Dehradun: Team India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who has been appointed Uttarakhand's tiger ambassador, speaks to NDTV's Vikram Chandra on a host of issues including tiger conservation, match-fixing, and life after marriage.
Here's the full text of that interview:
NDTV: It gives us absolutely great pleasure to welcome Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the Indian cricket captain and now somebody who has come to Dehradun for the Save Our Tigers campaign that NDTV and Aircel are running.
I believe Mahendra you have driven all through the night and you got here at 4 in the morning to Dehradun. First, thank you so much.
Dhoni: Thank you.
NDTV: Why is saving our tiger so important to you?
Dhoni: Well, there are quite a few things, you know, apart from saying that it's our national animal. There are plenty of other things that are involved with the tiger, you know, the ecosystem and everything else. And in a way what happens is that everything's chained. It's like you have a chain in the ecosystem the same way you save tigers. The numbers are really less, you know. We all know from 40,000 from the start of the, at the start of the century, now we are down to close to 1400-1411. So we have seen that our national animal is already an endangered species and what happens is, when you try to save the national animal, you are actually trying to save the environment because if you have tigers and the number grows, what you need is a habitat, which means the forest and it's deforestation going everywhere. In a way, what you are indirectly doing is, you know, pushing all the people to have forest which in turn helps in the development of the whole area at the same time. The greener the place the better it is. All of us know what global warming is doing to the whole world. So I think it's a much broader cause but the face is the tiger because it's not only our national animal, it gives you the sense of pride. I feel it's a very majestic animal, you know. When people talk about South Africa, it' all about lions and elephants. But when we talk about India, we talk about tigers.
NDTV: You have just made a very important point because ever since we started the campaign, I have had people writing and saying why are you saving the tiger? Aren't there other issues that are also of importance? But as you just said it's not about saving our tigers but saving our forests. We are saving water supply, eventually we'll end up saving ourselves.
Dhoni: Well of course you know if you have forest, if you have green forest, the water table goes up. What happens with deforestation is the water level goes down and we all know how much importance drinking water has. Most of the rivers go through forests, of course they go through cities also. But what happens with deforestation is that the drinking water - the water table - goes down. What we are doing is by saving tigers, we are putting an effort on not to deforest and the development of the overall society, you know, because there are plenty of people. Tourism also gets a boost when there are tigers around - that's one thing that people from outside come to see in India apart from its heritage. So I think it's a much broader spectrum that we are filling right now.
NDTV: And the specific message that we have come here to give to the Chief Minister of Uttarakhand? Some specific steps that he can take?
Dhoni: Well, of course, you know, we have experts who have sat down and come up with at least seven points. And they said the Uttarakhand government is doing really well. They've taken proactive steps which include the formation of the special tigers protection force. This means the tiger parks over here will be protected by the officers. It'll take a bit of time for the training part. They have special weapons; they have special power at the same time.
NDTV: Two months later, how's married life suiting you?
Dhoni: Well, it's fantastic... umm... there are quite a few changes after the married life. You can't be just yourself, you have someone to take care of - not only yourself - and respect the emotions that your partner has got. You just can't come back to the room after losing a game and say I am not talking because I am upset. You don't get the same amount of time, that's also a factor but overall, you know, it's more for the good than anything else. We are very happy as a married couple.
NDTV: Of course, Sakshi must be real used to traveling and living out of a suitcase. But that's what you've been doing now for a long time right?
Dhoni: Yes, since I started playing for India - from December, 2004. One of the reasons for that is we have been playing throughout the year and she's just getting used to it because she is not very used to the media limelight and everything. So I have told her to handle herself and that 'I will not come in between you and the mediapersons'. She doesn't mind getting clicked or recorded when she's with me. But what was interesting to see in Sri Lanka was when she was around on her own, going for a horse ride or something. Somebody would come and start video recording, so she will go after that person and request him or her till he/she deletes the video, or the picture. I was quite amused to see that sight.
NDTV: So you are heading to South Africa now? For the Champions' League?
Dhoni: Yes, we are off to South Africa. Champions' League is there, which is again a big tournament, you know. All the champions from different places will be accumulating at one place and playing against each other, so I'm just hoping the tournament will be interesting.
NDTV: And you think Chennai Superkings have a good chance?
