Couch Talk Episode 63 (play)
Guest: Rahul Dravid
Host: Subash Jayaraman
Today’s guest is former India batsman and captain Rahul Dravid. We will be talking about his methods to prepare for a Test series, the adjustments he made to his technique based on the opposition and the conditions he faced, captaincy, his decision to retire from the game, and his new role as a commentator.
Welcome to the show, Rahul!
Rahul Dravid– Thanks. Thanks a lot, Subash. Pleasure to be here.
SJ– It’s absolutely my pleasure.
Let’s begin with how you prepare going into a Test series. What are the things that you paid attention to, in terms of the conditions and the opposition, like if it is a bouncy surface or a turning surface or whether you are facing bowlers liek Murali or Steyn? What are the key things that you wanted to see in place so that you believed that you were in the right mental and physical place before heading into the series?
RD– It just depended on where we were going and where we were playing and the time available. I found later on especially, that there was a period where I was playing a lot of cricket- one day cricket and Test cricket. We moved from series to series and we didn’t have a lot of time in-between to prepare, so much so for a particular series. So, the time when you went to that particular country, whether it was Australia or South Africa or Sri Lanka, the first week or 10 days you are there are very critical- and getting the quality of nets that you wanted and the level of preparation that you needed.
From my point of view, especially early on in my career, when I was going to places which had conditions that I was not necessarily used to, I would try and replicate whenever it is possible. It is hard to replicate conditions of Australia in India, however hard we may try. But, things like playing with a hard plastic ball or wet tennis ball, we used to do a little bit of that. Also sometimes, we try to recreate the conditions by asking the groundsman to maybe leave a little bit of grass in the wicket when you practice in the nets, or asking the bowlers to bowl from 18 or 20 yards, a little ahead of the crease, to get used to the pace. This was early on in my career. As time goes on, you get used to the things, you adjust. You might start thinking about different bowlers, and different angles. If you are going to play a few left arm fast bowlers, you ask for a few left arm fast bowlers in the nets. But, it is never the same. If you are going to face a Muralitharan, you are not going to find somebody who is going to spin the ball as much as that guy. If you were to go and play Wasim Akram, that kind of quality is very difficult to find in the domestic cricket. But, I think you make the effort.
When we went to the countries (on tour), getting yourself into the physical fitness [that’s needed] was as important to me as I played my best cricket when I was at a certain level of physical fitness, which in time I worked a theme that worked best for me. I always tried to ensure that I was in or around the numbers or targets that I set for myself. Apart from that, not too much. I think, early on I did a bit more, but as time went on in the career and you keep playing and going from one place to another, it is almost as important to recharge and keep your body fresh as it is to keep practicing and preparing. It is a combination of the two things.
SJ– Fair enough. But, were there any specific adjustments to the technique you made as you get going in a series? Perhaps, there are things that you would like to do but you are not doing, and so you adjust your stance or other things.
RD– Minor technical adjustments you might make through the course of your career. Maybe, in England you stand a bit outside the crease when it is swinging more. Shot selection is an important thing. I think you recognize that there are certain kinds of shots that you have to play in Australia. You have to have a strong back-foot game in Australia. You have to play the cut and pull if you want to score runs there. In England, you need to have a good stride forward, because it swings, and you have to counter that. You know the conditions, like in England if you bat on the first day of a Test match when it is swinging and seaming, you have to get through that period and there are certain shots that you can’t play in that period, which you can play later on when the ball gets softer and older and maybe the sun comes out after lunch or tea. That was important, to get that mentally into your head when you are moving from country to country, especially, that the kind of shots that you can or need to play might be different from place to play.
That was the kind of mental adjustment, more that anything. And working on that in the nets when you go to that country, and practice, you work on that. In England, while practicing in the nets, one of my focus was to get my front foot forward. In Australia, I play a few of the shots square of the wicket. It was just the different kind of shots that you have to play. When you play in India, on slower and turning wickets, you know that you are going to play spinners. So, you need to know what your shots are going to be, your scoring options against the spinners. You try to get different from your point of view. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, what you think about your strengths, how you want to change this and maybe there are areas that you want to improve on or if there are shots that you might need to work on. So, specific things. Each country was unique in that sense.
SJ– Let’s say you get started in an innings. What are the indicators to you, personally, to tell you that you are batting well, you are seeing the ball well, etc. Or, for that matter, as listener Mahesh points out, during the 2001 test against Australia in Wankhede, he noticed that you had admonished yourself after a cover drive off McGrath, which went for a 4, by the way. So, things that give you the confidence that you are doing some things in terms of establishing your own zone, etc.
