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October 30, 1999


The Rediff Interview/Sadagopan Ramesh

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'I feel comfortable when opponents sledge me, it keeps me on fire'

India has been searching for an opening batsman since the exit of Sunil Gavaskar.

Sadagopan Ramesh That search ended when Sadagopan Ramesh walked out to bat on his home ground, the M A Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai, on January 28 this year.

Criticism has been a constant for Ramesh since then -- he lacks concentration, he is lazy, he doesn't move his feet, he...

And the runs have flowed from his bat with enviable felicity meanwhile, making a mockery of all that criticism. His run in Tests thus far reads: 43, 5, 60, 96, 79, 40 (all against Pakistan), 143, 30 (versus Sri Lanka), 0, 73, 83, 5 and 104 (against New Zealand). And a batting average, at this point, on the right side of 60.

And now, he tells Faisal Shariff in an exclusive interview, he is looking forward to the ultimate challenge -- against Australia, on the latter's home soil. Excerpts:

You could endorse fridges -- what keeps you so cool?

As a person, I am the kind who doesn't get worked up, whether I get a hundred or a zero. My personal philosophy is to enjoy every minute of my life -- I guess even now, I am capable of being out for a first ball duck and come back to the pavilion smiling. I mean, sure, I like getting runs, but the odd duck is going to come along, going into mourning doesn't help. My mind works like that.

Which I suppose is why you are accused of being careless, lazy; they say you take your place in the side for granted...

You can't say that. I think to be successful you have to be a natural, to play your own game, instead of trying to impress others. You just need to behave the way you are as a person, that for me is the secret of success.

Take us back to that debut, on home ground, against Akram and Akthar...

Actually, that was the most comfortable innings I have played in international cricket, the debut one in Chennai against Pakistan. I took it real cool. It was a challenge facing up to Akram and Akhtar, the Pak attack is after all the best in the world, it has the best of quicks and spinners. But I was picked at a time when I was in great form, I wanted to keep that form going, I desperately wanted to get runs against them. I didn't get any in the first innings but I told myself I couldn't start getting desperate. You can't expect to do too much in your first innings, because if you fail, then you panic and get desperate. So before I went in that first time, I gave myself four innings to do well, I told myself if I can't score in my first four innings, then I am not worthy of playing at this level.

How did it feel to get that Test cap?

Sadagopan Ramesh There is no greater feeling, really. You can play a 100 domestic games, tour with the India 'A' team on ten tours, but it does not match the feeling you get when you play that first game for India. It's a different feeling altogether. You know what our population is, you know there are thousands who dream of playing for India, not everyone is going to get a chance. So in effect, you are not representing a 15-member squad, you are representing 900 million people out there. That, to me, is a great honour.

Going back a bit further in time, how did you get into cricket?

I was like any other gulli cricketer. I started at the age of 10, with a tennis ball, we used to play after school, in the evenings. When I played Under-13, it was as a medium pacer. But despite getting wickets in the selection trials I failed to make it to the team, so I gave up pace bowling, just got fed up, I thought what the heck's the use of running in from so far and putting a lot of energy into it and not even getting picked to play? Then I started bowling off spin, even though my brother told me not to. For the Under-16 trials, I went as an off spinner, and to my surprise I was in the team (*laughing*).

In fact, I thought I wasn't going to get selected. I remember I went to the stadium, Chepauk, to watch some domestic match. When I walked in to the ground, I checked the notice board, and saw my name at number four. I had to rush home and get my kit. Of course I got late -- *laughs* -- and the coach asked me why, and I told him I hadn't expected to be picked.

Why not? You didn't believe in yourself?

At that age, to be selected for the city team meant a lot. And I had not played too many games before that, they only saw me in the nets. Even the school I played for, we weren't a strong team, we would get knocked out in one or two rounds. The funny thing I remember was, while in the nets, one of the selectors was very impressed -- not with my bowling, but my batting! He came to me and told me to concentrate on my batting, said that I would be in the 15. I thought it was one of those false promises selectors sometimes make, didn't take it seriously.

Were you always an opener?

Actually, I wasn't picked for the Under 22 team. We were playing some local games, and I asked my league captain to let me open. And I was getting a lot of 50s and 100s batting at four. Then one of our openers got injured, and I volunteered. I remember we were playing on a matting wicket, at this place called Manjeri, in Kerala, and I got 195 runs in the three day game. This was was the time we used to play a three day game, followed by a one-dayer. After getting all those runs, they dropped me for the one day game, and the reason was they had already picked the team.

After that game, the chairman of selectors asked about me, and thought that I should be in the probables for the Ranji team. The next game we played was against Karnataka, I got 75 in the one dayer and 110 in the three day game, and found myself in the Ranji team. Debuted against Hyderabad, and got 132 -- in fact, I remember I got 760 runs in my first year. Then I thought I had a chance of making it to the zonal team, and then to India A.

My policy was always, never to think of getting 100, that puts pressure on you. I like to think of making 20... and when I get that, I look for another 20...

How difficult was opening after being a middle order batsman?

I haven't batted in the middle order for 5 years now. I have always been comfortable against fast bowling. When I played U-16, I batted at number 9 or 8 against the second new ball and scored a lot of runs. So the coach and the selectors always thought that I was a good player of fast bowling.

I started my cricket with a tennis ball. It used to be taped, and we used to play fast chucking at 18 yards. When you do that, the ball comes very quickly, it is on you even before you can raise your bat. The guys will chuck the ball at you as if they just hate you to hell. *laughing*

I used to play that kind of bowling at the age of 10 or something. That's the advantage I had, it gives you extra time to play fast bowling. But if you look at it from another point of view, it is a disadvantage for me because when you play this kind of chucking, you really have no time to move your feet, you learn to stand there and go bang-bang! And that really reflects on my footwork now.