Dhoni: I think every side has a good chance, especially in the 20-20 format. It's just about that particular day which one of the players has his brilliant day, you know. It can be a bowler, it can be a batsman. I feel it's very day oriented - that three, three-and-a-half hour matter. And if you act your best on that particular day, you can beat any side, maybe even the strongest side in the world.
NDTV: But at the end of the day, the World Cup is just a few months away. That must be preoccupying a lot of your time - figuring out how you'll be getting everything sorted out?
Dhoni: Well, of course, I think it's a big tournament for us - all the World Cups. If you see, they are big wherever they are held, but if you see the World Cup happening in India, you know, it's a real big thing. Due to the hype that will be created, I think there will be pressure on the players, not only on the field but also off the field. With the kind of expectation that the Indian public has got with the team, we are expected to do well. It will be important for the success of the team, you know, how individuals manage this pressure, how well they deal with this kind of a pressure. But I think most of the players have played a lot of games, so that really helps in a way. But still, you know, that will be very interesting to see. Of course we have 12-13 ODIs before we go into the World Cup, there may be a platform where you can test any changes in strategies or plans. After that, when you get closer - before four five games - you don't really like to experiment too much. But I think the next four or five games will be important.
NDTV: Are you worried about the sort of inconsistency that we've been seeing in the team in recent time? Sometimes the team performs brilliantly, but the very next day they doesn't seem to be performing at that same level. Is it a worry for you right now?
Dhoni: Yes it is, but if you talk about the last tri-series, I am not too much worried about that because I feel that the conditions were demanding. But at the same time, we can question that as international players, we should perform in every venue or condition that we are thrown at. So I feel we could have done a bit better. But the good sign is that I always look at the positive. I think Virender Sehwag batted really well; the bowlers did a splendid job throughout the tournament. So that's a positive that we have taken. Of course there are areas where we need to work; we need to be very consistent with the batting department, and we need to improve as a fielding unit. So these are the plus and negatives, or you can say, areas where we need to improve before going for the World Cup.
NDTV: You must have seen a lot of people questioning whether obviously you had some giants of the game like Sachin is still playing and Sehwag is there. But some of the younger players - to whom the real expectations are there that by the World Cup they will start shouldering a lot of the burden. Are you happy with the way all of them are shaping up? Or do they need to focus a little more on consistency?
Dhoni: I think it's a constant learning process. If you see the batting line up we had, of course we had the greats in the game, and at the time we had no space it the top five or six, you know. But lately, in the last three four series or in the last eight months, there has been one place for grab - when everyone is fit you know. Sachin opening with Viru, and Gautam Gambhir at three and Yuvraj Singh at four, you know, and me batting at five, Raina and all, I think there has been just one space that's available for grabs. What's happening is that we are rotating the players as we want to see who is best suitable option for that particular shot, which in turn puts more pressure on the individual coming in because he's not a permanent player who always featured in the top 11. This means they put more pressure on themselves and get more desperate to perform which in turn pulls you into performing your best.
NDTV: So is that the reason why you also back some of the young players and give them a longer run? I know you came under a lot of criticism for Jadeja for example - why are you playing him so much? So is that the reason why you want to give them a fair chance?
Dhoni: Well, of course, what i believe in is, you know, is giving a certain number of games at a stretch, which means the player doesn't have the pressure of performing on that particular game otherwise he'll be thrown out. What happens is he plays three or four games at least, I am saying he knows 'OK the next three or four games are mine. So i have a span of period where I can perform and say that I belong to this level'. It's not only about one particular player, I try to do it to all the players. He maybe a batsman or he maybe a bowler, but at times what we have seen is that the importance of a game often pushes us to go for the Best 11 that's particularly suited for that game.
NDTV: Some of the criticism which I've heard once in a while is that maybe some of the Indian players, especially the younger lot, make so much money so early that many of them don't have the fire to work really hard at their cricket. Is that a fair comment to make? Or do you think it's not the case?
Dhoni: You may earn whatever money you earn as a cricketer, but you want to play for your country. At the end of the day, you want to do something special. There are plenty of people who earn 50 crores or 100 crores as businessmen or big professionals or who are really doing well in business. But what gives pleasure to your mom and dad is the fame. People say 'his dad's name is this, he is doing really well in this field'. That can only be achieved when once as a cricketer you play for this country, for a sustainable period of time. It's not like coming in and out of the side. If you play cricket for India, money is bound to come and with IPL in and match money of the Ranjhi trophy, I think money is there. There's no good reason why you should not work hard, because at the end of the day you want to play for your country.
