July 9, 2012

'I may have thought too much about the game but that's who I was'

ESPNcricinfo staff
For Rahul Dravid, analysing his cricket and working his weaknesses out methodically was a way of making up for his relative lack of conventional talent

At the launch of Timeless Steel, an anthology of writings on him published by ESPNcricinfo and Walt Disney India, Rahul Dravid spoke to Sanjay Manjrekar and Harsha Bhogle. Some excerpts.

On being seen as an intellectual, and whether he is comfortable with the tag
I am comfortable with that tag because that's who I was. I'm not hiding away from the fact that I did think deeply about this game, and I thought deeply because I loved it. I wanted to know how good I could become. I challenged myself, I asked questions. That's who I was.

People are different. I am not the only intense or intellectual cricketer. I played with other cricketers who could be pretty intense and intellectual. I know Sanjay was too - not to the obsessive levels that I was sometimes, but he was. The beauty of this game is, it allows different people to succeed; it allows everyone to express themselves. In some ways, this intellectualism, or this curiosity, was a strength for me. As well as a weakness sometimes.

On his obsession with technique
There are many who would say that. There were times when I thought too much about it. But that was who I was. Thinking about the game, working my weaknesses out, worked for me. I wasn't the most prodigiously talented cricketer in Karnataka, let alone India. Some of my team-mates in my school team could hit the ball cleaner than I do. I had to work through that lack of talent, so to speak, that lack of natural flair. Runs never came easy for me. That was the foundation for this thinking. It was a strength. I was able to overcome a lot of things. There were times in my career when I overdid it, and that was a red flag.

I realised it myself too, and a lot of senior players would tell me too, like you [Manjrekar], Anil [Kumble] and [Javagal] Srinath constantly being in my ear, telling me to just relax. But as a young kid growing up, desperate to do well, it was not always the most natural thing for me to do. As I matured, I managed it better. I don't think the basic trait will ever go away, but I managed the whole process better.

On the idea of being "less talented"
I think we judge talent wrong. What do we see as talent? I think I have made the same mistake myself. We judge talent by people's ability to strike a cricket ball. The sweetness, the timing. That's the only thing we see as talent. Things like determination, courage, discipline, temperament, these are also talent. I think when we judge talent, we have got to look at the whole package.

The talent I was mentioning was about striking the cricket ball. It's difficult to explain but some people just have it. You can look at a kid and say he has got it. Sourav Ganguly just had it - to time the cover-drive. You could see it. Sachin has it. Viru has it. You won't necessarily say that about Gautam so much. Not that he is less successful. That's what we see as talent.

We don't actually look at the other side of talent. We say a talented player didn't make it, but maybe he didn't have the other talent. I hate to bring this example up: Vinod [Kambli] is one of the nicest guys I have met. When [Karnataka] played him in Rajkot, Vinod got 150 against Srinath, Anil. First ball Anil came on to bowl, he hit him straight into the concrete wall. At short leg, you said, "Man, amazing, how did he do that? I wish I could do that." But maybe he didn't have the talent in other areas. Of just understanding what it took to be an international cricketer, or dealing with the stress and pressure. I can only guess. But maybe Sachin had that much more. Maybe in that other side of things, I was luckily much more talented.

On reading, conversing, showing an interest in others' lives
It was a way to escape. I thought about cricket a lot. I needed to get out of this bubble of mine. I found it in books and conversations with other people about other things. I was a curious person and this was my release. I like being challenged intellectually. I hated at the end of the day to talk cricket to someone else. I was talking to myself about cricket all the time, so I needed to talk to somebody else about something else. Took a lot of pressure off me. When I was reading books, or trying to find out what was interesting in others' lives, I wasn't thinking about cricket.

On getting angry, particularly the one incident described by Sehwag to his wife, Vijeeta, where he threw a chair in the dressing room
I don't think I was a person who got angry easily. I didn't need to be conscious of it, but I did realise that when I did get angry or let someone enter infiltrate my cocoon, I didn't play well. I was almost playing for the wrong reasons. There were a lot of times I was trying to prove someone wrong. In those cases I would never do well. Sometimes I tried to manufacture it to see if motivated me, but it didn't.

