'I never imagined I'd go on to play 100 Tests'
They have bowled 32940 balls to him in international cricket and yet bowlers still struggle to tell you exactly how to get Rahul Dravid out. He owns a Test average of 58.17, the highest in contemporary cricket give or take a few decimal points. He has 22 Test hundreds, and could so easily have had more if he'd buckled down in the 90s and made sure he went past the milestone. At most times, Dravid will tell you he doesn't really care about milestones. But when he leads his team in the third Test against England at Mumbai, he'll become only the sixth Indian to play 100 Tests. That number does mean something, he told Cricinfo as we drew him out to speak about the one topic he prefers to shy away from - himself.
What does this milestone of 100 Tests mean to you?
From one point of view it's still just another Test match which we must win. That's the most important thing. Personally for me it's a special feeling to reach 100 Test matches. It feels great to join the company of people who I have always admired and respected. There's Kapil [Dev], [Sunil] Gavaskar and [Dilip] Vengsarkar whom I have watched a bit on television, read about and looked up to growing up. But playing with Anil [Kumble] and Sachin [Tendulkar] has probably been the highlight of 100 Test matches. To play with such great cricketers, such legends of the game, to have shared so much with them, in the dressing-room over the last 10 years, it's been a great journey.
You were there at the Oval when Sachin played his 100th Test and you were at Ahmedabad, though you didn't play, for Anil's 100th Test. Is there a sense of emotion that surrounds the team as well when someone gets to a milestone like this ...
I really hope not. At the end of the day the focus is on trying to play a good game of cricket, not on the fact that it is my 100th Test. Everyone in the team enjoys the success of the others, and for me it was great to be a part of the 100th Tests of Tendulkar and Kumble. To share in the happiness of their special moment was a great feeling. But it's a game of cricket and we shouldn't forget that. That's what I'll be telling the boys - to focus on the game and on winning the series.
|In the end of the day the focus is on trying to play a good game of cricket, not on the fact that it is my 100th Test|
How well do you remember your first Test?
Oh I remember it very, very well. I remember walking in at Lord's and thinking that whatever else happened later I'd be a Test cricketer and that I had lived out my childhood dream. I never imagined I'd go on to play 100 Tests. I've been very blessed. When I look back at my career I'd say I've been very lucky. I realise that I could never have done so much without the support of so many people, whether it was those that actively played a direct part in the cricket or those who were just there supporting me and there for me. My parents, my coach, my friends, my team-mates at India and Karnataka, captains I have played under, everyone has contributed in helping me reach where I am. You sit back and realise how lucky you have been to survive so long. Obviously you've performed and done well - that's a critical part of it. But I think I've met the right people along the way and feel quite blessed.
The way you speak of Anil and Sachin, is there a sense of having taken a journey together ...
In some ways, yes. Anil and Sachin have been on this journey much longer - 16 years or so. I jumped on 6 years later. Sachin and Anil were established cricketers by the time I made my debut and after three Tests, Sachin was captain. In some ways they have been much senior to me and have seen me as a youngster and then seen me establish and develop myself. Not just them, but even Sourav. We began together at Lord's in 1996 and since have shared some good moments. Lately I've really enjoyed playing with some of the younger boys who have come on and taken their game to the next level - Sehwag, Yuvraj, Harbhajan, Kaif, people like that - and that has helped me raise the bar.
As captain how important is it to you that you have people with 100-plus Tests in terms of experience to turn to when you need them?
That's a lot of experience and it is great to have that in the dressing-room. You know you'll get right advice if you have to fall back on them in a time of need. Just the kind of people they are makes them fantastic team players. They're good guys and it's really helpful to have their wealth of cricketing expertise to access when I have doubts. At many stages of my career I have gone to these guys even when I've needed advice on non-cricketing matters. They are the kind of people you would want in any kind of team.
Apart from the very obvious high moments, winning in Australia and Pakistan, there must be other moments that you remember ...
My Test debut was very special, especially at Lord's. You've listed some of the other ... also being there when Anil took 10 wickets against Pakistan at Delhi, when Sachin scored his 35th Test century ... to be there when these two legends had big moments was special. To have played with some great cricketers is really special - Srinath, Ganguly, Tendulkar, Kumble, Laxman, Sehwag, now Bhajji, people like Azharuddin ... I'm sure I'm missing out some names here. I've played with some great cricketers and I'll remember that for a long time.
|I feel lucky that my family has been with me on this journey. In some ways they have had to make big sacrifices for me and I'm very grateful for that|
But there must equally have been phases which you had to work hard to get out of, that troubled you ...
