'If Kumble can sit, so can anyone'
The Indian captain spoke on controversial issues, like Sourav Ganguly and Chappell. And things he has never spoken about in public before.india Updated: Feb 26, 2006 20:37 IST
When you started playing cricket, what did the concept captain mean to you?
When you start playing for your country you don't think of actually captaining. At that stage you are focussed on the present, trying to do well in international cricket. But in some ways you start thinking about it, say when I was the vice-captain. Then you are aware that if something happens to the captain you have to take over. You sort of become part of the management. In a small way you try to fulfil that role and you are aware there might be an opportunity you could be asked (to lead) when the captain is not available or injured.
You have seen other captains and as a member of the team you must have visualised what a captain should be like?
I think being vice-captain definitely helped. I think in a country like India, the first thing a captain should have is a perspective. I did realise that a lot of people around you and lots of fans and people, especially who follow Indian cricket, don't have that perspective.
Can you explain what you mean by 'perspective'?
Perspective in terms of the fact that cricket is just a game. And yes, people do take it very seriously in India, but at the end of the day it is a game and all you can do is to give your best.
In any team, especially in India where you have 15 different people with different attitudes, languages, culture and food habits, how difficult is it to keep them together?
I don't think so. I think cricket is a huge unifying force. You know, I can honestly and truly say that I have not played in too many teams where the spirit has been bad.
You walked into this team as the captain in a crisis situation with much controversy about Sourav Ganguly -- with whom you made your debut in Test cricket. He was not there and there was talk of rift in the team. Were you apprehensive when you took over the reins, and how did you handle it?
I was clear that the team must come first, irrespective of anything else. I was clear that that is the line I am going to take. I had been given a job to do and will try to do it to the best of my ability. There are certain issues and I think some of it has probably been blown out of proportion. And I knew that we had a good team, we had some good things happening. We had a good coaching staff, good support staff. And I knew that a lot of players were behind me, respected me and most of the senior boys in the team with whom I have played for a while knew where I was coming from. I knew I had those advantages. I knew I had respect and I think that is a good base to work from. Greg (Chappell) and Ian (Frazer) have really been good and sort of helping me through this period, because, I think being a captain is very demanding and sometimes it can take you away from your own game.
I have left the practice, the coaching side of it more to the coaching staff, whereas I am the captain on field. And decisions about the team, what happens on field, is left to me. That has really worked well so far; it has helped me concentrate and think about my game.
How do you work out strategies?
A lot of it is done jointly. A lot goes in consultation with the bowlers. Bowlers have to be part of your planning if you're planning for batsmen. There is no point for me as a batsman just telling the bowlers what to do. The bowlers have to be a part of it. They've got to take ownership of strategies. They got to take ownership of what are the areas they are looking to bowl at. I think that is the best way. Unless the bowlers themselves are comfortable and happy with what they want to do, there is a high probability that they will want to execute those plans well. Greg and we sit down as a bowling group and discuss strategies. We sit down and get the inputs on wickets from the seniors and from the coach.
There is this perception that Greg runs the show. And you are a dummy.
I can't do much about perceptions. I mean, I guess people don't know the reality. Yes, Greg does run the coaching side of it. He does run whatever happens outside the field. And I decide what happens on field. Tactics and decisions taken on the field are purely my decisions. And I am not going to go around refuting perceptions. I am not worried about perceptions, to be honest.
I am not interested in how people perceive me. Because lots of times I realised that people's perception of certain players is far from reality. Having played with people, having shared the dressing room with people, I know people. Your teammates know you like nobody else. So I don't really worry about what perceptions are created about me or about Greg. What is important is that the team knows what is happening. We have a good relationship between Greg and me.
Transition is the most difficult period. You have been a senior cricketer and have played under Ganguly. His dropping from the team and his spat with Greg has been a raging issue. How difficult was it for you?
As long as your intentions are clear, the team and Indian cricket must come first. And that was how I felt when I was the vice-captain and Ganguly led the team. I am sure Ganguly had to take decisions, tough decisions.
Anil Kumble has been left out of the team and there has been no greater cricketer in Indian cricket in the last decade and a half. No one has won more matches for India than Kumble has. But Kumble did not play a certain number of games. That was in the interest of the team. Kumble did not play in a lot of World Cup matches. If Kumble can sit out, I don't see any reason why there should be an issue on anybody else (being dropped) in this team — and that includes me and Tendulkar. I was clear about that, it was not a difficult decision for me to deal with.
I am very clear on the basic issue that I am here, and some decisions may have to be taken. You may not always be comfortable with the decision you take on a personal level. The hardest thing is telling people that they are being dropped, especially when it is a great cricketer or if it has been one of your colleagues. It is not easy. But you know that, when you are made the captain of a team, you are given the job to do what is right for the team, and if you are doing that with the right intentions and the right conscience, it is not a difficult decision to make.
What kind of a relationship do you share with Ganguly after becoming the captain?
It has been a good relationship. People obviously make...(shrugs). People like to create... Lots of issues are blown out of proportion. I mean, now I am the captain, Sehwag has been designated vice-captain. The team management has slightly changed. Ganguly is trying to get back into the side. From that point, things have changed. In that sense, to expect things to be exactly the same is not possible.
Like the time when Azharuddin was captain, then Tendulkar took over and then Azharuddin took over again. The vice-captains at that time also changed. Situations changed for even people like Azharuddin and Tendulkar. The only thing is that Tendulkar and Azharuddin were able to deal with it. I don't see why we— Ganguly and I— can't. We are dealing with it in the best way we can. It's not a personal thing.
What changes do you see from John Wright's period to now?
It is early days yet. I just think that John did a very good job. We needed someone like him at that point of time. We had a lot of success. But John, according to his own admission towards the end of his tenure, needed a break -- five years is a long time to be coach, that too in the sub-continent. I think Greg has been the right kind of person to come and help us. We were definitely getting a bit stale.
There has been a dramatic change in the performance of the one-day side. Is it just to do with the new talent we have discovered?
It's not only that. It is a fact that newcomers have helped, but it is also that people have raised their game to a new level. Yuvraj Singh and Irfan Pathan are great examples. The fact that they have raised their game, and the emergence of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, coming in and doing what he is doing, is what brings freshness to the team. It might even be an old player, it might be an experienced player who finds something new in his game, something that takes him to another level. That is what we lacked in the last couple of years. I think Greg coming and challenging us and pushing us has made some of these guys realise that we were stagnating.
Many people believe that Greg is a very rigid and difficult person to work with.
I have not found him rigid. To be honest, he is a very relaxed person. I think he has got a very good perspective of the game. I think he has played with some great cricketers and great teams, and not so great teams. And I think having played the game, seen success, seen failure, been a coach, a selector, his ideas are, in fact, quite unique. To be honest, he has tried to give us more experience by making us do things in a relaxed manner and do different things, rather than letting us go through the same routine again and again. People make opinions without knowing the team. People have perceptions about me without even knowing me. They form opinions by watching me on TV or on hearsay.
First Published: Feb 26, 2006 20:37 IST