Australian all-rounder Shane Watson would have hardly had any time to sulk over his nation's poor show in the recent World T20 tournament in Bangladesh that concluded on April 6, given he has to take over the mantle at Rajasthan Royals in the seventh edition of the Indian Premier League that kicks off in UAE on Wednesday. But that will be the least of his worries.
Rajasthan Royals come into the tournament reeling under the after-affects of the biggest spot-fixing scandals to have hit Indian cricket with two of their players - S Sreesanth and Ankeet Chavan receiving life bans from the Board of Control for Cricket in India while a third, Ajit Chandila continues to be under investigation.
Two other Royals players Amit Singh and Siddharth Trivedi were banned for five years and one year respectively too. However, Shane Watson believes it's time to turn over a new leaf and is hopeful that the extrication of a 'couple of bad apples' will help the Royals repeat their inaugural IPL title-winning campaign once again. (Also read: Royals will be extremely competitive, says Watson)
Were you shocked to learn of the spot fixing allegations that rocked the IPL last year and more so since it involved players from the RR franchise only?
I certainly was shocked! We, as a team, are really a family. When those three players came out involved in spot fixing, I and everyone associated with Rajasthan Royals certainly felt betrayed. We were doing everything we possibly could to give ourselves the best chance of winning games and to feel like a couple of people in our team were doing things to make winning those games more difficult, was something that I had not experienced in my playing days. There's no doubt that this horrendous situation has brought us as a team closer than what we were before. With every bad experience, one learns from such challenging situations and gathers a lot of strength from them, and we certainly did. (Full schedule)
You have been handed captaincy of RR at a time when all eyes will be on your franchise given the recent spot fixing issue. How do you plan to handle this sensitive situation in terms of dealing with your players, fans and even the media?
There's obviously a bit more spotlight on us because of the spot fixing situation last year but as a franchise, we feel that a couple of bad apples are gone now, so we are wholly and solely focusing on the people we've got around us. We are going to do everything to give ourselves the best chance to perform well on the big stage. It's not on our mind whatsoever to try and get other people to forget what happened. It's more about us coming together and providing the entertainment that we did even in the Champions League to show people what a quality team we are, and that's all we care about. In the end, that's what the owners and management care about too. (Read: Can IPL rise above scams?)
You were the Player of the Tournament in RR's victorious 2008 IPL campaign under Shane Warne's leadership. Do you fear that the captaincy factor may affect your performance as a player?
I don't think so! I'm extremely excited at the opportunity to captaining Rajasthan Royals. I know how lucky I am to be a part of such an incredible franchise and am honoured to be able to lead it. It will only help me continue to grow as a cricketer. Whether it's individual performances or not, it's more so for me as a cricketer and my ability to help continue to grow cricketers and individuals around me. I feel now that being the captain of RR is more important than the runs and wickets that I individually take. It's more so what I am able to contribute to the collective performance of our group, individual performances will be there and will be quite strong, but my focus will be on collective team performance. (Read: World T20 and IPL: Worthy entertainment or overdose?)
On one hand, where RR has successfully groomed youngsters like Sanju Samson, on the other, a veteran like Pravin Tambe has excelled too. Could you let us in on how your franchise is so successful in extracting the best from a player?
We can't reveal our strategy of how we do that (smiles). RR has always been led by high quality leaders - from Shane Warne to Rahul Dravid and Paddy Upton as well last year. The working relationship that they brought together, is something I have never experienced in a team. The way they galvanise a team and get the best out of everyone is amazing. Rahul is certainly one of the most impressive people I've ever met. And to have him then complemented by somebody like (coach) Paddy Upton as well, is something that everyone was able to see with what happened to Sanju - to have the opportunity to come out and play the way he did was simply beautiful. Then the other story - to be able to see what Pravin Tambe was able to do, especially in the Champions League, is equally inspiring. That's what we pride ourselves on here at RR. Hopefully, if everything works out well, we'll be able to discover a couple of more players hereon. (Related: Hussey promises to 'chew' Sachin's ears)
You have Rahul Dravid as the team's chief strategist or mentor. Does that ease the pressure off you a bit?
He's certainly going to help us and given his cricket abilities and expertise, it's going to help every single person in our group. He'll definitely take the pressure off me. With Rahul there, I always have someone I can talk to. This is the first time I've got the opportunity to captain a team full time and he will take a bit of the burden and pressure off me at times and make my job much easier.
What's your assessment of the IPL-7 auction? Which team do you think handled the auction well?
There's no question that Chennai have and will always have a very well balanced squad. They've got a lot of great Indian players, so that's a brilliant starting point and then they can just complement their overseas players around that. They've kept (Dwayne) Bravo as well so he's done a great job for them. But probably, the one team that has done the best in the IPL auction would be Sunrisers Hyderabad. They were very smart in who they picked and who they retained in the auction. But that doesn't guarantee you success. It all depends on how they're all going to bring their group together, and how well they're led on and off the field. But Sunrisers have a really high quality squad. (Bowlers will win us matches, says Gambhir)
What's your assessment of the IPL-7 teams? Which team do you think is the favourite?
Sunrisers Hyderabad did the best in the auction and undoubtedly Chennai is always going to be extremely strong as is the case in every IPL. But if Sunrisers can pool all their talent together, they are going to be a difficult team to beat. (Also read: Sanju Samson's house burgled, thieves take away trophies)
Australia has established its dominance in both Tests as well as ODIs but somehow, they don't seem to do well at the World T20 tournament. What do you think is the reason for this?
The biggest challenge for our T20 team is the way that we adapt to different conditions. The last two World T20s have been in the sub-continent and we just haven't been able to adapt to the conditions, and that's something I've learnt through RR - how to maximise the talent and skill set that you've got. In T20 cricket for Australia, that's something we've not been able to nail because when one or two of our players have not dominated a game, we've lost that game. Whereas what I've realised with RR is that you don't need to have one or two players to dominate a game. If everyone puts their skills together on one day, there need not be a standout player to be able to win. (IPL gave me the confidence to take on the world, says Ajinkya Rahane)
What's your take on players turning free agents in world cricket today? Do you think countries are in danger of losing players due to this?
There's always a chance that international teams could lose one or two players when they become free agents in world cricket to be able to play T20 tournaments. But I don't think it will impact international cricket too much because in the end every young kid's dream is to play for his country and that will never die. That's the reason why there hasn't been too many individuals, who have gone down the free agency path. It's more the case with individuals, who feel that they won't get another opportunity to play for their country, who have become free agents.