Q: It was great seeing you so heartily congratulate the centurion from the opposing team. And it’s not the first time. Even on the field, you don’t seem to hesitate appreciating the rival team’s batsman or bowlers for a good shot or a good ball during play.
A: Yes, I like to appreciate good plays irrespective of team. It encourages players to give their best and it gives me more enjoyment to see a player do well.
Q: But there has been criticism that sometimes you are in fact encouraging the opposition to do well. Somebody even said it’s like sleeping with the enemy!
A: Of course, I want the opposite team to do their best! It then becomes a greater challenge and gives me greater satisfaction to defeat a rival who is playing well. It brings out the best from me. What’s the point of defeating a rival who’s not performing well?!
Q: Your appeals and wicket taking celebrations are pretty low key. Why is that?
A: Yes, I am very happy when I bowl or bat well, but I don’t see the point in behaving as if I’ve conquered the world or something. It’s just a game, we are not saving lives. I will sometimes be a bit more demonstrative if I have got the wicket of a very important and good batsman or batted well against a bowler who’s really bowling well. But over the top appealing or sending offs and celebrating is not my thing. I am not much for contorting my face and screaming my appeals at the umpire! There is a lot of technology in cricket now to help the umpires make the correct decision. My frenzied appealing is not going to change anything. So why expend the energy in dramatics! I’d rather use that energy in my performance. For me, the aggression has to be in your game, not in your behavior.
Q: We have never seen or heard you sledge a batsman or bowler. And rumor has it that when you are the captain, you don’t encourage your players to sledge.
A: No, I don’t believe in sledging. Players sledge a batsman to unsettle him or get him upset and lose focus. But like I said, I want the opposing players to do their best. I don’t find any pleasure or purpose in getting an unsettled or unfocussed batsman out. For the same reasons, I don’t believe in taunting opposition bowlers either. Of course, players sledge me all the time. But I just ignore them. I find sledging often motivates me to up my game a bit more! I am sure opposition teams have realized that too. So now, they try to be extra nice to me on the field! Only players with less self-belief feel the need to sledge.
Q: We saw you talking animatedly to your bowler when he was bowling very fast and pitching it short, aiming for the batsman’s throat and rib cage. What was all that about?
A: Look, I like to bowl fast too, but I rarely indulge in any kind of intimidatory bowling. I know fast bowlers like to ‘soften’ up a batsman and then take his wicket. I am not in favor of that. My bowling should take his wicket, not his fear of being hurt. I like to use guile and accuracy when bowling. It’s not that I am against short pitched bowling. But I like to use it as a surprise tool but not as a weapon, and never with the principal purpose of scaring the batsman. Again, like I said, what’s the point of intimidating or bullying a batsman into giving up his wicket? That is how the corner hooligan conducts his extortion racket! For me, the wicket of a frightened batsman is not worth taking. I would rather take a wicket by deceptive bowling like a spinner does. Also, remember, the ball can be a deadly weapon in the wrong hands. I always think of Philip Hughes, one of Australia’s star opening batsmen. He must’ve played against the fastest of bowlers of the time. But all it took was just one ball to kill him. No, it’s not worth it. My ideal and idol in this is Kapil Dev, one of our greatest allrounders. His appealing was low key and his celebrations were limited to just joyful smiles! Modern players, even the good-looking ones, look really ugly when they appeal!
Q: We believe there is a story behind this………..
A: Yeah, there is and really nothing to be proud of. When I was much younger, we used to play underarm cricket with a tennis or rubber ball. I used to be among the fastest ‘underarmers’ in our extended locality. The bounce of a rubber ball can be deadly and I used it liberally. One day, in a local match, I hit a bespectacled batsman quite deliberately with a short-pitched ball. His spectacles shattered and small pieces of glass embedded themselves all around his left eye, including his eyelid. He was rushed to the hospital, in danger of losing sight in the injured eye. Fortunately, he escaped. The doctors managed to remove all the glass pieces and saved his eye. It sends shivers down my spine even now! What I could have done to a school age kid!! I never pitched a ball short like that again!
Q: People say that the inability to face hostile bodyline bowling is either cowardice or lack of technique.
A: I don’t agree. If that is true, then why wear helmets and pads and gloves and guards? These days there are guards for almost every part of your body! Are these all also signs of cowardice and technical shortcomings? If you’re the bravest of the brave and your technique is that good, you don’t really need all this protection, right? You will never allow a ball to hurt any part of your body! But accidents happen all the time. Like I said, you may face a million balls but it just takes one ball to kill you or maim you forever. Also, these days the stakes are very high and competition is fierce. One injury can set you back a few lakhs and take away your place is the team for good! Why throw it all away trying to be brave? Conversely, why injure somebody, just because you have a hard ball in your hand with the power to hurt? No, that’s not the point of this game. I think bodyline or intimidatory bowling should be outlawed completely. If you need to threaten a batsman to take his wicket, you are not really a talented bowler! Sure, players like Gavaskar and Richards never wore a helmet. Gavaskar was the most technically correct batsman in the world, and Richards the most fearless – but they did wear everything else, didn’t they?! And really, how many of them are there in the world? Not too many are blessed with that kind of talent.
Q: We saw Bumrah take five wickets last evening….
A: Aha! I was just going to mention that. That was a magnificent display of fast bowling, without the intimidation and the bullying! Almost all his wickets were set up and obtained through craft and cunning, not just through fast bowling aimed at the throat or face! All of them are bowling beautifully – I like this version of Bumrah, Shami and Umesh, not the version that tried to kill Anderson in England! There was no joy in watching that. I remembered the time when the West Indian crowd was screaming “Kill him! Kill him!”. This game shouldn’t be about blood lust!
Q: What about the limited over version of cricket? You have often expressed reservations about them.
A: Well, I always think of T20s as 100 meter sprints, ODIs as 800s and Tests as marathons! All of them require their own skills. I am not against the shorter versions per se, but I am partial to Test cricket. I think that literally ‘tests’ every aspect of your game. ODIs are good too but everybody seems to enjoy T20s the most, especially the IPL. I suppose it’s because you don’t have to wait too long for a result. Guaranteed adrenalin and gratification in 4 hours or less! I think Indian cricket is moving towards the way American baseball and football are played. We will have more and more T20s for longer and longer periods. I won’t be surprised if eventually tournaments like IPL, Big Bash etc. are the only ones played throughout the year. They are money spinners for everybody involved and provide entertainment for the masses. It’s like watching a Bollywood masala flick as against sitting through a serious real-life film. The latter has its audience but the box office loves the former. And the box office rules!
Q: I sense some criticism and sadness……
A: Criticism, no, sadness, yes. It’s in keeping with the times. I enjoy some of the modern music which you can hear and forget in a couple of weeks. But for me, old songs are the best. It’s like seeing Gavaskar or Vishwanath bat. It stays in your mind forever…..