'I was always honest with my talent'

After given a rather emotional — there were misty eyes and affectionate hugs — farewell by the Indian team, before his home crowd in Bangalore's Chinnaswamy Stadium on November 12, Javagal Srinath spoke to The Sportstar about his e ventful career with the Indian team, that began down under in 1991-92.

S. DINAKAR

After given a rather emotional — there were misty eyes and affectionate hugs — farewell by the Indian team, before his home crowd in Bangalore's Chinnaswamy Stadium on November 12, Javagal Srinath spoke to The Sportstar about his eventful career with the Indian team, that began down under in 1991-92.

Question: Srinath, after such a long journey in international cricket, is there now a vacuum in your life, a sense of emptiness?

Answer: In the beginning there will be a vacuum. After all this is what you have been doing for the last so many years. I had been playing international cricket for the last 13 years now. But life has to go on.

You have mentioned that the World Cups, especially the wins over Pakistan in the three successive editions, as the highlights of your career.

The older you get, the better you become. The World Cup experience makes you a better cricketer. How you handle the pressures, the expectations, and stay focussed. It is not often that you start off as a great bowler. You build as your career progresses.

How did you evolve into a World class bowler?

The bowlers generally take a little time to settle down. If you are a paceman, by the time you get to know the language of international cricket, your body has already taken a lot of a beating. The '99 World Cup was a bit of an eye opener for me as to where I stood in international cricket. From then on in every game I had to make a contribution. It was not like I could sit back and tell myself there is another game. Or I still have time to establish myself. It was very much important for me to use my experience. I just had to deliver.

Was it around that point of time that retirement began to cross your mind? You came back from a career-threatening shoulder injury in 1997.

My thought was not about retiring but to see how much cricket was left in me. From 2000, I had begun to think about retirement. You begin to wonder how much cricket is left in you and start to set little targets. Then I set the World Cup 2003 as the point after which I would take stock of the situation. See how my body feels, and then take a decision.

You were also conscious of your role and responsibilities as the pace spearhead.

Yes, I have been extremely cautious about my performances. There was quite a lot of load on me. I must say that the cricket I played between 1999 and 2003 was quite a bit. When you play more cricket and bowl more, your body starts to wear out. After the South African series in 2001, I realised that this would be the right time for me to make a proper bench mark, considering my retirement. I wanted to see where exactly I stood as far as my fitness was concerned and then think about cricket.

You had earlier bid adieu from Test cricket, but returned for a brief while. Can you tell us about the sequence of events that led to that decision of yours?

After the 2002 Test series in the West Indies where not many good things happened to me, it was one of those few slip ups in my career, I was not picked in the squad for the one-dayers on the same tour. I was disappointed. At the same time I did not want to walk away from the team completely. There was a lot of stress and strain on my body and it was then that I decided that I should not be playing Test cricket anymore. At the same time, I could not afford to stay away from the one-dayers, since the World Cup was my target. I needed some international cricket behind me before going to the World Cup. That's why I took that little decision (retiring from Tests) which not many people would agree with. But the situation was such that I had to take a decision.

You have the reputation of being a simple but practical man.

I was always honest with my talent. Honest with my limitations. I could not play Test matches and the ODIs, that followed one another in quick succession. If I wanted to play the World Cup, then my body should stand the test, I should be at my best fitness levels. I would say that in the England series I would have made a difference in the Test matches... with more communication I could have played...anyway, that is past.

The World Cup final must have been a huge disappointment. This was going to be your last big tournament.

Yes, it was. But we lost to a better side. Had we won the World Cup, I would have retired straightaway. There is no better end to a cricketer's career than winning the World Cup. The result of the final made me think beyond the World Cup. We had to meet Australia somewhere down the line and our record abroad is not great. I thought `let me try this Australian series and then call it off.' I did speak to Sourav (Ganguly) about this. Sourav was enthusiastic about it too. It's unfortunate that my knee did not hold out.

How difficult was it for you to finally announce your retirement? There must have been a desire to continue.

The desire is bound to be there, to play more and more, but I guess one has to be realistic. After 13 years of international cricket, it is the body that triggers the right frame of mind. Not the other way round. Once the body is not right, it is hard for me to think about the game, let alone deliver.

Looking back at your career, India's failure to win Test series away from the sub-continent must have rankled you.

That has probably been one of the low points in my life. That we have not won too many Tests abroad. I hope that India improves on this front. We came close a few times. I would put it down to a combination of factors.

Now that the Indian team faces a demanding Test series in Australia, any advice you would like to give the team? The Board appears to be keen on having you as a coach or consultant.

