Even as a cricket crazy billion-plus nation is yet to come to terms with the retirement of one of its most prolific batsmen — Rahul Dravid — the Rajasthan Royals camp is not complaining.
In fact, team owner Shilpa Shetty believes the timing of Dravid’s international retirement could be a blessing in disguise for her team, considering he’ll be free of any injury risk, while the rest of Team India plays cricket round the year across the globe.
The bubbly Bollywood actor, currently in an advanced state of pregnancy, took some time off to speak to MiD DAY about what to expect from a young and promising Rajasthan Royals side in the upcoming Indian Premier League V.
Excerpts from an interview:
Considering Rahul Dravid is not a typical T20 player, what were the attributes that led to you picking him as captain?
Firstly, Rahul played really well in the last IPL. At a time when players like Ross Taylor and Shane Watson weren’t doing well with the bat, we saw Rahul — thanks to some fine batting technique — getting some quick runs and even scoring some 50s in the bargain. So, I think Rahul has remodelled his game to the T20 format really well.
Secondly, after Shane (Warne) moved on last year, we were on the look out for someone who can be looked up to in the dressing room, and who better to fit the bill than someone like Rahul? He’s the perfect guy to bring about an amalgam between the foreign players and the Indian boys. Besides, the respect he commands in world cricket is unquestionable.
But considering Dravid has retired from international cricket, aren’t you a tad worried that he may not be around for too long?
In fact, I’d say that it (retirement) puts my mind at rest now because I’m assured that Rahul will not be playing that much cricket, like the rest of the Indian team which travels across the world throughout the year doing national duty. By the time the IPL comes up, many of them end up carrying injuries. I’m sure now that Rahul will be in great shape and free of any injury worries. That’s the way we look at it as team owners.
How would you compare the leadership traits of Warne and Dravid?
Shane and Rahul are two totally different personalities but effective nevertheless. Shane has always been a great tactician and most of his tactics in the first IPL were thereafter looked up to and incorporated by most of the other teams in the years to follow. So that’s a great compliment to him.
Rahul, on the other hand, may be less gregarious, but his cricketing sensibilities set him apart. Rahul goes with his instincts and that’s something we trust blindly. He is an intelligent person and you need someone as pragmatic as him in a tournament like the IPL.
At a time when most Indian senior players are in the twilight of their careers, IPL team owners have the responsibility of picking out young talent who could go on and don India colours. Tell us about your experiences on that front.
There’s no great achievement in picking an India player, paying for him and then watching him do well. The joy and pride comes when a youngster picked by you does well and goes on to play for India. The Royals have been really fortunate on this front because there have been quite a few of our boys who have gone on to wear India colours. Yusuf Pathan, Ravindra Jadeja and more recently Ajinkya Rahane are some of the Royals boys, who have gone on to do India proud and we take pride in the fact that we at Royals have an eye and the knack of picking the right talent. On a lighter note, I’d like to believe that the 2011 Hollywood hit flick Moneyball (starring Brad Pitt and based on a baseball team manager’s strategic ability to put up a competitive team with a restrictive budget) is based on us.
Considering RR were champs of the inaugural IPL edition, does that put pressure on your boys to do well each time the IPL comes around?
Definitely not. I don’t believe there’s any pressure on our boys. We love them and support them unconditionally. In fact, my husband Raj (Kundra) is the one partying with them and showing them a great time. I remember once Yusuf cooked some great biryani for all of us at home. So in that sense, it’s more of a family and friendly atmosphere. Being sports enthusiasts ourselves, we understand that winning and losing are part of any game. Our only expectation is that the team does not lose disgracefully.
Finally, tell us what we can expect from this RR outfit in IPL V.
We didn’t do too well last year, but then the only team we beat twice in a row was Mumbai Indians, which was the best team on paper. So that explains how unpredictable this format can be. But this year I have more reason to believe that we have great potential to reach the final. We’ve made some very intelligent picks at the auction and this team is once again a good blend of youth and experience. We’re pretty excited about someone like Dinesh Chandimal of Sri Lanka who can bat really well. Besides our young Indian boys are always an asset too. Overall, it’s a great mix. Unfortunately, I can’t travel to be with the team right now. But the tournament’s final dates are coinciding with my due date, it will be quite something if we reach the final.