Fifty-one runs, 47 balls, four dismissals in the IPL. This batter can give sleepless nights to the best bowlers but you have managed to keep him quiet every time you have bowled to him in the IPL. Who is he?
AB de Villiers. He is one of my favourite players. That's pretty good stats - bowling 47 balls, 51 runs and four wickets. I will take that.

I remember in the 2016 and 2017 IPL seasons, I got him a few times and after that I have made sure I have not gone for runs against him. How I look at things when I bowl to such big players is: there's nothing to lose. If they hit you, no one will come and tell you [off] because everyone knows he is a legend, he can hit anyone. But if you get him out, there's so much to gain as a player. So I have always looked at these big players like, let's go out and challenge them.

That mindset has helped me in that I have not been in awe or afraid of the situation. I have always believed that if you want to grow, you have to do something special against the biggest guys.

So do you have an attacking mindset against someone like de Villiers?
Yeah, definitely. But still, I don't go by the past record. I focus on that particular moment, that particular day, because the margin of error is minimum when you bowl to a player like him. You can't just say that you have got him out [in the past] and that he's under pressure. Obviously, I know I've bowled well against him, so that confidence is slightly extra.

You have also done well against Rishabh Pant, whom you have dismissed three times. Does the fact that he's looking for runs give you an opportunity?
I don't practise for easy batters. I work hard in a way where I am ready for those tough battles or those tough moments. [Against] someone like Rishabh, who can murder any spinner on his day, I know I have worked hard to do well in this situation. [It's] not an easy situation. I can't feel under pressure. Let's switch on the mind and do my best.

Does taking big wickets give you confidence and security as a spinner?
One hundred per cent. It gives me that confidence, that self-belief. One thing I have realised is, no matter what the situation in life or cricket, you have to believe in yourself. Even if I have a bad day, I'll never doubt my ability. I will always focus on where I have gone wrong - let me rectify that and go into the same battle with more preparation next time.

Whenever I've had bad days, I've not gone too much into my shell. I have analysed it to see, okay, where can I get better next time? If that same situation comes again, I'll do something else. It's just about getting better.

Can you give us an example?
I can give you two. One is when I was playing my first game in Australia, in Brisbane. It was my fourth game [for India]. I bowled two overs for 13 or 14 runs [15] and ended with four overs for 55. Before that I had never given more than 42 to 45 runs in my T20 career, so I was disappointed. [Krunal conceded 48 against Mumbai in the 2017-18 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy.]

I went back to my room, looked in the mirror and I said [to myself]: "You have so many good things in your life and you have reached here from where you were, so one game can't decide or judge you. You have come back because you have won so many battles in life." I had to speak to myself just to get back because we were travelling next day and playing the day after. Yes, I was under pressure.

Next game [in Melbourne], I bowled four overs for 21 runs [26] and got Glenn Maxwell out bowled. And in the third game [in Sydney], I got the Man-of-the-Match award with 4 for 36 in four overs.

Failure teaches you a lot of things. After the series, I just realised you should never ever give up, because things can change overnight. But you have to believe in yourself.

So in terms of your bowling, you did not change much in those games?
I was trying to do something in the first game that was not my strength. I realised I had never done it before, so let's stick to what has got me here.

What were you trying to do?
I was giving so much room [to the batter]. At the end at which I was bowling, the square boundary was 60 metres and the other was 90m. I was bowling to the longer side, which was the off side. It was easier for the batter to swing because he could extend his arm. Usually I don't give that much [width], so I had to bring subtle changes to my mindset but not to my skills.

Another example was in the 2018 IPL, against Royal Challengers Bangalore. I was batting with Hardik [Pandya]. We needed 50 from five overs [45 from four overs] and we were not able to chase the target. I was not able to hit a single ball. They bowled full tosses, but I was not able to hit them. There was a three-day break after the game and I was watching videos of it to figure out what I was doing wrong technique-wise.

I realised I was closing my upper body in a way where I was cramping myself. In the next game, in Indore against Kings XI Punjab, again I went in when we needed to score at a run rate of 11-12 in the last five overs. I finished that game with a 12-ball 31 not out. I did not bat in the nets after the game against RCB. I did not practise for three days. I just told myself to slightly change my stance in a way that can help me access all the areas.