Well, this gives you a chance to keep in touch with the game. I had prepared quite a lot for the Australian tour. More of the thinking in the mind. What should be the plan against them. The way the Australians bowl at us, I do not think we should bowl the same way at them. We need to have a different set of ideas out there. The Australians keep it just short of a length outside the off-stump, and at times they really attack you with short pitched balls and stuff like that. They make the best use of the bounce in the pitches there. Their batsmen are used to that line and length, which they had tackled all through their career, and are comfortable with anything in that format. To start with our bowlers will have to pitch it up, at the same time they should be conscious of the fact that too many runs should not be conceded. We do need to change the pattern of our bowling.

The Aussies are known for their planning and preparation and are ruthless on the field.

They know what we are going to bowl. They are probably the most prepared cricket team in the world. They probably have the bio data of each and every cricketer they are playing against. The expectations in India, as usual, are high, but we will have to do things differently. Now that I am completely out of it, I hope I can still contribute positively.

It has been quite a ride for you from Mysore to the higher echelons of Indian cricket. You have always had a great passion for the game.

I did not think about anything beyond cricket. I never imagined that I would play for the country, that too for such a long time. Even if I had not made it to the State or the National side, I would still have been happy playing for my club in Mysore.

Did the fact that you hailed from Mysore make things that much more difficult for you, when it came to achieving the breakthrough at the State level?

I was not a Bangalore boy but it made me perform better. I thought since I was from Mysore, a little hiccup here or there could have cost me a place. I was extra cautious to make sure that I performed at any given point of time.

Can you recall your early days with the Karnataka team? When did you realise that you possessed the extra yard in you to climb higher?

I was extremely lucky that I got the break at the right time. The first Ranji match, against Hyderabad, where I achieved a hat-trick, was when I realised that I had more than what I thought I had. The same year I played for South Zone. Anil (Kumble) had already played. He was a sort of an inspiration for me. That was the time when I brushed shoulders with the likes of Azhar (Mohammed Azharuddin) that I started matching my talents with them. There was a lot of help for me. Krishnamachari Srikkanth was a big help. So was Azharuddin. He played a big role in shaping my career. We won the Duleep Trophy that year. Though I did not get that many wickets, I was happy the way I bowled in those games. That was the time I realised that I had that something more in me.

You surprised a lot of batsmen with your speed. Kumble once said that there were quite a few batsmen who were not quite willing to take you on in the nets!

The speed was basically due to my action. The cart-wheeling action that I had. The shoulder was extremely effective. My shoulder joints were quick in rotation. That's where the speed came from.

You have the reputation of being a great team-man. Dravid used to call you the `pulse' of the Indian team.

I would always love to see myself as a natural than a player with an x number of wickets. I was never a man of numbers. I always wanted to win the game. Even if I had contributed to the side with just one wicket, but one which made the team win, I would have been extremely happy. The games where I had got five or six wickets and the team had lost, I would be deeply disappointed with. If a team wins with contributions from each and every player, it brings the team together.

You came through the hard way. Can you tell us about the period in the early 90s, when you found it difficult to break into the Test XI for the home matches? You won the Man of the Match award in South Africa, but when India took on England at home in '93, you were not in the thick of things. You were desperately keen to bowl with the new ball then.

That period was a little unfortunate. The bottom line was that India needed to win. For that you needed to have the right combination. In India, with the pitches suiting spinners, only two pacemen could play, and obviously Kapil paaji, with all his experience, and Manoj, who could bat as well, got the nod over me. I was not dropped but could not fit into the playing eleven. It was a golden era from 1993 to 1995-96 when we won most of the games in India. I was always there in the one-day squad. And we used to play more one-day cricket than Test cricket, I never felt that I was out of the team. If you ask me, I graduated into Test cricket from the one-day game.

How big an influence was Kapil Dev?

Kapil was a great influence. I learnt a lot, watching him bowl in the nets, and in the matches. The amount of importance that he attached to line and length was incredible. When you have a bit of pace, you really overlook your line and length. Pace is something which you possess. At the same time when you are not experienced enough, you should not go full throttle. You got to hold back ten per cent of your speed for line and length. This was Kapil's strength. He would seldom be off-target. I learnt a lot from Dennis Lillee at the MRF Pace Foundation too.

You did pick up the right things. There must also have been the challenge of bowling differently at different batsmen.

In fast bowling, what works with me, may not work with somebody else. The way you are built, the way your muscle structure is, the body movements, the art of bowling, all this matters. Your mind, your body, all have to fall in place. Your talent has to be channelised towards the right line and length required for a particular batsman. It is how you plan to dismiss a batsman that is important. You may be a good bowler, with a good action, but the way to bowl, when to bowl, and how to bowl at a particular batsman is what is important.

Then, after Kapil departed from the international scene in '94, you found yourself in the role of the spearhead of the Indian pace attack.

