"I didn't play 200 Test matches," Sadagoppan Ramesh quips in typical Sadagoppan Ramesh style as he pauses and then bursts into laughter when I ask him whether he has any regrets looking back at his cricketing career.
Nineteen years to the day, amidst soaring tensions inside the Chepauk cauldron in a high-voltage clash against a world-class Pakistan bowling attack, 23-year-old Ramesh had announced his arrival in style and provided India hope.
Ramesh's was a classic case of 'a career that promised so much.' He was the highest run-getter in his debut Test series, facing the likes of Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Saqlain Mushtaq at their peak and an average of more than 50 in first six Tests. Two years later, he had disappeared.
For youngsters who grew up watching cricket in late 1990s and early 2000s, recollecting that lazy elegance, peerless timing and fearless approach, still makes you go, 'If only....' If only Ramesh had been more consistent. If only Ramesh had converted his starts into big ones on a regular basis. And most importantly, if only the selectors had shown more trust and patience.
Ramesh knows he can't control his past. However with his multiple talents, he juggles smoothly between business and regional commentary. He is a happy man, proud of what he achieved in his cricketing career. And he still goes through a whole range of emotions while reminiscing over his past as we sit down for a chat in his plush apartment in MRC Nagar, Chennai.
Unsurprisingly, it's his humour that stands out.
Excerpts from the interview:
Your debut series in a way was special considering Pakistan were playing India after 11 years. How much pressure did it put on someone like you who was new to international cricket?
Ramesh: That was unbearable pressure, because at that time the Kargil tension was also going on. India normally never wanted to lose to Pakistan, but at that time, they didn’t want to compromise on anything. And they were the best bowling side ever — Wasim, Waqar, Saqlain, Shoaib, Mushtaq Ahmed. We are talking about five bowlers who can single-handedly win games for them. At Chepauk, we had the advantage because we were used to the atmosphere, but it could have been also a disadvantage, because the expectations were too many. I still remember when I started walking from the hotel to the bus for the match, every securitywalla used to tell me, 'Tambi you have to score runs today, don't leave Pakistan.' Against any other team, if they want you to perform well, they would say 'I want you to do well.' But when it came to Pakistan, it's not just a request, it's more of a demand. That's the kind of pressure I had.
Against any other team, if they want you to perform well, they would say 'I want you to do well.' But when it came to Pakistan, it's not just a request, it's more of a demand. That's the kind of pressure I had.
I still remember in Chepauk dressing room, I was seated in between Sachin and Azhar. Imagine, that's my first match (laughs). So, I didn't want to see left or right. Only after two days when Sachin jokingly said, 'What? You will not talk to me or what?', I said, 'No sir, I was a little....I never thought I will sit next to you.' Initially when I batted for the last seven overs (of the day), that was the first time I batted in international cricket, I got 30 not-out in 22 balls. When I came back to the dressing room, Azhar hugged me, gave me a new pair of shoes and said, 'I have never seen a youngster bat like this against Wasim and Waqar.' When you come into international cricket, the first thing you want to show people is that you belong. Not with scores, 100s, or whatever, but even a 20-minute batting can show people that you belong.
What was your reaction when Azhar gave the shoes?
Ramesh: If someone like Azhar, who is the captain and has been with the team for a very long time, appreciates a youngster and gives a pair of shoes, obviously you’ve got to be elated. If you look at the series, one of the curses I and Laxman had was that we always used to get batting in the last seven overs of the day. And nobody wants to do that. In the last seven overs you go in and you see Wasim and Waqar or Shoaib running in. When they know there are only seven or eight overs remaining they are going to be steaming in. So when I finished that day and entered the dressing room, they erupted in an applause. It was a nice feeling.
You may not be able to bowl like Shane Warne, but you can have Shane Warne's attitude. I was always bindaas.
Nikhil Chopra (L) and Sadagopan Ramesh of India sign bats talk on the balcony of their dressing room at the Oval, in London, 04 June 1999, as they wait for the rain to stop before warming up for the first game in the Super six series against Australia. AFP PHOTO / MARTIN HAYHOW
Did you sleep that night?
Ramesh: I don't know....I was very anxious to go out there and bat the next day. Of course I got out on 43 but I got more upset when we lost that Test. It would have been nice to be a part of victory in my first Test. I could not sleep that night. I was excited and anxious. I got 30 runs in 20 balls against Wasim Akram and that sent me to cloud nine. But I also knew, tomorrow he is going to come back at me.... (laughs)....so it was kind of dual thing for me.