Sometimes as a player you only know your strengths and not your weaknesses. But if you know both, you can get much, much better. Slowly you will start improving and then your weakness bucket is less full and the strength bucket is getting better, and in the process, you become consistent.

What are your best IPL matches?
The 2017 final and the 2019 final.

In the 2019 final, I did not contribute much, but it is about how we won it as a team. For me that's more important than individual performances.

In the 2017 final, I remember we [Mumbai Indians] were around 78 for 7 when the strategic timeout was taken. I was batting with Mitchell Johnson. In my first two years of the IPL, I walked in with the mindset of: throughout your career you have worked hard to be here, so just go out there and do it. That's why I was always able to overcome those crucial battles or why in those important situations, I was always one step ahead - because I enjoyed being in that situation so much.

In that final, I just told myself that I will go all out in the last two overs, in terms of hitting. Before that, I will just nudge the ball around for whatever runs. Luckily it went according to plan, where I almost got 25-30 runs in the last few overs. That gave us a total we could defend.

When was the first time you realised you were ready to play at the highest level?
I always felt that I will play for India. I have never doubted myself over whether I belong here or not. After the 2017 IPL, I knew that now I am going to play for India, but I got injured and was out for six-seven months. I had pulled the same quadricep muscle that I had surgery for in 2016. It was frustrating to miss out. In 2018 I had to do well again in the IPL to make it to the Indian team. I had a very good IPL season with whatever opportunities I got. And finally I played for India [in the home T20I series against West Indies].

When you made your ODI debut this March, against England in Pune, you said to Hardik that your focus was not on results. Can you explain?
If you do something result-oriented and don't achieve it, you get disappointed, so I wanted to take out that thing of getting disappointed or getting hurt. I will do what is controllable: my process, me getting better, [but] the result is not in my control. I have always judged myself with my process in terms of whether I am getting better or not.

The moment you are on a path of getting better, there will be one stage where you will be ready and you will just excel or fly. I don't want to be that player who just occasionally turns up and does well for the team. I want to be consistent.

We forget that hard work doesn't guarantee success. At the end of the day, it's smart work [that does].

I give this example to others: Ghoda bhi mehnat karta hai aur gadha bhi. Gadha aath ghante eenth peeche leke jaata hain ek jagah se doosre jagah tak. But what does the horse do? Woh derby mein bhagta hai [Both the horse and the donkey work hard. The donkey carries bricks on its back from one place to another for eight hours, while the horse runs in the derby].

So my thing is: work hard, but work hard like a horse, where you get better. Just because you have trained for eight hours won't necessarily get you success. Someone else will work hard for four hours on specifics where he will get better and excel.

What has the Indian team management told you about the role they want you to perform?
My role has been clear: I have to bat at Nos. 6 or 7 and then I have to bowl as well. When you bat at Nos. 6 or 7, you have to understand that the situation will be different. You can't just play your natural game. You have to bat according to the situation.

For example, against England on my ODI debut, I went in in the 40th over, batted for a few balls and then I was just going and hitting based on the merit of the ball. That situation allowed me to express myself. When I batted against Sri Lanka, in the second ODI, I scored some 33 runs. The situation didn't allow me to play my natural game like I did against England. We had lost wickets and we had to grind it out.

In bowling as well, over a period of time, I have always improved. I was really happy with the way I bowled in Sri Lanka. In the first game, I bowled ten overs for 26 runs. I think it was a record for the most economical bowler in the last ten years [the most economical ten-over spell by an Indian bowler vs Sri Lanka since 2008].

I feel that I belong at this level and I can do it for a long period of time.

In the ODIs against Sri Lanka, you conceded only three fours in 18 overs and had an economy of 3.5. Have you made a few changes to your batting and bowling?
If you see my graph, especially over the last six months, there have been a lot of changes, especially in my batting.

