'Nice to help out young batsmen'

Interview

'Nice to help out young batsmen'

Eyes on the ball: Rahul Dravid is determined to  make a lasting impact on  what is certain to be his final tour of the Caribbean.

When he walks on to the Sabina Park outfield in Kingston on Monday, Rahul Dravid will enter his 16th year as a Test cricketer. The 38-year-old is in his fourth -- and last -- Test tour of the Caribbean, a place of which he has largely, but not only, happy memories.

India won a Test series in the West Indies for the first time in 35 years when Dravid led them to a 1-0 triumph in 2006, his twin half-centuries on a treacherous track in Kingston setting up that series-clinching victory. The following year, the Bangalorean was again at the helm when the Indians crashed out in the first round of the World Cup. In this chat with Deccan Herald before leaving for the West Indies, the former captain reflects on his Caribbean experiences and looks ahead to what he hopes will be a run-filled outing.

Excerpts:

You have been to the West Indies on three previous Test tours. What stands out the most for you?

I have really enjoyed every trip to the West Indies. It is a great place to play cricket. The atmosphere around the place is brilliant, there’s a lovely vibe around the grounds and you sense the passion for the game. From a cricketing perspective, I was there as a youngster in 1997, and I am going back there now almost 14 years later. When I went there first, I was in awe of people like Ambrose and Walsh, and wondered if I could ever even face guys like that and how it would be like. And here we are today! But I have always enjoyed it. We had some tough times there, lost a couple of series. We played some good cricket the last time we were there in 2006. It has been an exciting and enjoyable place to play cricket in, and I hope I can have a good series this time as well.
The roles have reversed now, with you being the established star up against young, inexperienced fast bowlers...

I am not sure if they are in awe of me! But yes, things have changed. I first went there as a youngster but today, I go there with a lot of experience and a lot of Test cricket behind me. Things are different. At that stage, I was trying to prove a point against a lot of great fast bowlers; today I guess there might be a lot of young West Indian fast bowlers who want to prove a point against people like me and Laxman. Things have definitely changed but the game is still the same.

As a traditionalist, what do you make of the gradual downslide of West Indian cricket?
Obviously, for guys like me who grew up watching and hearing about the great domination of world cricket by the West Indies cricket team and the aura that they built around them, it is disappointing to see where they are now and the tough times they are going through. I don’t really know the internal issues there, why these things are happening. There still are some amazing natural athletes even now. If you look at some of their players, you see the talent, you see the ability, it’s unbelievable. I find it hard to believe that the talent and the ability has suddenly disappeared. It’s something else, and I am not close enough to West Indies cricket to offer an educated comment.

But I think it will be great for world cricket if West Indies came back stronger. For world cricket to be healthy, you need teams to be competitive, and it shouldn’t be just about 3-4 teams. You need all eight, nine, 10 teams to be competitive, and especially the West Indies. There’s so much of passion for the game, so much knowledge about the game there. People love their cricket and more than anyone else, the West Indian fans in some way deserve a great cricket team for the unique flavour they bring to the world game.

They deserve a good cricket team, hopefully not against us but otherwise!
This will be your first trip to the Caribbean after the World Cup debacle of 2007....
I haven’t even thought about it that way, to be honest. I have gone to the West Indies many times and the World Cup in 2007 wasn’t a great experience. It’s been a long time since then, a lot of water has flown under the bridge. We have come a long way. I have gotten over that and it’s just time to look forward to this series, not worry about what has happened in the past.

You will be batting behind an inexperienced opening combine, and without Tendulkar, too. How do you view this challenge?

It has been great to have Viru and Gauti at the top of the order, it takes a lot of pressure off you. It is unfortunate that we are missing a few guys through injuries on this trip, but that happens. But it’s a great opportunity for the two young openers (Murali Vijay and Abhinav Mukund). They are both good players, very talented, and have scored a lot of runs in domestic cricket. I have seen both of them play, and I think they can play. It will be a good challenge for me as well to bat with some of the younger guys. I am looking forward to seeing how I can help and contribute to the development of some of these younger kids. But I am sure these guys will do a good job. They have got the experience.

Both Abhinav and Vijay have been playing domestic cricket for 5-6 years now, it’s not as if they are just straight out of domestic cricket.

What did you make of the batting in the one-day series?

I didn’t watch a lot of it but from the scores I see, they have played some good cricket. They have been pushed into a corner a few times and have responded really well and that’s good. Sometimes, you know people’s character and temperament only when you see how they react under pressure and when they are pushed in a corner. There’s no doubt there is a lot of good young talent around the place. You might think of this team as young in terms of age but in terms of the number of matches played, a lot of these guys have played a lot of cricket. Whether it is the Kohlis, the Rainas, the Sharmas and even Parthiv -- all these guys have been around for a while now. They have got the experience, they have played good cricket. It’s a good sign for Indian cricket.

How much have you interacted with the new coach, Duncan Fletcher?

Not much, other than when I was India captain and he was the coach of England in the last series. He is obviously a man of cricket. He has been around the game a lot; he has played and coached domestically and internationally, and with a very good record. There is a lot we can learn from someone who has been around for so long, seen so much in the game. But at the end of the day, I believe the responsibility for success and failure is not really with the coach, it is only with the players. It’s all about the players. The coach can only assist you and help you to some extent but the guys are the ones who have to go out there and do the job. As long as there’s a good environment, the guys are made to feel comfortable, we train and practise hard and the coach provides the right ingredients for that, the responsibility for success and failure must be taken by the players.

Is there the danger that sub-consciously, Fletcher will be measured by the players against the hugely successful Gary Kirsten?

I don’t think we should. Gary was his own person, a terrific coach and a great guy. He did a lot and has moved on. I don’t think you can, or should, compare people. Again, it’s not about the coach. His methods might be a bit different but guys at this level should be professional enough to know what works for them and how to prepare themselves for international cricket. We have got some experienced guys in the team now; when you come up to this level, you can’t rely on the coach to get you success. The coach can only assist you, the onus must be on the guys to take the responsibility. I don’t think there is a question of comparing and judging coaches. Each coach brings his own strengths and weaknesses to the job and as players, we can’t blame the coach for anything that goes wrong.

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