It's a huge honour: Dravid

S. DINAKAR

Relaxed and charming as always, Rahul Dravid spoke to The Sportstar in Napier, after being adjudged the magazine's Sportsperson of the Year — 2002. ''It's a huge honour and a very nice feeling to be picked for the award,'' the Indian cricket vice-captain said. Excerpts:

Question: How much does The Sportstar award mean to you?

Answer: I remember I have attended a couple of The Sportstar award functions and I always thought it would be nice to win the award myself. It means a lot to me, because it is a recognition of what you have done throughout the year. And I've joined some very distinguished names in the list, some very big names. From that point of view, it is a huge honour and a very nice feeling.

It has been a wonderful year, isn't it?

It has been one of my best years, both individually and team-wise. The side had a lot of success as well and we have really done well as a team that has given me a lot of satisfaction. Individually, I've had success in both forms of the games, Tests and the ODIs, it has been nice.

Looking back, the hundred in the Georgetown Test, the first of the series in the West Indies, set up the year for you...

The West Indies tour, and probably getting those runs in the first Test, was very important. They had a pretty decent attack for their conditions. It gives you a bit of confidence and I could really carry the confidence to England. It does help if you have runs behind your name. To a large extent, you have to have that belief and confidence even when things are not going well for you.

Still, as a senior member of the side, India's failure to win a Test series abroad after '93 must have been disappointing.

Yes, in Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka last year, and in the West Indies and England this year, we went into the last Test with a chance to win the series. Which is good because we have not been in those positions before. But not really been able to clinch it has been a little sad, but we have been improving. At least we have been winning a few Test matches abroad. So it's not all doom and gloom. Hopefully it will come.

We lost the initiative in the first few hours of the Jamaica Test, isn't it?

We didn't bowl particularly well on the first morning when the conditions suited the pacemen and I think we didn't bat particularly well in the second innings, because we were in a position to save the Test. It rained on the last day, and had we batted for half an hour or 45 minutes more, we would have drawn the series. But you make your own luck in this game, and we were in a position to draw the series, and didn't make our own luck.

The high point of that Caribbean campaign must have been the Test win in Port of Spain.

They had a pretty decent attack under their conditions. We won a Test match in the West Indies (Port of Spain) after 25 years. It was a great win for the guys, a great team effort.

In Georgetown, you displayed great character by continuing to bat, even after taking a sickening blow on the helmet from a Merv Dillon lifter.

I couldn't afford to go off the field, we were trying to save the follow on. Andrew Leipus (the physio) came out and said, `I think you are okay' and I stayed back. I couldn't see my own face, and when the physio said I could continue, it was a great relief for me. Things like these make you a little more determined. You realise that you got to concentrate and focus much more. It makes you a bit tougher and teaches you to be on your guard all the time.

You average close to 60 away from home in Tests, the best by any major Indian batsman. Do you get inspired by challenge? You have worked very hard at it from a technical and mental point of view.

I've always looked at getting runs abroad as a challenge. While growing up and then in my career, this is something that I always wanted to do. Score a lot of runs abroad. From a young age I have heard people say that scoring runs abroad is the real test and since that time it has been a dream for me to perform well abroad.

What are the ingredients that go into making someone an accomplished player away from home, on pitches with pace, bounce and seam movement?

Basically, you got to know what shots you can play, what shots you cannot play, understand the conditions, and be honest with yourself. If you have any fault, you must accept it, and strive to correct it.

When I was young, I spoke to a lot of former cricketers, and some of my own team-mates who have been abroad, and tried to find out what it takes to succeed there. What are the challenges, what kind of bowling to expect, what's the line of attack, and then you work on those things.

Fluency and solidity off the back-foot are crucial, is it not?

You have to be a strong back-foot player to do well abroad. You basically have to have a lot of back-foot shots. You have to know your limitations, your requirements, and the needs of the team. And being able to play according to them.

Consistency has been the hall-mark of your career. You are the quickest contemporary Indian to reach 5000 Test runs.

For me to be consistent is very important. I have always striven for that. You got to be solid and consistent, and that's what the side needs and that's why you get respected for by your team-mates. Though it is very nice to get the plaudits from the press and the public, the most important thing is to get recognised and respected by your contemporaries and peers. That respect should be earned through sheer performance. It should not be easily given.

In England, the hundred at Leeds on the first day, when the ball swung and seamed rather alarmingly must rank pretty high up on your personal list.

