'Headingley gave me my identity'
Bowling came naturally to me but I didn't pay too much attention to it. I always wanted to be a batsman, so it is like maar todh ke batting banaya [worked extremely hard on my batting], that sort of a thing. So I was not natural as a batsman, very natural as a bowler.
The plus-point for a Railwayman is, he gets a lot of opportunities. When you learn on the job, it makes you tougher because you tend to take up responsibilities. You are not only playing as a player. You need to understand various other things - the managerial aspect, look after the team reservations, look after the practice facilities. It makes you multi-faceted. You tend to be a well-rounded personality that way.
The first game I watched, on a neighbour's television, sitting on a staircase, was the 1983 World Cup final, so players like Kapil Dev or Sunil Gavaskar, they were idols.
The birth records show Beed, but I was born in a village some 25-30km from there. Up to the tenth standard, during my childhood, I was in Aurangabad.
I did one year of captaincy, in 1997-98, but was probably not really ready for it. So after that I said I'm not going to lead for some time.
In the last ten seasons or so, Railways have had five championships by title wins: two Ranji, two Irani, and one one-day win. Apart from that we're reaching quarters and semis. We got relegated and then bounced back. Things have always been happening around the Railways team.
I wanted to be the aggressor, not a defensive player. After I came out of the Indian team, I noticed I was not able to do it because of a technical reason. It was brought to my notice when I was playing in the Lancashire League in 2004-05. A local coach told me, "Your grip is like this, if you slightly change it, you could be more free-flowing and play more in front of the wicket than square of the wicket." After that, I have really enjoyed the batting aspect of the game.
I got noticed and was selected for the Maharashtra Under-15s, and got to play one game. The local coaches said that since there is little cricket in Aurangabad, you need to go to Bombay if you need to develop your cricket.
Here at Railways, you are at least attached to an institution. You are learning something and Railways takes care of you till superannuation.
Most academies are there to keep their cash-flow running. I don't think anybody is doing it to produce excellent cricketers. I can't say they [coaches during my time] were better equipped technically, but their intentions were right.
My fondest memories were of vacations on my family's agricultural field.
Ultimately it is a struggle of you against yourself, how you tried and purified yourself and your being into someone driven less by material instincts.
I was picked in the Indian team more for my bowling. Shivlal Yadav was the selector and he picked me for a Board President's XI match against England in 2001-02. I bowled very well in that match, took seven wickets. After being picked for the first Test, I made it clear to Sourav [Ganguly] that I had opened for my team and given a chance I would also like to open for India in the first Test. But I tore my hamstring before the match and Deep Dasgupta opened and got a hundred.
Earlier Railways were never expected to do well, but from 2001 onwards we got a very good bunch of cricketers together and things started working well for us. The expectations are now higher.
I have a farm in Bombay and one in Aurangabad, and that sort of dream is still there, that five years down the line, you'll find me somewhere on a farm.
I always wanted to read a lot, and during the long journeys [while playing for Railways], there is no better option than reading. I read a lot of books on history, and Marathi literature. That gave me another way of looking at things.
My family moved to Bombay for my cricket. There was a camp conducted by Mr Vasant Amladi, organised by one of the local clubs there. From there on, around 1985-86, I got to play season-ball cricket. He came for three weeks, taught the fundamentals - batting techniques, front-foot defence, back-foot defence.
Headingley gave me my name, my identity.
I had a double-hundred partnership against West Indies at the Wankhede. I had a nearly 200-run stand in the second Test I played, with Sachin [Tendulkar]. I was always having those partnerships and contributing to the team's cause, but then I don't know what happened.
Winning a premier national tournament is tough. It's done over a four-month period and things happen in a four-month period in a team sport. It is an amazing journey, and for someone who has not played international cricket to win a Ranji Trophy is of paramount importance because it forms the highlight of his career.
At the start of my career, there was Ashish Winston Zaidi who really used to test the batsmen. Later, somebody like Salil Ankola, and now Munaf Patel.
When you are under the sun, under a clear sky, with your bare feet on the ground, it will keep you grounded, and that is what life is about. It doesn't matter how many matches you played, what bank balance you have, what people think of you.
Nobody really tried or gave me a suggestion that helped me play with flair. That is a thing I regret.
I came to Mumbai at the age of 15 and I found that boys of my age were far superior to me. For the first two and a half years, I hardly got to play any matches. I was always the scorer or something, even at club level.
It is always good to learn something apart from cricket. It provides long-term security, especially for players who might miss out on reaching a higher level.
Railways cricketers today are probably as well prepared as any other first-class team. We have to train under difficult situations, make slightly more sacrifices, undergo more trouble to get things organised, but it eventually develops into something tough, and we value that.
When it comes to fitness and preparation, it matters how the coach or the team management looks at a senior player. They need to be able to do things at their own pace. You can't expect a 40-year-old to train like a 25-year-old. I've been privileged enough to have that leeway.
The year we got relegated [2005-06], I was the captain. It took a hell of a lot of out of me mentally. Because of that aspect of relegation and promotion, there was an element of urgency to Ranji Trophy cricket. There was a fear. No matter what sphere of life you are in, to get demoted is considered a stigma or a setback. There were a lot of sleepless nights when we were not doing well.
I'm a slightly better off player now than I was when playing for India.
It was a bit harsh for me to be dropped straightaway after the New Zealand tour [2002-03]. We played an Irani match when the New Zealand team was touring [in October 2003], and I think the decision was made well before that that they needed somebody else. I was not given an opportunity either to play for the Board President's XI or India A.
There would not be a better moment to quit if it all finishes with another trophy in our cabinet.
Siddhartha Talya is a senior sub-editor and Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo