Kingston (Jamaica): He has spent 15 years in International cricket but senior Indiabatsman Rahul Dravid says he continues to be inspired by Sachin Tendulkar, with whom he has starred in 19 Test century stands.
"He's been phenomenal, has had terrific last 2-3 years and possibly done the best batting of his life," said Dravid in his ever-earnest manner in his first practice session in the Caribbean on Friday.
"When I came he had already been around for seven years; he was my captain in West Indies (in 1997) and was a source of great motivation. That motivation has not changed," he added.
Dravid is the third highest run-scorer of all time, scoring 12,063 Test runs in 150 matches at an average of 52.44. He is also the only batsman to have hit at least one century in all 10 Test playing nations. That's not all, he is also a world-beater with 200 catches.
Yet all this greatness sits lightly on a modest man who still is anxious to compete well for himself and his country. "I had a seven month time off (from Tests). But I knew about these seven Tests in a row and was ready with my preparations," he said.
"You know you have done enough but there is still a certain pressure; you still feel nervous and there are butterflies (in your stomach). These things never change. It would be nice to get runs early on and keep the form going."
Dravid expects great things from this largely young side which is being led by an extremely capable captain in Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
"He (Dhoni) has led very well and done a great job. He exudes calm and his record, be it in Tests, in IPL or in one-day cricket has been phenomenal. His ability to remain calm under pressure is a priceless ability. (The team is) lucky to have a guy who has this kind of quality," he said.
The 38-year-old cricketer is aware that the transitional phase of Indian cricket is at hands and is hopeful that a few of the younger guys would carry the torch forward. "Over the next year or two, young batsmen should be coming through - like Ganguly, Laxman and I did. Sooner than later, similar young boys would come through and two or three would have similar long careers for the next 15 years. Then the team is going to be in good health," he said.
Dravid hoped he would play a role in this learning curve, sharing his experiences with the younger kids. "Young kids love to chat and you are always open. There would be opportunity to share this experience over the next seven Tests. It would be great to pass on this knowledge."
"Unfortunately, today it's not the nature of cricket to have a lot of practice games ahead of a series. I remember I had six or seven practice games in England and there was so much to learn from the Tendulkars, Manjrekars and Azharuddins of the side. Tests are always so stressful but practice games allow you to relax and interact. I don't know any solution; it�s tough on kids," he added.
Dravid was particularly keen to do well in Sabina Park, and generally in the Caribbean, for the great charm the region held in his mind while growing up. "You remember as a kid listening to radio and hearing about Sabina Park; Gavaskar hitting centuries; those fearsome fast bowlers and you dreamt of playing here," he said.
"I have now been involved in four Test matches at this venue and I know when I sit back I will be happy about it."
It was at the Sabina Park where he last came as a captain in 2006 and his two half centuries were instrumental inIndia winning their first series in Caribbean after 35 years.
Dravid rated those two innings of 81 and 68 in a low-scoring game as two of the better knocks of his entire career. "It was a very difficult pitch. In the context of the series, it was one of the better Test match innings I have played. In a low-scoring game, anything could have happened. It was most satisfying and in terms of quality, I rate it one of my better innings," he said.
Dravid believed the pitch here for the first Test is going to be extremely testing too. "This generally has good bounce. Looking at this wicket, it would be a good challenge. They have a good pace attack. We have the bowling and hopefully the guys will make a difference."
Dravid claimed he didn't feel bad he wasn't part of the team which won the World Cup earlier this year and indeed took delight in the achievement of his mates. "I knew I wasn't playing, I haven't been playing one-day cricket for the last two and a half years. So I didn't feel bad in that sense. I was happy for the team, for Indian cricket as it took 28 long years," he said.
"You feel good for the guys, that you have played with some of these guys and that men like me, Ganguly, Kumble were involved in the system in the past, have had some role to play in this onward journey," he added.
Dravid was evasive in his views on the controversial Umpires Decision Review System (UDRS) which is not being supported by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). "My views really don't matter. In the past I have said that UDRS is going to be used at some stage. Obviously Indian board wants it be consistent, really this is between the ICC and BCCI to sort it out."