In this concluding edition of Open World Twenty20 Conversations, BORIA MAJUMDAR speaks to the tournament’s star performer (in more ways than one) CHRIS GAYLE, Indians RAVICHANDRAN ASHWIN and ROHIT SHARMA, both currently in South Africa for the Champions League Twenty20, and Pakistan batsman UMAR AKMAL, who had a very good tournament and is in demand for Australia’s Big Bash League
‘I’d love to do a music video with Shah Rukh’
Q Chris, congratulations on the victory. What does this mean for West Indies cricket?
Gayle: It’s great for West Indies cricket. We needed to win a big world-level tournament for our fans back home and this has been a fantastic victory. This will give cricket in the West Indies a huge fillip. We are all thrilled and the celebrations continued late into the night. We hadn’t won a major tournament in years and for that reason too it is a great victory for us.
Q What’s the secret of the Gangnam dance? You seem to have mastered the moves. After the final you just could not stop dancing.
Gayle: (Laughs) I am practising the moves regularly. It is a Southeast Asian dance (by Korean rapper Psy) and has many million views on the web. I loved it and felt fans would love to see it in celebration of a wicket. I did not expect it to become as popular, though, but I can promise that you will see more of it in the days to come. It allows me to enjoy the game better and is also something fans look forward to seeing me do in the middle.
Q I am told you also want to foray into Bollywood.
Gayle: I had said this when I was in India the last time for the IPL. I would actually love to do a music video with Shah Rukh Khan. I think it will be very popular among cricket fans. I am good friends with a number of Bollywood stars and love to see some of the stuff they do. A music video will be good fun, I think.
Q I am sure your supporters in India will love it. Is it true you have your biggest fan base in India?
Gayle: I love India, just love it. The supporters treat us cricketers like demigods and it is just unbelievable to play in front of such crowds in India. Everywhere I go, people warm up to me and have always extended a hand of friendship. The IPL has given my cricket career a new fillip and I’d love to keep going back to India and keep performing in front of the most passionate cricket fans in the world.
Q You say the IPL has given your career a new fillip. Do you now want to play all forms of the game or do we just see you play T20 cricket all over the world?
Gayle: I want to play all forms of the game, especially Test cricket. There is no doubt that playing for the West Indies means a lot to me and getting a Test hundred for the West Indies is a very special feeling. Having said that, T20 cricket, I think, has a huge future. People enjoy watching T20 cricket and I just love the format. I am able to dominate it, play my shots and entertain fans. That’s what sport is all about—entertainment.
Q What’s in store for Chris Gayle over the next twelve months?
Gayle: Keep scoring runs wherever I play. I want to win more and more games for my team and am also looking forward to playing the IPL in 2013. I have dominated the IPL over the past two years, but haven’t won the trophy yet. I would love to do that in 2013. We are next playing in Bangladesh in November in a series that has two Test matches, five one-dayers and a T20. Then I will be going to Australia to play the Big Bash league. I will keep busy for the rest of the year, no doubt, and hope to be able to perform many more Gangnam dances for fans in the weeks to come (laughs).
‘I’ll have a mental edge against the English’
Q You had a very good World Twenty20 and you are now India’s best spinner in all formats of the game. I remember your saying pressure is something you thrive on. With two important and difficult series coming up (against England and Australia), are you starting to gear up mentally?
Ashwin: Thanks for that compliment. I don’t look at things that way. I have always enjoyed challenges and I will once again tell you that difficult situations bring out the best in me. Take the match against Pakistan in the World Twenty20. They had put together a partnership and it was important that I got Shoaib Malik and Umar Akmal out. Had they batted for another three-four overs, Pakistan would have reached 150 plus. I am glad I could get both out and [we] restricted them to under 130. It is important for a bowler to want to bowl in pressure situations. Against South Africa, I regret the no ball against Robin Peterson. Had we got that wicket, with South Africa still 14 runs adrift of the 121-run target, we may still have restricted them to under 121. I had 11 balls left in my spell and was looking to pick up a couple more wickets.
Q It is almost a given that you need to pick up a lot of wickets in the eight Tests for us to win the series. And these eight Tests will in many ways determine the future of Indian cricket.
Ashwin: Without doubt, we have a huge season ahead. And I am looking forward to doing well for India against England and Australia. I am working on a couple of new things and am confident of doing well. You can never set a target in terms of picking wickets. Rather, you should focus on bowling well, doing well in pressure situations and doing well for the team. Numbers can take care of themselves. So, that is what I will aim to achieve in the season ahead.
