Sandeep Dwivedi: When the IPL auction came in, how did it change relationships or the dressing room atmosphere? Did some players start feeling superior?
It used to happen earlier. But if you look at the owners today, they are smart — they have their own teams with their own data. They know that one year you could get Rs 15 crore and the next year you might get no money. You have to perform in the IPL. There are instances where players don’t perform for one game and don’t get to play the rest of the season. So many young players were bought for a large sum in one season but disappeared the next. Some got injured, some put their money on cars or to look glamorous.
On some level, yes, I’m sure players wonder about other players’ valuations. But if you keep performing, money is rarely the issue. Image, on the other hand, matters a lot. If you play well for your country and in the IPL, owners will directly let you know what targets to achieve year by year. After 13-14 years, when your brand is developed, you don’t need to be told anything. You know what your legacy is, what your process is, and how the franchise needs to move forward.
The new U-19 World Cup players will also be a part of the auction. In my experience, it’s important to stay grounded and that money will come and more will keep coming but how to invest it, knowing that you have a 15-year earning cycle, is important.
I remember when I got my first big pay cheque, since I have a big family, I got houses for my brothers and sister. It was only after my marriage — having a wife and kids — that I started understanding things better. Until 2015, my father used to handle my investments. We were from a middle-class family. Back in the day, you would get Rs 50,000 for playing a match for India. Regular players used to make money but if you didn’t play for the national team, you didn’t earn much money. I used to get a Rs 10,000 scholarship playing for Air India and that was a very important pay cheque for me because I could send that money home. I had two major injuries. After the first injury, I didn’t have much money. But after the second injury I had money, so I could see better doctors, better dieticians and got better advice in general.
Devendra Pandey: You have been a part of two generations of Indian cricket — the Rahul, Sachin and Laxman era and then the Virat era. I’m sure the dressing room environment and conversations would have changed too.
Rahul bhai, dada (Sourav Ganguly) aur Paaji (Sachin Tendulkar) ke time pe Kishore Kumar ke gaane sunte they. The new generation loves to listen to rap songs. I remember while playing, during a match, Rahul bhai used to ask me how my family was and whether I’d study further after a tour. Then I’d stand at slip and the next ball, the conversation would continue to the subjects I was studying and where I had gone to eat last night. Anil (Kumble) bhai’s timing for jokes was excellent and Bhajji (Harbhajan Singh), we all know, is such a team man.
Rahul bhai always used to say, ‘UP ke ladke bahut ache hain’ (UP boys are very good) and always asked me whether I was investing my money wisely. Viru bhai always used to give me good advice and told me to hire someone for wealth management.
When in 2018 I made my comeback to the team, Dhoni bhai, Virat and I used to stick around talking. Rohit and I used to go watch football matches at the 2018 World Cup in England. I preferred the way of communication in my earlier stint with the Indian team. Back in those days, our seniors were our coaches.
Devendra Pandey: Apart from Dhoni, who were your cricket friends you would turn to for help?
I think, definitely, Yuvi bhai, Bhajji pa, Rahul bhai and Virender Sehwag. Ashish Nehra really helped me when I had my second operation; he gave me the number of a doctor in London. Ashu bhai was by my side during that phase. Then Aakash Chopra referred me to a doctor in Delhi during my first operation. On some level, the seniors used to communicate really well when there were problems. When you have money, you can charter a flight and use your celebrity status to get the best doctors. But when I didn’t have money, they used to communicate with me accordingly.
Sandip G: You made your debut in 2005 and played ODIs until 2018. How did Indian cricket change in those 13 years?
Youngsters now have different kinds of pressure. After two-three series they find themselves under a lot of pressure. Back then, a coach had long-term
vision for the team. Selectors used to trust the players; that you would be given five-ten matches. You knew that your captain would give you the time to groom when you were with the squad in two-three tours but not playing. That was a learning curve. You got an idea about the process and the amount of hard work you needed to put in to break into the playing eleven.
Now, there are different leagues around the world. Earlier, there was a lot of emphasis on the Ranji Trophy. We used to play a lot of first-class cricket. You didn’t need to report your gym fitness to the selectors. You had to perform for India A or Duleep Trophy or Irani Trophy or the Ranji Trophy to earn the India call-up. And there you had to score heaps of runs. That’s missing now.