Even after Kapil left, when I became the spearhead, I was a little inexperienced. I needed support at the other end. You bowl and you learn, you bowl and you learn, it becomes a routine. I spoke to a lot of people. About fast bowling and how to get a batsman out. That was not easy. Because my action was essentially bringing the ball in. The idea is you have the right idea and approach. That you are not wasting too many things by attempting too many things. What is it you can do with the ball, and with what can you get a batsman out — you have to balance the two. This is what a bowler must do. I developed the straighter one that gave an extra dimension to my bowling.

Planning a batsman's downfall does bring a lot of satisfaction in a bowler. Can you recall any such instance?

It gives you immense pleasure when you work a batsman out. I remember the dismissal of Aravinda de Silva in Mumbai. I kept the ball up to him all the time. I knew he was an impulsive hooker. At the same time, the absence of a man in the deep square-leg must have worked on his mind. All of a sudden when I pitched short, he hooked, only to find Rajesh Chauhan on the square-leg fence. Probably, he did not notice Chauhan going back from square-leg to a much deeper position. You bowl three deliveries just outside the off-stump, get the batsmen to think about coping with those deliveries, and then bring the ball in. You have to keep mixing them up.

The pacemen often come under the hammer in India. Things appear to be loaded in favour of the batsmen here.

In India we are too critical about the bowlers. You should also consider the kind of wickets that are prevalent in India. It takes a little time for the pacemen to develop. Zaheer and Aashish appeared excellent on the South African pitches. Now, all of a sudden, after a few bad games, they cannot become bad bowlers. They have everything in them. The only thing they do not have is experience. How many times does a fast bowler get the Man of the Match award in India? They do not have such a big role to play.

The batsmen hog the limelight most of the times. Rewards for hard work are instrumental in building a pacemen's career. If you go without reward for so long, you will lose motivation. You start doubting yourself over a period of time. These factors lead to the downfall of fast bowlers.

What is it that strikes you the most about Zaheer and Nehra?

The seam position of Zaheer is probably perfect. I have not seen any bowler hitting the deck with the seam so straight. He has a very good action and has the right kind of heart to play cricket.

Ashish is a good swing bowler, but he is injury prone. The moment you are injured you go back in time. My only apprehension is that since he has been injured on so many occasions, his body could be a little fragile. He has to live it and my guess is that he is trying to do just that. Zaheer and Nehra have understood that they are in the game when they pitch the ball up.

"The seam position of Zaheer (centre) is probably perfect. I have not seen any bowler hitting the deck with the seam so straight. He has a very good action and has the right kind of heart to play cricket. Ashish Nehra (left) is a good swing bowler, but he is injury prone. The moment you are injured you go back in time. My only apprehension is that since he has been injured on so many occasions, his body could be a little fragile," says Srinath. -- Pic. N. BALAJI-

Your thoughts on the younger bunch of pacemen such as L. Balaji and Avishkar Salvi.

I haven't seen much of Salvi, but I had a chance to see Balaji. It was unfortunate that he had to play on two flat tracks during Tests. One was in Ahmedabad and the other in Mohali. These pitches hardly encouraged a fast bowler. If Balaji had picked up three or four wickets on his debut or in the second game, he would have had a lot of self belief. He has everything. Only thing is that he gets away from the wicket, which is too much. He has to get closer to the stumps. He should definitely be given a longer stint in international cricket to see whether he can deliver. I have not seen much of Munaf Patel, only saw a few overs when he bowled at Rajkot against New Zealand. He probably has speed, which is the biggest attribute a fast bowler would want to have. We have to see how he graduates in domestic cricket. He needs to bowl more and more.

We need to have a bigger pool of pacemen to choose from. With so many games now, the chances of a paceman getting injured due to all the stress and stain on his body are higher these days.

Pacemen hunt in a pack, right? You have always said it has to be a collective effort.

It is not just that only I need to bowl well. The whole team needs to bowl well to get wickets. Every wicket taken by the other bowler opens up a lot of options for yourself to get the next wicket. Wicket-taking bowlers are necessary in the side. You need to have four bowlers who have the ability to strike at any given point of time, not just support bowlers. We go in with the frame of mind that we have just one fast bowler and one spinner who are going to take wickets. We are putting the other two bowlers in a negative mind-set. You give them the confidence that they are only there in the international cricket because of their ability. What is experience? Every ball is an experience, they need to build on it. If I tell Zaheer that every ball he bowls adds to experience, this means he is never losing out. He is gaining all the time.

Do you feel that for much of your career, you lacked a stable new ball partner, someone who could have been groomed?

I think so. Prasad and me enjoyed bowling. Prasad was pretty quick in '96. He was really bowling well. Where the Indian cricket probably lost out was it was probably me at one end all the time, but we had people coming in and going out at the other. Prasad was there for some time, but Prasad missed out after 2000 when he was not a permanent member of the side. We did not have anybody who would have gained with every game.

Taking a ride back into you career, can you tell us about the turning points?