Q What about batting? I understand that you are taking your batting very seriously. You already have a Test hundred, you are not uncomfortable against the short ball and you have scored decent runs lower down the order. How important is batting to you?
Ashwin: It is very important. I started my career as a batsman and have opened the batting early on in my career. I am keen to do well with the bat too for India. I enjoy batting, and am aware that you need to be a multi-dimensional cricketer in this day and age. I will look to do well with the bat in the Champions League whenever I get an opportunity. I will practise on matting wickets and also play some cricket with my tennis ball team and chase down big scores. I want to put in some good hours against left-arm spinners as I know Monty Panesar will be on this tour and I don’t know if Australia will persist with Nathan Lyon or will bring in Xavier Doherty. I am determined to bat well with the tail, for that will give us some good runs to play with as a bowling unit.
Q Murali (Muttiah Muralitharan) says your biggest strength is that you have a good mind. Can you talk about the mental battles between players? Do you really go in with an advantage or a disadvantage against a particular batsman depending on your past record against him?
Ashwin: Take the Robin Peterson dismissal against South Africa in the World Twenty20 off a no-ball. Unlike other batsmen, he is a really good switch-hit player. I had made up my mind to just run through fast and bowl quicker at him, which meant he’d have that much less time to switch and play his shot. It is definitely a battle in the mind and as a bowler I need to be one step ahead of the batsmen.
However, there is a distinction here between Twenty20 and Test cricket. In Twenty20, it is more about thinking on your feet. Test cricket, on the other hand, is a drawn-out mental battle. Having said that, I am confident I will have a mental edge against the English when they come to India.
‘I’m doing all I can to be consistent’
Q Rohit, many say you have a lot of talent but haven’t done it justice. What do you think is the issue and what are you doing to address it?
Sharma: I am doing everything I can to be consistent. I had a poor series in Sri Lanka in July and was low on confidence. I went back to the basics, looked at the fundamentals, spoke to Sachin paaji, Rahulbhai and others and spent a lot of time at the nets. I practised and am feeling much more confident. Sachin paaji told me not to get unduly worried and also said that these phases come in every cricketer’s life. It is important for me not to think negative and give my best at the nets. I was glad I could translate the effort into runs against Pakistan and England in the World Twenty20.
Q You have been around for a while now, Rohit. You had a great start to your career in South Africa in the inaugural World Twenty20 and then played a serious hand in India winning the Commonwealth Bank Series in Australia in early 2008. You were tipped to be the next batting great for India. What really happened?
Sharma: I don’t look at things that way. As a cricketer, it is important for me to go out there and give my best for India. But you don’t always succeed because you are giving your best. Luck too has a part to play. I was all set to make my Test debut against South Africa in Nagpur in February 2010 and just about 15 minutes before the start of play, I hurt my ankle. Now what do you do about such things? I can sit back and call myself unlucky or I can move on and say I will make the most of the next opportunity.
Q Rahul and Laxman have retired and Sachin has said it will be abnormal not to think of retirement. This means there will be opportunities for you in the Indian middle-order sooner than later.
Sharma: My job is to score runs, selection will take care of itself. I am looking forward to the Ranji Trophy season. It is a very important season for me and I will do my best to score big runs in the season. The rest will follow.
Q You had a very good IPL season for the Mumbai Indians, winning matches for your team as a finisher. For India, you have batted at numbers four, five and seven. Is there a particular role you want to give yourself when playing for India?
Sharma: I just want to do well for India. Whichever number my captain asks me to go out and bat is fine.
‘Looking forward to playing in India’
(This conversation took place in Hindi)
Q Umar, good tournament for Pakistan, but not quite good enough to go the distance?
Akmal: We played well in most of the matches but we weren’t good enough on the night against Sri Lanka. Overall, however, it was not a bad tournament and we won a number of very good games.
Q The only sell-out game in the whole competition was the India-Pakistan Super Eights clash. Do you think the revival of India-Pakistan cricket is good for the world game?
Akmal: Absolutely. Playing well against India is a dream for every Pakistani cricketer and vice-versa. Fans love watching the two teams play, and it is a great rivalry at every level. Off the field, we are friends, and after India had lost out, most Indian supporters were cheering for us. I am looking forward to playing in India in December.
Akmal: Definitely. It is a great competition and every player wants to play the IPL. It has a huge fan base and is an integral part of the global cricket calendar. The decision rests with the administrators, but if we are allowed to play, I am sure a number of [Pakistani] cricketers would love to play the IPL. The Big Bash too is a very good tournament and was well-attended in its inaugural year. Playing across the world is important for us cricketers for it makes us better all-round players.