'I fear for India's younger generation'
The Yuvraj Singh of today is very different to the electric fielder at point. What happened to him?
It is a series of things - too many injuries, from a knee to a shoulder, wrist to broken fingers. Once you're injured and come back, you can't be the same person. Firstly, you are not 21 years old. At 29 your body needs a lot of time to recover. Earlier I wasn't playing so much cricket, only one-day cricket mostly, and the body was young. I'm not saying I'm 37 years old now, but when I feel my body is 100% to stand at point, I will go and stand at point. In the last series I was standing there. I want to and I'm getting there.
Sachin tells me, "If you stand at point, the team will save 15-20 runs. You just need to watch your videos of the last couple of years." I watch my videos sometimes and I surprise myself. I'm thinking, "Is that me?" When I speak to Jonty Rhodes, he tells me, "It gives me goosebumps to see you fielding." A guy like Jonty Rhodes is telling me. So I think about it. But if I am not able to dive properly or move to the ball quickly, I will not stand at point. When my body is 100%, I will definitely come back to point. I still haven't given up.
What was your first reaction when you heard the news about the spot-fixing controversy?
It was a surprise. I didn't know what spot-fixing was. Then I read it and some people explained it to me. I was very surprised. It is sad for the game. The England-Pakistan series was going so well, everyone was so excited about it and suddenly this thing comes up. Controversy always spoils the game.
It has been sad for the game and for Pakistan cricket. They had just won a Test match. The other problem is that the moment someone is accused, everyone else starts getting accused too. [After the spot-fixing controversy broke] They are saying something was wrong in the IPL or the India-Sri Lanka 414 game was fixed. That's not done. If you have evidence, please show the evidence. You can't be printing stories just to create hype, saying that match was fixed, this match was fixed.
Cricketers meet hundreds of people socially, at events, parties. Have any "approaches" ever been made to you?
These things happen. You know what kind of people are around, what they are trying to do - and I'm not just saying bookies or guys like that. When you meet people, I believe you have to present a kind of body language that says, "Do not mess with me or even think of saying anything strange to me." You meet a lot of people who will try and give you advice or want you to get into bad stuff or who ask you to go and meet people you don't know or aren't interested in knowing at all.
For me, my body language is such that nobody has the guts to even come and talk to me about things like this, ever. You present yourself like that, like nobody can come and touch you. If you can do that then nobody can point a finger on you. I have always been like that and I have never been vulnerable in this case.
You're now one of the older guys in the team after 10 years in international cricket. What has the last decade been like? Are you disappointed or satisfied with what you've done since 2000?
When I started my career, I felt that that was when the game was changing in India. When we were newcomers, we watched the seniors and their very different approach from what we did in first-class cricket. The attitude to playing was changing. The game too started to move at a faster pace: 230 to 240 was a winning target when I first began playing, then teams started to chase 260s and 270s.
As a young kid starting out, it wasn't physically that tough. The body was young, you just went and fell anywhere - on the ground, in the dressing room, on the road. It didn't matter. You just got up, brushed yourself off and were on the go again. Mentally it was harder starting out. After a big performance against Australia and South Africa, suddenly I was in the limelight, and then suddenly you are out of runs in the next few tournaments and you didn't know how to come back. You didn't know what to do. It was a struggle.
The days have passed, the years have passed, and mentally I've become stronger. Physically I have had a lot of injuries in these last few years, so it has been an up-and-down stage, you could say. I'm happy with my one-day career but I could have done better in my Test cricket.
Now when you see the newcomers, do you see yourself at the age of 20 again?
I see a lot of guys making the same mistakes.
By mistakes I mean you come into the team, you have some success and you think, "Yeah, I can do the same things on the field all the time," which is not possible. Then after playing for India, you think, "I can do whatever I want," which is also not possible. It's just immaturity. No experience, so you make mistakes and hopefully you learn something from them, and from the older players.
I see a lot of youngsters like Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma, who are very talented and flamboyant. As a senior I tell them not to make the same mistakes I made, and try to guide them to a better tomorrow. When I began playing, you could say the game was changing, the distractions were beginning. Now the distractions are too much and my advice to the younger guys is mostly not to be distracted by what is happening outside and to concentrate on the game.
Do they listen?