Can you take us through the debut innings?
Ramesh: Before that game, I played against Pakistan for Board President's XI in Gwalior, where Wasim was trying a lot of short stuff. I got some 58 and then I went after a short ball and got out. When I walked in to bat in Chennai, I told Laxman, Wasim is going to bowl only bouncers to me for the first two overs. Laxman asked me how do you know that, I said, because I got out to him on a bouncer in Gwalior. So I took the strike and in the first over, (and as expected) he was only bowling bouncers. He wanted to test whether I will go for it again but I started leaving the bouncers, and then he started bowling up to the stumps. That's when I decided, I can probably go for my shots. I didn't plan too much. If you look at my batting, a lot of critics like Geoffrey Boycott would say, "(He had) no footwork and all," but that's because, I was never an opener till Ranji Trophy.
Ranji Trophy was the third match in my life in which I opened. I was never an opener, I was an off-spinner who used to bat at No 7 or 8 but because of my consistent performances in batting, they kept upgrading me. I used to be a No 4 batsman, but in one of the games in U-25, one opener got injured, they made me open and I got 196 against Kerala. In just three games, I was in the Ranji Trophy team. So Imagine when I opened for Tamil Nadu, my experience as an opener was only three matches. That's why you will not find the typical opening batsman style in my game.
While I was facing Wasim Akram, I just wanted to keep it blank and go for it. And I still remember when Shoaib was running in in Kolkata Test; he used to run in from the boundary line. Sometimes I used to lose patience looking at his run-up. So I used to watch him run and then look down 'tak...tak...tak' (patting the bat on the ground) I kind of calculated when he will be near the stumps, work out he will be somewhere here and then bat. Imagine, his hair is all over, he is steaming in. Once they thought I am not going to be an easy wicket, they started sledging. I remember Moin Khan was bombarding me left, right and centre. I knew he was trying to trick me to try and go for a big shot so I started smiling at him. So he got even more irritated and said, "Bacche hass raha hai tu kya (laughs)! (Hmm Kid, you are laughing!)" I knew this is not the kind of bowling where you get emotional and go after them. You've got to play it out, most of the times. One thing I am always proud as a cricketer is, I've got runs against Wasim Akram. Because I feel he is the greatest bowler I've seen. And secondly, in a high-voltage series like that, I ended up as the highest run-getter in a team which had the likes of Dravid, Sachin, Ganguly, Azhar, Laxman. I am very proud of it.
What was it like facing the Pakistan attack?
Ramesh: It's a kind of attack where even if one bowler is in his rhythm on that day, he is going to win them the match. There was Saeed Anwar, Inzamam, Shahid Afridi was a promising youngster at that time, who could win a match on his day. The problem is sometimes they don't combine and produce a collective performance. If you look at the Chepauk Test, we were almost close to victory but when Wasim came in with the second new ball, everything changed. One thing I realised is that even if the opposition is 100/0, they can come back into the game to make it 120/5. That is the kind of bowling we are talking about. Before 2000, Pakistan was the most difficult team to beat. And the best bowling attack ever.
You faced some top bowlers like Akram and McGrath. Did the stature of the bowler intimidate you?
Ramesh: No, not really. Because if that's the case, I would have got out first ball to Wasim. I think the stature of the bowler should make you more focussed. More concentrated. On the international platform, every team is going to have two decent bowlers, even Zimbabwe had Heath Streak and Henry Olonga. Now I feel bowling (standards) in international cricket have come down. You are not able to see a McGrath, you don't have a Shane Warne or Muralitharan or a Daniel Vettori. You can see many spinners but Shane Warne was different. Playing Warne was almost playing Wasim Akram at his best. Even though he was a spinner, the aggression could be the same. If you are even intimidated by the stature, you don't belong there. McGrath was one bowler who kept you guessing all the time. Because he moved the ball off the wicket, you were able to see the ball moving only from 12-15 yards and you didn't have enough time to adjust. That’s why McGrath is one of the best new-ball bowlers. But once you saw off the new ball, you probably had a decent chance of scoring against him.
In your second Test, you scored 69 and 96, how much of a confidence booster it proved for you?
Ramesh: You know, in one of the corporate speeches, somebody asked me did you play the Test match in which Anil Kumble got 10 wickets? I said I am the Buzz Aldrin, he said I didn’t understand. I said, everybody knows who the first person is to land on the moon — Neil Armstrong. The second one was Buzz Aldrin. Nobody knows about him. So when you talk about Anil Kumble’s 10 wickets, I am the Buzz Aldrin who got 69 and 96 in the Test match and ultimately that suits because after that 10-wicket haul, Anil Kumble was all over the moon (laughs).
