The team was pushed across the line by Brad Hodge who had to step in and take over the reins after Rahul Dravid had to leave the field early in the innings while defending the total due to a strain while fielding. An experienced campaigner, Hodge led from the front and marshaled his troops to a last ball win. He backed his bowlers, encouraged his fielders and drawing upon his past experience helped the team fight back to the end.
Ahead of the Royals’ first game in their fortress, the Sawai Mansingh Stadium, the 38-year old senior cricketer reflected on the match against the Daredevils and discussed the team and the shortest format of the game with iplt20.com.
Excerpts from the interview:
On leading the side when captain Rahul Dravid had to step off the field and guiding RR to win in a closely fought game against DD?
It was good. It was exciting. It was thrown upon me when Rahul went off but I have got a lot of experience and had done it before so that was probably a good thing. There is a lot of pressure attached to the IPL and especially in the first game. I thought everyone did a very good job. I was honoured to captain the Rajasthan Royals went Rahul went off the field.
On whether there was added pressure since they had lost to DD last season in tight finishes?
We reversed the roles on Delhi Daredevils. In Delhi last year we should have probably won the game and this year they got into a position where they should have won the game and we snatched it from them so it was good to be able to win one of those close games.
I just told the boys to keep believing and keep concentrating on what you are trying to do. One of our things is to fight all the way to the end and that was really good because having the belief and the trust was there with all the players. And I think we executed those plans really well. We tried to do exactly what we wanted to do with the bowlers and it paid off. It was pretty good performance all around.
On having been around the team for some time and how he sees the prospects for RR in IPL 2013?
There is a big belief this year where we can achieve something pretty good. There is similar group of players so you now know what they can do. The management has brought in a couple of more players so there is a sense of excitement and urgency and anticipation of how we are going to go at the end of the tournament and I feel that way and I am sure others do too. I know they do. We really believe that we are a top four side. So hopefully it happens that way and we all play our good cricket. Last year we were only marginally away from making it to the last stage. So if we get those things right from last year we know we should be in contention I think.
On having played in the different formats, what according to him is the key to winning T20 games? More so, since it is not always required to go after the big shots as Dravid showed the other day?
It is a balance of skills. We know that you have to have a high boundary count without losing your wickets. So, often than not, it is the more skillful players that dominate because they are able to take somewhat risky shots without being too erratic to score those boundaries and singles. Partnerships are also a key thing, you can’t lose back to back wickets and that’s one of the things that we have tried to work on. And inject a few things, like the way Stuy (Stuart Binny) came in the other day and played with a level of freedom, those sort of things where he knows that there are good players at the other end doing his stuff (holding up one end) and so coming in and playing with a level of freedom. It was very good cricket. These are the sort of things that we want to get into the side, to back yourself sort of ability when the time is right.
On whether his role while batting in the middle or lower-middle order and Dravid at the top, especially with quite a few youngsters in the side, is to guide them or whether there is an added responsibility
Whenever you walk out to the crease you are always responsible for what you are doing and doesn’t matter whether you are opening the batting or coming in at No 11, there is always something attached to your batting and you always have to do something. I think Rahul is just trying to keep me until later overs to control, to have that sense of purpose and also acknowledge that at the end. We are quite a young side so I think he wants experience coming in somewhere around the end. All you do is do your job as best as you can. Guiding the lower order, that’s what I see at the moment. It may change, it may not. I think I did a pretty good job of it last year so what he is asking for is something similar. If he gets something similar then he will be happy with my performance. That’s what we are trying to do. Some days it works and some days it won’t. That’s the way batting is in T20. One good game and one average game and so forth so is how it fluctuates.
On what really about T20 does he enjoy the most?
I love Test cricket and it fascinates me. Having said that, we do see some interesting things (in twenty20 cricket). I love T20 cricket for the sheer excitement of it and what it brings to the public and the crowd. My son who is six years old went for a few games in the Big Bash this year and he loved it. So in that way it is brilliant. And it is good for cricket and I hope that it keeps its place where it is and everyone enjoys it for what it is.
On batting in Indian conditions?
It’s funny! When I first came here in 2005 everyone talked about how tough the conditions were and how hard it was and I think even before I got here my mind was playing tricks on me and told me that it was going to be difficult. Coming here for the last five years it just feels like a second home. You know exactly what the conditions are; they are not unfriendly, they are not anything that people say they are. It’s just different, that’s all it is. It’s just minor things that are different; the bounce is slightly different and you adjust accordingly. That is what good players do, every player does it that. If you asked Rahul Dravid what Australia was like the first time he probably would say, he thought it was going to be a nightmare in his mind then. Then he goes there a few more times makes hundreds in Adelaide and Sydney, which means they‘ve got to be good places to bat. It is alright that you should have a different thought process when you first come but, like everyone now is used to Indian wickets because of the IPL.
On his favourite shot?
When you hit a six straight over the bowler’s head it is good fun. My favourite shot to play in cricket has always been the cover drive but in T20, I still fancy that shot now. But, there is nothing better than hitting a fast bowler straight over his head for a six and every batsman would like that I think.
On the high intensity of the format and staying one step ahead of the opposition?
Planning inside and preparations come more into T20 than it was when it first started and you just try and plan a little bit better for the oppositions, the skills are the same. All you are trying to do is hit the ball in the middle of the bat and when you bowl a ball try to bowl it in the right areas, whether it is a Yorker, bouncer, short ball or good length. It is the same with batting, you try to hit through the gap, wherever the gap. You try to make sure you skill set is up to a scratch and just try and do your disciplines well.