Aditya Tare walks into the Costa Coffee café in Chembur and looks around for you. Dressed casually in a blue t-shirt and navy blue shorts, he spots your raised arm in a corner of the café. He seems a little nervous, perhaps a bit uncomfortable, as he approaches you with a hint of a smile. A Chembur boy all his life, you begin to wonder whether the 25-year-old would be as open and candid as you would expect him to. It isn’t as if he hasn’t been exposed to the overwhelming world of the media before, what with him having gained some experience whilst playing in the glitzy Indian Premier League (IPL). As you extend your arm for a shake, the smile widens; pleasantries are exchanged as you direct him towards the empty chair in front of you. He probably doesn’t realise that you are as nervous as he is, never having done before a full-fledged interview of a current player.
However, once you both order your cappuccinos and frappes, the comfort level rises considerably as you begin talking. Sharing the same age bracket helps, as the conversation gets candid by the minute. Soon, all the inhibition is gone. You realise, and perhaps even he realises, that he’s just like you — a typical mid-20s Mumbai boy who’s into sports and likes chilling out. The only difference being, he is a record-breaking wicketkeeper-batsman for the Mumbai Ranji team that has just won its 40th title.
Excerpts from an interview with Jaideep Vaidya:
CricketCountry (CC): How does it feel completing your first full season for Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy and going on to win the title? Abhishek Nayar and you were the only ones who played all 11 of Mumbai’s matches.
Aditya Tare (AT): I always wanted to play four-day cricket and I really wanted to play in the Ranji Trophy for Mumbai. I had just played one game (debut match in 2009) and I didn’t get to bat or keep. I suffered an ankle injury in 2011 and had a surgery done. So, I missed the start of last season until December. Then, I got into the one-day team and I only played the final. So, winning the Ranji Trophy in the first [full] season is the best thing that has happened to me in my cricketing career.
CC: You were in and out of the team following your debut. How have the last couple of years been, with your injury et al?
AT: I knew I had the potential to play for Mumbai, but I didn’t get the breakthrough from anywhere. I’m someone who wants to work and improve my game. I actually thought that batting is a natural thing to me and wicketkeeping was an area I had to improve on a lot. You can make do in a one-day or T20 game with a decent wicketkeeper, but you need a good ´keeper for the longer version.
I was fortunate to be working with Kiran More at MI [Mumbai Indians]. We both had the same goal — he used to tell me to aim for playing for Mumbai as a wicketkeeper and then think of playing for MI. And I thought what he said makes real sense. You have to become a good First-Class player first; only then can you do well in the IPL.
CC: How exactly did Kiran More fine-tune your skills? What did you both work on?
AT: We worked on the basics, right from scratch. He changed my wicket-keeping technique. He made me enjoy wicketkeeping. I’m honestly not a natural wicketkeeper. Sometimes, I used to find it difficult to adjust to the longer version because if something doesn’t come naturally to you, it can be a task. But once you start enjoying it, it feels good. He told me things that only a wicketkeeper can tell you. So, that was really very helpful for me. And now, I enjoy my wicketkeeping more than my batting.
CC: Take us through your childhood. When did you get into cricket?
AT: As a kid, I used to love football. I played for OLPS [Our Lady of Perpetual Succour High School, Chembur] for four-five years. We won the Under-10 MSSA [Maharashtra School Sports Association] championship; I also participated in Under-12 and Under-14 football tournaments in school. When I was in the 8th standard, there was a coach in OLPS called Ravi Khade who took up cricket coaching. So, most of the guys who played football joined the cricket team as well. The coach liked my batting and made me the captain.
In my second Giles Shield game, I scored a hundred. The next day, there was a headline in the newspapers saying, “Aditya Tare scores an unbeaten ton.” So, I thought that I should probably take up cricket. It’s something huge in India and I was probably better at it.
Then, I joined RCF [Rashtriya Chemicals and Fertilizers] in the summer, where Austin [Coutinho] sir was the coach. RCF had a cricket team that played in the ‘A’ division of the Times Shield. At that time, RCF was amazing — it had the best field and the best pitch. With Austin Sir being there, it was a great help. Since then, I started taking up cricket professionally. Austin Sir taught us what cricket is — from fitness, mental preparation, etc. Basically, I got professional cricket coaching from Austin sir.
In the first year itself, I made it into the Under-14 probables for Mumbai. I wasn’t selected in the state team for a couple of years. I was selected in the Under-17s then and that’s how I came into the Mumbai setup.