Every match-winning performance was a turning point. The confidence of winning a match for your country can make you a bowler. I was dropped for the first time in a one-day game for a match against Pakistan in Sri Lanka in '94. That was the final. I was extremely disappointed. I did ask the reasons for my non-inclusion. The answer was Venkatesh Prasad needed a go, because he hadn't got any game. But why in the final? I thought I had a few games behind me and that was the first game Prasad would be playing. I wasn't given a good answer. That really left me with a few sleepiness nights. I did not think about any other career as such, but I knew I had to come back quickly into the game. The first game was against the West Indies in India, where I was told that I would be playing again. The process of selection baffled me. Prasad was out again, I came in. It was a healthy competition between me and Prasad. I probably bowled one of the best spells in my life. I probably needed a bit of a wake-up call from the selectors that I needed to go to the next level, that I was a little stagnated here. It sent me the right signals. I understood what the team wanted from me. I was on a different gear after that.

Then in Ahmedabad, against the South Africans ('96), came a match-winning performance. Prior to that my one-day form was disappointing. I had really started questioning my ability. That match-winning performance against South Africa put me in the right frame of mind. It was a turning track and the situation we were in was not the ideal one. I did not expect to bowl much at all. I was called upon and things went well for me. The Man of the Match award came, and you started to believe in yourself.

Being an admirer of the pacemen from the sub-continent, can you shed light on what sets them apart.

When you see men like Imran Khan, Kapil Dev, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, they have more wickets than most of the pacemen put together abroad. It is a real challenge to bowl on Indian wickets. You need to make sure that you have that extra something in you to bowl well. Here, you know that you do not have the conditions, but have to work against it. You have to find a way through. This is where the Pakistanis really invented the reverse swing. Because it was impossible to bowl with the new ball in these conditions. And they started doing something really devastating. Wasim and Waqar would be my best pacemen actually. Wasim for his variety and Waqar for his sheer explosiveness. Waqar might not be the same force now, but no bowler remains the same. They are the two champion bowlers.

You are being modest about your own achievements. You have over 100 Test scalps in India alone.

When you play for so many years, you need to contribute. There needs to be some numbers. I enjoyed bowling in India. I had no complaints. Only when you bowl in England, you start thinking, I need more of these conditions, or need to bowl on the South African or the Australian wickets.

We do need to produce pitches where the pacemen would stand an equal chance to succeed, instead of being mere cannon fodder.

I am not saying that the wickets should remain flat here. The pitches have to get better.

You remained one of the most popular members of the Indian team. How has the experience been with Team India?

It has been a wonderful experience. It goes beyond cricket. More than the number of wickets that I have got for the team is the relationship with the people. I never had any differences with any of the players in the Indian team. I cannot really recall any misunderstanding with any of the players. With respect to the game, yes. But off the field, I have had the best of relations with all the players. From Azharuddin to Kapil to Parthiv Patel, I have enjoyed the relationship with my team-mates and I thank god for that. You need to make sure that you don't hurt people at any given point of time.

You have said that you enjoyed your stint with the current Indian team the most.

It is maybe due to the familiarity that makes you feel that you belong to them more.

Srinath, you have said that your bowling evolved under the captaincy of Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly. Can you elaborate?

It is the confidence factor you know. Sachin knew I could deliver. He relied upon me on a few occasions. Sourav is somebody who openly expresses his thoughts. You enjoy it more under a captain, under whom you have delivered. It's also about how a captain handles you. Your relationship with the captain. You have differences, in fact a lot of differences, you have fights. But only arguments with respect to the game. We have our own views. But in the end, they cannot be carried forward to the other walks of our life. We have had a positive exchange of opinions only due to the interest of the game. None of them would affect our personal lives.

Anything in particular you would like to cherish from your career.

I have never been pulled up by a match referee throughout my career. I was a little conscious of that fact and wanted to maintain that record. People told me that I was not aggressive enough or whatsoever, but I did not want that to happen.

There indeed were some who said that you were not aggressive enough to be a fast bowler, that you lacked the killer instinct.

I respected everybody's opinion so I did not have to react. When the team loses, when things are not right, the emotions fly high. People read the other people wrong. These are the times when you need to have consistency in your words and attitude, control over your emotions.

You got along well with everyone in the team, but your Karnataka mates must have been extra special to you. You were a closely knit bunch.

Rahul, Anil and Venky have been great characters. I have learnt quite a lot from Anil. I have learnt quite a lot from Rahul, though he is my junior. I have seen Rahul grow into what he is now. There are a lot of things that you can learn. Rahul's affection to the game, the disappointment when he doesn't do well, the responsibility in what he takes, and how deep the responsibility goes down, these are the things that you appreciate in Rahul. His perfectionism. The way he handles himself with people. At the same time, Anil is someone who is very resolute and honest. There is a lot of resilience in him. He has been there all the time. He has come back from difficult times.