Probably it should rank among my top two or three Test knocks. It was a brave decision to bat first on that wicket. We knew it was going to seam but, all credit to Sanjay Bangar. He played beautifully that day as well. For him to come in, in his early days in Test cricket, and bat the way he did was exemplary. Then the way the guys, Sachin and Sourav, carried on took the game away from England. It was one of the most perfect Test matches I have played in. We batted first, batted big and knocked the other team over twice. Terrific Test match. The best I have played in, in terms of an Indian performance.

A double century flowed from your blade in the final Test at the Oval. You were on a roll.

I had the confidence. At the Oval, the wicket was good, and I thought I should cash in. It's a sign of consistency and professionalism that whatever be the situation you got, you take each innings as a fresh one.

You made it four in a row in the hot and humid Mumbai Test against the West Indies. Yet, physically it must have been a demanding effort. You had to be escorted off the field after completing the hundred.

It was very hot and humid and I was really cramping. I progressed from 80 to 100 out of sheer determination that I had to get there. After reaching my hundred, I just couldn't carry on. It was probably one of my worst feelings on the cricket field since I was in so much pain. I couldn't enjoy it then, but thinking about it later on, I thought it was quite a good effort.

Another hundred in the Chennai Test, and you could have equalled Sir Everton Weekes' record of five successive Test hundreds. Yet, that didn't happen.

You can't complain about these things. Four centuries in a row, or five... it does not really matter. What's more important is how you prepare for the next Test. You should not get carried away by success or get disappointed by failure. Be professional and sincere enough to approach the next Test like you should.

Asked to keep wickets in the ODIs was a huge ask from you. You have not looked away from the challenge, and the extra batsman in the place has made a difference.

Obviously, this was something we thought of with the World Cup in mind. I knew it would be a challenge for me physically, also technically. I hadn't kept for such a long time. Then I thought I would give it a go, give it my best shot and not have any regrets. If things worked out for the side, well and good, if they didn't then we could always look at some other option. Luckily for us, it has worked out quite well so far. It probably has helped the balance of the side. It took a bit of convincing. John (Wright) and Sourav brought up this idea, and initially I wasn't sure whether I would be able to do justice to the job. I always knew the role of a wicket-keeper batsman is crucial. If you look at world cricket today, look at the Bouchers and the Gilchrists, they make a huge difference to the side. If you want to be a successful one-day side, you do need a wicket-keeper who should be able to bat in the top six.

That's just the way it is nowadays. It has not been easy physically, and I've worked hard on my fitness. That's probably one of the reasons that I've had such a good year as well. It's been a long hard year, there has been a lot of cricket, but I have been in good shape physically, and Adrian (Le Roux, fitness trainer) has helped in that regard. Hopefully, I can try and do my best till the World Cup. The dream and the aim of everyone is to try and win the World Cup, and everyone must be willing to do, whatever it takes.

The ODI innings you particularly remember during the year. You made runs at crunch times.

In the first game of the NatWest Trophy, when we had the big chase at Lord's, I made a 70-odd and had a partnership with Yuvraj. That innings of mine I thought was a very important knock because it set up the series for us. Then, the Champions Trophy knock against Zimbabwe when we were in trouble, Kaif played brilliantly too that day. And then the hundred that enabled us beat the West Indies in Ahmedabad. You always want to figure in a game, where you are the one to finish the game off, and that was a huge chase under the lights. Batting at No. 5 in the ODIs has given me a new challenge and I am quite enjoying it actually. Even though at No 3, I would get the opportunities to score more runs, at No. 5, I get a chance to bat at lower middle order, try and finish off games. Bat under pressure situations, which I am really enjoying. It is not so much the volume of runs, but how important they are that counts.

You are an intense, introspective cricketer?

At the end of the day, you got to look at the man in the mirror and ask yourself the question `Am I giving hundred per cent?' If the answer is `yes', then I don't think you can ask yourself much more.

A lot of good things are being said about the present Indian side. How does a senior cricketer like you picture the scenario?

This side is doing well, no question about that. But I wouldn't like to get carried away. In India we tend to get carried away very quickly, in both extremes. We can praise too quickly, be critical too quickly. But there is a good blend of youth and experience in the side, the youngsters are coming through and the seniors have contributed. There is a nice feeling in the side at the moment.

You had opportunities to lead India during the year. How do you look at the role?

I haven't thought about it at all in that sense. Sourav has been a good captain for us, led the side really well over the last couple of years when it's not been easy. I've only led the side as a stop-gap, and have enjoyed the role of a vice-captain, playing second fiddle and contributing in my own way. Probably it has given me a chance to help out the younger guys a little bit more, as a vice-captain and a senior member. In that sense I am enjoying it.