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The Rediff Cricket Interview
/ Rahul Dravid
'Pakistan brings out the best in us'
February 25, 2005
For long, Rahul Dravid stood at the altar of greatness. Everyone knew he was very good, but not great.
In the past few years, the right-hander from Bangalore has transcended that boundary. An average of 57.52 -- the highest in the Indian team -- is testament not only to his skills of survival but also his ability to take the attack to the opposition.
With Sachin Tendulkar struggling on account of injury and Sourav Ganguly's form far from consistent, it is the International Cricket Council's Cricketer of 2004 who has held the Indian batting together in recent series.
Senior Cricket Correspondent Ashish Magotra caught up with the India vice-captain to assess India's chances in the upcoming series against Pakistan.
Sachin Tendulkar's back spasms, Nayan Mongia's dreadful shot, India's eventual defeat in the first Test of the 1999 series and the standing ovation the Pakistan team received from the Chennai crowd are all scenes that I still vividly recall. Does that defeat still hurt?
It was a great match, but it definitely does hurt to lose such a close Test. There were stages in that game where thanks to Sachin's brilliance we were very close to winning it. So, of course, it does hurt a little bit. But, at the end, you move on from there and, definitely, there are some very good memories after that against Pakistan. That is what I choose to focus on.
Every Test you win is special, whether it is winning in Delhi, with Anil (Kumble) taking ten wickets, or in Multan or in Rawapindi.
Pitches in India have always tended to favour the batsmen a lot. Many bowlers I have spoken to feel that in recent times the dominance of batsmen has increased. Do you agree?
Well, it could be true. But the wickets in the series against Australia did not suit the batsmen as well, because we didn't get a chance to play many shots; they were low and slow, and that suits no one, to be honest with you.
I mean, from a batting point of view, I like having pace and bounce in the wicket, because that is when you are really judged as a batsman. It also gives the bowlers an even chance as there is a bit of bounce and turn.
I guess the wickets in India have tended to be a little low and slow lately. Hopefully, we will get some good ones in the series against Pakistan.
The last time India had a break from cricket the team came back woefully out of touch. Now we are in the midst of another two-month break. Do you think something similar might happen again?
There are many ways of looking at it. You can blame a break for the problems. But if you blame a break then are you going to say you should never get a break. Then that would spawn a new set of problems as well. So, no, I would not blame the break, but I guess you have to look at what you would do during the break; how you prepare, what you do in that period of time and make sure you take adequate rest.
Also, this time we have played a lot of domestic cricket, which was not the case last time round. So it is not really a break; some of the guys in the team have played a lot of cricket since the Bangladesh tour and travelled to different parts of the country and played in tough conditions. So while it is a break from international cricket, it's not really been a break for the cricketers.
You played domestic cricket and the Challenger Trophy recently and had a chance to play against the upcoming players. Has anyone impressed you?
A lot of them, really! I have really been impressed with a lot of the batsmen. I'll probably miss out a few when I name them, but if you look at Shikhar Dhawan, Robin Uthappa, Suresh Raina and Ambati Rayudu -- the four of them look really exciting considering they are 18, 19 years old. And there is R P Singh, who is another talented fast bowler.
So there are these young guys coming through. I am looking forward to seeing how these guys go in the next couple of seasons. If they are properly handled they could be cricketers of the future.
I was speaking to a lot of these youngsters you mentioned about and most of them lamented the fact that the Indian middle order is so packed that it is difficult to get a chance. What advice would you give them? How do they get into the team?
The most important thing to do is not lose faith. Things can change very quickly and you never know what might happen a year down the line. Whenever the opportunity does come your way you have got to ensure that you are right up there in the queue. You can't lose heart and say, 'Ah, there will never be an opportunity,' and give it up. You have got to make tons of runs in domestic cricket and remind people constantly of your talent.
Most importantly, you must play the game because you enjoy playing it and score tons of runs. Getting frustrated is not going to help. You have to be a little patient as well. Lots of these kids are very young and there is no harm in them playing Ranji Trophy, where they can refine and hone their game. Simply because when they do get an opportunity, they actually make a good show of it.
I mean, if they get a chance early and they are not up to it, then the worst thing that can happen is that they get sacked and never get a look in again.
One young guy you missed out on is M S Dhoni. The way he batted during the Challenger Series makes me feel that in One-Day Internationals you won't have to do a lot of keeping.
(Laughs) Yeah, that's true. There are three wicketkeepers and all of them are very young. One tends to forget that Dhoni is just 23, Dinesh (Karthik) and Parthiv (Patel) are just 19 and 20 respectively. That's a great thing and, hopefully, it will solve a lot of problems for us.
You do need a wicketkeeper-batsman in today's day and age. I think the days of specialist wicketkeepers, to be honest, are gone. The 'keeper has got to be able to contribute. All three of them can bat and all of them are working very hard on their keeping, so it should be fun.
With Shoaib Akhtar ruled out of the Test matches the onus will now be on Danish Kaneria to perform. How do you rate him as a bowler?
Well, he is a good bowler. I think he has a bit of bounce and turn. It will be interesting to see how much he has learnt since we last played him. It will be interesting to see how he bowls on Indian wickets. Danish doesn't spin the googly a long way; he probably relies a lot more on bounce than on turn.
Also, the wickets here (in India) tend to be a lot slower than the ones in Australia. The ones in Australia tend to give you bounce and turn, especially for the leg-spinners, which, sometimes, Indian wickets don't give you.
I remember Musthaq Mohammad; he is a good example. He bowled very well in Australia, but didn't have a lot of success in India.
As a cricket enthusiast, I tend to wait more for the India-Australia series than India-Pakistan match-ups. Which series do you personally enjoy more?
You always want to play against the best in the world. Good competition tends to bring out the best in you. Pakistan brings out the best in us as well. I think they are good opposition. We really respect them and they play a brand of cricket that is probably similar to ours. There is so much interest and awareness about the series that you can't but put your best foot forward.
As vice-captain, you are part of the think-tank. Are you looking at any of the Pakistani batsmen in particular?
Inzaman (-ul Haq) and Yousuf (Youhana) are probably their best players, but Salman Butt is batting very well at the top of the order and looks very good. He got a hundred against us in one of the ODIs. But when Inzamam and Yousuf get runs Pakistan usually do very well. So dealing well with them is going to be very important.
And have you noticed any chinks in the armour?
We have played a lot of cricket against them and we have some ideas in place. But you can have all the ideas in the world, but quality batsmen are quality batsmen. You might get them out a couple of times, but if they are quality batsmen then they will find a way.
Since you made your debut, how have you grown as a batsmen. Are there any particular areas that you feel you have improved in?
I guess my game as a whole. I hope I have improved my all-round game. I really can't just look at one area. If I think I have survived and done well over a period of time, I have had to improve.
You have got to evolve, improve and adapt. I am sure I have done that in most areas of my game. It is a constant process that you have to keep doing all the time. I am still learning and trying to improve; I will keep doing that.
If you don't do that then it is very difficult to survive in international cricket, because people around you are getting better all the time, especially bowlers. You are playing against an opposition that works very hard and their bowlers are improving. If you don't match-up then you will struggle.
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