Do you like watching boxing?
(Laughs). Not really. I am not a big fan of boxing, but I don’t mind watching it. Once in a while I watch stories of some boxers – the amount of pain they go through, the kind of sacrifices they are prepared to make, the way they train.
On the final day at the Gabba, it looked like the Australian fast bowlers were treating you like a punching bag.
If I’m a boxer, I want to see how much another player can punch me. Once he is done, that’s when I want to start punching back. That is my game plan. You can punch me as long as you can. Then I’ll show my punches. That is how I planned it.
We are often told that there is no glory without pain. Tell us about the pain you went through.
The first one hit me just below my shoulder. There was one on the ribs. And one more from [Josh] Hazlewood below the shoulder again. That’s when it started hurting a bit more because it was the same place.
The blows on the helmet can look scary, but because you have protection, I wouldn’t call it a major hit. You start feeling a little bit of pain, but it wasn’t very painful.
The most painful one was the ball that hit my finger, because I had already got hit on that finger during practice in Melbourne and had played the Sydney Test with that little bit of pain. I was a little concerned before the game started in Sydney, but things went really well. But the moment I got hit there again in Brisbane, I was in a lot of pain. I thought I had broken my finger.
What exactly happened at practice in Melbourne?
I had to come out of the nets. The skin came off near the nail and there was a lot of bleeding. When I got hit in Brisbane, the ball the same part of the index finger as in Melbourne, it was more on the bone. During the Sydney Test, the laceration on the skin was bothering me even though the impact had been on the bone. By the fourth Test, the skin had healed, but there was still little bit of pain in the bone. And that is where I got hit again.
I couldn’t hold the bat and I couldn’t bat the way I wanted to after that blow. I had to hold the bat with four fingers, keeping the index finger off the handle.
When you walked in to bat on day five, you had already faced 717 balls in the series and scored 215 runs. Clearly, you must have been confident about your role?
Yes, I was very confident that if we bat the entire day, we’ll end up getting the target, without any doubt. There was a possibility of a draw, but I was very confident that on that particular pitch, if we play 97 overs, we will chase it down. I knew that if we didn’t give away too many wickets in the first session, then the only team who can win from there would be India. The majority of overs will be bowled in that session, which was two-and-a-half-hours long, where you face more than 35 overs. So my game plan was very simple: I don’t want to get out in the first session.
You left your second delivery and the bowler, Pat Cummins, went down on his knees, thinking it had been close to hitting off stump. The ball had moved in. When the pitch has a few cracks and the bowler is so good, how do you judge what balls to leave?
I told myself that if something happens after hitting the crack, I won’t call it an error of judgement. If I start worrying about the crack, then I’ll end up playing balls I should not be playing. So I told myself that I will just bat as if it’s a normal pitch.
That pitch had decent pace and bounce throughout the game, even on the first four days, so I told myself to trust the pitch and bat accordingly.
You got off the mark off the 22nd ball you faced. On average, you take half a dozen balls to get off the mark, but it’s not the first time you took a while to get going. In Jo’burg in 2017-18, you took 53 balls to get off the mark. Did not scoring play on your mind?
Not really. As a batsman, you want to get off the mark – the earlier the better. It’s just to get that rhythm, to have some runs on the board. If you are batting on 5 or 10, mentally you know you are calm. You know you have started well and now just have to move on from there. If you take too many balls, you might feel, yeah, it’s better if you get a single. But for someone like me, on day five, I won’t worry about when I’m scoring my first run, because my game plan was not to give away my wicket. As a team, we didn’t want to lose any wickets in the first session. I felt it was a very good pitch, apart from the variable bounce, and that too from one particular end. If you look at the balls that hit me, they were only from one end. I hardly remember getting hit from the other.
The first major hit came on the 62nd delivery, when you were on 6. The ball hit the back of your front shoulder.
I think Cummins was looking to hit back of a length or maybe a little shorter. If the ball takes off from there, it’s good, but if it doesn’t, then he wants the batsman to play on the back foot. I just saw the ball coming at me and I had no other option but to take it on my body, because, on that pitch, it was risky to defend or to try to get on top of the ball. It could have hit my glove or it could have hit the bat and gone to short leg or gully. From the way [Steven] Smith got out in the first innings, I knew you can’t defend on the back foot.
Ten balls later, it looked like you took your eye off the ball. You ducked, turned your head, and Cummins’ delivery hit the back of your helmet.
