Learning to enjoy success

INTERVIEW

Learning to enjoy success

on song: Rahul Dravid has left a rough patch behind and is back among the runs, as was evident in Karnataka’s opening match. It has been an eventful year thus far for Rahul Dravid, highlighted by the birth of his second son and a brief return to one-day international cricket. After the comparative turmoil of 2008, when he attracted increasing scrutiny after failing to match his own lofty standards, the runs have started to flow consistently once again.

By his own admission, a century against England in the Mohali Test last December salvaged a difficult year. Before Mohali, he had made 669 runs at 27.9 in 14 games in 2008 as opposed to a career average of 52.53; his 136 triggered a tally of 314 runs in three Tests in New Zealand early this year. The 36-year-old told Deccan Herald that he didn’t want to dwell on his temporary return to one-dayers -- “All this stuff gets blown out of proportion, I’d like to avoid talking about it” – but shed light on what he went through when the runs weren’t cascading off his bat last year.

Excerpts:

In many ways, 2008 was a different and difficult year for you, wasn’t it?

It was a tough year. The good thing for me was the team was doing really well. We won the home series against Australia, we beat England and that kept me going. Even if you are not doing that well, the success of the team pushes you along. If the team had also been struggling, it would have been a lot harder than the year was. I felt I was hitting the ball quite well, batting quite well in the nets, but all that doesn’t count. What in the end matters is how you do in the middle and I have to admit I didn’t have a great year.

I’d been consistent for a really long time and to have had a year like that was almost like a new learning experience for me in a lot of ways. I am glad I was able to turn it around a little in New Zealand and have some consistent scores there. It gave me a lot of confidence, I felt I was getting the rewards for putting in a lot of hard work even through the difficult period.

What did you learn from that tough phase?

It definitely did teach me that you have to learn to enjoy your successes and be relaxed about them when you do have them because when you go through a difficult period, you learn to appreciate how tough it is to maintain consistency over long periods of time. I never took things for granted, but that phase did make me appreciate the fact that it is hard work to maintain consistency. One of the other things it taught me was that I could cope, that I can go through a difficult period, learn to be comfortable with that and with myself, and not to get too stressed about it. What surprised me in some ways was how calm I was about the whole thing. I was going through some very difficult times but I was pretty relaxed, at least internally. I was still working hard and trying to do the best I could and some of the results weren’t showing, but I felt at least personally and in my own mind that I was able to maintain a calm and a balance, which I was quite happy about.

In that context, how much did you need that Mohali hundred, for yourself and for the critics?

I needed it for myself! I wasn’t trying to prove anything to anyone. I knew it was important for me to score that hundred because I wasn’t scoring runs and a lot of the other guys were.

There was going to be pressure on my place for the tour to New Zealand and rightly so. I have always played the game with very high standards and been judged on very high standards.

People expect that of me; if I have to justify my place as a top-six batsman in India, then I have to score runs. I wasn’t doing that and with a lot of good young batsmen coming through, there was obviously going to be pressure on my place. It was nice to score those runs and know that you are giving yourself the chance for at least one away trip to New Zealand. It was a country where I had never won a Test match in, so to go there and to do that and to perform well was really nice. I needed that century, I guess, for myself and just to be selected, in some ways.
That hundred also seemed to free you up during the New Zealand series…
It obviously did. Not only Mohali, I made a couple of Duleep Trophy hundreds after that and a hundred in a first-class game in New Zealand. By the time the Tests came on, I knew I had had a lot of hits and a lot of game time. That gave me a lot of confidence, I felt good about my batting right from the first innings. I enjoyed the trip as well. The atmosphere was quite nice, it freed me up mentally as well, being away on tour. I think it just showed in the batting.

How different is it for someone accustomed to playing regularly on the international stage to adjust to playing just one format, the Tests in your instance?

It takes some getting used to, no doubt about it. What was nice this year before the New Zealand series was that I had a lot of cricket leading into that tour. Sometimes, leading into some of the other series, like the series against Australia or in Sri Lanka, you can be a bit short on game time even if you practice a lot in the nets because those series were in India’s off-season. But yeah, it’s just a question of getting used to it. For someone who has been playing a lot and batting a lot, it’s a question of getting used to the fact that sometimes, you might have pretty long periods when you are not playing a lot of matches.

India have played just three Tests so far this year. Can such long gaps between matches blunt the competitive edge and make it hard to maintain focus?

It’s not difficult to maintain the focus. You know you are going to have long gaps in the middle, which gives me time in some ways to work on my fitness, to work on other aspects of my game. You have to balance it out with being in that competitive frame of mind, getting batting and game time.

It’s a balance you have to try and strike. Sometimes, through no fault of yours, there are no games happening in which you can be playing to get the necessary match practice. Once the Test match starts and you go to the venue, you really switch on. It’s really a question of how you use that time in between, what you want to achieve and what you want to get out of it.

You became Test cricket’s most successful catcher in New Zealand. What goes into making a good catcher in the slips, particularly?

I know 184 is just a statistic, but it is still a nice statistic for me to have because I worked really hard at it right from the beginning. I enjoyed taking catches because it made me feel a part of the success of somebody else. That’s the nice thing about taking catches, especially good catches that turn games.

A part of slip catching is a bit of a natural thing, you need to have that natural ability. And then you need to practice it. You also need to be able to concentrate for long periods, which being a batsman does help me do. I guess my batting helps my catching and my catching helps my batting in some ways. You just get that one nick the whole day but you need to concentrate the whole day, you need to switch on and off.

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