Starting all over again (CricInfoIndia)

Rahul Bhatia, Interview with Indian cricket star, Ajay Ratra, CricInfoIndia: When Ajay Ratra first burst on the scene in 2001-02, he was thought to be the solution to India’s hunt for a long-term wicketkeeper, but since then he has been upstaged by Parthiv Patel. In an exclusive chat interview with Wisden Cricinfo before the Duleep Trophy this season, Ratra talks about the work he has put into his game since being out of the national team.

o you think you have improved as a wicketkeeper over the last two years?
Not dramatically, but yes, there has been an improvement. I’ve been working on tips from Kiran More. He’s been teaching me a few things that have been useful. He advised me to meditate and concentrate while keeping, because if you lose it for a moment, you’re guaranteed to put the ball down.

How have you been practising?
I keep with one stump, and collect deliveries going down leg. Then I put a batsman between the bowler and me, so I’m blinded by him, which is a bit like match practice. I also practice diving and rolling. And since we don’t have fast bowlers in Faridabad, I decrease the distance between the bowler and the wicket, which helps me cope with the bounce. For swinging deliveries, I ask bowlers to use plastic or tennis balls on cement wickets.

Moving on to your batting, in England and the West Indies, you were LBW and caught behind quite often. Have you done something about that?
I spoke to John [Wright] about that. He explained that my head was falling over, which is why I was playing across the line of the ball. So I concentrated on keeping my head still, and it has worked out for me. I usually speak with my seniors, and the ones who’ve watched me play. Ajay Jadeja advises me, and Syed Kirmani tells me how to build an innings at No. 7, when we don’t have too many overs left to play.

What did you do when you were told that you weren’t in the national team after the England tour?
Actually, no one tells you that you’ve been dropped. It’s only when the team list is made that you realise you’re not included. Obviously, it’s disappointing, but it’s part and parcel of the game. If I keep agonising about why I was dropped even after I had scored a century, I won’t be able to concentrate during practice. I’m 22, and I’m starting all over again. People die at 25. So I’m not putting undue pressure on myself. I’m just working hard, and try my best in the matches that come my way. Otherwise, I prefer not to think about things I cannot control.

What parts of your game did you focus on after being left out?
Well, I spoke to the team about my batting, and I practiced a lot more. I practised tackling the bouncer by facing a synthetic ball and playing on concrete wickets. And during the last camp, Sourav and Sachin [Tendulkar] remarked in the nets that my batting had improved, and even John remarked that I’d done a lot of work. And I’ve had a good season, batting at number seven in the Deodhar Trophy, when you get 10-15 overs to play.

What do you do to stay fit when you aren’t playing for the national team?
Each player is given a fitness plan by the physical trainers, which advises us what to work on. On non-match days the weight training is more intensive, but it’s up to us to decide how fit we want to be. And whenever a camp is organised, there are a few tests we undergo, and the results are fed into a computer. If a weakness is noticed, we’re told about it.

And the mental aspect of your game?
Meditation is essential for keepers. I joined an institution for meditation which I visit whenever I’m in Faridabad. It has helped me deal with and control my thoughts in adverse conditions. I did it by myself earlier, but the institute has taught me the nuances of meditation. It emphasised the importance of not letting my thoughts waver. Whether you’re batting, or keeping to just one delivery, you can’t let your mind waver.

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