The team comes first

‘I don’t really judge players by their records or averages or runs. It is just a reflection of your career over a period of time. I never look at statistics and then judge people.’-V. Ganesan

Like every other cricketer, Rahul Dravid is always after his next big performance. “I am not chasing milestones. I just want to keep trying and put up a big performance for the team,” he says in a chat with Vijay Lokapally.

Rahul Dravid’s march to the 10000-run mark in Tests has been a classy one. Ever since he made his Test debut against England at Lord’s in 1996, he has grown in stature as a cricketer. He is a purist’s delight.

The affable cricketer spoke to Sportstar on his career.

Excerpts from the interview:

Question: 10000 runs and counting… How do you reflect on your Test career so far?

Answer: It’s been quite satisfying. To be honest, when I started in 1996 I hoped to play at least one Test for India. And as you play that one Test match, your ambitions grow. You want to establish yourself in the team; you want to be involved in a lot of victories for India. As it goes on and on, you grow as a player. I have managed to be around for long enough to be able to make these runs. If you play that many matches, you will make those runs if you are good enough. But the longevity, the fact that I have been able to play through this period is very satisfying.

What are the dreams you are still chasing?

When you are still playing you are never really satisfied. You are always chasing the next big performance, the next big score. You are constantly looking to improve. You can’t really sit back and say you are satisfied. You will definitely look back with a certain sense of pride that you have done certain things. But there is always a lot to look forward to. Every time I go out to bat there is a challenge for me to play a big knock for the team, make a match-winning contribution. I am not chasing milestones. I just want to keep trying and put up a big performance for the team.

What do records/milestones mean to you? Are they the right barometer of a player’s achievements or contributions?

I don’t really judge players by their records or averages or runs. It is just a reflection of your career over a period of time. I never look at statistics and then judge people. It is not really right to judge players of different eras and generations. One should just appreciate the players for what they have done, what they are and what they have achieved rather than spending a lot of time trying to compare them.

How do you compare your one-day and Test careers — the highs and lows in both forms of the game?

Playing in both Tests and one-dayers has given me satisfaction. In one-day cricket, being the player that I was, people did not expect me to last so long. I have batted in different positions, lower down the order, at No. 5 and 6 and kept wickets. I take pride in the contributions I have made in one-day cricket. Test cricket is the true test of one’s character, courage and skill. It is a place where you are really tested; you can’t really escape in Test cricket over a period of time. You face all types of bowling on all sorts of wickets and survive. That is what stands out. It gives you a tremendous sense of satisfaction. I really cherish my performances in Test cricket.

Every time your form seemed to desert you, you came back a lot stronger. Would you say periodic failures actually spurred you on to success?

Yes. When you play so long you are bound to have phases of bad run. You will have your tough times and like anyone else I have gone through my share of bad patches. But then there is little time to sit back and analyse, or go back to the ‘nets’. There is no time really. Poor form can continue a bit longer but touchwood, I have not had that kind of bad patches. I have always found ways to come back. One has to look to improve than wait for things to happen.

How vulnerable is Rahul, the man, compared with Rahul, the rock-solid batsman?

We play international cricket for such long periods. By playing, travelling, facing the pulls and pressures of international cricket for a period of time, you can become vulnerable at various times. I think it is part and parcel of being a cricketer. I have coped well over the years and kept my performances and cricket in perspective with everything else in life. It has helped me a lot because I never get too excited with my success. I don’t allow failure to push me down in the dumps. I have learnt to strike a balance between them.

What prompted you to take up ’keeping in spite of your obvious discomfort with the job?

It was a time when we were looking for a wicketkeeper-batsman. We didn’t have an all-rounder leading up to the 2003 World Cup. By entrusting the job of keeping wickets to me, the team had an opportunity to play an extra batsman. I took it up as a challenge. I wasn’t reluctant, but I wasn’t sure how good I would be. I had not done it for 10 years and to suddenly don the gloves at the international level was not easy. It wasn’t easy to keep wickets to the likes of Anil (Kumble), Sri (Javagal Srinath) and Bhajji (Harbhajan Singh). I worked hard on my fitness and keeping and my confidence got better once I started doing it consistently. I admit I was never a good wicketkeeper, not as good as a regular ’keeper might have been. I did it for the team.

What fascinates you the most about batting in Tests?

