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The month-and-a-half break would have given cricketers time to relax and switch-off. How beneficial was the break for you?
* It was a welcome time off from our packed schedule. I managed to devote time to my family, which is something an Indian cricketer gets little time for, when the season is on. I also bought a house for my sister in Delhi to ensure that she is well-settled. Spending time with my parents, brother and sister helped de-stress. I also indulged in others sports which I love ó badminton, table tennis and swimming. Towards the latter part of the break, I went to the sports hostel in Lucknow, my alma mater where I trained to become a cricketer. I underwent training and practice sessions with my long-time coach Deepak Sharma, who helped me tweak aspects of my game which is not always possible when you are constantly travelling and playing when on tour.
What were the aspects of the game you focused on during this break?
* I spend a lot of time thinking and working on perfecting the art of batting with tail-enders and scoring runs in their company. When I consider the position I bat at ó No.5, No.6 or No.7 ó I have to score quickly from the start of my innings but also must ensure that I carry the tail-enders along.
Lower-down the order, there is always the pressure to win a game or take the team to a competitive total. What is the strategy you employ?
* While I know that I have the big shots that will help me fulfil the role of a finisher, it is also important that I am consistent. I usually get about 25 to 30 balls to face and it is vital that I increase my consistency in scoring fifties. If I score a half-century, that will put the team in a good position. Also, no one remembers 20s and 30s even if it is made in the death overs.
Are you keen to move up the order as that will give you more time to build your innings?
* If and when the opportunity arises I am ready to bat up the order too. I have batted at No.3 in the past, so it will not be a new position or a new role for me. Batting up the order will, of course, give me a better chance of scoring hundreds. But that said, I am enjoying the challenge of batting lower-down the order, which is an extremely difficult role in the shorter formats.
Your bowling has become a rather important aspect of your game in ODIs and T20s...
* Teams tend to go in with four bowlers, including a spinner and hence the back-up bowlers have to come into play. Though batting remains my primary focus, I am aware that I also need to work hard on my bowling. But I keep my bowling simple. I have to fulfil the role of the fifth bowler along with others like Rohit and Virat. It is vital that I donít let my bowling skills wane as I am expected to bowl 4-6 overs regularly.
How do you look ahead to the season, which also includes the World T20 and upcoming Test series against New Zealand and England?
* I believe this is the start of a very important phase for the Indian cricket team in the shorter format as well as the longer format. It is essential that we dominate during the ODI and T20 series in Sri Lanka in order to regain confidence after the ODI losses in England, Australia and also the below-par Asia Cup campaign. We havenít played ODIs since March so everyone will be eager to give their best and show that we remain the best team in the world. Also, this will be the phase when we will start to build and work towards the 2015 World Cup. When it comes to Tests there will be competition to fill the slot left vacant since the retirement of Rahul Dravid. All the younger batsmen, including me, will be hoping to break into the Test team and cement their spot.
Your Test career hasnít shaped up as well as you would have liked it to though you scored a century on debut.
* I have not played to my potential in Tests, but I have the confidence to make a comeback. People tend to talk about a couple of poor innings I had during the tour of England but I like to look at it as a learning experience. Before the England tour I had scored runs in Sri Lanka, India and West Indies. I have the ambition to play Tests for India again and be considered a match-winner in Tests too. One bad tour doesnít mean that I am not suited for Test cricket. I have worked hard on my skills. There has always been a lot of talk about my inability to play the short-ball but I donít think it is as big a problem for me as it is made out. I know that when the opportunity comes I will be able to perform in Tests once again. But at the same time I am not taking anything for granted.
With more than half-a-decade of international experience under your belt, your own expectations must have changed?
* Yes, I know that I will be expected to perform as I have the experience. I made vital contributions during the World Cup against Australia and Pakistan when the team needed it and that gave me a lot of confidence. So I have the skill and the game to make it count when the chips are down. I want to play knocks that matter, that which will enhance my reputation as a match-winner.