`I don't judge people just by the numbers'

Rahul Dravid is a man of many parts: a member at the top table of the batting greats; a captain who has a sense of the team he wants; a father who walks his son in a pram with great care. At a stage of life where he is comfortable with the parts coalescing, Dravid, spoke to S. RAM MAHESH after winning a historic series in the West Indies.

He has quite clearly just woken up. His eye-lids are heavy, his voice thick with sleep. "Had an early morning, we realised we didn't have a photograph of the Test team," he says. "It's not easy getting up for it, but 10 years later we will treasure it. Especially after this." This happens to be India's first Test series win in the Caribbean since 1971, when Ajit Wadekar's men conquered Port-of-Spain.

Rahul Dravid's is a fascinating mind; that, however, has been said to death. What goes on inside? What lubricates those giant mental cogs? What makes Greg Chappell say the fastest man to 9000 Test runs, and only the sixth past that mark is one of the best "forget India, anywhere, anytime"? How's captaincy coming along?

After a 40-minute conversation, I'm not sure I know. The 33-year-old has let on a little: how his gut works for instance. There is a lot of insight; how can there not be with a man of such perspicacity! Yet, I come away feeling there's more — more I am not sure he can cognitively access.

Question: Four Test series into leadership, do you now get a sense of the captain you want to be?

Answer: Well, I knew I was going to get asked this at some stage — I've always had a sense of the kind of captain I want to be, and a sense of what I want my team to be. I still think I am learning and getting a bit more comfortable with it. But, I think it takes a bit of time. Captaincy is something you keep learning, I guess, like batting as well. The more you do it, sometimes it helps, sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes certain experiences may have a negative influence on you. All in all I am getting a better feel of the job.

There's a perception that the captain and the coach are getting the team they want, and that it is a bad thing. Your thoughts.

For a long time I kept hearing the argument that a captain and a coach should get what they want! Maybe an impression gets created that we get what we want. I'm here to tell you that that's not always the case. Sometimes what I might want and what Greg Chappell might want may not be the same thing, so it's not that me and Greg agree on every single issue. The selectors have their point of view as well. We respect the selectors' view on domestic cricket because personally I don't see a lot of them in domestic cricket. The selectors understand that I see the team, and that I understand the group — I interact a lot more with the group than they do. If there is a judgement that has to be made within the group, then my opinion is taken quite seriously and so is Greg's. But to say we get everything we want is a misconception because there is a healthy atmosphere where we can agree to disagree. When there are seven people there are going to be differences of opinion, the important thing is to get a consensus and move ahead. Probably the fact that no one goes around making a big deal of it is why there is the impression that we get what we want.

You've had to make tough calls with regards to team composition. What has it taken out of you to make these calls?

It's tough. The selectors make a call with regards to the squad, and when it comes down to the playing eleven it's my call. There is obviously Greg (Chappell) and Viru (Sehwag) sitting with me in the team management meeting, but finally who plays and who doesn't play — the final call is always mine. And it's not easy to keep people outside the playing eleven, and you know they are going to get upset about it. In some ways I don't mind people being too disappointed because you have got to be disappointed when you are not in the eleven, you should be keen and eager to play. Obviously as long as you don't let disappointment show in terms of the way you interact with the other team members. That's how good teams are judged — those not playing learn to cope with the disappointments, and learn to help out. In that sense I've been very lucky with the group I have. They have always given the side the kind of support we need. I base my decision on what I see in terms of the wicket and what's the kind of combination I'm comfortable with — what combination will give me the best chance to win. We travel with the group, we see them in the nets, we spend a lot of time together, we see their state of mind, not too many see the group as closely as we do, so we get a feel of what their form is. I've always believed you pick people on present form and present fitness. Sometimes people will disagree, and I accept that. I am not the last word on cricket, so people have every right to have a different opinion. The teams are picked entirely on performances — there are no other factors involved. Anyone who suggests other factors come into it is pretty unfair and is upsetting because at the end of the day I take the call.

It calls for a lot of man-management, doesn't it?