On that wicket, I thought mine was a good effort because it was not an easy wicket to bat. I can still remember when I go out to Mushtaq (Ahmed) off a full toss on 96, I thought I should just have nudged it to mid-wicket and got a boundary because he just had a mid on and deep square leg. The last thing I expected him to do was to bowl a full toss. The moment I saw the full toss, I didn’t know what to do, so I just went for a very soft shot probably that's the mistake I committed, I should have gone for a big whack. I played it too early and saw the leading edge go back to Mushtaq, my heart had almost stopped. 'Oh f** (I went),' when he caught it. He gave me a look of surprise. He also wasn't expecting a wicket off a full toss. I almost stood there for about two minutes and Azhar was at the non-striker, when I crossed him, he patted my back and said 'brilliant innings'.
I went in and could not even remove my pads, was almost in tears. Then Dravid walked in and said, 'It's not your last innings, you can get in the next one!' They wanted me in the press conference and the media gave me a standing ovation. I got a hundred in the fourth Test match. But still, I badly wanted a hundred against Pakistan. Nobody thought Anil was going to run through with 10 wickets. So I am not surprised that 10 wickets overshadowed 50s or 90s, even a hundred would have got overshadowed, absolutely. I think I still repent for missing those four runs. I seldom talk cricket but once my wife said, why are you always thinking about those four runs you missed? Why don't you think about the 96 you scored? That's a good thing, yes I am proud of that 96.
Pakistan's Shoaib Akhtar stands between the two opening Indian batsmen Sadagopan Ramesh and Sachin Tendulkar at Old Trafford 08 June 1999 during super six match of the Cricket World Cup match in Manchester. AFP PHOTO
Shoaib Akhtar used to run in from the boundary line. Sometimes I used to lose patience looking at his run-up.
After averages of 51, 73 and 47.83 in the first three series, you suffered a dip and then inconsistencies crept it. What went wrong?
Ramesh: I don't know, I am still trying to figure it out. The only thing I feel is that the conversion (rate) should have got better. In my last series in Sri Lanka also, I think I was the second-highest run-getter from India after Rahul. I was getting out in 40s and 50s. So maybe that is the one time I started getting anxious to get to the numbers. Before that I never used to care about the numbers. May be when I was on 40, I started looking at a 50. When 50, I was looking for 75. The numbers started playing in my mind which put the extra pressure. Even if you look at my last Test, I scored 46 and 55. So I don't know, may be if those 40s and 50s in these few innings would have been converted into hundreds, I would have probably extended my career much longer.
The New Zealand hundred was your last one, so basically the numbers starting adding more pressure?
Ramesh: I will not say it's pressure, maybe I got too anxious to get to those numbers. That could be one of the reasons.
Do you think you deserved more chances?
Ramesh: When I came back into the squad in 2003-04 Australia series, I was playing well in the side games. The comeback arrived because I got a 100 against the Kiwis for India 'A' in Rajkot. In the first match against Victoria when we were struggling at 45/3, I and Sachin had a good partnership of 128, I scored 87 and he scored 80. I thought in that series, I could have got a chance but I never played. Post the Australia series, I did well in Duleep Trophy and Deodhar Trophy. After that there was Pakistan tour. Having done so well against Pakistan, I was hopeful of getting picked, but I got dropped and Yuvraj Singh went as an opener. I feel maybe I should have got a couple of opportunities.
So what went against you?
Ramesh: I don't know. That is something I always keep guessing, keeping my fingers crossed. Because if you look at my last Test performance and also side games, I had done well. So I don't know, it could be political or whatever.
Was it that someone else was performing better than you?
Ramesh: May be...Aakash Chopra and Virender Sehwag were the openers in the Australia series. Sehwag, of course, was doing so well. I thought may be in place of Aakash, they would have tried me in the third or fourth Test....never happened.
You played just one year in ODIs, and didn't scorer any centuries. Did you struggle to adapt to the 50-over format?
