It is early morning. The weather is benign. The sun is still not in sight and the harsh cement structures of the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore look a bit incongruous in an atmosphere that is intoxicating enough to make you feel at peace with life.
The silence is disturbed by the gurgling noise of a white Hyundai Tucson that swerves into the stadium. The self-assured young man who alights from the car is known to the world as Rahul Dravid.
As he escorts you to the lawns of the clubhouse, you can see life-size sculptures of the legends of Karnataka engraved in the wall in the background. Javagal Srinath, Anil Kumble, BS Chandrasekhar and Erapalli Prasanna in their bowling actions, Syed Kirmani in his wicketkeeping attire and the triumvirate of Gundappa Viswanath, Brijesh Patel and Dravid himself executing their favourite strokes.
The cares of captaincy, the aftermath of a morale-shattering World Cup debacle and all the controversies surrounding Indian cricket seem to rest lightly on Dravid's shoulders. He has agreed to meet after much cajoling and persuasion and, understandably enough, does not want to say something that could add to his woes.
He orders breakfast — a typical South Indian fare of idli and dosa — and says he has no more than half-an-hour to spare. I switch on my tape-recorder after assuring him that I am only making an attempt to understand the pressures, the stresses an Indian captain has to go through.
Typical of the man whose batting style has overcome many a crisis, he does not appear to be stressed and outlines the sportsman's philosophy that he has embraced: “We see ups and downs right from the start of our career — failure and success, defeats and victories… So, in many ways, we are prepared for the debacles and take it all as part of life.”
Not that what happened at the World Cup did not disappoint him — “it left an uneasy feeling in the stomach for a couple of weeks.”
He is not the one to give too much weightage to the theories that the team was not a happy bunch and lost out because of that. “I truly believed that we had the team to reach the semifinals. We had prepared well but I must admit we failed to execute our strategy well and in the end one bad day and we were knocked out.”
Has his world changed after the Cup, you ask. Does he think he did a few things wrong, trusted the wrong people and needs to correct himself?
His answer is ambivalent. It is both 'yes' and 'no'. Dravid says he does not believe in blaming others for his failures. He has never tried to give excuses for his failures. “Right from the start of my career, I have taken away positives from debacles. If I was dropped from the side, I did not crib and sulk, I came back stronger.”
Yet, in the same breath, he does admit that “today, I do realise that this is not a perfect world.” He does realise that there are people around who may not be on the same wavelength and he does agree that “I need to improve my communication skills.” At the same time, he believes that there is “too much negativity in Indian cricket, which does not help.”
By negativity, he means that there are too many people who think there is everything wrong around and nothing is right. “I'm not saying that there are no problems; yes, there are, but that does not mean that we blame the outside world for our failures.”
He, as the captain and leader of the team, cannot afford to let things drift. “Captaincy has made me see the other point of view. It has made me realise what are the pulls and pressures on the selectors, the administrators and under what circumstances they function.”
All this has made him “more understanding” and he does not want to shirk his own responsibility. “I can't just say, 'Some things are not under my control and therefore I give up'. I can't be weak, not appear to give up.”
On a human level, he does realise that captaincy has in a way been a “loss of innocence.” He does feel bad when he has to tell his teammates they are being dropped or they are not measuring up to expectations; yet, he also thinks that the players should take these things in the right spirit.
“I believe in straight talk. I always want an honest feedback and give honest feedback to my players. I have worked under many captains, I have played for ten years but I have never blamed a captain or a coach for my own failures. For me, the goal is not about feeling good but about what I can achieve, what I can do better.”
He obviously would like his players too to have a similar attitude and not be too emotional about these things. But more than a year in the job has also made him realise that he has to tone down his own expectations, be more receptive to the other point of view and invest “more emotion while communicating with the players.”
He thinks that the media scrutiny is so obtrusive that “even small things get exaggerated.” He believes that the team has to “cocoon itself from the outside world. The players have to focus on the right things. At times, because of the negativity, their minds get occupied by the wrong things. That's why this ability to cocoon yourself is very important.”
He strongly believes in what one of his Kent teammates told him long ago. “In a team there are energy-givers and energy-sappers.
We have a whole pot of energy and in the course of time you realise who will add energy to it and who will take energy out of it. It varies… there will be times when someone is going through a rough patch, he'll need to draw energy from the pot; there are people who constantly give energy to the team. And the more energy-givers you have, the better it will be for the team.”
His eyes twinkle for a brief while when he talks about this but he immediately gets back to his impassive ways.
What are the lessons he has learnt from the past and what needs to be done to do well in England?
He knows it won't be easy. He knows that in the absence of a coach, his workload is going to increase and he expects Venkatesh Prasad and Robin Singh to share more responsibility, and also the seniors. He thinks the players need to raise the bar, need to pull in one direction.
Everyone needs to understand his role and what stage Indian cricket is at. He does not want to delve into this coach issue too much and reiterates that “if we don't do well, I'm not going to say, 'Oh, we did not have a coach'.”
He does understand he will have to communicate much more with his players now but adds, “In the end, talk is cheap. In the end, people themselves have to also realise what they have to give to the team, what their responsibilities are.”
The sun by now has made its presence felt, it is time for him to join his teammates in the training camp which is about to start. Before he gets up from the table, he says that he has really enjoyed working with the boys.
“Some may have been a bit rigid to handle and some a bit difficult, but as I have said elsewhere too, I've not really felt that anyone in the team has not given his best, not believed in me.”