The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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ĎI would rather put pressure on my bowling, not battingí
- Itís harsh if people are to judge me on 22 Tests over a seven-year period: Agarkar

Bangalore: For reasons not always logical, Ajit Agarkar hasnít been given the run he deserves. Yet, he has been turning in match-winning performances ' the most recent being five for 44 in the Pune ODI against Sri Lanka. Agarkar, who turns 28 next month, spoke to The Telegraph at the team hotel for about 45 minutes in the lead-up to the India-South Africa face-off here.

The following are excerpts

Q After being in and out, are you finally in for some time at least'

A (Laughs) Iíd like to think Iím in till the next match, at least! I donít think too far ahead and I take one game at a time... Itís to not get disappointed, if Iím not picked, that I donít look too far ahead... Itís easier on the mind to take one match at a time... Does help the preparation, too.

But isnít it tough having to prove yourself in just about every game'

It is... The good thing is that Iíve played almost all the matches in the last couple of one-day seriesí...

Given the excellent start you had, in 1997-98, havenít you lost your way a bit'

Well, there have been tough times, but I've still picked up 231 wickets in ODIs... I'm pretty happy, after all pitches in India are tough for quick bowlers... In fact, they seem to be getting more flat each season. (After a pause) I wouldnít say Iíve lost my way... At times, I havenít bowled well or have had injuries... Or, others have bowled better.

What about Test cricket'

It has been disappointing... Only 22 Tests (53 wickets) in seven years... Just once (versus Zimbabwe, in 2000-01) have I played two Tests in succession at home and, overseas, Iíve featured in only three full seriesí (Australia in 1999-00 and 2003-04 and England in 2002)... Itís tough to play one Test (at home) and, then, make the next appearance after six-eight months... And, get dropped again... Itís harsh if people are to judge me on 22 Tests over a seven-year period... Iím not complaining, but...

How do you keep yourself motivated when out of the team'

Not being in isnít the end of the world and itís this attitude which has kept me going... Whenever Iíve been dropped, Iíve looked at performing in domestic cricket... Iíve tried to make the most of the opportunities thereby reminding the selectors that Iím around... Because of the conditions in India, there are bound to be injuries... Bound to be somebody losing form or the selectors deciding on an extra mediumpacer for a trip overseas... Of course, one has to remain match fit.

What has been your support-cushion, so to say'

The family... Itís nice to spend time at home... I also spend hours at nets if I realise I need to work on something... In a way, working hard is also a support-cushion.

You began with the potential of being an allrounder, briefly got recognised as one and, then, are back to being a mediumpacer. Where do you stand'

(Laughs again) I was picked as a bowler and continue to be picked as one... Itís okay for the public to think of me as an allrounder but, really, the team management must think that way... Despite being picked as a bowler, people blame me for my batting... When my primary job is to get wickets, I donít see why my batting should come under pressure... I want to contribute as a batsman, too, but my No. 1 job is to pick wickets... Actually, Iíve got reasonably good innings in ODIs, but nobody looks at those statistics ' possibly because the runs came in a match we lost... For example, the 95 at No. 3 in Jamshedpur (against the West Indies, 2002-03)... The bit about not doing justice to my batting is something that has stuck unfairly.

The ODIs apart, youíve got a Test hundred at Lordís (109 not out, in 2002)...

Again, we lost that match... My batting wonít save me or the team, picking wickets will... I would rather put pressure on my bowling, not batting.

You were heading home after the tri-series in Zimbabwe when you were asked to return (as Ashish Nehraís replacement) for the two-Test series. Quite dramatic, wasnít it'

Well, yes... Iíd just landed in Johannesburg when I found plenty of missed calls and a lot of frantic messages on my cell... I was scanning them when the phone rang and I was asked to head back to Harare. I explained I didnít have a ticket, didnít have a multiple entry visa and that my baggage had been through-checked till Mumbai... The needful was done, but I had to spend around ten hours at Joíburg airport... Some 16 hours after leaving Harare, I was back there... It was quite an experience... Amusing and a lot more.