CC: You must have observed the Mumbai senior team as a junior…
AT: In 2007, Mumbai played Bengal [in the final of the Ranji Trophy] at Wankhede. That was the year when I was in the Under-19 team and Sulu sir [Sulakshan Kulkarni] was our coach. We had won the Cooch-Behar Trophy before Mumbai had even qualified. Mumbai had lost the first three games and after that they managed to qualify and win the championship. During the final, Sulu sir had asked everyone to come and watch the game. As a young cricketer, it was great to witness such an electrifying atmosphere. The intensity of the game was amazing. Bengal had Dada [Sourav Ganguly]; Manoj Tiwary played a top innings. The game was very balanced until Mumbai won it on the last day. So, I used to dream about playing for Mumbai and play a final. That feeling was always inside me and I’m glad I could achieve it.
CC: How did you celebrate your Ranji win?
AT: It was a different high — to play a full season for Mumbai and to win the title in your debut season was amazing. We played on pitches that were flat, seaming, turning…we got to experience different and difficult situations throughout the season. In the first few games, we couldn’t get an outright win and we were struggling to even qualify [for the knock-outs]. Eventually, the team peaked at the right time.
It was good to contribute as a player. Winning is good but you also have to contribute and make a mark — score runs and do well behind the wickets. A lot of preparation was put into it. Everyone worked hard before the season began. We went on a couple of tours to Mysore and Nagpur. We got to play with each other…that really helped. It’s always special to win the Ranji Trophy with Mumbai and everyone was really happy.
CC: You scored 842 runs in your first season, which was the seventh-highest run tally. However, your name did not crop up in the list of probables for the India A or Board President’s XI teams. Do you think it was unfair?
AT: To be honest, I don’t think I can complain because if they consider runs, [CM] Gautam and Parthiv [Patel] have got more runs than me this season. So, I wasn’t disappointed about it. It was fair because they’ve scored more runs than me. So, they should get a look in before me. It’s as simple as that.
CC: What is your aim for next season?
AT: Obviously to rectify whatever mistakes I’ve done this season — be a better cricketer than what I was this season. Performance is what you can’t control; what you can control is your preparation and mental conditioning. It’s important to sit down with the coach and discuss what I’ve done wrong and what I’ve done right. And then take it from there. As of now, I just want to enjoy this season until the IPL and then analyse what I did this season in the off-season break. The aim would definitely be to match or better this season.
CC: Mumbai struggled to find a good wicketkeeper after Vinayak Samant’s retirement in 2009. Following your performance this season, do you think you’ve cemented your place in the side?
AT: It’s really tough to say because it’s Mumbai — you cannot take anything for granted. Take Surya Kumar Yadav; he scored 1000 runs in the last calendar year. And this season, he was struggling to find a place in the playing XI. So, you have to keep on performing. If you do it for three-four years on the trot, then probably you can say you’ve cemented the spot. But you can’t say that on the basis of one season. I have a long, long way to go to cement a place.
CC: You seem to be a very flexible batsman. You’ve opened the batting and come in at No 3, 4, 6 and 7. Isn’t all the shuffling detrimental to your game? Or are you happy with your versatility?
AT: I’m happy that the team can use me wherever they want to. I consider it my strength that I can bat anywhere in the order. It gives flexibility to the team, more than anything else. So, I’m happy that I can help the captain adjust if he wants to play an extra bowler or play another batsman, so I can bat down the order. I’m glad that I can bat anywhere and give options to the team.
CC: Post the Adam Gilchrist era, and especially with the advent of T20 cricket, has the role of a wicketkeeper evolved? It’s not enough just being a thoroughbred wicketkeeper, isn’t it?
AT: I think Adam Gilchrist has changed the meaning of a wicketkeeper. That is why Australia have been so successful — he could bat at No 7 and change a Test match. He’s set an example for every wicketkeeper to take up their batting seriously. He’s been a role model for every wicketkeeper.
CC: But do you think the expectation to be a good batsman as well is an added pressure on a wicketkeeper?
AT: I don’t think it’s an added pressure. Now, the game is so fast that even as a batsman you can’t consider your batting to be your only strength. You have to be a better fielder and even bowl. Every slot has become an all-rounder’s slot. So, if you have two batsmen and one is a better fielder or bowler, then he gets a look in. That has helped everyone enhance their games. The game has become so challenging that you cannot just rely on one of your aspects. You have to have two or three to add to your forte.