When you play as long as I have you obviously go through ups and downs. There will be tough stages in your career, tough tours, tough times. In 1998, I was out of the one-day side, and that was really hard. I was a bit confused with my thoughts then. It probably made me a better person, though. The way I approached those tough times probably helped me become better and play as long as I have. The attitude I took during that period was probably beneficial in the long run. The tour of Australia in 1999 was a tough time. Playing six months of county cricket in England certainly helped me get away from things, be in a different environment, play my cricket, be myself and I think I discovered a lot about myself and grew as a person as much as I did as a cricketer.
Who do you rely on, who do you turn to when you have a problem with your batting?
We have Greg Chappell right here. Some of my team-mates have played with me for so long that they know my game as well as me. If I do have some issues I tend to go to them and talk about it. In the hurry of international cricket you're on the road all the time. In days before you probably had time off to go back home and work with specific people like your coach. But now you just have to work things out on the road, and the best people to help you are your team-mates.
How do you deal with the balance between a cricketing life and a normal life. Already cricket has taken a large chunk of your life ... you have a wife, now a young son ...
Like I said I've been very lucky. My parents were very supportive of me when I was growing up and now my wife is really supportive of me. I feel lucky that my family has been with me on this journey. In some ways they have had to make big sacrifices for me and I'm very grateful for that.
And then there's the media and the public ... it seems everyone wants a piece of you these days.
It depends how you take it. You can get hassled by it. There are so many TV channels in India now that the media presence has grown so much. You're right, everyone does want a piece of you when you're India captain. There isn't much time to switch off. But if you're going to think of it as a problem then you're always going to be hassled. In some ways you have to try and enjoy it. You have to understand that this is the way it is going to be. You have to learn that in the short period of time that your career is - and it is only a small period of your life, you have to make the most of your talents. It's not just what you play. You have to make optimum use of the talents you're given and ensure that you've fulfilled all you can. You have to learn to go with the flow and understand that these things, the external pressures, are part of being a cricketer, part of life. You have to figure out ways of finding ways to switch off. I'm constantly working on this, especially as captain, and at times it does get tough but that's part of the challenge.
|When I was a young kid I remember what it felt like to come back from school, throw the bags, quickly get something to eat and then get out to the street to play cricket|
You've also picked up many nicknames. The Wall, Mr. Clean ... It's like the media and the public have caricaturized you. Is that all there is to Rahul Dravid or is there another Rahul, a more private one?
People think they know you better than they actually do, that's part of being a public figure, you and your character are constantly scrutinised. You are labelled easily. People who have never even met you, don't even know you, will have an opinion on the kind of person you are. It's strange, but that's the way it is. I don't really get worried about what kind of impression people have of me. I am not trying to create an image, or portray an image of myself. I see myself as someone who has an ability to play cricket and I try and make the most of my talents. I try and fulfill my potential - that's what I think about every single day. I don't try and be something ... People call me The Wall or something else but it's not something I'm thinking about when I'm going out to play. I'm never thinking `I should bat like a wall!' I go out and do what I know best. What the situation requires. In that sense it's not difficult because I'm not trying to live up to anything.
Your cricket is characterised by intensity ... whether it's batting or captaincy. How do you manage to sustain that intensity over a long period?
You have to enjoy playing. And you have to make sure you never forget that it's just a game. You have to love the game. I always think about how I began. When I was a young kid I remember what it felt like to come back from school, throw the bags, quickly get something to eat and then get out to the street to play cricket. We played for two-three hours and how we enjoyed it. It was so much fun. Then there were the school nets and I couldn't wait to go out and play. I was so keen just to hear the bell ring so I could get out there and bat. That's something that never goes away. Obviously when you're playing professionally for such a long period of time the pressures are different. You taste success, you face defeats, there are some lonely days on the road ... but if you can always go back to the joy of why you began playing the game in the first place, then the intensity will automatically come whether you're playing your first game, the second or the hundredth. At the end of the day you have to accept that it's a game and you must have fun playing it. Defeats and losses will be there, but you have to take them for what they are. You have to love every nuance of the game. For me you have to find something you can take out of tough times, out of losses. You can never enjoy it but you must realise it's part and parcel of the game and if you live it you must embrace everything that comes with it.