RD– I can’t particularly remember that shot. That was in 2001, a long time ago. But, I guess sometimes you can hit a four and you might get the required result, but while executing it you might not get to the pitch of the ball. Or you might have just played a shot that has gone for a four. Not necessarily every four is a good shot. It is good from the point of the score book, no doubt about it. I always say that a nice edge to third man all along the ground is a very satisfying shot as well because it is frustrating for a bowler, and that helps. The indicators for me, was feet. If I judged the length well I went fully forward when the ball was fully pitched up and went back to a short ball. As long as I didn’t get caught in the crease, I thought I was playing well. That was a general indicator for me.
SJ– You mentioned the thing about the life of a professional cricketer going from city to city, match after match. How is it that you mentally switch off after a Test? This comes from a listener, Venkateswaran. How do you switch off when there are two Tests within 3 days?
RD– Each one has to find his own way of switching off. That is really important. As important as your preparation for the game and the practice you are putting in is being able to switch off and not being mentally exhausted when the next Test comes along. And sometimes, in a quick turnaround time, it is more important because there is not much you can suddenly learn within one or two practice sessions. But, it is a question of becoming mentally right.
I like to go out and explore things and meet different people in the evening. I try to take my mind away from cricket. I read, so I’ve read different books, books of other sports too so I was not constantly thinking about cricket. You have to catch a routine and a methodology that works for you. It is a very important thing today to succeed at international level with so many games in quick turnaround times, that it is almost as important as the off-time and the balance to find out what works for you and what recharges you emotionally, and that sometimes is the different between success and failure more than the technical stuff and extra nets. At that stage, it is like studying for an exam. You can’t mug up the day before the exam and you can’t mug in the morning of the exam. You can’t suddenly go there and think you can learn it all. So, I guess you are better off staying relaxed and at least execute what you do know well, rather than cramming in the last minute.
SJ– We talked about preparations. Sometimes, despite your best preparations, when you are faced with the bowlers and conditions, it is pretty hard to score the runs. Off the top of your head, can you think of some situations where it was bloody hard, but you got through that tough phase? Can you provide an innings in a specific scenario, and can you talk a bit about what you did to get through?
RD– Every innings seemed a tough one. But looking back, when I got 90 at Perth in 2007/08, I sort of really struggled for form through that series. I really fought my way through. That is after experiencing that you don’t particularly start worrying about how you look, but you just try and be effective. But, I think you can’t always look better than most, but I think you can grind ugly runs and being able to fight your way through difficult periods is important to the team. The team needs those runs. You have to have the patience to fight there. That is the way I play.
A lot of people hit their way out of trouble. That is their personality, that is their style. It works for them. My way was to fight my way out of it. It depends on not being terrible, and especially if it ends up in a big score. It looked like I was struggling a lot, but I was not necessarily getting the results that I needed. But when I get through the innings, and I talk about the 93 and there are many hundreds that I got later on after I had struggled initially. I was able to get through that difficult period, and then get my rhythm and timing and later my feet started moving a lot better after 35-40-50 runs, and went on to make a big score that helped my team. Each one was different. My style was to fight it out and get through that period.
That Australian tour, I got another fifty at Sydney. I was struggling at one end and (V. V. S.) Laxman came and just creamed it. He got a hundred in no time, that you think “Oh God, what am I doing here?” But, that was the way I play, it worked a lot of times, and sometimes it didn’t.
SJ– Let’s talk about your decision to retire. You were the leading scorer for India in England. You then score a hundred at home against the West Indies. And then, you decided to hang it up after the Australian series. They say that “for a great batsman, the eye goes first.” I want to know first what that really means. And, was any of it playing a role in your decision?
RD– I thought that as well. We have various tests when we play, and when we checked our eye sight, I don’t necessarily think medically the eyesight suddenly go. I’m just 39. It is hard. I actually don’t need glasses, but it is still 20-20 vision even today. I’ve read it myself.
My decision to quit was not based on just one tour. It was a realisation that I have had my time in Indian cricket and I had done what I could to the best of my ability. It was a time for the younger generation to take over. It will appear that the overall scene as to where the whole Indian cricket was, what the situation was, what my role in it was, that made me really feel [whether] it served any purpose for me to be carrying on at that stage. I thought I have had my time. I had a great journey and I enjoyed it.
