When you look back today, what do you think was the turning point of your career, in terms of international stardom and becoming what you wanted?
I think my first Test hundred in England when I was 17, it kept us alive in the series. If you do well in England or Australia, the world takes note. Immediately after, in Australia, I scored two hundreds, on different surfaces, one in Sydney and the other on the bouncy wicket of Perth.
You still rate the Perth one as your best?
Yes, one of the tops.
Because of the quality of the innings or because you were so young?
Not age, but I think, the quality of attack, the kind of surface we played on… given the circumstances, what I was able to achieve.
Did you set yourself targets once you knew you were here to stay?
I would sort of set targets, but would obviously keep them to myself.
What sorts of targets would you set at that time?
It depended on that particular series or the kind of bowling attack — what I was going to achieve, the contribution to the team… all those factors were taken into consideration in setting a goal. I would look to achieve that.
At that time, did you ever feel you had shortcomings on fast tracks against pace and needed to improve?
By God’s grace I have not felt uncomfortable in facing a particular attack. I felt I was in a position to tackle anything and everything. But at the same time, I took nothing for granted. I prepared to the best of my ability.
How did it feel to be talked about as the boy who would become the greatest?
It felt wonderful. I took confidence from all the positive statements made about me and with the help of that confidence I looked to climb the ladder. I would only look at the positives and not worry about negatives. Every individual will have faults, I would rather... I used my strengths, my energy in the right direction. I would think of factors that would help me contribute. I took that confidence along whenever I went out to bat. I did not read any newspaper — I sort of avoided reading them!
Which bowlers did you admire, who troubled you the most?
I always felt that the Australians have been the leading side of the world and to do well against them was a great challenge, something I looked forward to.
Any names? Who would you say is the finest bowler of your time?
There have been many, I would say, right from first series. Wasim, Waqar, Imran, Qadir… the second series saw Richard Hadllee; then Angus Fraser, Devon Malcolm, then we went to South Africa and it was Alan Donald. In Australia (Craig) McDermott really bowled well.
If you had to rate one bower?
It is tough to single out one bowler, you know there have been so many greats, all the guys with more than 400 wickets — it is difficult. It is up to an individual to rate them because he feels that way about them.
So from your perspective?
Probably, (pauses, takes a lot of time) like, probably (pauses again) hmmm… (Glenn) McGrath would be the most accurate one.
Also the most troublesome for you?
Yeah, I have scored hundreds against him but he is probably the one who…
You demonstrated your anger, something so rare, while attacking him once. Was it because of his calibre as a bowler?
It was sort of a strategy actually. This happened only once, in Kenya in the Champions Trophy (2001). We won the toss and batted. The way he bowled the first over, Sourav was captain and I told him that this strategy might work, I told him to let me execute it, go after him and get into a little bit of a verbal battle. Basically unsettle him and not allow him to bowl where he wanted to.
And it succeeded…
It succeeded, because I hit him for three sixes.
What makes you such an outstanding all-surface player? Your game and style of play moulds itself around the nature of the wicket.
I don’t know, I always discussed the kind of surface and all that with my brother (Ajit). His inputs have all always helped. Even today, I discuss cricket with him. His inputs are invaluable.
If a wicket is hard and pacy, you play on the rise, if it is slow and turning, you use your wrists more often. Is this your greatest ability, apart from technical skills?
It’s a little difficult for me to answer this — the opposition would be better placed to do so. A batsman looks to play according to the surface, and adjust according to it. That is what I tried to do. I have adopted a defensive strategy when I could be a little more patient, sometimes I decide to counterattack and take on the opposition.
For a man who hates being second best, will not being a successful long-term captain be a sore point in your career?
Not really, not really, absolutely not. At no stage was I fond of captaincy. I have always been fond of playing. It really does not matter, as captaincy is not about an individual. It is about the team. It has a lot to do with other members of the team.
You mean you did not have a good enough team under you?
The team was definitely good. But if I have to compare today, then we definitely have more match winners now.
( In part III, he looks at what lies ahead, personally & cricket-wise )