And what about getting out in the 90s ... you embrace that also? Explain that a bit, does your mindset change when you get into the 90s?
I wouldn't know that! [Laughs] You tell me, mate. To be very honest with you, I'd say the attempt is to ensure that the mindset doesn't change when you get to the 90s. But I've got out a few times there and I suppose that happens when you play as much as I do. I really don't know. My mindset does not change too much, I still follow the same simple routines that I have ... it's probably just one of those things. It's part of the game, you move on, you don't lose a night's sleep over it. I try not to approach the 90s differently from other times when I'm batting but if I say that people aren't going to believe me because my record suggests something different. But I have converted 90s into 100s 22 times so I must be doing something right!
Some would say there have been distinct phases in your career ... would you care to break your career up into phases for us?
I'd really only say there were a couple of phases. Initially there was that phase when I had success in England, in South Africa, in the West Indies. That was one phase and then there was everything else that came after 2000, where I started playing the kind of innings I knew I was capable of. It was after 2000 that I really started contributing, kicked on and sort of moved on to the next level, if one may call it that.
Was there a particular process that led to this graduation to the next level?
There was a period of introspection that I went through. There was that phase in county cricket, there was a time of working on the game. There was a new set-up where I was vice-captain of the team. We created a good team and an environment that helped me. The work ethic improved, the fitness improved ... bringing in the right kind of help in terms of physiotherapists and trainers made a difference. I reveled in the atmosphere. For someone who was trying make full use of his talents, who was always trying to be the best player that he could be, playing in a professional set-up and getting the support from outside helped me achieve my goals inspired me and gave me the motivation I needed. In some ways getting the responsibility of the vice-captaincy, showing some sort of leadership gave me the thrust that I needed.
Are the pressures of being captain full-time resting more lightly on your shoulders now than perhaps three months ago?
It's a constant process. You have to evolve with the job. There are pressures and those will never change. Every match brings its own pressures but you definitely grow more comfortable in the job. You figure out routines for yourself, you know how to react in certain situations, you learn along the way. Experience, that's what you get. The pressures don't change - of winning and losing games, the pressure of picking teams, of leaving people out, the external and internal pressures. Those things will never change. But with experience you realise that you have experienced many of these things before, and you have things to fall back on that can help you.
You meet a lot of people and interact with them because you're a cricketer, because you're India's captain, but are there still people to whom you were and still remain just Rahul? Leave your parents and family out of this ... obviously to them you're still Rahul.
To the friends I grew up with, and there are a lot of guys I knew from school and college to whom I'm still Rahul Dravid. They're doing different things and with the amount of cricket I play it's obviously difficult to meet them as much as I'd like. To some of those guys who are still friends of mine we can still chat and have a laugh like the old days. We do get together for a quiet meal when we can. Now, having a family and a child it's a bit different when I go back home to Bangalore. To me it's important to catch up with people I've grown up with because it keeps me grounded. There are memories of where you come from and it makes sure your feet are on the ground.
|My idea of letting my hair down is not always about going to a disco and jumping up and down. I don't need to do that to have a good time|
You're always composed, serious, in control ... do you at least let your hair down in private?
I'm like everyone else. I've had a go a few times. There's no point in me losing the rag on the cricket field. I don't think that helps anyone. Just abusing or expressing disappointment at someone who has made a mistake makes no sense at all. If you're going to berate a cricketer on the field, publicly, when he's made a mistake that he probably knows it better than anyone else, and feels terrible about, that does no good. In private I might have the odd go. But luckily this team has not really given me an opportunity to do that. We might not have always had the best results but at no time have I had occasion to fault the commitment of these boys. Since I took over I've never felt we've been short on commitment, and that's all I can ask for, really.
But not just berating the boys ... what about you having time to yourself, having fun, laughing a little maybe ...
I mean, uh, yeah ... I do let my hair down, with friends and family and people I'm close to. I can relax. There are times with the boys when we have celebrated after we've won that I've been totally relaxed. My idea of letting my hair down is not always about going to a disco and jumping up and down. I don't need to do that to have a good time. My way of letting my hair down, taking a day off, relaxing is just sitting down with a good book, having a great meal with family or friends, taking in some good conversation. That's my way.
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo