How are we looking at this match? Is it just another match against Pakistan, or is it an important match?
I think it’s an important match. To have a look at it is very important. Doesn’t matter which side you are really playing, because the reason is all international sides are good enough, so no real point taking any added pressure, so anything you can avoid as a team, especially the fact we’re talking about pressure, we should look to do that.
Obviously the last time Pakistan and India played, Pakistan beat us in India, but the circumstances leading up to that series were completely different from right now. Obviously we have a much more settled opening combination now and at that point batting was really struggling. From that standpoint how do the dynamics change?
Well, I think we are a side that relies quite a bit on a good start. It doesn’t really mean that we always need hundreds and partnerships. We need some time, the openers need to spend some time in the middle, and that really comes from the dressing room. That has been the case whenever we have got off to a good start; more often than not we have been able to capitalize on that fact.
If you look at Ravindra Jadeja’s career, it’s a very interesting career. He started off not remarkable in the early stages, was not a part of the 2011 winning side, but the last three to four months he’s been exceptional with the ball. You get to see him every single delivery. What is he doing now which say he wasn’t doing earlier or what has changed for Jadeja?
What we need to see is international cricket, it’s difficult, you can say, scenario where all the cricketers don’t really start brilliantly, but what happens is the more time you spend and the more games you play, you get more and more confident about the fact, what really your strengths are and what needs to be done. And I think that’s what he has figured out. The good thing with him is he’s a bowler who’s very consistent with his line and length, doesn’t vary his stuff a lot; he keeps it in the same areas, watches the batsman, if he’s stepping out or something, he throws it out. Apart from that, he’s someone who has been very consistent with his line and length, and that’s what is helping him.
Pakistan’s strength is their bowling. Is there any kind of strategy, any approach towards the batting which will be different from the last matches you played?
No, I think it’s exactly the same because most of the international sides have good fast bowlers, and Pakistan they have got a good spinner, also, up their sleeve. Also along with Ajmal they have Hafeez who has been doing really well when it comes to the bowling department. Overall they are a very good bowling side, so we are not looking to change anything. The approach needs to be the same, and we’ll stick to the basics.
I think what’s impressed us about Rohit Sharma is the way he plays a new ball and particularly the short ball. Why did your team put him up opening?
Well, I think he’s someone who can cuts and pulls the ball well, and that’s what we have seen whenever we play a team that’s not from the subcontinent; more often than not they are thinking that let’s bowl short to the opener and then pitch at the top, and if the opener cuts and pulls they don’t really have a back-up plan.
He’s someone who can do the job well for us, and also the fact that he’s someone who is really talented, and that’s the only space that we have got, where we all felt that with his talent he can really capitalize and be a good opener. It’s not only India who’s looking for an opener who’s not really an opener; even England have done that with Ian Bell. So I think that’s really helping us, and also having the fact that Vijay is also a part of the side, he gets his time with the international team, sees where he needs to improve his game. So overall it’s a win‑win situation for all.
Misbah was asked whether India‑Pakistan still means something to the people, he said it meant more to people living overseas. For example, when Pakistan came to India the stands weren’t really full or something, but in England or London in the expat community, they feel it the same way. How do you feel so, and how do you feel as a player?
Well, I think the India‑Pakistan game is always a big game, doesn’t really matter where you are playing, and if you see both the teams, if you compare it to the ’80s or the early ’90s, you can say it has mellowed down a bit for the good of cricket. You don’t really see the same kind of action when it comes to the cricketing skills and the verbal skills, which I feel is good. And at the same time the intensity is still there.
So I think it’s very entertaining for the spectators, and also the fact that whenever you play at any tournament you like, England I still remember the warm-up game that we played in the ICC World Twenty20 2009. It was a houseful game and we had an equal amount of support, 50-per-cent each. I think it’s an exciting game, and spectators, especially from India and Pakistan, they love to watch a game like this, so I think it will be a houseful again.
You spoke about Rohit Sharma. What about the other opener? I wouldn’t say he’s come from nowhere, but three or four years ago he played some on the international route doing anything, and now what’s the difference? He’s 27.
Well, if you see Shikhar, he and I batted together in the Challenger Trophy. Obviously, it was slightly different for me, the reason I was a wicket-keeper, and especially when you compete with a slightly more number of cricketers. At that time we had quite a settled batting, you can say, or the opening pair that we had got. He got a bit of a chance in the middle, in the last I think, three years if I’m not wrong, but the problem is when you get games on and off, the real problem is you don’t really know whether you play the next game or you’ll get a few games in a go. So that really affects the thinking of a cricketer. But now what has happened is also that stint that he got a few games that he got, showed him where he needs to be, what are the areas that he needs to improve, and now all of a sudden he gets a chance, he’s sure about the fact that he’ll get a few games if not too many, which gives him time to settle down and doesn’t really push him to think as to what will happen if he doesn’t perform in this particular game.
