What memories do you have of the ’83 World Cup win?
I was a 10-year-old kid and remember watching the final and India winning, and going out with my cousins for ice cream. Yeah, it was a great inspiration for players of my generation — for the Sachins, the Kumbles and the Gangulys. We all identified with that event, though some of the others were too young.
Now that you are leading the side in this Cup, does that image of Kapil Dev holding the trophy give you goose pimples?
Obviously, it is an inspirational photograph because you know it was a big turning point in Indian cricket. It has inspired, as I said, my generation and it is amazing how we all remember what we were doing when India won the Cup. I can tell you exactly what I was doing even though it happened 23 years ago. It is a memory that stays with you.
What does it mean to you being captain of the World Cup side? Not in terms of pure cricket alone, but how are you reacting to it emotionally, as a sentiment?
I don’t know. At this point of time it does not feel like… it does not mean anything. Of course it is an honour but perhaps when I look back at my career, when I am finished, I will look back and say I was captain of the Indian team in the World Cup! But as of now, we are not seeing it that way.
We are seeing it as a great challenge. Here is a great responsibility and we will really try and give a good performance and not get too caught up. It is not about me as captain; it is about our performance, to do well. Perhaps when I look back I might think that way. Not that it is not an honour, but my thoughts right now are focussed on the challenges ahead, we just want to do well.
How much has your backing of Sehwag played a role in helping you pass a strong message to the team that you are the leader of the bunch and solidly behind them? Has it made you stronger as captain?
I just think that because it is a hot national debate, it gets that much attention and now people have started saying I have become a tough leader. To be honest, I have not changed, I have been the same, backed players I have believed in. And that is the way I wanted to play right through this thing, irrespective of what people may say or believe. Unfortunately, it takes something like this to come out in public for people to know.
I don’t see it any different from any other player (I have backed) during this period. And it is not about supporting individuals. My whole thing is about supporting the team and what is best for it. I am not going to say that every decision I took is right, and maybe that is true for every other captain I played under or against.
How do you realistically assess your chances and those of the other teams?
At the moment, the thoughts are really about happiness at having come here. All that one has heard about is the World Cup and all one is asked about is the World Cup... In some ways it is distracting. Now that we are here and set to play, we are glad and will try our best.
As far as our chances are concerned, I think we have a good chance of making the semifinals or even winning the tournament but we will have to play very well. No doubt it will be evenly contested and if we do find players who perform well in critical situations, we will do well. It is really going to be up to the players now.
I think if during some stage of the tournament I have reason to go and tell every single player in the team ‘well done’, we will do well. If seven or eight of us come back having done well, the team would have done well.
Which teams do you think will be difficult for India to handle, irrespective of the formbook?
All will be difficult if they are playing well and I will back our team against any team if we are playing well. To be honest with you, I am not going to pick one or two teams. All I know is that if we don’t play well, we will be beaten and if we do play well, we can beat any team.
Coming to the team itself, don’t you think that since you too can keep, we could have taken a specialist batsman instead of Dinesh Karthik?
Don’t look at Karthik as only a second ’keeper. He has proved to us in the last few months that he has the ability to bat — and bat very well — at the kind of position we want him to come in. He has already won a Man of the Match award, he has won us a Twenty20 game… I think wicketkeeping is a bonus in his case.
It is like saying Sehwag can also bowl off-spin, so why do we need Harbhajan? Karthik is a batsman, he fields well, provides energy and I think we should regard him as that and give him the opportunity to do well, failure or success, and not label him as a second wicketkeeper.
When Sourav Ganguly came back to the team, did you think he would play like his old self again?
We had hoped so. That was important and it was important for him to be back and playing like his old self. That is the kind of player we wanted and that is the kind of player we needed. I am glad he has come back and is playing really well. It is important for us that he continues like this, especially in an event like the World Cup, especially since he has got the experience. He has played in two of them. Yes, we are happy and we do need players who are playing their best, otherwise we won’t have a strong team.
Given the circumstances of his ouster, were there apprehensions in your mind when he returned, about how the whole thing would work out in terms of relationships?
No, I really did not have any such thoughts. We are all professionals and we want the team to do well. I want to be part of a good team, as does he. And so does everyone else, so I was not concerned from that point of view. For me, it has always been the performance of the team that mattered, and whether you can fit into that balance of the outfit.
He has come back and fitted in well and is playing good cricket. When Sourav was dropped, it was felt by everyone, by the selectors, that he was not playing his best and needed some time away. But to his credit, he has come back and come back so strongly.
Now that you begin your campaign here, would you want to say something to fans back home, especially considering how volatile they are and how they react to victory and defeat?
I have always spoken about how we need to keep things in perspective, not get too carried away when we win and not too dejected when we lose. That is the sort of personality I have, I guess. But there is a certain sense of emotion in an Indian fan that has its plusses and minuses.
But all we would like to say is that we are going to try our best. We would like to play the kind of cricket that Indian fans would be proud of. That is all we can try to do. You can never guarantee anything but we can at least guarantee that we will try our best.
(This is Part I of an exclusive interview with the Indian skipper. On Monday, Dravid gives us a glimpse of his one-day journey, how he transformed from the man who couldn’t be a one-day bat into one who would lead India to the World Cup one day)