I have always liked batting, especially in Tests. The opposition can throw anything at you. They are not limited in their repertoire because their bowlers don’t have a restriction of 10 overs as in one-day cricket. The opposition can throw fast bowling at you; they can throw spin bowling at you. A good innings in Test cricket means you have stood up well to the test of your physical and mental skills.

How do you react to being called a plodder in one-day cricket despite having one of the best records in the history of the game?

You will face such criticism having played 12 years of international cricket. People will minutely dissect your game. Even a little flaw is sometimes highlighted. I am not perfect and I will be the first one to admit that. I have my strengths and I have my weaknesses. At the end of the day, I have to give the best that I can. I have always worked hard on my obvious weakness. A lot of people have been surprised at what I have achieved in both forms of the game. It means I might not have the eye-catching talent or the ball-hitting ability of other people, but I have other gifts like determination, concentration and resilience.

How difficult was it to not get carried away when Virender Sehwag was blazing away in the Chennai Test against South Africa?

I have got used to that by now. In my career, I have batted with some great batsmen and I have been fortunate to play with the likes of Sachin (Tendulkar), Sourav (Ganguly), (VVS) Laxman, Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh (in one-dayers). When they were on song, I had my role to play. I never got carried away and did my job as I was supposed to. I just built on the partnership, which was important for the team at that stage.

What is the place of technique in modern cricket?

It is required more in Test cricket. There is little time to analyse in one-day cricket and probably even less in a Twenty20 game. But still your basics have to be strong. There is nothing like perfect technique. Each one of us is distinctive; each of us brings his own technique and body language into the game. Good technique is something I would encourage the kids to learn at a very young age. It gets tougher to change as you get older.

Do you compete with yourself, wanting to improve, prove a point?

I am always looking to improve. I don’t know if it means competing with myself. You stay on the right path by doing things the right way. It is part of playing cricket at the top level. It is not just about destination. It is about the journey as well. Enjoy it and give it your best. I have always loved a contest, always looked to improve my batting.

How much do you practise?

It depends. At the nets one hones his skills, but then it changes over the years. Earlier I used to bat a lot more in the nets during off-season. When playing, I rely on matches more than the nets. One has to manage one’s time, get enough break to recharge the batteries. Emotionally and physically you have to be at your best.

Is too much money good for the game?

Everything has its plus and minus side. You can’t look at things in isolation. There are some advantages of money coming into the game. It means better facilities for the players, better infrastructure for players and spectators. It is more important for the young players. They can look at cricket as a career and make a better living out of it. The negatives will come too. It can create a lack of hunger because a youngster can get a false sense of accomplishment well before he has achieved his potential. There are dangers associated with money. In anything in life you need a balance. Only those who strike a balance can succeed over a long period of time.

How do you rate the coaches you worked with?

I enjoyed working with all my coaches. All of them, including my first coach, have played a part in my career. I feel that over the years I have been a coach’s player.

How do you look at Twenty20?

People enjoy it. They have taken to it in a big way and it is going to play a significant part in the future of the game. People will watch and play Twenty20. I only hope Test cricket retains its charm. One-day cricket may suffer a bit. The number of ODIs may be reduced to accommodate more Twenty20 competitions. But then, Twenty20 cricket will promote careers of different kinds of players.

How do you rate your association with Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Anil Kumble and V. V. S. Laxman?

I started my career in 1996 with Sourav and Laxman; Tendulkar, Srinath and Kumble were already quite senior by then. We formed a good group that has taken Indian cricket forward. I have played a lot of cricket with them and enjoyed every moment. It has been a great privilege and pleasure to have played with them.

What kind of legacy would you like to leave behind?

Don’t really know. Maybe as someone who tried his best, someone who was a good player for the team, who always tried to do his best for the team in all sorts of situations.

Do you have any regrets?

All the Test matches that we lost. Not being able to win a World Cup. Can’t call them regrets, but surely disappointments.

Are you a reserved person, rarely smiling in public, or is it that you are just not demonstrative?

I am not demonstrative, I am my own person. I am not someone who will show emotions in public. I do show them when I am with my family and close friends. It is not that I don’t feel sad or I don’t feel happy.

What have been the changes in your life after marriage and fatherhood?

I have been lucky to have my wife and my son travelling with me to many places. It helps me see my son grow up, something that I really cherish. Having a family brings a sense of balance to your life.

What’s the future of cricket?

There are a lot of positives, lot of exciting times ahead. There are going to be many challenges for the younger generation. The advent of IPL will bring its own set of players and challenges and we will have to cope with it.