[On that occasion] I was partly angry with myself. We were leading the [2006] series 1-0, going into Bombay against England. I won the toss and I bowled first, which I don't think in hindsight was a smart decision. We bowled badly on the first day on a wicket that did help the seamers a bit, we batted terribly, and in the end I was angry at myself too, because I hadn't batted particularly well. I thought I made a wrong decision upfront. And then to end up capitulating on the last day when we could have easily played out a draw... I got a bit upset that day.

On captaincy
Let me say, it's been a great honour and privilege to captain India. When I got the opportunity, I took it up with a certain amount of energy and enthusiasm. I wanted to do it. At the time I gave it up, I felt that somehow, over a period of time, that had gone. Maybe it was the amount of cricket we played, or some of the up-and-down results we had. We had some good results, and crushing disappointments was well. All that took a toll on me. When I gave up, I wasn't enjoying it. I was getting up in the morning, before a one-day game, and thinking, "Oh god, another game of cricket." I had never felt like that about a game of cricket.

It's a tough job. It's a challenging job, no doubt about it. There is a lot of stuff that happens outside the field that you need to deal with quite well. In hindsight there is a lot of stuff that I can look back on and say, "Maybe you could have done that better." I don't know any captain who will not look back and say, "Maybe some things I could have done better."

I'd like to believe I still did a pretty good job. I could have done a better job, yes. If I paced out better, maybe if some results had gone our way, especially the World Cup. It takes a toll on you emotionally. If some results had gone our way, I would have been able to carry on.

On Greg Chappell
Right from the first time I met him in Australia, and Sourav introduced us, I thought he was a terrific man to talk cricket with. People like Greg have grown up with the game. They talk the game, they discuss the game, they have grown up in an era of Australian cricket where they would play the game and sit back and spend hours at the bar discussing the game. There was a lot he could offer, in terms of knowledge, from his experiences of having played the game so much. He was a great batsman, he knew batting, he understood batting. There was a lot he could help young kids with.

On the impression that it was Chappell's team and not Dravid's
It was my team. It was obviously my team. Because Greg was a strong personality, because he was himself a great cricketer, and because of the fanfare and the publicity that came with whatever he did, it sometimes gave the impression that it was his team more than my team or our team or the Indian team. That's the nature of the person; he is the kind of person who can polarise opinion. He is a strong personality. Comes across like that. I always felt that it was my team. I was always happy with the way things went.

On the decline of cricket conversation among cricketers
It definitely happens less and less. In a way it is a sign of professionalism. People are cooling down, having ice baths, having stretches, going to the physio. Getting together happens less and less. I am sure when guys get together they talk about cricket, but I think there are more distractions - so much more to do. A lot more external entertainment. People don't want to hang around in dirty, smelly dressing rooms, you know. That's one of the sad things about the game.

I remember long train journeys in our time, when playing first-class cricket. And in the evening you hear GS Viswanath and Syed Kirmani talk about the game, or Carlton Saldanha or Roger Binny. You have their undivided attention. You are pestering them with questions. They are having conversations among themselves, and you are eavesdropping on those conversations. A lot of my learning happened on these train journeys; I really enjoyed them. Sometimes I miss that. Creating that environment for that sometimes is missing.

People do talk cricket, but it is different when it is casual and relaxed. Someone asks you specific advice, it is different. The best learnings happen in these casual conversations. You are talking to someone else, and someone eavesdrops - those are some of my fondest memories.

On eliminating his exaggerated trigger movement, and whether it contributed to his getting bowled repeatedly in Australia
I did try and stay stiller rather than have that exaggerated shuffle. Actually, after I started playing well, it happened naturally. As time went on, as I batted better and better, that trigger movement became less and less. I tried to try and stop doing it. Partly because I was falling over a lot.

My timing went off a little bit. It's a tricky one, timing. Probably I was late on the ball. The timing of the coming down of the bat, maybe I lost that a little bit. Maybe they bowled well. Thing with these tours is, there is not a lot of time in between to analyse too much. There is not a lot of time to go back and work on some of these small things that come into your batting.

On his possible future in cricket administration
Nobody can do anything about the governance of the game. It's an impossible task I think.

I'm joking. It's a great game, it has been part of my life, I will always love to be some way involved in it. What form that takes, and how it happens, you never know. I have got to be humble about it. A lot of people who I respect and who have been able to make a contribution have always taken some time away from the game. I have lived this game, played this game, for about 25 years. I think it's not a bad idea to step away from it, look from outside, get a perspective and then come back. I don't know what form it might take. It's too great a game for me to "give back to it", but I will love to be associated.

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