NDTV: If you notice somebody not working up to the amount that you thought they should, is that something you would be very tough with people on? Because you work very hard on your fitness. Would you really get the crackdown on such people?
Dhoni: Well, of course, we need to because as senior players in the side, what you see is if you can see something coming for a youngster's career which you know may be bad for him, you go up to him and educate him as to what he is doing and what he should be doing. At the end of the day he is the one who should be making the call because when he's part of a series you can push him to do well but what you want is in between the series - when he's back home, where he has the luxury of doing whatever he wants - that's the time when you want him to work hard, not when he's on the field or when he's with you. It's a point which says don't spoonfeed. If somebody's in trouble, you always help him or her out; the next time he is in trouble he will look at you, he won't even try to make any adjustment as to what can be done, he'll just look at you for a solution. So we don't really believe in that, we don't spoonfeed any of the cricketers. What we do is make them aware of the situation - what's happening and what can be done. You can give them a few options and solutions and push them to select the best option.
NDTV: Finally, you must be saddened by what you've been hearing about the match-fixing scandal. Is there anything you'd like to say on that?
Dhoni: Well it's sad, the investigations are going on and something like match-fixing or spot-fixing brings disrepute to the game. It doesn't only restrict to the people who are doing it and the side which they belong to, I think people start associating it with the whole fraternity which means all the cricketers - whichever team you are playing for it doesn't really matter. And at times what happens is if there is a game which is a very low scoring game, people often say it's maybe a fixed game. When you work so hard on the field, that's the one thing you really don't want. You really don't want somebody to comment that 'OK, the match was fixed'.
NDTV: What a dramatic turnaround! What's really the cricket's greatest hoy - snatching victory from the clutches of defeat - now the last thing you would want is somebody to say the match was fixed.
Dhoni: Ya, of course. You work so hard for it. Every day you go to the gym or onto the field, net session, the traveling and the amount of pressure you have to go through and after that you achieve something which is remarkable and people come up with those kind of words, it can be really disheartening. So, you know, what we can try to do is to keep those four-five words as away from cricket as possible.
NDTV: So if somebody is found guilty, you think a harsh punishment should be given to them?
Dhoni: I would agree with that, definitely because as I said it doesn't restrict the opinion to yourself, it goes around everywhere. So, definitely harsh decisions need to be taken.
NDTV: Would you worry at all about the possibility match-fixing in the India team?
Dhoni: I don't really think so because I don't think there is any motivation. The kind of effort that we put in the field, we can't really even think about it. So I don't see anything like that.
NDTV: Also, the players in India probably stand to lose so much by this. They make so much money by just being cricketers...
Dhoni: Ya, at the end of the day you know what's money all about? There's a bracket of money and after that you still eat the same food and you go in the same car. I think most of the cricketers come from middle class background, so they are aware of the situation and I think most of them want to play for the country and get the fame out of it. Most of them are clever enough to know that money is bound to come if you play cricket for India. And I believe the struggle that they go through the initial starting phase of their career, I think that teaches them really well that 'don't think about the money because you have already gone through the harsh part of life - when you have travelled in the sleeper class and at times in a bus with no reservations'. Most of the cricketers have gone through that and I don't think anything like that will happen in the Indian cricket team.
NDTV: So no one's come to you and complained that people are coming to us and approaching us?
Dhoni: No, no. Never till now.
NDTV: All right Mahendra Singh Dhoni, it's always a pleasure talking to you. Finally, as the captain of India, you words to everybody would be the pride that comes by wearing the India cap is more than all the millions which you might have made...
Dhoni: I think it's representing the country that's more important...
NDTV: OK, it was wonderful having you here with us. Thank you so much for all you are doing for our Save Our Tiger campaign. At least in Uttarakhand, now that it's your responsibility, are the tigers safe?
Dhoni: They are safe. Will make sure they are safe (smiles).
NDTV: Is the World Cup safe? Do you think we have a good shot?
Dhoni: Definitely, we are a good side, a very talented side but as I always say, I don't predict much about cricket. If you play to your potential and you do all the things right - on the field and off the field - during that period you have a very good chance to do really well in the World Cup.
NDTV: Really well means winning? Because unfortunately in India, or playing in India, that's what going to be the expectation.
Dhoni: Of course, that's there.
NDTV: All right Mahendra Singh Dhoni, pleasure to have you here. Thank you.