One of the defining characteristics of India’s former captain and current National Cricket Academy director of cricket Rahul Dravid was his intense focus. Can such powers of concentrations be developed? Can you also overdo it? How do you learn to switch off? What is success really for a cricketer? These are some of the questions Dravid answers on Inside Out, a podcast hosted by former India batsman WV Raman. Here are edited bits of the pair’s conversation.
On developing powers of concentration: ‘Do it whenever you have the opportunity in the middle’
Dravid: “I certainly think that it can be developed and worked on, and it must be worked on if you want to be a successful cricketer – or successful at anything. The ability to be focused, stay in the moment, to play that one ball at a time is a very, very important skill.
“I must admit that I was a little bit lucky in that inherently my nature’s such that I’ve had the ability to concentrate. I’ve not been that extroverted person; even growing up as a kid, I was a bit introverted, I wasn’t one of those hyperactive kind of kids, so I had that ability to stay calm and stay balanced.
“Over the years, playing the game and watching other people play the game, you sort of realise that you got to be able to work on it and develop it and be able to have confidence in it under extreme pressure. It’s one thing to be able to do it when you’re sitting down or lying down in the comfort of an air-conditioned room, but being able to trust it and execute it under pressure when the heat is on in the middle of game, [when] you’re facing expectations and a really challenging spell of bowling… To be able to switch back on and keep that focus and do those simple routines requires practice.
“I must admit that I was a little bit lucky in that inherently my nature’s such that I’ve had the ability to concentrate”
“It’s something that over the years I kind of learnt at the nets, dedicating a bit of time to do it in the nets. Someone gave me very good advice as a youngster: the best way to be able to concentrate or bat for a long time is to do it whenever you have the opportunity in the middle. So don’t throw your opportunity away when you are in the middle, [thinking] ‘oh I’ve got a hundred, I’ve got a big score now, I’m set for the next few games and I don’t need to worry about them’. Instead, use it as a good opportunity to learn how to concentrate or bat for long periods of time. That’s something that’ll help you as you go on.”
On how too much intensity can be detrimental: ‘Worrying all day just drains you’
“Sometimes you can become too intense, there’s no doubt about it. I fell into that trap myself as a young boy. Focus and concentration, especially in a thing like batting, doesn’t mean you have to be switched on all the time. The ability to switch on and switch off – between balls and when you’re playing and also off the field – is a very important skill.
“If you’re switched on or too intense all the time, it drains you off a lot of mental energy and when you need that to play, you won’t have any of it because you’d already be so tired mentally.
“Being able to switch off is really something I had to learn because, like a lot of young people, I was an intense person, desperate and very keen to do well and, for a long time, sort of didn’t learn that worrying off the field about a bad day I may have had on it was not going to help my cricket. Learning from what happened on the day is something – you can spend time reflecting and learning, and you must do that if you’re constantly looking to learn and do better. But worrying about it all day or keeping it in your head just drains you. So when you go out to bat the next day or the next match, it’s just all built up and you don’t have that energy [left in you].
“If you’re switched on or too intense all the time, it drains you off a lot of mental energy and when you need that to play, you won’t have any of it because you’d already be so tired mentally”
“I learnt through my own experiences and a big experience for me was playing county cricket. I was about 26 and had played a bit of international cricket when I played county cricket in Kent in 2000. Just being in a different dressing room and environment taught me a lot. I looked around and saw my young colleagues in England, guys who played with me and were in the Kent dressing room. I really admired the way they were able to switch off after their innings or after the game. They’d go out to the pub, have a drink, and socialise – things I was never doing as a Ranji Trophy player because I’d just go back and still keep thinking about cricket.
“When I saw that, I sort of realised that this was a much, much better way and a much more relaxed way to play the game. I think that experience really helped me because from then on, for the next seven-eight-nine years, I had probably the best years of my career. A large part of that was learning this ability to kind of switch off.”
On what is true success: ‘Be the best you can be’
“Success is being the best you can be. For me that’s it. Personally, at least, at the end of the day success is not about a lot of runs or wickets or things like that. If you are able to sit back and [look back] on your career and say, ‘Hey, I gave it my best shot, I tried my very best’… Sometimes you might play a lot of cricket, sometimes you play less cricket. Or whatever it is that you do in life. And you need a bit of luck as well for things to fall in place. You can’t escape that.
“You can’t compare yourself with other people – at the end of the day it’s your journey, so just be the best that you can be.
“In cricket you fail a lot more than you succeed. In batting, in general, you fail a lot more. If you consider a fifty as a success point, you don’t cross fifty in the majority of your innings, so you do learn to fail a lot in cricket, and a guy who has an average of 50 in international cricket has failed a lot more times than he has succeeded.”
“You can’t compare yourself with other people – at the end of the day it’s your journey”
On bringing the perspective into junior cricket that it’s about long-term goals and not just immediate results: ‘Credit should also go to the selectors’
“I’m the figurehead of it, but credit should also go to the selectors. A lot of the senior selectors and the junior selection committees that I worked with, whether it be the MSK-led [MSK Prasad] and Aashish Kapoor’s team and Venky [Venkatesh Prasad] before that. I think all of them have bought into that [idea]. It’s not easy for the selectors as well because they’re sometimes looking for results immediately and sometimes they’re under pressure for the teams they pick. They’ve really bought into this and they respect it and, sometimes, even if results don’t go their way, they’re happy to see the bigger picture which is really great.”
On removing insecurity by rotating players for India A: ‘Vihari, Iyer, Saini, Thakur have used that opportunity’
“It does give people a lot of opportunities. Going on a tour they know that they are guaranteed some games, that they’re going to get some opportunities. We try and have at least three, if not four, India A tours in a year. In that case, all these boys know that when they perform they’re going to get a fair opportunity to push for [a place] in the India team.
“When you’re doing well and are given more opportunities, who knows where that can take you. And you’ve seen that in the recent results: someone like a Hanuma Vihari, Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey and even some of the bowlers like [Mohammad] Siraj, [Navdeep] Saini, [Shardul] Thakur, and a lot of these boys coming through have had that opportunity and have been able to show the selectors, ‘hey, look, pick us, we are here and we can perform at this level’.”