How does it feel?
Good. Its good in the sense that selectors feel Im responsible enough. You can help in decisions and not as everybody thinks, that I am just there to party. Of course, I do that as well. I could do the dirty work for the captain. Leave him to do the main job. At the nets he cant watch everybody. I could take 2-3 players to the field. We cant have Jonty Rhodes in India but whatever we have we can improve upon.
Also a room to yourself.
(Laughs) Yes, thats a big honour.
Why has the Indian team been performing so badly?
If we knew the reasons we would have rectified them. In Sri Lanka, I think, we were just outplayed by Jayasuriya.
The Lankans have taken the game to a new level.
Its the same side that came here three years back and lost 3-0. The difference is that they have started believing in themselves. Everybodys with themmanager, country, media. They have played together a lot; set patterns of play. The bowler knows which over hes going to bowl before the captain calls him. They know who plays off spin or leg spin better. Last time Sidhu mauled Muralitharan here. Now they make sure Murali doesnt bowl when Sidhus around or bowls the least.
The first 15 overs have suddenly become crucial in one-day cricket.
In the subcontinent and Sharjah, the game is decided in the first 15 overs. Between the 15th and the 50th over if you average the runs scored by all sides it would be between 150 and 180. If you have more runs in the first 15, you are set.
You have the best partnership average when opening with Sachin. Even better than Greenidge and Haynes. How did you get stuck at No 6?
Nobody wants to change batting positions these days. I volunteered to go at six at the Sharjah fixture after the World Cup. But just for a phase, because no one was willing to bat there. In the last 50-odd games I have opened just twice.
You would like to bat up?
Anybody would. In India what counts is the quantity of runs and not the ones you score in crunch situations. Take Robin. People were raising questions about him but he shut everyone up with his 100. He got that opportunity. Hes one of the best we have. I think Ill have to bat at six because no one else is willing to do the job or can do the job. At six, no one would be able to do what Im trying to do. But theres a lot of pressure. I cant sleep till three or four. The situation I come in we are either 50 or 60 for four or need an ask of 7 an over. The main problem is in a 250-score game where you start at five-an-over then go down and around the 37th over I come in. That is the time of maximum pressure. You wish the earlier players had gone on. Either I come in for two overs and my job is only to hit. I might miss. I might hit. Fair enough. But in the 37th over I cant hit and I cant miss. You have to get set also. Its not like you are coming at No 3 and have all the time in the world.
About match-fixing charges that Outlook s brought about.
Its added more pressure on the players. Its very difficult on the guys named. Especially if they dont get runs. What people dont realise is that the wicket could have been funny, the ball swinging etc. Theres so much pressure that sometimes you leave it till the end and the run rate climbs; you get out. Six months back if you got out no one would have said anything. Now everybody casts aspersions. Your articles havent helped Indian cricket at all.
You have felt the pressure?
Everytime I go out to play I think about you. People call and abuse us in the hotel. The family says things. So in a crunch you have a tendency sometimes not to fight it out. You are worried about what people will say if you get out. Performances dont count anymore. You would probably say Waqar was paid to get hit during the Bangalore match. If India wins people have paid the other side; if India loses people have paid Indian players. Australia couldnt chase 120-odd runs in the last Ashes test. Nobody says anything. Maybe Sergei Bubka was paid money not to go for the gold in the last two Olympics.
Social pressure too?
Not at all. I still go out as I used to. Of course, now you get to hear a few more things than before. Now you go to a disco after losing, people say these guys were paid, now they are partying.