So I think it really helps each and every individual, and it is something that we want to do as a team for every individual who’s selected for the Indian cricket team. But at times that’s not really possible, so I think it’s something that’s really working for him, that he’s taking it as a challenge and is just expressive on the field.
Quite a few youngsters have performed very well under your captaincy. What do you tell those youngsters, the Shikhar Dhawans, the Umesh Yadavs, the Virat Kohlis before they play an important match? How do you motivate them?
Well, motivation has never been a factor, especially when you’re representing your country and you’re talking about 1.2 billion people, and the expectation level is very high. So I don’t think motivation is something that needs to be ‑‑ a speech needs to be given to motivate the guys. I think all of them are very motivated. It’s just that it’s important to enjoy the game more than anything else. When we picked up cricket or any individual picks up any sport, it’s more for enjoyment. Nobody really thinks at the early stages that it will be his career where he will earn money.
So I think that’s what is important at our top level, also, when you are competing at the top level it’s important to still stick to the fact that it is still a sport, you are there to enjoy, you are there to give 100-per-cent, and that’s something that is of utmost importance.
And I think all these individuals have been able to do that. They’ve been able to mix and match everything, their fitness, their cricketing and their life at the same time. So I think that enjoyment factor is the key.
And the relaxation?
No, I think they understand that very well.
Pakistan are out of the tournament. When Misbah was asked about it, he said that this kind of situation will take pressure off his side. Do you think in this kind of situation they are less dangerous or more dangerous?
Well, there are two ways to look at it. It depends on what they are thinking. If their thinking is they have nothing really to lose, let’s go out, be expressive on the field, don’t bother about the result, then they can be dangerous. But if the thinking is they have not qualified, this is a game against India, let’s win this game so that we have it as a consolation prize, they’ll be in big trouble. So it depends entirely on what they are thinking.
What’s been the most pleasing aspect of this campaign so far for you?
I think the fact that we have quite consistently scored runs. That’s something that’s very important. The fact that we have been able to chase scores and good scores against good bowlers and good wickets where there was a bit of bounce for the fast bowler. I think all in all it’s a very pleasing aspect, and also the bowling department we have seen if there’s a bit of help for the fast bowlers, even though our fast bowlers can come back in the game, bowl really well in the middle overs, so I think overall I’ve been very happy. Fielding, we have not been known for our fielding standards, but we have seen ‑‑ I think right now we are the best fielding side. You can compare us to any other side, and most of our fielders, they are good fielders, and the rest are above‑average fielders.
You started playing cricket to enjoy and then be competitive and improve and beat the opposition, but along the way the fans and the media have thrust the responsibility of the country upon you as if you are more patriotic than others in the country. Is it possible for fans to mature and realize that it is just a sport, and I’m asking this in the context of the match against Pakistan.
You know, it’s a very difficult one to answer. If you see why cricketers are so popular, the reason is the fan following is such, so it’s important that you take it in a positive way because it will be very difficult to change the thinking. But I always talk about to look at stuff which are in our control and stuff that’s beyond our control, so I think this is definitely something that’s definitely beyond our control, so it’s very important that we set our own expectation level. We try to do well in each and every game, because I think the expectation of the fans in India, it will only go up a level. I’ve never seen it come down, right from 2004 December when I made my debut.
So I think it’s a good thing. It really pushes us all the time to keep doing well. But it’s very important to manage ourselves, especially when we are not doing really well, because in sport each and every individual from each and every country at the end of the day they are representing their country, and they want to do well for themselves and their country.
I think it’s crucial that when you’re not doing well not to get bothered about all these things, still look to do better in the areas that are in our control, and that’s preparation, execution of plans and keeping ourselves fit.
Showers are forecast tomorrow. If that’s the case, do you change your planning in terms of if it’s going to be raining tomorrow?
You know, the England weather is very unpredictable. As of now, showers, they have said we may have a bit of shower. But we’ll see before the start of the game how it looks, look up at the sky, see what’s really happening, where the clouds are coming from. And once you get so close to the game, the forecasts, they are a bit more realistic. So we’ll see how it goes.
What also needs to be seen is whether it will be so much rain affected that the team that bats second may end up only batting 20 or 25 overs, and then the team who has batted first has a bit of a disadvantage. That’s to my feeling. But once the game starts and everything goes well and all of us are in the match, it gets reduced to a 35‑over game which is still big enough, and I think the side batting second has a bit of a disadvantage because they’ve already played a few overs and they think it’s a 50‑over game and then all of a sudden they need to change their plans.