As regards to marketing, cricket, its digital marketing, has gone to a different level altogether. Players now have their own managers. But it’s important to stay grounded. Today’s generation has social media pressures, which are different from what the previous generation faced.
Sriram Veera: You had your own challenges in your formative years, as a boy of 12-13 you lived in a sports hostel in UP and faced bullying.
It was difficult. There shouldn’t be such ragging anywhere and I was very young then. I was around 13 years old; we had to play cricket, study, sort our food, prepare the ground etc. I learned to live on my own there. It was tough, but I guess I learnt mental toughness. In UP, there are different dialects, different people, culture, and it took me a while. I did leave it and went back home, but I came back and I was much better then on.
I remember a student even tried to commit suicide. He was from Bulandshahr and we were living on the third floor. He was about to do something strange (jump off) and we pulled him back. He had had enough of being ragged. We went to the principal and we had security prowling, and things got better from then on. It was also a learning experience that when you are going through difficult times, it’s important to communicate — to seniors, big brother, father, anyone close to you — that you have depression or anxiety or whatever the issue is. I guess I was going through some of that and we managed to stop him. But in ten days time, he went back home and never came back. It does get difficult in hostels, where people come from different places, different backgrounds, cultures, and are living away from their families. There was a PCO outside, but you can’t go out after 8 pm. You stand in a queue, reach for a phone, hope your mother is still waiting by the phone (in the neighbour’s house). Else, call back, which means get into the queue again. My father’s income was Rs 10,000, and the academy was also not cheap… so we had to learn to adjust. It toughened me mentally.
Sriram Veera: You talk about the need to get along with different cultures; we saw recently Mohammed Shami was targeted for his religion after a match in the T20 world cup. Virat Kohli had to tweet that don’t target religion. It feels very bad. It should never happen. Recently Bhajji pa (Harbhajan Singh) gave an interview. When the Monkeygate happened in Australia, he was also attacked over his religion. Any abuse is wrong. You know how it is on social media these days. One hashtag can spread like wildfire. When you face abuse over your religion, you need to tell them that it’s not right and you need to respect my religion and country.
Mihir Vasavda: Can IPL captaincy prepare a player to lead India? Is that sufficient?
You’ll definitely gain experience. But leading a Ranji Trophy team or leading India A can prepare you for the role of pressure in the India jersey. IPL is a different culture, it helps but it’s one and a half months. But a state captain for Ranji or Duleep or India A or T20 Championship runs for six months. That gives you an idea of the captaincy method and format. IPL is two months long, it has different voices — the coaches, the owners. So I don’t think you can tell a captain’s credentials from the IPL. The pressure of leading India, with one lakh people inside the ground and the whole world watching, is the true test of how a captain will handle responsibility.
Nitin Sharma: Now India’s middle order is struggling and they don’t quite have the wicket-taking abilities. How do you see these problems?
Since the 2015 World Cup or 2017-18, it has been a problem for four-five years now. We’ll have to identify players who can play astutely in the middle order. Those who are playing need to get an opportunity to play in a situation where they need to finish for the team. I think Rishabh Pant can perform that role well. Shreyas Iyer is another player who can do it. Suryakumar Yadav too. Somewhere, selectors and coaches will need to show that trust in them. And I’m sure they’ll prove themselves. These four-five players, plus Shubman Gill is one of those players who can play well in the middle order. Then there’s Rinku Singh from UP, who’s done well in domestic cricket.
Middle order challenge is to play as per the situation. Now there’s two new balls. Field is up. So it’s not just playing the new ball. You have to rotate the strike. The concern is dot balls that are being played in the middle. Which shouldn’t happen. You’ll have to rotate strike and trust the partner, and pick the bowler to target and attack, and identify which over to attack. The understanding, as we call it in cricketing language, with non-striker has to get better. These three-four things are important to be a good middle- order batsman.
Sandeep Dwivedi: There would be well-rounded cricketers like you back then, who could not only bat but also bowl four-five overs, get crucial breakthroughs and were also top fielders. Is that lacking a bit these days?