It does — the toughest part of captainship is telling people that they are not playing. Especially dealing with young players, senior players, you've got to deal with them differently. You've got to tell them differently. Some of them know they might not get to play, they come as understudies. I went as an understudy in 1996 and I thought I wouldn't even play because I was an understudy to Sidhu, Manjrekar and the other batsmen. I guess a lot of them know they are understudies and we deal with them differently. Some of them expect to play regularly and you can't play them, and you've got to handle that. As long as the guys understand you are being fair and doing what's the best for the team, and if they see that consistency over a period of time in terms of you picking people based on performances...

Are you comfortable with that aspect of it — telling people?

That's another area where you keep learning and keep improving. Again experience helps — every tour you make and every time you talk to people you learn. Sometimes you make mistakes. It's part of captaincy — you've got to learn so you get better at everything, whether it's managing time or breaking the news to people or setting your fields.

Speaking of managing time, how do you do it?

Someways I feel being away on tour is easier. Not that much of media pressure as when back home. It's good for me to be able to switch off as well when you are playing intense cricket. It's good to have that switch-off time or down-time and managing that is important. On this tour I've had Vijeeta and Samit with me so that's been kind of an automatic switch-off in that sense when I come back to the room. The support group has been brilliant — the coaching staff — they play a critical role for the captain as well. If they take care of things outside cricket, you can focus on the game, the tactics, and who's playing. I tend not to get too involved with training sessions — that's the responsibility of Greg and the coaching staff, and they do it really well. They are responsible to prepare the group going into the match, and then I'm responsible to take that group and get the best out of them over the course of five days.

How has it changed — say the day before the Test when you were just a batsman and now as captain?

Attending more meetings I must say. I mean, attending the selection meeting — probably I attended that before as vice captain — the bowlers' meeting, the batsmen's meeting, the senior group's meeting, you have to think a little more about strategy, the toss, so there're more things to think about, than say as a batsman where you prepared according to the conditions, you went about your routines. As captain you got to change your routines a little bit to find more time to think about cricket, and it's important you spend the same time you spent on batting, and don't forget that you are in the side as a batsman. Which is why the guys really want you and look up to you to do. You are not always going to succeed but you ensure that you give yourself the best chance to succeed by spending the quality time off the field to perform as a batsman.

How much does being captain take out of you? It doesn't seem to have affected your batting.

It takes a lot out of me, I wouldn't say as a batsman, but it takes a lot out of you as a person. Its demands on time are a lot more, and the pressures are a lot more. I guess when you are doing well, and are successful it's a lot easier. You have your tough days, no doubt about it. You are always thinking, `How can I get this team better', and when other people are out of form or not really doing well, it bothers you, and you feel that you need to be able to find a way to help them out. In that sense it takes a lot out of you — you're not just thinking of your own performance, you are thinking of others as well.

Where do you get this mental toughness from?

I just enjoy it — I enjoy the contest. I enjoy the challenge of batting. One of the things I really enjoy about batting — sure it's making runs — but the real challenge of batting is the contest, competing. Whenever you get a chance, I see it as an opportunity to compete against the best players in the world.

That's easily said, but it must be a lot tougher. What goes in your mind? Could you take us through your thinking as you walked out at Sabina Park?

I was excited, I was really excited because I knew it was going to be a challenge. To be honest I thought it would get easier after lunch. But once you see it's difficult and that the dice is loaded in the favour of the bowlers, the competitive urge in you — that it's a challenge — comes out. Even if you batted well and made a 50-60 plus it was going to make a big difference in the context of the game. That excited me — the fact that I could push myself and make a difference to the game. Even though you didn't feel in control, you kept pushing yourself and going further, and not let the fact that you weren't under control get to you.

Has this mind-set always been with you?

Pretty much, I can remember I've always been pretty competitive. Whenever I've played against the best bowlers or played in alien conditions, I've always seen it as a challenge. To be able to do something special and conquer and counter the conditions — that's how I've always played my cricket.

Do you ever feel pressure when you are batting?