Ramesh: No if you look at my ODI career, I have got six fifties. And all those six fifties came against six different sides. As you said, it's a question of converting those fifties into hundreds. I got 82 against Pakistan, 71 against Australia, even if you talk about the Zimbabwe game, I got about 55; I should have probably stayed till the end and won the game for us. You can probably say, somewhere along, missing a couple of hundreds whether in Tests or ODIs, cost me my career. It could have given me an extension. I played at a time when Sachin and Sourav were (opening) partners, so in whatever little opportunity I could get in between, it was the numbers that mattered. You are competing with two extraordinary cricketers. I am not talking about competing in terms of skills, because you can't; you are talking about two champions. Whenever there was an opportunity, if I could have got a couple of hundreds, maybe they could have played me at some slot. That's what I think I missed.
You had a strike rate of around 59 in ODIs, and hit just one six in whole Test and ODI career. You said that you would have adapted well to the T20s. You think you had that ability to adapt quickly to the changes that cricket throws up?
Ramesh: I think so. Because if you look at my career itself, I was a No 7 batsman and more of an off-spinner. But I was able to adapt. I became a batsman, played in the Ranji Trophy. I was never an opener but I adapted to playing with the new ball. And then got runs against Wasim Akram someday. So the question of adaptability comes in various stages. And I was able to do that. But the only thing is, how much pressure you face, because in every cricketer's stage, the pressure varies. That pressure sometimes curbs you. I could have probably tried to maintain a 100-run strike rate. But if I got out trying to do that in three or four games, my career would have been shorter. In Toronto against West Indies, I got 55 not out. It was a slow innings but we were chasing a low score of 164, so we had the time and won the match. If you talk about the strike-rate, it never affected the team's prospect of winning the game. Maybe if I had got two 100s, which would have given me a guarantee of 20 more matches, then it would have definitely changed my approach in a much more positive way.
With the selectors backing players for longer stints in the current scheme, do you think you were a tad unlucky and deserved a longer rope?
Ramesh: To be honest, I feel I am lucky compared to many other talented cricketers who have never played for the country. That's the best way to look at it. I still feel that there were some fantastic talented cricketers who never got to play for the country. That way I am blessed.
You were a part of one of the most famous Test series back in 2001, talk us through that series against Australia
Ramesh: Up till 2000, the team to beat for India was always Pakistan because of sentimental reasons. But after 2000, the team to beat was Australia. In the 2001 series, I feel that Harbhajan Singh’s performance was the greatest of all time. They had some really talented players batting till No 7. They had Adam Gilchrist batting at No 6, Ricky Ponting, Damien Martyn, Steve Waugh, Mark Waugh, Matthew Hayden. So that was probably one of the toughest series we ever played in subcontinent. We lost the Bombay Test match very badly and then in Calcutta also we folded up in the first innings. I thought we had lost the series in the second Test itself until Dravid and Laxman came up with two of the most magical innings you can ever see in Tests. After witnessing that performance, I realised how much one or two individuals' extraordinary performance can not only change the course of the game, but also actually change the scenario and atmosphere itself. In the dressing room, the vibes, the positivity, everything crept in.
I still vividly remember the fourth day. We didn’t lose a wicket for the entire day. In the morning we said, it's just a matter of time. However, whenever they struck a boundary, we started clapping. And after lunch, we started clapping even for the singles. And after tea, we even started clapping for a good defence. That's how we started enjoying that fightback. The Australians never thought that we were going to fight so hard. That's the first time I saw the Australian team was shaking.
Take us through those few seconds right from the moment Harbhajan released the hat-trick ball and the ball nestling in your hands.
Ramesh: It was more of a reflex catch, you never plan to catch these but just go for it. The instinct is that you have to go for it. The moment it touched my hand, all I had to know is I have to close my palm. If you look at Shane Warne's batting style, he had a very interesting way of batting. He shuffles too much. When you are shuffling too much to an off-spinner and the ball is going to turn in, automatically you are going to play that shot. So I was more of expecting it, but I never thought I am going to take that catch.
What was your reaction when the ball hit your palms?
Ramesh: It was an amazing feeling. if you are a fielder, and have done a good job in contributing to the hat-trick, then it's a very nice feeling. I still remember, I was running all around and Harbhajan was chasing me in an electrifying atmosphere amidst 75-80,000 crowd.
Does Harbhajan still call up and thank you for taking that catch?
Ramesh: He promised me a dinner after I took the catch, but I don't think he's given me that dinner till date (laughs). Anyway, whenever we meet, we just chat about that.
What do you feel is different now in cricket than it was when you were playing?