I think this is why we won the 2007 World T20, the 2011 World Cup and the 2013 Champions Trophy. When I started in Ranji, I remember our coach Gyanu bhai (Gyanendra Pandey) would always tell us, ‘you should bowl.’ It gives a captain the ability to get in eight-ten overs if he has a sixth or seventh bowling option, when he is playing only five bowlers. That is good planning. So you see Viru paa (Sehwag), Yuvraj Singh, Yusuf Pathan and me, including in the 2011 World Cup, all would bowl. When we lost in the Champions Trophy (2017), or even recently in Dubai (in the T20 World Cup), we did not have a sixth bowling option. Now Shreyas Iyer is working on his bowling, I think he should keep working hard. Rohit will have a good option then. In the South Africa series, recently, Aiden Markram was bowling six-eight overs upfront, and the main bowlers were coming in later. This is a big factor for the Indian team. Suryakumar Yadav can bowl as well. Even Rohit would bowl before his injury. So someone will have to step in, and bowl at least six-eight overs regularly in nets. Batsmen will definitely look to attack a part-timer but that also increases his chance of taking wickets. We haven’t seen someone like that since Kedar Jadhav. Hardik is also injured.
That skill should be there (from junior level), definitely. Laxman bhai is at NCA, he knows how important it is. Rahul bhai knows how Yuvi paa and Viru paa gave him crucial breakthroughs. Selectors will have to think about it too, you cannot go in with just five bowlers. There are injury concerns, so much cricket is played, and if someone breaks down, you are left with only four bowlers. The same applies to Test cricket too. I have bowled 20 overs (in an innings) in England too. Viru paa has also bowled a lot and taken many wickets in Tests. Sachin paaji has bowled so much, be it in the World Cup or in the CB Series in Australia or in Sri Lanka, he bowled everywhere. Sourav Ganguly has bowled a lot of overs too. So when the breeze blows at Wankhede in the afternoon, you can bring on part-timers for a few overs to give the main bowlers a rest.
Batsmen should definitely work on their batting but they need to come in early or stay back for half an hour for the nation (to bowl a bit in the nets). They will have to like that process. Once you start liking it, you will not go away without bowling five-six overs.
Sriram Veera: With Rahul Dravid as captain and batting lower down, India started to chase successfully (in ODIs). How was that experience?
Absolutely right. When Rahul Dravid was our captain, we made a world record in terms of winning ODIs while chasing, between 2005 and 2007. We bowled a lot after winning the toss during that period. We used the wet ball for fielding practice. A lot of effort went into (bowling and countering) reverse swing because we used to have just one ball those days, which was replaced after 34 overs. Rahul bhai put a lot of emphasis on slip and close-in catching; how to deal with the low bounce on Indian grounds. We used to take 100-150 slip catches during training, be it Tests or ODIs.
He (Dravid) had a clear idea about chasing. Our training sessions, too, lasted for four-five hours. Our training method for white-ball cricket was different. For Test cricket, we used to turn up at the ground at 8 am for training to get accustomed to the early morning dew. Our mindset was different and we benefitted a lot from that kind of preparation.
Tushar Bhaduri: Is it possible to have a fulfilling career playing just T20, white ball cricket, and without playing in Test cricket? Because kids now only want to play white ball cricket. Is it necessary to play Tests?
Whatever the country plays — be it Tests or ODIs, or T20s, all are important. Now white ball is much more. But Tests should be given equal importance
because you play Ranji Trophy, you play three-day practice matches. So it becomes important that whichever format you play and represent the country, you keep doing well. I think playing for India itself is a big thing. When the T20 national team is formed, sometimes some bowler shines, then another. Deepak Chahar is such a bowler who did well both in IPL and domestic. And finally he’s doing well in T20s and one dayers. So just do well for the country, no matter what format.
Sriram Veera: You are very popular in Tamil Nadu, Chennai, UP. So as the next step, will you join politics?
No, no! Cricket is my sole love. And I’ll stick to cricket. It’s the sport I know and politics I don’t understand much. I want to become a good chef now, cook every cuisine well, and visit every place.