Making the mental adjustment must have been tough...

It was... Fatima was expecting our first child (Raj) and... That I wasnít picked for any of the Tests made it worse...

But you still came back early'

I spoke to the captain (Sourav Ganguly) and the coach (Greg Chappell) and asked if I could return for the babyís delivery... It was fine with them and, so, I left on the second day of the Harare Test.

Hailing from the 1998 batch, youíre currently one of the seniors. What are your comments on the young lot of the present times'

Nowadays, the rookies are more confident... Theyíre fitter and certainly better in the field.

What gives them the confidence'

Early exposure to the Ranji Trophy... Exposure with either the India A or Under-19 side... Then, some have the benefit of spending time (on scholarship) in Australia...

Have you, at any time, felt threatened by talk of grooming more and more youngsters'

Iím not quite sure about the age bit, but if youíre not under pressure then your performance can dip... Iíve got no problems if a youngster puts me under pressure... Iím going to wake up knowing Iíve got to perform... Competition helps the team do better and it could even come from a senior who is out of the team... (Adds laughing) The threat really comes from the pitches in India ' you either get it right or get hit all over the park.

The Pune performance was remarkable... What were your thoughts when you got the fifth wicket'

Was delighted... Itís not often that you get five wickets in the sub-continent ' or, for that matter, anywhere in ODIs... What gave more satisfaction is that I helped India take an unbeatable 4-0 lead... Iíve got six wickets at the MCG (versus Australia, in 2003-04), but nobody remembers because we lost... People, though, may not forget Pune in a hurry.

Is rhythm everything'

Rhythm and confidence.

Reverse swing has become a big weapon in recent years. Whatís your take'

Itís a weapon when the ball is old but, nowadays, batsmen call for a change when 35 overs are up... Unless the ball has been Ďmaintainedí, it will get changed when it's time to get the reverse going.

You have this ability to surprise batsmen. Is it the change in pace or the swing which catches them napping'

Swing is my strength... The white ball, in any case, swings more early on... A reasonable amount of pace is also needed... Indeed, a bit of zip is helpful.

Do you Ďreadí wickets'

I donít, because whatever the state, Iíve still got to bowl... No point thinking that itís going to be flat or will offer juice.

Are you comfortable with the introduction of the power plays'

(Laughs yet again) It has been devised to shorten the career of bowlers! However, another ' and a positive way ' of looking at it is that bowlers have another challenge. Bowling in the right areas is now more important than ever before.

Who is the one batsman to have made life difficult'

More than one, and at different times... I value Adam Gilchristís wicket a great deal and Inzamam-ul Haq is among the hardest to dismiss... Jacques Kallis is very correct... It depends not only on how Iím bowling, but the form of the batsman as well.

Your stand-out performance'

In limited overs cricket, the one in Pune... In Tests, the six for 41 in the second innings at the Adelaide Oval on our last tour... We won that match and it meant so much for those of us whoíd been hammered when we went to Australia in 1999-00...

Mohammed Azharuddin was the captain when you made your debut... Then, youíve also played under Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav and Rahul Dravid... How has your comfort level been'

Each captained differently ' and, obviously, that shouldnít surprise... But, Iím a captainís man and havenít had problems... I do have my views, but the captain is the one who sets the field... We had some fantastic years under Sourav and, now, Rahul is doing such a good job.

Are you happy that, nowadays, people donít call you Sachinís boy'

I wish that was said in either the presence of Sachin or myself.

The next Test series (against Lanka) is just a fortnight away. Have you done enough to make that XV as well'

Itís tough to answer... Moreover, I donít worry about selection matters... Thatís something beyond my control... Right now, Iím focussed on the next four ODIs...

Lastly, is there a contemporary whom you envy'

Iím happy being Ajit Agarkar. Iíve worked hard to get to where I have... Iím not envious of anybody.

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