My timing improved because of the tennis ball practise, though. I was small, and the others were the age of my elder brother, about 20, 25 years old. We used to play under the streetlights, the light was so bad you couldn't at times even sight the ball.

The first match we played was on concrete. The first ball I faced, I was bowled. In my first school match, I was bowled for zero. In my first league match, I was bowled zero. Then in my Ranji debut, I got a century, for South Zone, I got a century, for India A, I got a hundred. Only for the India team, I missed getting a hundred.

I tend to deliberately stay cool in my first games, I guess that is why I do well.

Was the India A experience good for you?

It was a very good experience because I got to play good fast bowlers. International cricket is all about fast bowlers. West Indians especially, any fast bowlers from West Indies generate a lot of pace. I am not even talking about Walsh or Ambrose, any bowler from the West Indies there will do.

I got selected for India Youth Vs West Indies 'A', a game we played at Pune. Before that match, I played three Ranji games and got about 140 in six innings. So everyone thought that I was going to mess up against the West Indies 'A' side, they thought I wasn't going to get runs. The first ball Pedro Collins bowled to me was a short one, I was trying to move away and I got it straight on the shoulder.

I always feel comfortable when the opponents sledge me because it always keeps me on fire. If the opponents are joking and cool with you, I get bored and I tend to get out. I like it when they sledge me, or the ball hits me, it keeps me on edge, like a wakeup call.

Oh... then you must have got enough of that from Pakistan when they were here?

Srikkanth I remember when I was batting on 50 in Delhi against the Pakistan team, Moin Khan kept on saying things to irritate me. He kept saying that I was a kid and couldn't middle the ball. So at one stage I laughed at him, turned round and smiled and he didn't know what to do. Then I told him he was wasting his energy, and he got very angry then, started shouting more loudly, abusing me, after every ball. While the bowler was returning to his mark he kept abusing me.

Like I said, that kind of thing keeps me focussed. In that India Youth team, for instance, when Collins hit me on the shoulder, I told myself I wouldn't give my wicket to this bowler. I made 48 in that game.

I've always been picked from game to game. I remember getting picked for the India A team, and Srikkanth, my coach, told me if I didn't get runs he wouldn't pick me for the next match. We played in Bangalore, which is a good wicket for fast bowlers and we got all out for 100 and I got 45. Srikkanth yelled at me like anything, told me I should have stayed not out, that I had a golden chance to push for selection for the India team and I had lost it. He told me, when you get in, stay there and make runs, why give others a chance?

So next innings, I got 138 and that turned my career. Srikkanth had told us that the guys who get runs against the Windies will get picked against Pakistan for the national squad, because the selectors would be looking for guys who could play quick bowling. So that is how I made the side...

So how was the Pak tour for you, personally? Were you satisfied with your performance?

Actually I was a bit nervous only in the side game. The first game, India 'A' played against Pakistan at Gwalior. I was already in the Test side, but it was a crucial game for me, I needed to score some runs going into the first Test.

I knew that if I could get runs, that would carry me through in the Tests. Akram in that game bowled real quick, I was really struggling, got out for 19, playing the hook. In the second innings I got a 55.

Actually, sometimes I think from the bowler's point of view. In side games, the visiting teams try to analyse the batsmen, especially when they spot a new one, they check his game out. So, having got out to the bouncer in the side game, I was one hundred per cent sure to get a bouncer first ball in the Test -- in fact, since Akram was an experienced bowler, I was expecting more than one bouncer.

For about 2 overs, he kept bowling short balls to me, which I just left alone. Then he was convinced that the hook shot in the earlier game was a mistake. Then he started bowling full, to Rahul and me, and picked up a couple of wickets.

So which of the two is more difficult to play, Akram or Akthar?

Akram, anyday! I always felt the pressure facing him. Akhtar is quick, very fast, but you can actually see his bouncers. I always felt comfortable against him, but Akram was fearsome even when I was batting on 50 or 60. He can produce some magnificent balls, which really disturbed me. I was playing on 60 in Calcutta and he was bowling in his second spell with the old ball. He bowled me two balls in; I played it to mid-on. He bowled slightly wide, same length. I was trying to flick him through mid-wicket and the ball just left me. He just gave me a smile, and I told him that I just couldn't play that ball.

In Chennai, you lost to Pakistan, how did that feel?

It was really bad. I thought we should have won all the Tests. In Chennai we should have scored the 12 runs with 3 wickets in hand. In Calcutta, we needed 230-plus, Laxman and I scored about 110 runs for the first wicket and we still lost the game.

How was the World Cup experience?

I thought in England, we played inconsistent cricket -- magnificient in the middle, bad at the beginning and the end. It was a mixed bag.

And how was it for you personally?

You make your debut for India and in three months time you are in the team to play the World Cup! I mean, what can be better that that? That too, in England. It was a great experience. You play against all the countries and you see all the fast bowlers in action in favourable conditions. I feel every game is an experience. Whether you get out on zero or after scoring a hundred, it is a learning process. You get to learn something every time.

Even if you are sitting outside and watching, there is so much to learn. I was sitting in the pavilion watching McGrath against India and I thought he was bowling extraordinary stuff that day. I was thinking how I would face him. And I found that I had no answers. Because unless I face him I would not know what he is all about. I faced him in Sri Lanka later, I made up my mind that he was bowling short and I decided that I would not go on the front foot to him. Like Srinath, he can extract bounce from any wicket.


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