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'We Could Have Won 2-1'
We came to Australia to win the series—unfortunately, that did not happen. I would have liked a 2-1 verdict in favour of India; or 1-1, which was a very real possibility, for we had to hang in for just a few more minutes at Sydney for a draw. Sydney will remain a big disappointment, a recurring regret; we had fought hard there, coming back after an inadequate show at Melbourne. Everything did not go to plan, but we still should have forced a draw, for we had batsmen of quality to bat out 70 overs. But you get on with the game; you fight and ensure that you stay alive in the series. That was the message the team was given, and I'm really proud of the way we played at Perth and Adelaide.
I've now led India in seven Tests against two of our toughest opponents. The results could have been better, but I can look back and say with utmost honesty that the team and I gave it our best shot. This was a difficult series, away from the field as well. I tried to take decisions that helped the team keep the larger interest of the game in mind. I was entrusted this opportunity to make decisions and relished the challenge, although it was mentally exhausting.
We've been travelling well in the last few years, have won more Tests abroad than ever before; but we invariably lost a Test after winning one. That didn't happen here, which is another happy change from the past. Doubts were raised when we flew out of India—there were suggestions that the series would be one-sided, against us. But I knew the team's strength, what it was capable of. Criticism from beyond the ropes, when I know we're prepared, doesn't affect me.
Batting was the strength that gave us the greatest confidence and shaped our plans. Our top batsmen, with hundreds of Tests among them, held the key. When we lost Zaheer Khan after the first Test, our bowling attack was young and inexperienced. To lighten their burden, it was critical for the batsmen to get the runs. They did exactly that. Whenever we've got big scores against Australia, we've put them under pressure. And this worked in the last two Tests.
Then, all our fast bowlers are swing bowlers, not destructive pacemen. It was important they moved the ball, which did happen. Our bowling coach, Venkatesh Prasad, deserves the credit for helping them. Irfan Pathan was very effective, getting back to his old self of swinging the ball, as was R.P. Singh. And Ishant Sharma, the find of the tour, was simply outstanding. It was very encouraging to see a young fast bowler come to Australia for the first time and trouble every batsman, even on the flat Adelaide track.
Interestingly, at Adelaide, the way the Aussies batted on the third day, it seemed they had safety foremost in mind. It showed they had realised what we were capable of doing, and that they would be happy enough with a draw to take the series 2-1. Still, the way we took on Australia on their home turf was good for Indian cricket. We have now moved up to No. 2 rank in Test cricket. This bunch has a very effective blend of youth and experience. For all the seniors, it was a great tour—and exceptional for a couple of them. The younger players took the cue and raised the bar.
As captain, it was a demanding tour. Apart from the tough cricket we played, there were other issues that affected us so much. There was much pressure, but I enjoy that—I never look at any challenge as impossibly tough. I believe that if you're sincere and prepared, you can face the biggest trials without flinching. I'm not scared of challenges.
For a spinner, Australia can be very contrary—the conditions aren't conducive for most part of a Test; it's helpful later on, but to be effective, to bowl with a free mind, you must have enough runs on the board. I had to do a bit of tricky balancing—as a bowler, it was my job to ensure that we kept things quiet and also picked up wickets. I did that, which pleased me—and also the fact that I got some runs as well.
I've had a few good scores in the last couple of years, including my first ton at The Oval last summer; I always had the ability to bat, but probably am enjoying it more than ever before. I'm very keen that I contribute, and in a sense, it's helped me relax a bit. The added responsibility of leading the team helps.
There are a couple of crucial series coming up at home, and the tour of Sri Lanka. We have a great opportunity to win the next three-four series we're going to play. For us, the year began in a sort of cricketing low after the loss at Sydney, before things began to look up. Hopefully, by 2008-end, we'll be right on top of the rung.
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