On taking over captaincy
First reactions are obviously, it’s a very special moment in my life, it’s a lot of responsibility and something that I’m really looking forward to. I didn’t realise when this transition happened, in my own head. Starting off as a player just wanting to play for India and now having the responsibility to be captain in all three formats. I feel very grateful that I’ve been given this opportunity. When it was informed to me by the selectors and the BCCI, all the emotions and the feeling of me playing club games as a child, those are the first things that came to mind because for every child growing up it’s a dream to play for the country and then this probably is the biggest day in my life.
I’m very thankful to MS Dhoni as well, for giving me this opportunity, for thinking that I’m worthy of taking that responsibility forward. I’m very grateful to his whole contribution in this process as well, I’ve learnt a lot from him in terms of leadership, in terms of conducting myself, how to take the team together, so it couldn’t have been done in a better way, such a respectful and a humble way by him. At the same time, me understanding what the situation is like and having that respect and regard for him, I feel really, really wonderful with what’s going on.
Transition from Test captaincy to all formats
Test captaincy, I think I was told the day before the meeting that MS (Dhoni) is not going to play the first Test in Adelaide and I’m going to captaining the country. It was quite surprising for me because I didn’t expect it at all. Because in my head I was still finding my feet in Test cricket as a batsman. But the responsibility worked beautifully for me. That took a bit of time and process to understand how it’s done. I would say the one-day and T20 captaincy is something that I have tried to learn along the lines a lot more but at the same time I feel a lot more confident taking it up and starting it off straightaway, because of the kind of cricket that I have played in the shorter formats and what I have learnt being in different situations in that particular format. It’s something that will really help, understanding the game better. Yes, I have been preparing in my own head, MS has been speaking to me as well, about strategies, about how situations need to be approached. Because he also, in his head, understood that it’s very important to guide me and to teach me as well, knowing that the kind of legacy he has set up, it’s very important for the person coming in next to take that forward and not be in a state of confusion. I think, as I said, it’s been a wonderful process.
Having MS Dhoni in the team
It’s a win-win situation for the new captain coming in, still having that guy for advice, for his inputs, for the cricketing brain purely that he has. But what I’m really, really happy about and what I’m most pleased about is the fact that he’ll be able to play free cricket, he’ll be able to express himself as the aggressive MS Dhoni that we knew when he came into the team. Somewhere as a player you understand that responsibility can take that (playing the natural game) away from you. I think it’s time he enjoys his cricket for how much ever time he wants and really express himself, because he’s taken so much burden for the country and now it’s his time to enjoy it.
Obviously these are massive shoes to fill, there’s no doubt. You think of MS Dhoni and the first word that comes to mind is ‘captain’. You don’t relate MS Dhoni in any other way. For me he’s always going to be my captain because I started my career under him, he’s handing over the leadership to me (but) for me he’ll always be my captain, he’s the person who guided me initially, he gave me opportunity, he gave me ample space and ample time to grow as a cricketer, who saved me from getting dropped from the team, many a times. And that’s why there’s a huge amount of respect, mutual respect from my side towards him and from his side towards me, because he understand that being given an opportunity I have tried to work as hard (as possible) on my game, and actually improved on the mental side of things so that I can take up the responsibility later. So we share a wonderful friendship and I couldn’t be more lucky to still have him around for ideas. But at the same time have him express himself and totally enjoy his cricket.
Dhoni’s batting position
On the field, obviously, I will be running to him quite a lot, that’s what I feel. Even now when he was captaining we would always have discussions and come to a conclusion. About the batting bit, if I ask him where he wants to bat I know what kind of a person he is, he’ll tell me where ever he’ll want to bat. I know he’s like that but I would love to see him bat higher up usually than what he has been playing for the last few years and totally enjoy his cricket. If MS Dhoni enjoys his cricket and plays the way he has in his initial years, the team is in a very solid space. His cricket ability, his understanding of the game, understanding of situations, are priceless. To have this burden off his shoulders, I think he’s going to enjoy the best phase of his career as a batsman and he’ll be able to enjoy his cricket far more than he’s every done before, without the burden of being under the scanner all the time. I’m really, really happy for him and at the same time I feel grateful and lucky that he’s still around to give me advice.
