Another year, same opponents -- this time last year, you were recovering from a mauling Down Under. And now they are due to come here. What thoughts go through your mind at this point?
This is a very important series. You are playing the world champion side. It’s going to be hard, and we will really have to play very well, very hard, to beat a side like that. It's going to be a huge challenge, straight up.
Will the fact that we lost at home to South Africa have an impact on the team?
True, we lost to South Africa, but overall we have a good record at home. Against SA, they were a good side, and we didn't play good cricket, so we got punished. It was a disappointment, but then, if you don't play well you have to expect to lose, and the same is the case against Australia. When you play average opposition at home, you can get away with playing average cricket. But against the good sides, you have to lift your game, play to potential, or you will get punished.
Playing Australia in Australia should have taught you a few things -- so this time round, how do you plan to tackle the series?
There is a camp coming up, which gives us -- the team, the captain, the coach -- a chance to get together, to sit down together and discuss a few things. We need to be clear in our own mind what kind of pitches we want, what kind of team composition we need, what strategies to use against various key players of their side. The first step in planning will be to get together and discuss these things, then we still have to go out there and implement them.
For the first time in a long while, we will be playing a key home series without Anil Kumble in the team...
Yeah, right, obviously we are going to miss Kumble, who has an incredible record, you can't easily replace a player like that. Not having him around is a bit of a dampener, but on the positive side, it gives one of the other guys, the up and coming spinners, a chance to put his hand up and be counted.
I was chatting with the curator of the Wankhede Stadium and he was pointing out that on Indian wickets, the Aussies generally get quick 30s and 40s before the heat gets to them, and then they give it away. What do you think?
Well, maybe, but you can't have that as a strategy, you can't go in thinking, okay, this guy will get 30 and the heat will get to him. And also, it is a touch early to be thinking strategy -- we need to know what side we have, and what lineup they come up with for the tour. Besides, the idea should be to have general strategies, broad guidelines, but to stay flexible within those parameters.
Last time, when the Aussies toured here, they had this tour game against Bombay and Sachin told Rajesh Sutar to go out there and demolish Shane Warne. The Bombay team as a whole went after Warne in the warm-up game, and as a result, he was a spent force in the Tests. Do you think that kind of strategy will be useful this time as well -- to go after their key bowlers early on?
Maybe. It will be nice for them to get a couple of tough side games. There are many things that can be tried -- for instance, if the wicket for the first Test is a turner, give them a good batting wicket for the warm-up games -- these kind of things routinely happen to touring sides, it happens when we go abroad as well. You need though to keep in mind that this time, the Aussies have an advantage. The last time they were here, most of their younger batsmen had never toured India before, and touring for the first time is always tough. This time, it is different -- most of their top batsmen have good experience in Indian conditions, so you can expect things to be much tougher, they will be far better prepared. The last time they were here, we played superb cricket, we batted superbly, Anil bowled beautifully, so did Srinath. This time round, they are an even tougher side, their attack is more balanced, they have got good spinners AND quicks, so we will have to lift our game that much higher to be able to beat them.
You once told me that four bowlers isn't going to be enough in Indian conditions. Do you think we will have five bowlers this time, or will we continue to pack our batting?
It's hard to say, obviously Saurav (Ganguly) and John (Wright) are the ones to decide these things. And in any case, you don't make these decisions one month ahead of time, without even having seen the pitches or assessed the kind of form your players are in. I guess once we get into that camp, the thinking will begin.
So much seems to be riding on the camp -- but it is just six days long. Is that enough, for a series of this magnitude?
Actually, I am a strong believer in the theory that playing matches is more useful than having long camps, and most of our guys have in fact been playing competitive cricket of late, we are in the middle of our domestic season. So a six day camp is not all that bad, really -- it is more to get our thinking caps on, than to practise batting and bowling. Besides, there is a Challenger Series immediately after that and most of the guys will be around for those games too, so in a sense, the camp will simply continue. There is definitely no point in having a long camp, at the expense of missing a Duleep Trophy game. Generally, before going on tour it is a good idea to have a longish camp, but for a home series when your own domestic season is on, a six-day camp is fair enough.
Saurav was pretty unhappy about the camp being held in Chennai, he thought Bombay or Bangalore would have been better. What is your take?
Was he? I don't know -- I guess they have done it because of the Challenger Trophy, in any case there is no point worrying about it.