MARGAO: Rahul Dravid is at peace with himself. The Go Air chartered flight is charting a smooth course, carrying the Indian and England teams from the dusty and noisy Delhi to the serene beaches of Goa, reflecting the state of Indian cricket.
The team is enjoying its cricket and winning consistently with a bunch of youngsters striving to realise their dreams.
Spirit is the key. Ask Dravid. "The strength of this team is its spirit and the confidence of the boys to handle different situations. They have delivered the goods. We have achieved success in one-day cricket in recent times and building on it is important. This team is not just being obsessed with the results. We are looking at giving opportunity to people so that they can play better cricket."
He continues: "the growing belief in oneself and the confidence and trust in each other is a strong point of this team. The players are happy to see each other do well. Their aim is to keep improving. They challenge themselves to get better than take safe options."
The captain elaborates. "The youngsters accept any challenge. Changes in batting order and bowling are accepted without any fuss. In fact they relish new challenges because they see this as an opportunity to become better cricketers. All this is heartening for someone like me. Better players make the team better.
"The players are able to cope with the demands made on them. We have enough options because there is greater flexibility now. There are more and more players who can be called multi-skilled. They can compete in different conditions and there is depth in bowling and batting departments. We are now engaged in identifying players who can do well in both the departments in various situations."
Dravid speaks of having players like Symonds, Bravo, Yuvraj. "And like some of the New Zealanders. You need people who can excel in a department other than their speciality. There will always be a role for the specialist. I did wicket-keeping to help the side. Someone like Dhoni is what I have in mind. He is out and out a wicket-keeper but look at how he bats."
World Cup and beyond
The growing feeling that this is a team that is preparing itself for the World Cup does not find favour with Dravid. "I don't understand this obsession with the World Cup. In a World Cup year the tournament will obviously gain importance but it is not the be all and end all. We need to look beyond the World Cup."
So how does the team management view the forthcoming season? "Well, we have our plans and vision for this team. We have been playing well (in one-dayers) and this team to me is still work-in-progress. There are a few young and a few experienced guys but we need to keep getting better. We need to be more consistent because at the moment we are engaged in giving the youngsters opportunities to assess them."
Dravid is happy to have been appointed the captain of the team until the World Cup but does not believe it changes his style. "It makes no difference to my method of leading the team. It makes me more responsible but it does not make me assertive as you may think because I am not captaining any differently."
The unassuming captain does not forget to acknowledge the contributions from various quarters. "I am enjoying the challenges of captaincy. I have to say that the support staff has been very helpful and it has been a pleasure to work with them. Captaincy has its good days and bad days but I am happy because it makes one a better person."
Hailed for his unflinching concentration and composure at the crease, Dravid also expresses his concern over the amount of cricket being played. "One will have to be careful with the amount of cricket that we are playing. It puts pressure on the players to keep performing. International cricket can take a lot off you and it becomes important to have time to recover because it is critical to keep performing. It can be emotionally and physically very draining."
Pat for NCA
The India captain does not forget to give credit to the National Cricket Academy in grooming quality cricketers. "The NCA is playing a big role in preparing the cricketers to face competition. It helps prepare cricketers who show immense confidence when they arrive at the international scene. The youngsters get to train and play in a good environment. The junior cricket is organised well and the domestic cricket is supplemented by the `A' tours that prepare the players for the international grind."
Last, but not the least, Dravid spares a thought for the passionate spectators who support the game at a huge price. "Overseas, I notice that cricket can be a fantastic game to watch. The comforts for the spectators are paramount. We need to look into this aspect of administration. It is our duty to provide the paying public a decent platform to watch and enjoy the game. Cricket watching should be an entertaining experience for the spectators. Sometimes when we don't perform well we tend to bear the brunt of the frustration of the spectators because they suffer the scorching sun. It is important for us to provide a paying spectator his money's worth once he enters the arena. I understand that supply can never meet the demands for tickets. It is very difficult for the staging authorities but some solution needs to be worked out."
The aircraft begins its descent and Dravid is lost in thoughts on his team, a team that promises good cricket, if not always a bagful of trophies.