At what point in the bowler’s run up and his approach to the wicket, do you decide I am going to scoop this or ramp this or flick it to mid-wicket?
At the number which I bat, it allows me to watch all the bowlers and allows me to plan when I am sitting in the dugout. When I go inside, it’s all about execution. I also watch the videos of the opposition bowlers a day before the game, and sleep over it and visualise how I am going to play.
Apart from watching videos, what are your pre-match routines? Are there a particular number of balls you like to play in the nets on match eve?
For the last four years, I have followed a routine which has worked well for me. One day prior to the match, I like to take the day off. I practise only two days before match eve. On match eve, I just spend time with my wife and don’t talk about cricket at all. She has helped me to stay grounded irrespective of whether I have done well or not. She has drilled into my head that I have got to stay the same whether or not I have done well.
Your debut at Motera, the hundred at Nottingham, the half century at St. Kitts, or the fifty at Jaipur vs. New Zealand. Which knock is more special to you?
The first one at Motera will always be dear to me as it was in a winning cause. My knocks in St Kitts vs. West Indies recently and last year vs. New Zealand in Jaipur are also close to my heart as they all were contributions in a winning cause. Nottingham would have been No.1 had we won the game.
I wish to ask you about your bat. Do you change it in between innings? What weight do you use?
I do not like changing bats during an innings. There is no fixed bat that I walk out with. I am not someone who will walk out with a bat that I had used in the previous game in which I had scored a 50 or a century. I carry only three or four bats as I don’t want to be confused. The weight of my bats is in the 1.5-1.6 kg ranges.
Some of the shots you play are really rubber ball shots aren’t they? Especially the ones behind square and behind the keeper.
Yes, I played a lot of rubber ball cricket in my colony (BARC) on hard, cement open spaces. Bowlers used to just chuck the ball. One side of the boundary used to be 90 to 95 metres and the other side would be 45 metres. All those scoops, upper cuts, flicks were learnt there seeing the dimensions of the ground. I never practised those shots in front of a bowling machine. It’s all in my muscle memory and it comes out in games.
You are in the T20 WC squad to Australia where the pitches will be harder and bouncier. Any training drills that you have incorporated or new shots that you have developed to succeed there?
This will be the first time I will be touring Australia. But I have spoken a lot with Rohit especially since the England series started, about the pitches and how the ball behaves. I enjoy playing on fast tracks. I feel my game is suited to fast and bouncy wickets.
The challenge will be the size of the ground. We need to be smart there. I am preparing accordingly and trying to play straighter and adding more shots in front of the wicket. Hopefully, I can bring them into play.
You have had the most outings at no.4 having batted there 12 times, you have even opened the innings and played well at No. 3, what for you is the ideal number and why? What do you feel more comfortable doing? Ricky Ponting says you should bat at No.4, many Indian experts say opening is the best role for you? Some say No. 3? Where do you feel most comfortable?
I have loved batting in every position: 1, 3, 4, 5. I feel that No.4 is a good position for me. The situation that I go into bat allows me to control the game. I have enjoyed myself most when I bat between overs seven and 15. I try to be positive in that phase. I have seen a lot of games where teams have a great powerplay and a strong finish, but I feel the most important period in a T20 game is from the eighth over to the 14th over. You need to press on the pedal harder in that phase. I try not to play too many risky shots. I try to play over cover and try to cut through point, run hard and keep the scoreboard ticking so that after the 15th over the finishers don’t have issues finishing the game. No.4 is also a challenging position to bat which is why I enjoy it.
You have improved your off-side play remarkably over the last three years. What triggered that?
2018 is where things changed. I had a breakout season with MI. I told myself, yes it was a good season, but how can I do even better. The preparations started almost immediately. I started practising against spinners and quality fast bowlers and analysed what shots I can play when I am not batting in the powerplay. I knew that I wouldn’t be opening. I had to take my game ahead. I started practising in all these areas and I love the way things have gone.
The ability and confidence to hit the first ball for a six or four. You have done it so many times?
I try to walk into the ground with a strong and energetic body language. When someone gets out, I try to run towards the pitch. In those 30 or 40 seconds, I get warmed up as well and the game plan starts ticking in my mind. I see the field and try to analyse what they are going to do. So when I face the first ball, if it’s there to go out of the ground, it has to go out of the ground. That is how I like to stamp my authority. It works at times, and at times it doesn’t. Intent is important from ball one. It’s also important how you see the game. If it’s 50 for 4, you can’t just walk in and start hitting. But if it’s 150 for 2, you have to go in and maintain the tempo. My mantra is simple, play the format and situation and if there’s to hit, go for it, irrespective of the pitch.
Can you break down the thought process and execution of the following four sixes you hit? One off Jofra Archer (Motera, 2021), one off Shaheen Afridi (Dubai, 2021), one off Aijaz Khan (Dubai 2022) and the other off Alzarri Joseph (St. Kitts, 2022)?
The Jofra one was completely instinctive. He knew I was making my batting debut. Bowlers like to hit that hard length against new batters. I was prepared for that length. But I don’t know what would have happened had it been a Yorker (laughs). I was anticipating that the first ball would be on the body and it would be nice and short. I didn’t hit it hard. I just timed it and his pace took the ball out of the ground.
The Shaheen six in Dubai was played thinking that we needed runs as we had lost two early wickets and we needed to put the pressure back and finish the powerplay on a high by getting 35 runs.
Against Alzarri Joseph in St. Kitts, the short ball was not working, but the hard length was. It was a predetermined hit. He banged it on a length and I used the wind and the short boundary to hit it over long off.
The Aijaz Khan six over mid-wicket actually was struck when I got beaten in length and I didn’t expect him to bowl a quick yorker. But I timed it and the quality of my bat took it out of the ground though I lost my balance and fell over.
You have a love for tattoos. Any new ones you have got done?
Two of them. Evil eye that my wife told me to get. The other one is a lion. A calm one.
There is a recent pattern to your dismissals where you have got out playing on. Any reason for that?
Yes. It has been happening in the net sessions as well. I may be playing too much square off the wicket. I need to play straighter when the wicket is true and focus more on drives and punches.