• Before we talk about other things, let me tell you one factoid. In nearly 200 episodes of Walk the Talk, you are only the second guest to be repeated. You know who the first one was? Mr Advani.
So that makes me in very good company. I am honoured.
• But it also tells us that cricket is something we take seriously, second only to politics.
Sometimes I think too seriously.
• Politics or cricket?
Cricket! Politics, we must take seriously. We probably don’t take it seriously enough.
• Why do you say we take cricket too seriously?
I mean there is so much emotion and passion involved in the game that I think we tend to forget sometimes that it’s just a game and that winning and losing are part of the game, so long as your team, your country’s team, tries its best. It is a sport, and people should enjoy it for the sport that it is. There are good performances on both sides — both teams come there to play cricket and they play good cricket. Sometimes I think people take it too personally. Sometimes I think people feel that it’s almost a personal insult if the team loses. And it’s the same way when we win — they can get so excited and so happy that sometimes it can get a bit too much.
• I like what your coach Greg Chappell said the other day; he was talking to an Australian paper, I think, and he said working with these guys is like escorting the Beatles. You go to the airport and you have 50,000 people lining the streets. It’s wonderful.
It is. I must say it’s a privilege to play for India, it’s an honour. Sometimes I look around and I see how lucky I am to be able to play this game and to play it well enough to be able to represent my country for the time I have. The Indian fans are the best fans in the world. The kind of reception we get, they are demanding, there’s no doubt about it.
• And they are unforgiving.
They are unforgiving but you must realise that the Indian fan today is running world cricket; make no mistake about that.
• And that is why this is the richest part of the cricketing world right now, isn’t it?
It is. I think it’s where the financing of world cricket is. I wouldn’t say completely, but definitely a major part of world cricket today is being run by Indian companies. Part of that is also the result of our economy and the growth we have seen over the last ten or fifteen years. Just the success that is India is being reflected in the cricketing world as well.
• But Rahul, something else. You said Indian crowds are tough, they are demanding. But being booed by your own people, a stadium full of your own people, the way you were in Calcutta... I remember speaking once with Sunil Gavaskar once many years ago, in 1983, the last time, I think, until now, that an Indian team played an international match in Srinagar. And the team was booed and the crowd supported the West Indies, and, in fact, Gavaskar mentioned that it was the fastest he’d seen anybody bowl, Malcolm Marshall in Srinagar. The combined effect, how does it work on your mind? I know that many players who went to Srinagar then came back scarred from that experience, having an Indian crowd take a position against you from the moment the first ball is bowled.
To be honest, Shekhar, I’m not the first Indian captain to be booed on an Indian ground, and I won’t be the last. I have played under four or five captains, and I have seen all of them at various times, at various grounds.
• But this was for non-cricketing reasons.
I was lucky not to be on the boundary. Some of the things the boys heard on the boundary line was not nice. But, you know, having said that, we didn’t play well on the day. People were upset; there was a variety of reasons for why they were upset, some of it was legitimate, some of it not. There is no point getting into that. I think as an international sportsman you have got to accept these things sometimes. People are upset, you haven’t played well as a team, people are emotional. Like I said, I am not going to be the last. People are demanding, but they are very loving as well.
• Let me give you Kapil Dev’s regional theory of Indian cricket. He says, if you look at the West, it’s all talent, very little hard work. If you look at the South, a lot of talent, a lot of hard work. If you look at the North, some talent, loads of hard work. Then, he says, if you somehow get it all together, go East, go to Calcutta and perform, because you get 100 per cent adulation. To get abused in Calcutta, then, must be particularly galling. You have had one of your great appearances for India there.
I have always done really well in Calcutta. I mean, the experience of playing with Laxman that day. And six months before I went there for the last game, I’d got a hundred in each innings to win a game against Pakistan. To win a Test for India against Pakistan and score a hundred in each innings is very special. I love playing in Eden Gardens, it’s a great venue. That will never change. I am going to love going back and playing at that venue.
• Talking about Pakistan, Rahul, what do you take to Pakistan? What have you learned, what memories of the last tour do you take to Pakistan now?
I take back some very fond memories, both on and off the field. On the field, we were the first team to win a series in Pakistan. Personally, it was a good series for me, both the one-days and Tests. Just meeting people, making friends... I have some very good memories of that trip. It was a very different time when we went last time, we hadn’t been there for 13-14 years and there was a bit of apprehension. But we really had a lovely time.
• Were you surprised by the way the team did?
I wasn’t very surprised because, to be honest, we’d just come back from a very good tour of Australia.