I am someone who has always been open to suggestions. After the 2020 IPL, I went back home [to Vadodara] and worked a lot with [former India keeper-batter] Kiran More, who has seen me from childhood. We worked on my batting technique and now I see that I am in a better position while playing. In the [2020-21] Vijay Hazare Trophy, I scored some 400 runs [388 at an average of 129.33 and a strike rate of 117.93] in five games with two hundreds and two fifties. That helped me get into the India ODI side and I carried the confidence from that tournament into my debut ODI series.

What tweaks did you make to your batting?
The backlift. I slightly widened my stance to have a much more [stable] base. And I also worked on my head position - why it changes and what I need to do.

Opposition bowling line-ups have looked to push you back using the short ball. Do you recognise it as a vulnerability?
I agree. I am the first to analyse my game. There are two things when it comes the short ball: one is, you don't know [how to counter it] or the second, you know how to but you don't know which one to hit and which to leave. I was in that second zone - I knew how to play the short ball, but I was confused in a way. And why I was getting into those uncomfortable positions while batting was because there was something wrong in my technique. That's what I sorted out, as I said about the base and backlift, so I can get into a better position when I play the short ball.

Sometimes you also have to understand the situation - like, when you go in at the death, you have to hit from ball one. You can't just look [at a batter and say], "Oh he is struggling with the short ball." If I get that same short ball in the 13th or 14th over, I will leave it. And if the situation and the team demand that I have hit from ball one and if I play and miss it, that also doesn't mean I don't know how to play the short ball.

Even earlier, bowlers would bowl the short ball to me, but my role in the team was completely different. In the last one and a half years, I have not batted that much for Mumbai because [Kieron] Pollard and Hardik have done so well. Throughout the 2020 IPL, I batted about 70 balls [92]. I have not got that many opportunities with the bat.

In the last two games of this IPL, I batted at No. 4 and I scored 39 against Rajasthan Royals and 32 against Chennai Super Kings. My role was completely different.

Against Rajasthan, [in my first over], Chris Morris bowled a quick bouncer and I just swayed away and left it. In Sri Lanka, the situation was such that the risk of getting out wasn't worth it, so I started leaving [the short ball]. The wicket was also two-paced. But in my debut game, against England, I was pulling and playing the upper cut because the situation demanded that.

This IPL, against Kolkata Knight Riders, Andre Russell bowled the first ball of the 20th over and I was in an uncomfortable position, but because it was the 20th over, I went all out [hitting a full ball for four between long-on and deep midwicket. Pandya was then caught off the third ball of the over trying to pull a slow bouncer.]

As far your bowling goes, previously you would deliver from wide of the crease at an angle with a sort of round arm. Recently you have moved closer to the stumps, your bowling arm is slightly higher, and you are also imparting some spin on the ball. Are these observations correct?
You are bang on. Up until now whatever bowling I did was from here [points to his head], using angles and variations, understanding the batsmen and the game situation. But then I realised that I should start developing skills for longevity at this level. So after the first half of the IPL, I did a lot of bowling, like some 20-25 overs. I called Rahul Sanghvi [former India left-arm spinner and manager and scout at Mumbai Indians] to Baroda for six days. I want to take my game to where I want to be so consistent that on a given day I will win the game with bat and ball.

Are you a floater or a finisher with the bat, or both?
I told you it's about what the team requires. One thing I know is that I'm a proper batsman who can bat at any number from three to seven. I can finish the game as well, which I have done in the past. And I have done the role where I go in at 20 for 2 or 20 for 3 and I have to build an innings. I wouldn't say I'm a floater or a finisher. I feel that I am a proper batsman who can do anything in any situation.

With bowling as well, I have bowled in powerplays, I have bowled in the middle overs, I have bowled those 16th-17th overs and I have bowled the 20th as well. I can perform any role the team requires of me. I don't want to be a one-dimensional player. I don't want to be a player who can only do some particular role. I want to be that player who is flexible and ready to do anything for the team, whichever team I play for.

You and Hardik are very close to achieving the dream of two brothers being part of a World Cup squad.
Yeah, true. Let's hope it happens soon. Plenty of World Cups coming soon (smiles).

Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo