Much emphasis has been laid on the process of 'preparation' lately - especially after the debacle in England earlier this year. What is preparation? How does one prepare? — popped up many a times during the post result analysis. While I believe preparation to be a personal prerogative, some key aspects ought to be included in the larger blueprint. With the tour Down Under only days away, it has become imperative to answer these questions. I will share with you the finer points of my preparation and experience of the 2003-04 Australian tour.
In August of 2003, when I had just recuperated from a knee surgery, I got a call from Sehwag and Nehra enquiring about the status of my fitness. John Wright had asked them to make that call while also prepare me to be called for the India Camp slated to start in a few days. Once I reached Bangalore for the camp, both my physical fitness and cricketing skills were tested thoroughly. Even though the camp ended with the Challenger Trophy, I was rarely given an opportunity to bat with the white ball under lights leading into the tournament — it was always about the red cherry in white flannel. I was picked for India Blue but the team management thought it was wise not to play me in the limited overs tournament — good thinking. I realised, I was in the loop, thankfully, but one still couldn't decode the bigger plan.
I was subsequently picked for Board President XI and India-A teams to play against the touring New Zealanders. I scored in both the side-games and found myself heading towards Ahmedabad for my Test debut against the Kiwis. While I viewed this opportunity to be my litmus test, the think tank had other plans. That the tour against the Kiwis was just a preparation for the tour Down Under dawned upon me much later.
Today, if Ajinkya Rahane has been roped in as the 3rd opener, and Rohit Sharma for slot No.6, they too should have been given a match here or there as preparation for what could be a hostile bowling attack in Australia. Unfortunately, they would now go into the series under-cooked.
Well, as for me, for every risky shot I played during those two Tests, I got an earful from John Wright. While he wanted me to do well in my debut series, his eyes were firmly set on team's success in Australia. He would tell me to stay away from cutting or pulling, for it would be difficult to keep the ball down on bouncy Australian wickets.
Unfortunately, I'd broken my finger during the Test series and the weeks between the last Test against New Zealand and our first tour game against Victoria were spent resting the injured finger.
During that period I gathered information about the surfaces in Australia and also to know a thing or two about their bowling. I requested ESPN to arrange for the video of Michael Vaughan’s batting during the Ashes series. He'd scored over 500 runs.
My role was clearly cut-out, but the knowledge that the Aussie bowlers can be taken to task calmed a few nerves.
The writer plays for Rajasthan in the Ranji Trophy.