The following are excerpts
Q Did you, at the start of this series, expect Australia to be in the position they are in?
A If I’m to be honest, no. I did expect Australia to win the series, but not as comfortably as they have.
What gave you that confidence?
Watching Australia play in South Africa, at the start of the season... The fast bowlers were coming through well and the team was definitely improving. Because of the bounce in Australia, I knew India’s batsmen would be troubled... That’s how this series has turned out.
But India’s failure has been collective...
Well, yes... The other day, (Gautam) Gambhir said a lot about the wickets in Australia, but India’s bowlers have bowled on the same tracks and haven’t got Australia out for 150, have they? This Australian team has batted better, bowled better and fielded better... I can’t imagine how Sachin (Tendulkar) fields at first slip and (Rahul) Dravid doesn’t.
It’s such a specialised position.
Did India have a plan or only the execution got bungled?
I’m not sure what plans India had, but Australia’s bowlers have been relentless... They’ve been at India’s batsmen in a sustained manner. There have been times when India’s bowlers have bowled well, but they haven’t been consistent and haven’t sustained the pressure. Australia’s bowlers have always asked questions of India’s batsmen. The game plan has been simple: Pitch the ball up and draw the batsmen forward.
One gets the impression that losing the first Test (at the MCG) finished India mentally...
The turning point, in my view, was the opening day at the SCG... Batting first, India managed only 191 and, despite taking three wickets quickly, saw Australia get past 650.
Mentally, the battle was lost that day (January 3).
Captain Michael Clarke has led in exceptional manner. What has been the secret?
Michael’s enjoying where he is at the moment... He’s in such good space mentally... He’s enjoying the captaincy, he’s enjoying his batting... Indeed, he’s enjoying his cricket.
You do better in sport if you’re enjoying it and that gets reflected in the results... The more comfortable you are, the better the chances of succeeding... Michael’s getting the support of his team and the apprehension of some, that there could be a rift between him and Ricky (Ponting), was misplaced.
Will Clarke be a more confident captain after such a successful series?
Michael is a confident person. If somebody had some questions, those questions would’ve disappeared by now... He’s captained in a terrific manner and you couldn’t have asked for more. The first Test (MCG) was a close one... At the SCG, he declared at the right time and made the right bowling changes in Perth. I see him being tested at the Adelaide Oval, though... Australia have runs on the board, but to win 4-0, Michael must find a way for his bowlers to get 20 wickets.
Ponting had been under so much media-forced pressure going into the series. Did you expect him to respond in the manner he has?
Ricky had to work really hard at his batting and he kept at it... He’s got better and better this summer, slowly but surely. He did get a hundred at the SCG, but it wasn’t one of his best... He batted far better here, in getting 221. We won’t again see the Ricky Ponting of 2003, but he’s still good enough to get big runs.
What’s the future you see for Ponting?
Ricky’s going to be more confident now... The issue is that there’s no youngster knocking hard at the door... Right now, in Australia, there’s no replacement either for Ricky or for Michael Hussey. That’s a worry as, at some stage, replacements will be needed.
Ponting and Clarke seem to have a high comfort level with each other...
I’m not in the same dressing room, so I can’t answer with a degree of certainty... What I can say is that they respect each other and respect each other’s position... You’ll never have 11 very good friends in a team, but there won’t be a problem as long as each one of them plays for the team and, in doing so, each supports the other. There’s no rift between Ricky and Michael... But, are they absolutely the best of mates? Probably not. But that’s not important. As I’ve said, what’s important is that they respect each other.
They celebrate each other’s success and that’s what you want from teammates.
Your take on the pressure on Dravid and V.V.S.Laxman?
I reckon they’re still good enough to play, but they can’t do so forever. The critical question is whether there are batsmen who could replace them and do a better job. That must first be answered... Also, when a team is losing, you need fresh faces to rejuvenate it... At the moment, India are very flat.
Could India do better in the T20 Internationals and the ODIs?
They could... For one, (Mahendra Singh) Dhoni is a better captain in ODIs, which is a structured game.
Are you suggesting that India have a different captain for Test cricket?
Not necessarily... (Virender) Sehwag started well on Tuesday, but after the first session, there was no difference (between him and Dhoni)... The field spread out and the batsmen found the gaps... I don’t understand why the point fielder keeps getting pushed back... It’s a catching position.
Finally... What would you tell Sachin?
(Smiles) Sachin doesn’t need advice from me... He’ll get to that hundred once he plays like Sachin Tendulkar... He must not repeat what he did at the SCG, on 80. Sachin has to bat like Sachin.