And we showed the power of positive thinking and we showed that if we are positive in our belief, then good things can happen. It was a dream Test; I mean you could not have asked for a better Test match frankly.

We went out there, batted brilliantly, batted once, batted big and then bowled them out two times. If you were to write about an ideal Test match, this would be it. That Test match gave us a lot of confidence. It will show in the future. We will definitely be taking more risks and back ourselves when the conditions are difficult.

Someone like Sanjay Bangar has it in him to make it big at the international level.

His was a critical component at Headingley. Sanjay played really well. I have played six years of international cricket. I have the experience and I am probably expected to deliver these kind of innings. It's part of my responsibility to do these things.

But Sanjay has not had the experience I had. For him to come out and play that kind of innings was very creditable. He's got a great temperament; he is very relaxed in the crease. Nothing seems to faze him. I call him the 'Buddha'. When you are batting he come across like a Buddha. He is frighteningly unemotional. He has been great on this trip.

Bangar is another example that shows India's first class cricket is in order.

The experience of spending time in first class cricket definitely helps. There is no doubt about it. It can help certain people, some people probably don't need that much time in first class cricket. It was a great help for me when I played for four or five years before I played for India.

But I must say that our first class cricket still does not prepare people for international cricket. Unfortunately our first class cricket is not strong enough as Australia's and South Africa's. They are stronger teams.

The Headingley feeling, have you ever felt it before?

It has been my best overseas win. I had that feeling in Calcutta when we beat Australia and also in Chennai. But Headingley was one of my best wins in my career.

The three hundreds in a row... it was great effort.

Well, I cannot believe it. You don't go out there thinking you will score three hundreds in three innings. To be frank, you need to have a bit of luck; obviously you have got to have the patience, temperament and the ability to cash in on when things are going for you. It's been a great patch for me, probably a bit beyond my expectations.

You bested your previous efforts really... 115, 148 and then 217. Were you eyeing 300?

No, I was not actually. I was not looking at any target. I was just looking to bat as long as I can. I thought I will just keep batting without looking at numbers and figures.

You talked about purple patch, but it requires application of skills over a period of time. Ten and a half hours in the final Test and nearly 32 hours overall.

As somebody said you make your own luck in a lot of ways. I think it's a culmination of years of hard work and experience. I also owe it to the physical fitness, I have lost a few kgs in weight and worked hard on my physical fitness and worked on my game as well. So all have come together at one time. There is a lot more to learn and a long way to go. I hope this is not just a one-off happening and I can repeat this performance consistently.

One thousand runs in a calendar year. How significant is this milestone for you?

It's the first time I have scored one thousand runs in a year. From that point of view I get a special feeling. I hope I have a lot more years like this one.

Having said that you don't take anything for granted in cricket. You have to keep working hard, because you have to keep improving all the time. The other people around you are improving all the time. You cannot afford to stagnate. I am competing with some of the best cricketers in the world. I have got to stay focused and realise that if I want to maintain this sort of consistency, then I have got to work harder than them.

Nine out of your 13 Test centuries were scored abroad. That's another feature of your career.

Scoring runs abroad has always given me a lot of pleasure. Growing up in career one has always heard from former cricketers and everyone around you talking about how difficult it has been making runs abroad and that's precisely is the challenge for the batsman.

So sub-consciously, I was always very determined to make a mark on foreign soil. I am happy it's gone very well so far.

Your success also reminds everyone that the batting order should not be fiddled around or tinkered with?

I hate talking much about the batting order. Though my preferred position is No. 3 and I have had a lot of success at No. 3, sometimes I think, too much is made about it. Batting anywhere in the middle-order I have met with success. Everyone knows that I am most comfortable at No. 3, but having said that you have got to realise that you have got to be able to adapt according to the team's requirements.

Number 3 always leads the middle-order. You are a classic example. You, Tendulkar and Ganguly scored over 1000 runs together in the series.

I look upon No. 3 as a very crucial and pivotal role, especially in our side because many stroke-players follow me. I try to fulfil that role to the best of my ability. You can lose wickets early and you can come in when a partnership is set. I have really enjoyed the challenge.