Ramesh: When you talk about those days, Tests were the core. You had got to be a good Test match player, if you wanted to have a successful career. But today I don't think you need to be that. If you want to be a successful star, it's the reverse: you have got to be a good limited-overs player. Some players have got tremendous records in ODIs and T20s and still have gone on to become superstars in India. A lot of people ask me, whether T20 has affected Test cricket, I don't think it has affected Test cricket because we are talking about two contrary formats. What it has done is, it has probably brought down the passion to follow 50-over cricket. The gap is very small between 20 and 50-over cricket. More or less, people prefer the shortest format now. One good thing is, the strike-rate has changed the entire scenario in cricket. In those days, the strike rates didn't matter. The numbers mattered, whether you can get a fifty or a hundred. But now it's about numbers in what time frame. I think that's where the players have come under pressure. You've got to accelerate, you've got to be a very busy player, that's how it has changed.
Somewhere along, missing a couple of hundreds whether in Tests or ODIs, cost me my career. It could have given me an extension
India's Sadagoppan Ramesh (C) congratulates team-mate Sachin Tendulkar (back to the camera) with open arms as fellow teammates join in the celebrations after Tendulkar claimed the wicket of Australian batsman Adam Gilchrist (R) on the fifth day of the second test match between India and Australia at Eden Gardens in Calcutta 15 March 2001. Australia were in trouble at 191 for 9 after India set a 384 runs victory target for Australia. AFP PHOTO
How would you have adapted to the T20 format if it had been introduced earlier?
Ramesh: I have got the shrewdness to the game. With guidance and all that, you will be able to adapt. Initially people thought Rahul Dravid can never play ODIs, but he's got 10,000 ODI runs. So if you are good enough, you can adapt to any level of cricket. If you are a Test player, you can adapt to ODI cricket. But if you are a good ODI cricketer, adapting to Test cricket is difficult. The advantage you have in T20s is that you are given the licence to go for the big shots. Even if you get out, you are not to be blamed. So that makes a huge difference for a batsman.
So you would have adapted well to T20s then?
Ramesh: I think yes. Of course, I wouldn't have been a bad player, but I would have been a decent or a good player.
If IPL would have been introduced during your playing days, how big a role would it have played in your career?
Ramesh: Definitely huge. In my days (before making international debut) while playing in the Ranji Trophy for Tamil Nadu, if I wanted to talk to Sachin or even get a picture with him, I had to play against Mumbai or play for India. These were the only options. But Sachin seldom played for Mumbai because he was busy with international cricket. However, today, what IPL has done is, an U-19 local cricketer is able to share the dressing room with someone like AB deVilliers, Chris Gayle, MS Dhoni or a Virat Kohli. That entire aura and vibe he gets from those kind of players, totally changes the mental and physical strength. You know there is so much at stake and he can learn so much. Imagine, you have played only U-19 state cricket and are already sharing the dressing room with De Villiers, how much you can learn in those 40 days of cricket. That the exposure to some legendary cricketers and quality cricket would have made a difference for everyone, including me.
How would it have impacted your career?
Ramesh: I mean if you are talking financially, then it would have made a huge difference (laughs). I think it keeps you in touch of quality cricket, that's the most important thing. In international cricket, sometimes when you have a huge window (gap), you come back to play in domestic arena but it's not the same as international cricket. So when you go back to international cricket, there could be a little bit of lag. So that lag can be avoided by playing the IPL because you are already playing against some top bowlers. It would have helped the players remain fit and also always focussed on quality cricket.
Would it have extended your career?
Ramesh: Yes, obviously. If you have too many forms of cricket, it always gives you an advantage to make a comeback into the national team. In those days, you had only Ranji Trophy to make your comeback, but if there are two-three platforms and if you are able to do well in one, again, that's a gateway for you to come back into the team. And today, the people have that chance.
How did you develop your batting style?
Ramesh: I don't know. See, I never had a coach who concentrated on my batting. Even if you look at me and Shiv Sundar Das' combination, John Wright always used to work with Das. He used to take away Das, give him throwdowns etc. One day I asked John, we both are openers, you seem to be working only with him (laughs). He said ‘no..no..no...I can only teach him copy book, you are a different player who depends on hand-eye co-ordination, so I don't want to mess with that. You are able to hit the ball without much of a copy book, his strength is only his technique, and the moment he lags in his technique he is gone.’ You may not be able to bowl like Shane Warne, but you can have Shane Warne's attitude, his approach before a match. I was like bindaas always.
You faced a lot of criticism about lack of footwork, how did you deal with it? Did you try to change it because of criticism?