Added responsibility as captain of all formats
Added responsibility has always worked for me, in the sense that you have no room to be complacent, you have no room to relax at any stage in the game. And that’s why when I captain even in the IPL, it’s very easy for me to throw my wicket away after (scoring) 60-70. But the fact that I push after that is because I understand that as the captain of the team I need to set an example and I need to firstly make that kind of effort before asking the teammates to do it, and that’s something that I have always believed in.
I think captaincy in Test cricket still gives you opportunities to come back into the game. I saw Allan Border’s interview some days back about Ricky Ponting and he said why he was considered great in the shortest format was that he was able to maintain the consistency rate for such a long period of time in a format that does not allow you to come back into the game very often. So to stay on top throughout was a remarkable achievement. It’s exactly what MS has done for India as well, winning all the major trophies. Captaining in the shortest format is very difficult, a couple of players can totally take the game away from you and to keep coming back from that requires a different set of thinking and requires something out of the box, which he has been able to do so wonderfully for so many years.
Responsibility is something that I really like, it makes be a better player, it makes me a better person, it makes me understand the game much more and it makes me much more focussed into the game. Understanding the minute details of the game, which win you a game or lose you a game. I think it works beautifully for me, as I said one-day cricket and T20 cricket is something that I’ve had a really good understanding of in the past few years. So I think I’ll be able to execute my plans with lot more conviction starting off, when compared to when I started off in Test cricket.
Just hearing about the World Cups gives me goosebumps, I’ve played one, I’ve played a couple of T20 World Cups, but to play a World Cup as captain of India would be the biggest achievement of my life. The thing that needs to be understood and addressed here is that it is a gradual process. The good thing is that everyone is young, everyone is excited to grow as cricketers, which is the most exciting place that a captain can be in, with of course the inputs and guidance of MS himself. I think it’s a wonderful phase for Indian cricket where the youngsters coming in really have an opportunity to seal their spots for that big occasion. We have a Champions Trophy coming up as well and everyone’s really excited and raring to go for it. That’s what I know. Everyone is fighting for places in the ODI squad, we’re still figuring out what are the best combinations that we have. So the main goal is to identify players who can play in different positions, who can work around the batsmen who are featuring in the ODI set-up for a long time. At the same time, giving them ample time to prepare for big events and not rush them into any sort of plans that they can’t execute. Keeping things simple, giving players space and time to grow, but at the same time understanding who is suited at a particular position or a particular job in the team, that’s the most important thing.
Plans going forward
There’s lot of time to go for it, our basic goal is to play every game that we play. That’s why you play this game. Not taking this process for granted saying that it doesn’t matter if we win or lose games, we just need to find the right combinations. We don’t think that will create confidence; what will create confidence is we find a group of players that we’re going to keep in the squad, you keep switching among those players but at the same time the main motive is to win games of cricket. You can only get confident as a side if you keep winning and understand how to win games of cricket. If you just keep trying at this level, I don’t think you’re going to get any where. When you’re are put under pressure then that situation is too overwhelming for a few players. Encountering those situations every now and then, when you understand how to win games from different situations, it makes up a mindset for big tournaments, for big games, for big oppositions, and that’s what you start craving for. Then you look forward to big tournaments saying ‘I want to make that impact in this particular tournament where I can seal the game for the team or I can totally dominate the tournament and make it a memorable one for me’. So I think it’s a gradual process where the main aim will be to win games and give guys that vision and that mental strength, and that ability to counter situations and comeback to win games.
Plans for different formats
For me the mindset doesn’t change with formats, for me the most important thing that the team should realise is that the ultimate goal is to win. And in this day and age and the kind of cricket that we play, you have to play consistent cricket at a very high intensity for a long period of time to win games of cricket. That’s one of the reasons why we’ve been able to do well in Test cricket, we’ve been able to apply that extra pressure consistency on the opposition, enough for them to make a mistake. I think we’ve become more resolute, we’ve become more patient and more mentally stronger than the opposition in terms of difficult situations where we test them to the limit of them making mistakes rather than us committing that error.
It’s been a gradual process to get to that level in Test cricket but I think in shorter formats – limited-overs – the guys will be more freely giving their very best and play at their highest intensity possible for them. And that’s the only way you can stay at the top in international cricket nowadays. For that we train well, practise really hard and it’s a gradual effort that you put in every day. Everyone should take equal ownership of the result the team is going to have and take equal responsibility in order to achieve that particular result. So the style of captaincy doesn’t change. I would still like to see the team go for the win from any situation and try to come back from different situations every now and then for us to be a champion side.