CC: So, did you ever get the chance to meet Gilchrist?
AT: Yeah, I met him once. Rohit [Sharma] was with Deccan Chargers and I had asked him to introduce me [to Gilchrist]. He did teach me some of the drills he did, so it was a good experience.
CC: You’ve had the opportunity of sharing the dressing room with veterans such as Sachin Tendulkar, Zaheer Khan, Ajit Agarkar, Sanath Jayasuriya, Shaun Pollock, etc. What did you learn? What’s the best advice you’ve got?
AT: I think every advice they give is the best advice because they have such vast experience and they know the game so well that they can guide you. You can observe them and learn a lot of things. So, that’s been a terrific experience that the IPL has given youngsters like me.
CC: Let’s talk specifically about Tendulkar. You’ve batted with him quite a few times for Mumbai and Mumbai Indians. How’s the experience? What’s your favourite moment with him?
AT: To be honest, every time you bat with him…he’s such a special player. There was a situation when I was batting with him in the IPL against Rajasthan: He used to come and tell me exactly what the next ball would be. He’d say, ‘He [the bowler] is going to bowl a slower one,’ and the next ball would be a slower one! I don’t know how, but he read the bowler so well! He could advise you so very well.
When I was facing Shaun Tait, I wasn’t used to such pace. Then, he advised me to not worry about the short ball; instead, worry about the yorker that he’ll bowl…the short ball will take care of itself. And he [Tait] didn’t bowl me a single short ball! He just bowled to the stumps and tried to get me out. That helped because if I had thought that he’s fast and he’s going to hit me, I probably would’ve gotten out. It’s a terrific experience. Playing with him positively affects your game a lot.
CC: We hear he gave you a bat…
AT: There was a benefit match MI was playing before the 2010 IPL, against the rest of the Indian team. They had Anil Kumble, S Sreesanth, Yuvi [Yuvraj Singh], [Virender] Sehwag, [Gautam] Gambhir…We fielded first and I was keeping wickets. They scored some 190-odd. Paras [Mhambrey] was the coach. He told me in the break that, ‘You’re opening the innings.’ That’s when I interacted with Sachin [Tendulkar] Sir for the first time.
He was batting with me and I scored some 70-75 from 30-odd balls against top bowlers. He was very happy to see me bat and said that’s how he wanted me to play in the IPL. In between the innings, he asked me what kind of bat I use. So, I said I use a light bat. He said, ‘Okay.’ When the IPL started, he had a few light bats with him. He called me into his room and asked me to select any one of them.
CC: How heavy is his bat?
AT: Oh, very heavy! You can’t play with those bats! Only he can bat with them! The bat that he gave me was a lighter bat. But when I used it in a couple of net sessions, my wrist started hurting. His light bat was still quite heavy for me!
CC: Does he make it easy for youngsters in the team?
AT: Very easy! He’s a terrific person. He’ll come up and talk to you. He’s basically a quiet person. But when he speaks, he speaks from his heart. That’s very helpful. There is no ego; you can easily approach him. He’s got such an aura that people kind of hold back a bit. But when you approach him, it’s very easy.
CC: Which other international players have helped you?
AT: To be honest, in the MI team, everyone is very friendly and very interactive. It’s like a family for us.
CC: How has it been working with players like Jonty Rhodes and Shaun Pollock?
AT: It’s been amazing! The professionalism that they’ve got is something you can learn. Jonty is an energetic guy. He must be 40-42 [actually 43], but he’s so energetic that he can match any of the youngsters in our team. His fielding sessions are not long; they are short and full of intensity. It’s very challenging. It’s been great working with international coaches and players.
CC: What about Kieron Pollard and Dwayne Bravo? Is it difficult comprehending their accents?
AT: No, no, not at all. They are cool guys. It’s [the accent] not that bad…they are funny guys.
CC: Coming back to the Ranji season, you equaled the tournament record for most dismissals by a wicketkeeper in a single season — 41. Were you always targeting it?
AT: I actually broke the record — I got 43. In the MP [Madhya Pradesh] game, I took five catches, but the records show it as three. I have to speak to the board. I got eight catches in total in that match, not six.