Ramesh: Not because of that. I just wanted to be technically stronger. I worked on the defence. I am a good leaver of the ball. A lot of people say that I always used to get out in slips but show me one batsman who has never got out in slips. It's a universal problem when the ball moves. I was trying to improve on whatever the limited technicalities I had. The criticism is always going to be there. The greatest have also been criticised. What happens is when you fail, people immediately latch on to it. They never told me you got the 96 because of the footwork against Pakistan. The moment I got out, they would say, it's the footwork.
How did you handle sledging, any vivid memories where you were involved in sledging?
Ramesh: I played against, Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand. If you can't handle sledging, it's very difficult to play these kind of series. People only talk about Australia, you should play against New Zealand and see (laughs). Now the cricket has changed, even the Ranji Trophy clashes like Tamil Nadu-Delhi, Tamil Nadu-Mumbai are very intense. So there is always some sledging that happens. However, Australian team was different. I will tell you honestly, when McGrath came at you and said something, you will see two-three more guys come in and stand with him, just to show that he is not alone, we are a bunch of wolves ready. The tactic that they follow is that the players who are closer to the batsman, will do more sledging, because they want you to listen. You will never see a third man or fine leg, sledging from there, it's more of whispers for distractions. But I was cool. I knew that the guy is trying to provoke me. I didn’t have the ability to step out to McGrath and hit him for a six, that's never going to happen. So I tried to work it out in my own style and prolong the innings.
How much did you enjoy fielding close in, silly point, short leg?
Ramesh: Nobody enjoys short leg, honestly (laughs). If somebody tells you I enjoy being at short leg, that's a big lie. Slips is okay (laughs), everywhere else is okay. I still remember, every time Mathew Hayden went on one knee for a big sweep, I was like 'Oh f$%&'(laughs). And I remember, in Calcutta, Inzamam Ul Haq swept one and it hit my visor and went for a boundary -'Thungggggg', I was like ahhhhhhh. So I never enjoyed short leg to be honest. Because short leg or silly point, anywhere closer in front of the bat, it's not just your own ability, you also depend on the bowler's ability to ensure that you don't get hit. If he is going to bowl a full toss or a short ball, you are gone. If you actually get hit on somewhere say elbow, you are out for six months or one year. Basically, I am giving my life to you (laughs). But John Wright ensured that we take those reflex catches. I used to be a gully fielder at one point of time.
I still remember, in Zimbabwe I dived full length and took a catch, I was so excited. When I dived, my glasses fell down. (Javagal) Srinath was so excited with my catch, that he charged at me, stepped over my glasses and gave me a hug. He just stamped on it, "thaak", gone. So it was a mixture of sorrow and joy. But in that period, Dravid used to compliment me and say you are one of the finest gully fielders I have seen. I used to catch anything. And I think it comes off via a lot of practice. Azhar is one of the best fielders I have seen. Because, when others catch, the ball hitting the palm will make a noise but when Azhar used to catch, it was like it's hitting a flower. You can't even hear the sound. And I have not seen him drop an easy catch. He took 50 catches every day. By the time I came in, he was one of the biggest superstars, the captain, but still, he always practised 50 catches.
Indian batsman Rahul Dravid (R) congratulates team mate Sadagopan Ramesh as he got his century 24 February on the first day of the first test in the Asian championships. Ramesh was out for 143. AFP PHOTO
I wouldn't have been a bad T20 player... I would have been a decent or a good player.
Did you specially work on close in catching?
Ramesh: Yes, I used to do a lot of slip and close in catching. Sachin used to give these catches when we went to Australia in 1999, my hands had gone, because he wanted us to get used to the fast wickets and he used to slash hard when somebody use to throw it at him. He used to keep on hitting.....hitting....hitting.
You played some of the best spinners in Saqlain, Muralitharan and Warne, that too in subcontinent. How different was it facing all three?
Ramesh: I think you are talking about three different kinds of bowlers. Muralitharan....I still remember how I got out in the last innings, he pitched it somewhere outside the leg stump, I thought it was going to go down the leg side so I was trying to play it to the square leg, I never thought the ball was going to turn so much. It ended up hitting my off stump. But the one who kept you consistently guessing was Shane Warne. Murali is a great bowler there is no doubt but you can bat against him, Saqlain, yes you can bat against him. I feel Warne, for left-handers, was a very dangerous bowler because he was going to bowl in the rough first thing. I always had the rough because McGrath used to bowl from the other end. Muralitharan was always deadly when Chaminda Vaas was playing, because Vaas was a left-arm fast bowler who is going to give you the rough. I think Shane Warne is one of the greatest players we have seen.
How did you keep yourself motivated after being continuously ignored?
