'I'm looking for one more chance' - Chopra
In a red t-shirt, and matching red Reebok cap, Aakash Chopra is a picture of relaxation after a Delhi team meeting on the eve of their Ranji Trophy match against Tamil Nadu. And why would he not be, given that he's fresh off a big score in the Duleep Trophy final. He's now once again eyeing a spot in the Indian team, and another big score will do him no harm - especially with Dilip Vengsarkar, the chairman of selectors, in Delhi to watch the game. He took time off to speak to Cricinfo.
Anand Vasu (AV): How satisfying was it scoring 188 in a big game like the Duleep final?
Aakash Chopra (AC): Scoring runs is always satisfying, and to do so in a bit stage like the Duleep Trophy final against a touring side that has 7-8 internationals makes it that much more special. The match was on TV. I was a bit disappointed not to get the double-century, and perhaps more, but it was an important innings for me.
AV: Was the knock especially significant as India are in South Africa and there might be a requirement for a third opener in the Test series?
AC: Regardless of where India is at the moment and what the requirements are it was an important knock. I'm not looking beyond that. The next thing is the game starting tomorrow. I might get two innings there and that's two more opportunities to score. I'm just looking at that and not thinking about things I cannot control.
AV: How easy or otherwise is it to motivate yourself in domestic matches when you have been dropped from the Indian team and have to fight your way back?
AC: Motivation has never been an issue. It has always been there. If I wasn't motivated enough I'd stop playing cricket. The problem was never motivation - it was that I was putting too much pressure on myself. Every time I went out to bat I wanted to score a double-century so I could make it back into the Indian team as soon as possible. In trying to do that you cut out a lot of shots and tend to play a bit too safe. Then you're only thinking about not making mistakes and you go into a shell. It's a vicious cycle. Two years out has given me a chance to think about my game, to play in England and iron out a few flaws.
AV: In domestic cricket you don't get the same kind of back-room support as in international cricket. So in a sense is it harder to adjust to that when you're dropped from the Indian team?
AC: I didn't spend that much time in international cricket either. It was just about a year. And even in that because I was only playing Test matches it was not as though I was with the team all year. Having played domestic cricket for five-six years before that, and gone through the grind of age-group cricket, I was used to the facilities, the support staff - or the lack of it - so that was not an issue. But you definitely look at things from a different perspective.
AV: It's been said that you didn't have too many shots. That your top hand was locked and so you could never play through the off side.
AC: You won't score runs if you can't play through the off side. The Duleep final was covered live, people would have seen that, 60% of my scoring shots were on the off. If you don't score runs, or get dropped, there are thousands of opinions voiced and judgments passed on your technique. There were flaws in my batting, and still are - nobody is perfect. But the same people who passed those comments will talk differently when you make runs - they'll say 'he's changed' or 'he's improved', even if you're doing exactly the same thing. Basically you're still the same player - perhaps you're working more on your all-round game. But it's not possible to change your entire game.
AV: Are you looking for that one chance back in the Indian team to prove yourself once more?
AC: I'm definitely looking for one more chance, and more. When you get a chance to play for India you want to cement your place in the team, and that was what I tried to do the last time round as well. But it didn't happen. So, I'm looking at it as an opportunity to first make it back, and if I do that, then to cement my place.
AV: Have you been in touch with your team-mates since you were dropped from the national side?
AC: I've been playing with Viru [Sehwag] a lot. I travelled to Mohali to speak with Mike Atherton and have been in touch with him on email since. He has been my idol since childhood. I spoke to Greg Chappell in Nagpur last year. When you know you're lacking somewhere - maybe it's a mental thing, maybe it's a technical thing, you want to talk to as many people as possible and get the best out of it. I have spoken to a lot of people, not just my team-mates, and hopefully all that will help.
AV: When you were dropped back then, it was after you had done a job that was asked of you. With Sehwag scoring as quickly as he does, you were told to just seal one end up. You did that, and were still dropped. What did that feel like?
AC: That was the brief when I played then. My job was to just block one end up and see the ball off. That was the role I was assigned, and I think I did the job to some extent. So you do feel bad, because you played the role you were told to and then got dropped. But I won't blame anyone for my being dropped. No one stopped me from converting those 40s and 50s into centuries. If I had done that, things would have been different and we wouldn't be talking about this now. We all make mistakes, and we learn from them. That said, when you're playing in any team, you have a role to play, and that is assigned based on what suits your game best, and you have to play that. The thing is, if you get a start you have to make it count, and make sure you've saved enough for a rainy day.
AV: When you were dropped did the selectors tell you why you were dropped?
AC: Unfortunately things don't work like that in India. I've spoken to people like Kiran More and they've assured me they still had faith in me - it's just that I had to back that up with runs in domestic cricket. I really don't blame the selectors or anyone. There's no point in that. You have to be looking to improve yourself. Unfortunately there isn't a system in India where the selectors tell you where you lacked or where you need to improve when you get dropped. You have to figure it out yourself.
AV: With television coverage coming in and increased pay for players, do you think the profile of domestic cricket will now go up?
AC: It should. Domestic cricket should almost be at par with international cricket. I play in England and I've seen what it's like at counties. They have loyal fan followings, people turn up in team shirts to support their team. That's the way it should be. If you see the lot of the first-class cricketers in India half of them don't have jobs. And that is because there isn't much interest in first-class cricket from the public, and therefore the sponsors and corporates. India, unfortunately, is not a cricket-crazy country; it's a star-crazy country.
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo