'I need to learn to be easy on myself'
You once went on record asking the selectors to give you a chance to succeed or fail. Has that anger dissolved now?
That was three years ago. It wasn't anger as such, but playing for India is something that has been [a desire] burning inside ever since I started playing cricket, when I was eight or nine years old. Now that I am there I hope I can seal my place.
Even your fans were afraid time was running out for you.
When you are playing sport, it's never nice that you are getting older. I was always very confident. There is not one day when I thought I would not make it - simply because I was playing good cricket. As long as you are playing good cricket, it's fine. I have this feeling that if you are good enough, nobody can stop you. That's what I believe in and that's what keeps me going.
Another aspect that I have laid a lot of importance on is fitness. I take a lot of pride in my fitness. Why do they say you're getting old or why do they differentiate? It's only because of fitness. And since I have always enjoyed my fitness, I have a lot of confidence in my work ethic and my fitness. I was confident that one day I'm going to make it.
Were you ever tempted to ask Dhoni, who is your captain at Chennai Super Kings, about the India selection?
I could have but I didn't, because I'm not a guy like that. If you are good enough, nobody can keep you out. I didn't want to go up to him. And he is also not a guy like that. He doesn't talk much. He just goes about his job and he knows me as a cricketer. So if someone is going to want me in the team, he is going to want me. But I always had confidence in myself and knew that things would come through.
How do you keep the frustration away? Have you spoken about it with any particular player?
I spend a lot of time with Mike Hussey. He too had to wait for international cricket quite a while. It's just the mindset, what he went through, how he went about doing it. It is heartening to hear that I had played a bit of international cricket before I turned 30; he said he hadn't played a single international game before he was 30. But obviously he is where he is. I have read his book and I've learnt a lot from him.
I have also learnt a lot from Matthew Hayden. But the most I have learnt is from Sachin [Tendulkar]. The little bit I have been inside the dressing room, I always try and learn from him. Just watching him practise and go out with sheer professionalism... And then someone like Rahul Dravid also. Of course, when it comes to leadership qualities, you can't keep MS Dhoni out. Having played with him, I think he is one of the fittest players to have played the game mentally. I always try and learn. I think I am a good student of the game.
In your first Test, you had a horrid time facing a great spell from Dale Steyn. And tongues started to wag again.
It was tough. It's going to play on your mind that people are writing shit about you. It happens with every cricketer. It was actually a learning curve. It was a tremendous spell Dale Steyn bowled. I was in the middle of a hurricane.
He is the best bowler in the world, but I learnt a lot. I knew exactly what I had to work on to play at the highest level. Like they say, you learn a lot more from your failures than your successes. I think I am a better player now.
I know how to go about things while playing at the international level. I think I should be really easy on myself while playing out there because I do well when I am enjoying myself out there. With CSK I have the comfort level. I can go out and express myself. I wasn't doing that earlier.
I'm a very intense person and I take everything seriously. I am a perfectionist in everything that I do. I try and write down a lot of things. It helps me track my progress. Every net session that I have been doing...
If someone comes up to me and says, "Go out there and enjoy yourself", that would probably help me. But if someone comes and says, "You have to do well, it's a pressure game", that wouldn't help me because I always put a lot of pressure on myself. So I have been trying to relax as much as I can.
When did that realisation sink in?
I was expecting too much from myself. Steve Waugh said in his book that he played his best in his last year. His mind was so right because he thought there was nothing to lose. Amazing he thought that so late. I am trying to get into that mindset. I try and do as much I can to get into the zone.
You lost out on a central contract soon after that Test series.
I was disappointed. Being out of contract means you are not part of the system. But I was not in the side, so the contract really didn't matter. I sat down before the season and saw where I was and where I wanted to go. That's what I tried to do this season. I have just been wanting to make a point. Not for selection or for someone else. It was just for myself. To to be honest, it's not been easy. It's been draining. And it's still not done, but I want to keep myself going.
For me, it's about how I apply my mind to the game. I know I'm good enough and it's just that I have to get it out there. Things that I have worked on over the last two years have to be tested. And I can't wait for them to be tested.
Has the IPL as a platform helped?
In domestic cricket I play only Indian players, but in IPL, if I'm playing against Mumbai and I hit [Lasith] Malinga for a four, people stand up and take notice. You get to play alongside and against international stars. It's just that the standard of cricket has been much higher in IPL than domestic cricket. For a player who hasn't been playing international cricket, this is the best platform you can get.
But this is not the only platform. It's Twenty20 cricket, and you can't be judged purely by IPL. Obviously there is a lot of skill involved, but judging a player should be a combination of his IPL and domestic performances.
If you were a selector when would you have selected yourself?
I don't know, actually, it's a tough question to answer. Everything happens for a reason. I have been maturing late. I have learnt along the way. You can see it in my batting. First year of IPL, or two-three years, I haven't been the same. I have improved a lot. Perhaps things don't come naturally to me and I have had to work on them. But I'm a much better cricketer now and looking forward to the West Indies tour.
How do you react to criticism? Sunil Gavaskar has praised you, some other have dissed you.
I am honoured that a great batsman like Gavaskar had such good words to say about me. Criticism is always going to be there when you are in the limelight. I spoke to Sachin about this before my Test debut. He told me that you are at the big stage, people are going to write good things and bad things about you. But at the end of the day, you want that. The trees with the most fruits get stones thrown at them. I thought that was great advice.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at ESPNcricinfo