Ramesh: To be honest, that's the time when I had my daughter. In 2004 she was born. And once you become a father, the whole perception towards the life changes. It gives you so much of peace of mind. So in that period, I was able to spend more time with my family. I was still playing for Tamil Nadu but I never felt the burden of losing big things, because I had a beautiful thing in my life.
Didn't it bring insecurity? If you don't play for India then....
Ramesh: See, I was never a guy like that. Did I feel bad? Yes, I felt bad but do you want to sink into it? No!
Financially, did you feel insecure?
Ramesh: No...No...Via whatever cricket I played, I earned a lot of money. Playing good for India even for a couple of years, gives you a lot of money.
When did you feel it was time to retire?
Ramesh: I had a back problem from 2001-02, and I missed the South Africa tour. That time I was struggling. My back issues gave rise to knee problems. I was not able to bat for a long time in the nets. But in matches at domestic level, I was able to manage. When you are talking about international cricket, there should be top level of fitness. When I had back problems, I used to stand in slips. I never used to stand outside, run around and all that stuff. Around 2005, I started developing the right knee problem; I had a surgery in 2007. After that I was struggling with my fielding. I was not able to bend also. I played for Kerala for two years and in about 10 matches, I got six hundreds. Still, I was not even picked for South Zone. That's when I knew it's time!
What did you do after retirement?
Ramesh: Right now I am into regional commentary, I have been doing it for the last three years, since 2015 World Cup. I have also invested into couple of things which I don’t want to reveal. I did some TV shows and one movie in between called Madha Gaja Raja. I do movies only if I know the producer or the director personally. So I keep myself busy.
After you hung up your boots, did you try your hand at coaching?
Ramesh: Actually I tried to get a good spot in Chennai for coaching. But here it's too far. Commuting is a challenge. So anywhere closer, I thought I should start off but I am not getting a good place to start. Maybe in future.
Why did you venture into movies?
Ramesh: I was always getting offers for movies, time and again. In 2004, I was supposed to do the role of Arya in the movie Ullam Ketkumae. At that time they wanted me for six months but I said I was busy and was trying to make a comeback into the Indian team. Time and again, it was very common for me to get offers. So at one point when there was no serious cricket, I thought let's give it a shot. That's how it happened.
Are you still open to working in movies?
Ramesh: Yes, if a good and meaningful role (comes by). I don't want to waste my time. Good movie, yes definitely why not.
Is there anything you could have done different in your career?
Ramesh: I would have played badminton (laughs). Because I sensed one thing, it's better to pick an individual sport rather than a team sport. And I love badminton, I used to play some club tournaments too. May be If I go back to my 20s, I would have tried to be a badminton player rather than a cricketer. Or may be golf. It would have been an individual sport not team one. Because team sport involves too many things, too many factors. My daughter's taken up badminton. In individual sport, it's up to you, whether you win or lose. Probably that's the one thing I would have done differently.
How did you venture into commentary?
Ramesh: I didn't venture into commentary, the offer came in. I thought why not give it a shot and see how it goes. My wife always tells me that I should get back to cricket and keep myself connected to the sport. The last game I played was in 2010. I just came and left the bat and said I will stop playing cricket. After that I did not pick up my bat for about six years. I didn’t even touch it. Then last year there was one guy who called me to play some club cricket. There is a club called Gandhinagar here. He said why don't you come and play for us. He was chasing me for about six years. So that's the time when I thought, lets have some Sunday fun cricket and I picked my bat. I ended up pulling my hamstring (laughs).
Why did you not pick up the bat?
Ramesh: I lost the motivation. See I am a guy who can live without cricket. I am a guy who can live without talking cricket. I don't need cricket to keep me going. But I have known some of the other guys who can never be without cricket. If you take someone like Laxman, he lives and breathes cricket. He is so much into cricket. I was never that kind of guy even in my playing days.
How challenging is commentary?
Ramesh: To be honest when we started off with the regional commentary, we found it very difficult to speak in Tamil without any influence of English for a very long time. We got it over a period of time. Sony has a different style, like they want it to be completely Tamil but with Star you can mix it up. Not many people believe this but I never watched cricket. It’s because of commentary that I started keeping myself little bit updated. You've got to update yourself continuously. And oratory-wise, you've got to be a little more interesting. So I try to bring in some humour in my commentary rather than being very sedate, boring and serious. Let’s assume I have been doing a good job because they keep calling me back again (laughs).
Is it more challenging than playing?