Ah, yes. Most of the times I try and look at the ball, but when it is following you, you tend to take your eyes off it. I knew it was a short-pitched delivery, but on that pitch, you don’t know how good the bounce will be. Sometimes, from the same length, balls were going above my helmet. But this ball didn’t bounce enough.
In Cummins’ next over, you were hit on the chest. Michael Hussey, on commentary, thought you were taking your eye off the ball too early.
When you are looking on TV, you feel like I’m taking my eyes off the ball, but I’m actually seeing where he is trying to pitch it, what length it is – so I’m seeing the ball till it pitches. He was trying to bowl the inswinging bouncer repeatedly. After it pitches, I don’t know whether it was because of the crack or the pitch, whatever it was, the ball was following me, and it was very difficult for me to keep my eye on it.
Sometimes, if I keep seeing the ball, I feel I end up playing it. If you see the ball well, you end up playing it and then you might glove it or you might try to get on top of it, which shouldn’t happen. So I was prepared to get hit because I knew that the moment it hits that length, even if it is following me, I have to keep my hands down.
It was sustained short-pitched and high-pace bowling from the best fast bowler in Test cricket currently. Just before lunch, Cummins pitched it fuller. This time you were hit in the box and then the ribs.
The first one was pitched back of a length. It was little fuller than the other balls and just took off and nipped back in. I was looking to play and suddenly it bounced a bit more and hit the box. That was the ball where I had to be a little careful because there was a leg slip. If you are looking to get on top of the ball, there is a chance of hitting the glove, so I didn’t want to take my hands away from my body. If it’s hitting my ribs, that’s fine, because I’m not going to get caught at leg gully. I just made sure that I kept my hands close to my body.
What did you do during the lunch break?
I was happy I was still at the crease. I knew that they bowled their heart out and now it will be my time. I was charged up. I knew this is now my session and I will start giving some punches back. That is how we started after lunch.
You went to lunch with 8 off 90 balls. That did not bother you?
Not at all.
Shortly after lunch, a Hazlewood delivery that didn’t rise much hit you above your left elbow. You walked away, grimacing. Did you call the physio, Nitin Patel?
I was expecting it to bounce a bit more, and usually Hazlewood gets that bounce. If you see a spell from the other end, when he was trying to bowl the same length, it was bouncing. My strategy was the same. I was very confident that as long as it is hitting my body, I’m fine. But this hit was more painful. I had to call the physio because I had already got hit there in the first session. I just needed a break to reduce the pain.
And then after Shubman Gill’s dismissal, you got that painful blow on your finger. What conversation did you have with the physio?
As soon as he [Patel] walked in, I told him it feels like the finger is broken. He told me, see, if you want you can take a painkiller, but you have handled this pain pretty well even in the last Test, so don’t worry. You will still be able to bat because you have handled this pain. The only thing he wanted to check was if I wanted a painkiller or a strap.
It was a drinks break, luckily, so there was a little bit of extra time to take a decision on how I wanted to approach the injury.
Sometimes when I take a painkiller, I am not the same, like I don’t understand how I want to play further. It doesn’t suit me much. So I told Nitin, I’ll bear the pain and carry on playing, because my body was warm. Although there was pain, overall I was charged up.
I knew it was an important time in the game, so there was no way I could back out from that situation. Even if it was a fracture, I didn’t want to get bothered about it or think about it. I just wanted to carry on batting. I have played with a fracture in the past. In fact, it happened against Australia in the home series in 2012-13, in Delhi. In Brisbane, we were not yet sure if it was a fracture or not, but I didn’t want to be bothered about it.
Tell us about that ball.
It was on a fuller length but it hit a crack before it hit my finger. This was the only ball that climbed from a slightly fuller length and I had to play it. I couldn’t control it at all.
At one point, while Hazlewood was running in to bowl, you stopped him mid-stride as a butterfly distracted you. Some fans on Twitter said they heard Hazlewood ask you if your vision was impaired.
I don’t know what he said.
He then bowled a 140.2kph delivery straight at your face. You lined up to duck it, but the ball hit your grill and the stem guard attached to the back of your helmet flew off. Hazlewood said: “Did ya see that one?” And you stared back at him.
Yeah, I heard that. I just wanted to make sure I make that eye contact [with Hazlewood]. I mean, most of the time, bowlers know the batsman is not rattled. And I wasn’t. I had got hit so many times before. This was maybe a little harder than the other balls, but getting hit on the body is not going to disturb me. That was the body language I wanted to communicate. I’m sure he saw that.
Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo
— to www.espncricinfo.com