They don't listen, especially Rohit and Virat. [Suresh] Raina still listens a little bit, but Rohit and Virat always argue with me. I don't blame the youngsters for not listening, because a lot of times Sachin or Sourav or Kumble said something to me and I said "What do they know?". But it's just your age… boys mature very late. That's what I've learned from my life. As a senior, I think it's our duty to help the junior guys, like [Ravindra] Jadeja and Praveen Kumar. I think it's our duty to help them as their career progresses. Hopefully they'll listen, if not to me, to other players.
When you say distractions, you mean partying, money, celebrity?
It's everything. When you are playing for the country, you start having a status. Then you want a big house. Then you want a nice car. You become famous, people start liking you, there is media hype around you. More than the positives, which these may sound like, there a lot of negatives. You start concentrating on other things, going out with your friends, saying "I'll practise tomorrow." At that moment it's important that there is someone to guide you and tell you, "No, your cricket is more important and everything here is because of your cricket. So practise five to eight hours, and after that do whatever you want to." You need to have a balance.
As one of the bad-boy generation in the Indian team, did you have a guide?
I feel our bad-boy generation has always been overplayed. Most of the bad boys are actually good boys. I took advice from seniors, like Vikram Rathore: he was someone who really helped me in my career in terms of making the transition from playing domestic cricket to international cricket. Then two guys I played with, Sandeep Sharma and Amit Sharma, who played club cricket for ONGC and first-class cricket for Punjab - they always gave me good guidance. But at that time I think nobody took me seriously.
Why was that?
They probably thought, "Oh, he's a kid." My body language was such that everyone may have felt I thought too much of myself. So nobody thought to come and tell me that I should do this or that. I was just growing up. It was a new world for me. It was not that I would not acknowledge people, but they may have felt that I would not listen.
Do you fear for the younger generation then?
I do actually fear for them. If there were 50% of distractions in cricket 10 years ago, today they are at 100%. Any youngster can fall out anywhere. Especially since the IPL, a lot of youngsters, particularly in first-class cricket, focus on the IPL, which is a very bad thing. The players feel that they are not good enough in international cricket and they can survive in the IPL. You can't blame them, because the IPL gives them an opportunity to play with the best players, gives them money and gives them a sense of well-being with their family - things a normal man wants.
But they need to realise that they need to push towards playing for the country. They need to be thinking of playing for the country, not because they may or may not eventually make it but because wanting to play for India is important in terms of pushing the level of their cricket, improving their cricket. I don't think the improvement of a cricketer's game can come by playing only for the IPL. You need to play all forms of cricket.
In bad times, is there one place or one person that you return to, to sort things out? What did you do, for example, when you got dropped after a long time?
This was very different from when I got dropped the first time. Then I was young, I didn't know anything. I came, kept playing my game, got dropped. That happens to all young players. Everyone is not Tendulkar, who knows how to play the game properly. It's the same thing with young guys in our team. They play, they get dropped, they come back, because they are good players.
But now last year was mentally very hard because it's very difficult to come back after an injury, then again get injured and come back and play and then get injured and come back again and again. What I normally do is that I don't show that I am disturbed. I never show it, I only show it to my mother. I come home and argue or scream at my mom because she understands me totally. She has seen me grow up. I have friends who I talk to, who keep me grounded. But mostly I talk to myself and tell myself that I have to be mentally very strong.
Now that you play in three forms, is it harder to switch into improvising in Twenty20s or to building the big innings in Tests?
Actually, after playing Twenty20 if I suddenly have to shift, I find it tougher to shift to one-day cricket than Test cricket. Earlier 50 overs would look like too few overs, and now after Twenty20, 50 overs looks like you have so much of time. It's a limited-overs format, but for me that is tougher to switch to than Test cricket. For me, switching from 20 to 50 overs, mentally you have to shift very quickly. The 50-over gameplans require much more thinking than Twenty20, where you are going bang bang.
Test cricket is very different. It has changed and maybe at a faster pace, but a cricketer knows what is needed. Preparation is of a different kind. The ball changes. You want to leave a lot of balls outside the off stump. You're trying to get set, you know that.
At the start of a season, do you set goals for yourself? The next six months are going to be big for Indian cricket, so what's the plan?
I have stopped having goals. If you have many goals and you don't reach your goals, it is very upsetting, so I just think of keeping it simple, working hard and going and playing the game. But I know there are going to be very important series for Indian cricket. I will just try my best to be in my fittest form. Not because the team wants me to or I want to but because it is the need of the situation. I have to give it my best shot because the World Cup is coming around. The last year has been pretty much down and it is time to really push the pedal and hit peak performance very soon.
Read part one of the interview here
Sharda Ugra is senior editor at Cricinfo