After two decades of international cricket, what childhood memories come back to you most vividly?
Those images would be that of playing for India, before that would be playing with my friends in my building where I wanted to be the best. I was nine or 10 then, we played with tennis balls and I liked accepting challenges.
I was the top-scorer in our age-group events and when I was 10, a couple of my friends challenged me to face a guy of about 22-23 without pads with a seasoned ball (a proper cricket ball). I straightaway said, ‘why won’t I be able to do it, what’s the big deal’! I faced him and managed quite well.
What was the atmosphere like at home? Did they not mind your playing the whole day?
They gave me a lot of freedom, especially my father. My brother was instrumental in making everything possible. Father was very understanding, he would give the green signal, but the ideas were definitely my brother’s.
Did your father believe you were good enough to play for India?
He encouraged me. The first year of school cricket was not that big for me. In the second year, I managed to score a hundred and I believed I was good enough…Did you idolise anyone?
I was a huge (John) McEnroe fan and of (Viv) Richards and (Sunil) Gavaskar.
Why didn’t tennis become an option?
All my friends and people from 0 to 45 watched Wimbledon. I remember them backing Bjorn Borg but I rooted for McEnroe.
Why then did you opt for cricket?
I don’t know, I mean...maybe it was that one could manage to play together and cricket did not require a tennis court or whatever. Cricket just needed three stumps, bat and ball and you could play anywhere.
At what stage did you realise you could make it big and play for India?
When I scored my first inter-school hundred, I thought this is something special and if I can do something like this on a regular basis, then things can change.
Where did you get this confidence, even at that age — to believe you would make it big and when just 16, the way you faced one of the best pace attacks ever in the world (Waqar, Wasim and Imran).
Yeah, I probably was just confident about my abilities and, as I said earlier, I like accepting challenges — that could be one of the reasons.
At any point, when you were a child, did you think you wouldn’t be able to make it to the Indian team?
While playing, I definitely did not think I wouldn’t make it. I was not overconfident, but somehow I knew that one day I would play for India. It was just a question of when but I knew I would play for India.
Did you ever think that one day you would do to the world what you were doing to your friends in your backyard?
Honestly, I did not think that far. I felt I had to be considered as one of the top players to play this game.
When you failed in your debut, did you feel upset?
Definitely. I felt bad, started doubting my ability and started wondering ‘do I really belong here?’ I felt I was too tense, too nervous. Everything fell out of place. I was not so sure.
Was that your first failure in life?
Yeah, I mean it was a different ballgame altogether. I mean you are going to play Ranji and then you are going to play top-class bowling in the world, Wasim (Akram), Imran (Khan) on helpful tracks. It was a fresh experience.
How did things change for you?
When I was picked to play the 2nd Test, I told myself, come what may, I will hang around…I’m not going to accept defeat, I’m going to stay there. I spoke to a lot of guys in the team, they said, stay there for the first 20 minutes, thing would get easier, and it actually happened. I started feeling normal, my nerves started to calm down and I could see the ball better. My footwork was better; my state of mind was better. After that, I scored 59 in my 2nd innings, which was the first innings of the 2nd Test. After that I believed ‘yes I can’.