Sulu sir has definitely helped me [in getting there]. I’ve worked with him in the Under-19 team and also in Indian Oil. Even he was surprised to see the change in me after I worked with Kiran More. Last season, when I got into the one-day team, he could see that I had improved a bit in my keeping and that’s when I think he thought that I could play the Ranji Trophy. He’s backed me a lot this season, as far as wicketkeeping is concerned. Playing under him has been a terrific experience because there are small mistakes that only a wicketkeeper can point out. He used to also help me assess the pitch — how the ball is going to come to you on certain grounds. His inputs were vital.
He also had created some record in wicketkeeping when he played for Mumbai. He said that, ‘You should have a season where you should be breaking records.’ To be honest, for Mumbai, it’s a bit easy because of the bowlers. It’s all because of the bowlers that a keeper gets the catches. Being in Mumbai, the kind of pitches we have, there is a lot of scope for a wicketkeeper to get victims behind the wicket.
CC: Your diving catch off the bowling of Zaheer Khan to dismiss Devendra Bundela was spectacular! Was that your favourite of the season?
AT: I guess, yeah, it was. I was just watching the ball and I desperately wanted to catch it. It was a crucial stage, so I just went for it.
CC: You must’ve heard of Sarah Taylor, the England women’s team wicketkeeper-batsman who was selected to play for the Sussex (men’s) team. Do you ever see anything similar happening in India?
AT: Why not? But I don’t know if the rules allow for it. It’s an amazing feat that she has accomplished…to play for the men’s team. I followed the Indian [women’s] team during the World Cup. We have some exceptional talent in players like Mithali Raj and Harmanpreet Kaur. It’s unfortunate we got knocked out early.
CC: Talk us through the life of a young, upcoming cricketer in the country. Your popularity must be growing by the day. How do you deal with it?
AT: Obviously, things start changing a bit. So, it’s important to be true to yourself. That’s where your family and upbringing comes into play. I’ve been lucky to be born in a family where they’ve appreciated the things that I’ve done and they’ve also pointed out my mistakes. They’ve pulled me down when I’ve done something wrong. So, family is a very important part. It helps you stay in your zone. Popularity does come once you start playing big games, but you have to remember your roots.
CC: What other sports do you follow?
AT: I’ve played football in school, so I love football. I follow most of the sports. In tennis, I like [Rafael] Nadal…I’m a big supporter.
CC: We hear you’re an Arsenal fan? How have these last eight trophy-less seasons been?
AT: It’s been difficult (laughs). I’ve been following Arsenal ever since I started following football around 1999-00 — right since the [Dennis] Bergkamp, Martin Keown and Patrick Vieira days. It’s difficult…eight years without a trophy (laughs again).
CC: Do any of the other Mumbai players follow football?
AT: Oh, lots of them! Ajit [Agarkar] himself is a big Manchester United fan. So is Shoaib Shaikh, Sushant Marathe,…lots of United fans.
CC: So, is there any rivalry or banter among yourselves?
AT: Lots of it! (laughs)
CC: Who has been your sporting idol?
AT: To be honest, Steve Waugh has been my idol ever since I was a kid. I like his determination and grit — the way he carried himself when he was captain. He never showed his emotions when he was on the ground, but you could make out how determined he was to win; how proudly he used to lead his country.
I’ve read a lot of books about sportsmen. I like reading autobiographies; I have Waugh’s autobiography, I’ve read [Justin] Langer’s too — it’s a terrific one! I like reading real stuff…real stories.
CC: Who is your favourite wicketkeeper?
AT: I like [Mark] Boucher and Gilchrist.
CC: And MS Dhoni?
AT: Dhoni is a performer, more than anything. You can’t watch him and idolise him. But he’s been a terrific player and captain. He’s won two World Cups for India — it’s a terrific achievement. But he’s a bit unorthodox, you can say, with his batting and his wicketkeeping. He’s a bit freakish, but he gets the performance done. He wins matches for India and that’s what matters at the end of the day.
CC: Thanks for your time and candidness!
AT: My pleasure!
(Jaideep Vaidya is a multiple sports buff and a writer at CricketCountry. He has a B.E. in Electronics Engineering, but that isn’t fooling anybody. He started writing on sports during his engineering course and fell in love with it. The best day of his life came on April 24, 1998, when he witnessed birthday boy Sachin Tendulkar pummel a Shane Warne-speared Aussie attack from the stands during the Sharjah Cup Final. A diehard Manchester United fan, you can follow him on Twitter @jaideepvaidya. He also writes a sports blog - The Mullygrubber)