September 27, 2010

'When Australia play, there is very good cricket'

Interview by Nishant Arora
The Australian captain gives India their due as No. 1, warns of a bouncer barrage for Sehwag, and is optimistic about catching up with Tendulkar's centuries

Ricky, you're coming off a long break. You must be looking forward to some good, challenging cricket?
We are very excited. Looking forward to the challenge in the next few days of these Test matches. It's a very challenging place for all teams to play.

It was supposed to be a seven-match one-day series, then the BCCI requested two Test matches. You play a lot of one-day cricket but Test matches are everything for any cricketer...
It's always been my favourite format of the game. We've got the Ashes series just round the corner as well, and I'd rather be playing these two Test matches and three one-dayers, rather than the one-dayers that we were supposed to playing. It is a good opportunity for us to get back to playing Test match cricket.

Two Test matches is a tricky kind of a series. If you lose the first, you are chasing to get the series level. You think this could be a tricky one?
Yeah, I guess there's a chance for everyone. We've got a really short window. We're cramming everything in at the moment and then we get back to Australia and play three one-dayers against Sri Lanka. Hopefully we're the team that can take some initiative along the series and start the Test matches really well.

In 2001, Australia came here as No. 1 and India were trying to challenge them. If you look at the history of India-Australia cricket, Australia has been dominant and India have tried to pose a challenge. This time it's the other way round.
Well, I think we've got three very strong rivals. India is obviously one, as we have had such intense tussles in the last five years. The Ashes series against England - that has a bit of an extra edge to it. But I think some of the challenges against South Africa have been pretty tough. If you look at those three series, there is not really much to differentiate between them, but there is probably just more of an edge [in those] than in any other game.

There have been fears that Test cricket would die, but it seems to be in the pink of health. There seem to be five teams competing at more or less the same level.
Test cricket is really strong. You need all the countries that are playing to be strong. That's why Pakistan's situation is a shame.

We never thought about our team as No. 1 team or of our team as being better than anyone else, but when Australia play, there is very good cricket. We don't play draws, we always have results. Now it is time we start lifting ourselves back to the top. The best way for us is to come back to India and perform. We look forward to the summer and Ashes series. We have got seven Test matches up until the middle of January. We'll manage to come out on top.

How much you believe in the rankings? Do you think India is a worthy No. 1?
Yes, of course.

Does it give the players an extra incentive? This is India, No. 1, let's go out and teach them a lesson?
It is a great challenge. We are not focused or sold on rankings. We plan to give it a good shot.

"None of the other offspinners have their way around me as Harbhajan does. So I have to give it to him. He has bowled very well against me"

Looking at the Indian side, what do you think of their team?
Their bowlers were a lot better than our bowlers last time. The spinners played really well last time, but we are very well prepared on those fronts this time.

When you look at someone like Sehwag, do you think he has been an impact player of the decade?
Indian players play their best in Test cricket. Sehwag's dangerous. Our bowlers will be bowling their fair share of short balls at him. Young bowlers like [Mitchell] Johnson are looking forward to unsettling him at the top of the order.

Sachin Tendulkar - people are falling in love with him all over again. You are about the same age. Is he an inspiration for you?
Over the last 12 months, Sachin's been playing exceptionally well. He seems to be the batsman everybody seems to be chasing. He is the key wicket - if we get him, there is a good chance to win the game.

There was a time when people used to think that Ponting would catch Sachin in terms of runs, but do you now think that he has widened that gap a bit?
He is in his 40s, I am on 39 [centuries]. I am in the best of shape. Honestly, it feels like some of my best batting is just round the corner.

I have worked really hard in the gym over the last four or five years to make sure of my fitness. One thing I have been working really hard on is to get that pull shot back on the way it was before.

Harbhajan Singh has taken your wicket a few times. Why do you think he has been able to do so so often?
None of the other offspinners have their way around me as Harbhajan does. So I have to give it to him. He has bowled very well against me, and he has picked up my wickets seven times [10] in Test cricket and a couple of times [three] in one-dayers.

How much do you miss the early days of the India-Australia rivalry?
It was a great period to play and every player was a champion player. We had [Matthew] Hayden, Adam Gilchrist, Jason Gillespie, [Glenn] McGrath. Those guys built their own reputation. You can't afford to miss those players. We might not be as dominant as we were four or five years ago but we will really be looking to get some good results.

Nishant Arora is deputy editor (sports), Headlines Today, where this interview was first published

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