If I had not done well in England, maybe I would’ve decided to move on after England (tour), because then I might’ve felt so. But because I did well in England, and I knew there was Australia coming on in 6 months’ time, it could be better for an experienced player to be in the team. It didn’t work out in the end, and the result will show that we lost. I felt that I was in good enough form, and felt that I would be good enough to go and play in Australia and see it there and try and play well for the team. But once Australia finished, there are so many home series. 10 test matches at home before the next oversees Test, and hence I felt the need to move on.
SJ– A question comes from a listener, Foram Gosrani. This is regarding your captaincy. As a senior member of the side, in 2007, when you went to England, you didn’t have a coach. You were the captain, no.3 batsman and you had to care for the team as well. So, what was your strategy in handling the team? And you went on to win the series, no less.
RD– We did have some help. Mr Chandu Borde was on board as an advisor, a mentor, you can call him that. Robin Singh and Venkatesh Prasad were the fielding and bowling coaches at that stage. I did have decent support staff. We still had a little bit of the remnants of the old. We had John Gloster as our physio and I think Greg King was our trainer. We still had the support staff around us. But, yes, I did think a lot more in managing a lot of the affairs and running the show during that series than what I did before that. It wasn’t anything different from what I had done before that. As a captain, you take responsibility to run and ensure that your team is well prepared to play a big Test match in terms of tactics and ensuring that the XI are on the path and that you get the best of facilities and in terms of practice, while working with the support staff, to ensure that everything is put in place to have a successful tour. That worked really well. One good thing about that tour was that we were able to bowl the same bowling attack for all the three Test matches. That really helped a lot- having Zaheer (Khan), RP (Singh), Sreesanth and Anil (Kumble) for all the test matches. That really helped [to get] the result we got. We were lucky to not have too many injuries on that tour.
SJ– A couple of more questions and then I’ll let you go, Rahul.
One comes from Minal– it was obvious that you had all the shots in the book, and you could take the attack to the cleaners if you chose to. But, on a regular basis, you didn’t. Was that a choice of your own, or was it in team’s interest?
RD– I would love to have been able to play a lot more shots. There were times, rightly, when I did. It was not that I went out there to be ultra defensive or be defensive all the time. On certain days, when things flowed well, and my timing was right, I would play my shots and it would work. On other days, when it didn’t work, and like how I discussed earlier, I had to come back and fight. I had to bat a little longer to score the runs. In time, I also realised what might be the most effective way for me to score most runs which might help the team and I worked on that formula. My style suited my personality and also gave me the best chance to consistently score runs. If I went out and tried to be too attacking, I found that I didn’t choose the right ball to hit for four or I made a mistake in shot selection. So, I found that playing within this cocoon helped me. And I had my own rhythm and pace which consistently got me runs for most times. But, it wasn’t a conscious decision that I was going to play this way. I would love to have been able to hit shots like (Virender) Sehwag all the time, having a carefree attitude. But, it did not necessarily suit my personality. If I got out the way he sometimes does, it would take me a long time for me to recover from it than it would take Viru to. He just smiles it off and moves on. It is not inherent in my nature to do that. Each guy is different. (Sunil) Gavaskar is not a Sehwag. Gavaskar is not a (Sachin) Tendulkar. I am not a Tendulkar. And I am not a Laxman. We are all different. Success at this level is about finding what works for you, and being able to bring your personality to the cricket field.
SJ– One question, comes from your die-hard fan from Cape Town, South Africa- Nicole.
How has your short stint as a commentator, so far, offered you any new perspective or changed your perspectives or views about the game?
RD– It has been a really short time. It has been enjoyable. It is different. You still feel a little bit of butterflies in your stomach before the commentary, before the start of play. But, it is nothing compared to playing. The pressure of playing and performing is much more than a commentator or a media person. So, that has been a good thing. That is one thing about commentary- it is a lot easier to do. But, it has been quite educative too. It gives you a little bit of a different perspective. As a player, you see things only from your point of view. But, as a commentator, you have to be very neutral. You have to see the game as a neutral and not necessarily as a fan, as an Indian fan or supporter. You still are, but as a commentator, you try and be neutral. So, sometimes, you get a much wider and bigger picture of things. You can just leave the game and in 8 months you just read stuff. You don’t necessarily get crowded for not having produced constant results. So, from that point of view, it is good. It gives you a wider perspective of the game.
SJ– Thank you so much for coming on the show, Rahul! It was a pleasure to have you on!
RD– Thank you! My pleasure.
SJ– Thank you!
Episode transcribed by: Bharathram Pattabiraman