I do. I'm not claiming to be anything different from anyone else. I feel pressure and I get tense as any other player does. You try and focus on just playing it one ball at a time. Or focusing on enjoying it. I know you can't get away from the pressure. You've got to face a certain amount of pressure and a certain amount of tension as an international cricketer. You've got to accept it's going to be part and parcel of your life. A certain amount is a good thing. Because if you don't have that, you are laid-back and casual and not getting the best performance out of you. You've got to make sure it doesn't get out of hand. You've got to ensure you don't lose it mentally, and don't go away from your basic plans.

Has it ever been too much — has it got to you mentally?

Every time I go, I feel it's a lot. I mean there have been periods in my career where I have felt I've been too tense. When you go overboard with the tension it starts affecting your performance, just as when you don't have enough tension it affects it. There is a sort of peak limit, and you've got to try and find that. You find with experience and time what it is that gets you that tense, and you try and figure it out. The important thing is to have a bit of perspective, to understand that at the end of the day what we are doing is playing a sport. It's not that important. Yes, it's an important part of my life, but it's not the most important part — it's not the only thing.

When in your career did that perspective kick in?

Probably around 2002-2003. It took me about three or four years I think — probably from 2000 in county cricket, playing in a different environment for me, I grew as a person a little bit. Obviously the support of my family, and getting married has definitely helped. Growing older, having different friends, I think you do realise there is a lot more to it.

Has this perspective helped in captaincy? Has it made you more forgiving?

I hope so. Like I said, I don't judge people just by the numbers. You have to look at the situations and the way people have played, and what they bring to the team. And whether they are working hard. I hope it's given me some perspective in terms of that but obviously you also have got to demand performances from people, you've got to expect the best. If you settle for second best, they probably will give you second best. You try and give them a good environment, but then you must demand they give you everything they have got. That's something I can't compromise on.

How comforting is it to know that two solid players — Laxman and Kumble — are around in an inexperienced side?

It's been fantastic. Anil has been a legend of Indian cricket. He's been a pillar of strength. I've always said he's a fantastic guy to have in the dressing room, a fantastic guy to have in your team. A hundred per cent cricketer, and terrifically skilled at what he does. He is a great bowler, people talk of his dedication and commitment and all that — that's great, but to me his real nous and his ability of his art is really staggering as well. He has probably seen me grow up a lot — so he knows me quite well from that perspective. He's a good guy to go and have a chat with. And the same with Lax — he is a good man to have. Someone who is a classical performer, someone who always delivers when the chips are down, calm when the situation is rough. And obviously Viru has been doing a good job as vice-captain — his inputs and his way of thinking are important to me.

How much do you listen to advice on the field?

Quite a bit. You'll probably have to ask the guys that. I probably do — standing at first slip, Laxman stands next to me and we have a bit of a chat about a lot of things. Dhoni chips in. As a wicketkeeper he sees things in a different perspective. Anil to get a bowler's perspective, Viru — Viru and Anil have led sides as well.

These gut decisions as captain — how do they come about?

Sometimes you've got to trust your gut. You have to go with what you feel. Trusting that is important and you learn with time what you can trust...

Do these brew in your head or pop in there?

It's been brewing obviously, it's not something that flashes out of nowhere. It's come in your mind because you have been thinking about it. You are looking at things. You are assimilating information. And based on that information you have to go with you hunches or your gut feeling. As long as you have given it thought — all your hunches and even your gut has got to be based on some sort of reasoning, I mean, even at the subconscious level.

You've had to make tough decisions on winning the toss in recent Tests — bowling first in Mumbai, batting first in Antigua, and again in Jamaica. How tough has it been to convince a young team to buy into these?

You've first got to believe in what you are doing — you have to be convinced about it. The young guys look up to you to show the way. But, you've got to remember the toss is just a small part of a five-day game. It's more important how you execute after winning the toss. For instance in Mumbai, we didn't execute well, we dropped catches. Otherwise, if the toss is all important, what happens when you lose it? What happens if you go into a game basing everything on winning the toss?