Ramesh: Nah! I would not say so. Because playing is always challenging. If you got out, you got out, you have to come back in and wait for your next chance. But one good thing with commentary is, now we are able to criticise someone else (laughs the loudest).
So do you hold yourself back or just go all out in commentary?
Ramesh: No, I don't criticise for the sake of criticising. If it needs to be mentioned somewhere, even though subtly, I try to do it. I think it is very important because basically I am more of a candid guy. I try to do it in my own style, not very harsh but get the feeling out.
Since when did you stop watching cricket?
Ramesh: Even in my playing days I never watched cricket.
Not even highlights of your innings or analysing how did I get out?
Ramesh: Even in my busy playing days, I always came back and watched movies. I never watched cricket.
How much time do you spend on research?
Normally, the broadcasters send you the data. Apart from that, whatever sparks to my mind, any unique thing, let's say we are playing in Kolkata, so I like to grab some information about the Kolkata stadium, what is the best delicacy in Calcutta, try to add little more inputs and try to make it interesting.
Do you study videos of great commentators like Tony Grieg or Richie Benaud?
Ramesh: I am a great fan of Richie Benaud. I liked to watch him do commentary. But those days were different. Today, one thing I have noticed is that before you describe anything that has happened in the last ball, there is something happening in the next ball. So it's very difficult for you to narrate even an interesting incident in one's career. It's like T20 batting for commentary, you have to maintain a very good strike rate (laughs). It’s not just India versus Australia and over. You go into interesting and unknown facts about Steve Smith. You try to say that during the commentary, which makes it interesting even for the listener.
I don't need cricket to keep me going. But I have known some of the other guys who can never be without cricket.
Indian batsman Sadogapan Ramesh (R) sweeps one as Australian wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist (L) looks on helplessly in their tri-nation one-day match in Colombo 28 August 1999. Australia beat India by 41 runs despite a huge attempt by Ramesh to shore up the Indian score with his own 71. AFP PHOTO
So did you try to instill this creativity in your batting also? Were you naturally creative?
Ramesh: (Laughs) No, my friends tell me, when I am present, there is always fun. I am a very humorous and creative guy. I used to think out of the box. When John Wright became the coach, we used to do a training called shuttle run, it's 22 yards up and down, basically running between the wickets. And we use to connect it via beep test. That is the only fitness we were doing.
In Zimbabwe, John wanted to brief us on security and safety measures. He said we are going around the president's palace. The ground was near the palace and you cannot stop the vehicle, they can shoot you, without any questions. So he said if something like the bus breaks down, you guys get down and start running. He was very serious and asked (if we had) any doubts. I put my hand up (laughs), he said "yes" I said John we've been doing so much of beep run and shuttle run, we may get down and start running but after 22 yards, we will come back to the bus man! We can never run 100 yards at a length. When I said this, Laxman and Ganguly (were in splits), Laxman fell down on the bloody floor (laughs).
The other day, Laxman came to Star and met one of my co-commentators, he asked him who's with you, and he said Ramesh. Laxman was like oh my god! Your day is done man! (Laughs).
I still feel the best cricket ever happened was in 80s, that mighty West Indian team, Viv Richards, Imran Khan, Kapil Dev, Richard Hadlee, that's ultimate cricket. If you look at the difference, whenever the match got over, they used to stay in the dressing room for two hours, have a beer or chitchat, get to know the other person. There was a good bonding, like a family. But today you will not see that, 5'o clock match over, 5.30 or 6'o clock you are off. I will not see you till the next day, you will not see me till the next day. That's all. So if I am going to come and ask you about your personal life, I don't know about it. So that gap has come, that I feel is missing. Back in 1995, whenever the match got over, we five-six people used to sit, talk, have fun, and even have dinner and then go back home. It was amazing. I think today's generation is not like that.
When you look back, do you have any regrets?
I didn't play 200 Test matches. (pauses and laughs). I mean yes, there are some regrets. But as I told you, when those things happened, I had another source of happiness as I had my daughter. If cricket was my life and the only form of happiness in my life, probably I would have got into a different shell. I always thought cricket was a part of my life. There are other good things in life as well. God blessed me so I had the balance. Regrets, yes, as I told you, probably I could have converted more scores and all that stuff which could have extended my career. But now there is no point talking about it because I cannot control my past. I prefer not talking about it at all.
What next for Ramesh?
Ramesh: I don't know, I never break my head on that. Take it as it comes. The commentary has a very tight schedule. I will go along with it and let’s see what it holds for me.