The pads are off yet you will turn up in your blue Rajasthan Royals jersey yet again. What will be your role this year?
My role will essentially be helping the management build the team - a variety of things involved - strategic, tactical, helping out boys in coaching etc in order to build a good team.
Building a franchise team is little different from selecting a national team. Selectors give you the best possible team but a franchise team is built through auction and you don’t have control over that. So how do you go about building a team?
Firstly, you have to be very flexible. It is very difficult to control an auction, you never know what other teams are looking for. You can plan who you want but those players can suddenly go to other teams, so you got to have more options.
In our case, the advantage we have is we have retained five core players who will play a certain role in the team so we just have to build a team around these players. Not only are they good cricketers, they are an integral part of the culture of the team and we wanted to retain that culture. Its good to have them back.
You had a team full of upstarts and little known cricketers playing against some of the big names, how do you prepare them to not to get overawed by the opposition or by the occasion?
You have got to make them believe that they can compete at this level. That belief come not only from the captain but also from other senior players who have to keep encouraging and challenging the youngsters to play at their best.
The other good thing about it is that you have a bunch of players who are hungry to perform and do well - that's the best part about picking players who are not recognised. They are desparate to prove a point, and you want the sort of player who is willing to work hard to do that. That, and you make sure you offer them the right environment to express themselves.
On your way out, did you see that glimpse of leadership in someone who can carry the RR’s philosophy forward?
(Shane) Watson has been a critical part of the franchise even before I came in, he has been a through and through Royal. He is a leader both on and off the field. Even when he is not captaining, he understands the franchise very well and has been identified with this franchise. He is well liked, well respected and could prove to be a good leader for us. We are really looking forward to him carrying forward this legacy.
Rahane is also someone from the Indian side who has shown glimpses of a leader. He will also be involved with the part of the management we are going to build him up and engage him more in decision making.
You have always laid a lot of emphasis on a culture of belonging and inclusion. Did you feel there was something more you could have done when certain members of the team were involved in activities that brought disrepute to the team?
Of course, one of the things that you realise is that it is impossible to control and manage everything, there is only so much you can do. You can create a culture and environment of openness and honesty and hope that people won’t let you down. Obviously, I could looked back and said 'I could have done more, or done things differently.'
What I will say is that they way we responded, the way we bounced back, speaks about the culture of the team and about the fact that there are also other good people in the team. The franchise cannot be fouled for just a few people in it. Also, there were lessons to be learnt, not only for us but for everyone - that you always got to be vigilant and always keep your eyes open.
Post that incident, do you now believe that not only talent but integrity is also very important, especially in a close knit franchise set up?
Not only a franchise, this applies to any team any where. You can try, you can talk about it, you can put in a structure and environment that encourages honesty and integrity. But at the end of the day, it is also about individual choices as well. You can control only so much as a captain or as the team management. One must remember that for a large part of the year, the boys are on their own and only during the tournament do they become a part of the franchise. It all comes down to personal choices they make - that is the most important thing.
Cheteshwar Pujara has been an player of interest for quite some time now. Given his performance in South Africa, is it now safe to extend his home exploits to foreign tours?
He has been phenomenal in last one year, both in India and abroad. It is not just the fact that he scored runs but the way he has scored them has been very impressive. Every time he goes out, you feel he has the ability and skills to score runs. He is good against both spin and pace; is extremely good on both front and back foot and he backs that with a solid defence. He has got everything that is required to play for a long time.
There has been a clamour to let him into the ODI team, especially since other Indian batsmen have struggled with pace and swing on foreign pitches. Where do you stand on this?
I definitely believe that he is someone one can be included in the World Cup squad, especially since it is happening in Australia and New Zealand. At home, you might prefer others who have a reputation as bigger hitters. But in conditions abroad, I have no doubt that given the right role and responsibility, he can do a very important job for India. His numbers in domestic ODIs are phenomenal that just shows how he has stepped up to the challenges. I definitely hope that India start considering him in the ODI squad.
Rahane has also impressed in the little window he got in South Africa. Do you think he is batting too low down the order? Would batting earlier help him to make a greater impact?
The good thing about Rahane is that he is flexible. He bats at the top of the order for Mumbai and from what we saw in South Africa, he can come good batting at number five and six as well. When you are a young player, it is difficult to find an exact spot but with time, he will find a niche for himself. At the moment, it makes sense for him to bat where he is batting. With time, if he keeps performing the way he has, he will be promoted up the order.
How alarming do you find the fact that the Indian batting lineup has struggled against bounce in recent times?
Bounce is a factor but you have to consider the fact that they have always been chasing a score of 300 plus or close to it. I didn’t see any huge problem against the short ball in the Test matches in South Africa. They all played well in fact, they were going under and making choices. But when you are chasing 7, 7.5 runs an over, you have to go after everything. It is very difficult to be selective under those situations.
I believe that they will fare better against New Zealand in Test matches - they will be able to duck and sway. At the moment they don’t have such choices.
Do you feeel that the biggest concern for India today is how to replace match-winning bowlers like Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble?
This has been a challenge for India always. We havee always replace one quality batsman with another with relative ease. Finding replacement for a good bowler has alway proved much more difficult. We can only hope that some of these guys that are coming in will step up and develop the skill which is required to bowl in the death overs, which is a bit of an issue for India.
The problem is, experienced bowlers like Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav, who were supposed to step up to take Zaheer's place, are struggling for form. This forces others like Mohammed Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who may not be ready yet, to take up the mantle, putting undue pressure on them. At this point, it is about identifying the bowlers who can get the job done, and back them.
Do you feel that players like Virendra Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh, Yuvraj Singh or Gautam Gambhir have given all that had to give to Indian cricket? Do you see one or more of these stalwarts making a comeback?
One thing is very clear - they are hugely popular and still spoken about. Also, all of them have been terrific players, regardless of what happens from here onwards. They will go down in the history of Indian cricket as very very important players for India. And we must acknowledge that first.
As for making comebacks, it is not always that a spot opens up by virtue of your performance, it also depends on the guys playing in the national side. If thay keep performing, then it gets extremely difficult for you. And the longer it gets, the more difficult it gets as you are not getting any younger. The only thing you can do is to score runs and take wickets and keep reminding selectors that if there is an injury or loss of form, you are the first man to take over.
World cricket is caught in a storm over the ICC’s position paper on scrapping the FTP. what are your views?
There is quite a lot going on at the moment, plenty of speculations and multiple theories floating around. I haven’t read what is the final take or a release as such. I can only comment once I get a hang of what the real picture is.