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Sourav’s final stand

“Unfortunately, I’ll always have to live with that image (Lord’s balcony). Whatever happened was done in the heat of the moment. I know when I’m on TV even years from now, that clip will be played alongside. I hope they’ll show some of my Test centuries too, at least once in a while.”

Written by Kunalpradhan |
November 6, 2008 12:54:09 am

On the eve of his final Test match, Ganguly talks to Kunal Pradhan about his career, captaincy, controversies and ‘youngistan’

Has it sunk in that this is your last Test?

* Totally. To be honest, I can’t wait to go (laughs). When I decided to quit, it wasn’t in haste. I knew exactly what it would mean. I prepared myself to accept that this was going to be it. I will have 113 Tests against my name, and no more.

How difficult was it to make the decision?

* I’m sure it’s never easy for anyone. But there were a lot of factors. I’d been left out of the Irani team, and I’d been out of the one-day side for a while. The fact that I wasn’t playing ODIs played a big part. If I’d been playing in both forms of the game, perhaps I would’ve thought differently. I always wanted to leave on a high. There is no point being pushed around, dragging on for the last few years when nobody wants you.

Did you think after the Irani snub that you wouldn’t get the chance to go out on your own terms?

* I was worried, definitely. If the old selection committee had stayed, there was no question of my coming back. When I was finally picked, I thought this is it — my chance to go out in the manner that I want.

Have you spoken to Dilip Vengsarkar since your decision?

* I called him and we had a chat. I told him not to believe everything attributed to me in the papers. I’ve great respect for him. If he hadn’t been the chief selector, I would’ve never made a comeback in 2006. I may not have agreed with his dropping me from the one-day team and the Irani, but that’s okay.

You think you should’ve been playing one-day cricket for longer, even now?

* That doesn’t really matter now. But yes, I did think I should’ve played one-day cricket for longer. I was included in only some 30-odd matches in the last three years. In no other country can a player who’s scored 12,000 runs in his career be used so sparingly.

I believe it had to do with my fielding, and because they wanted to build a team for the 2011 World Cup. I didn’t think I’d be around for that long, so I knew my one-day career was over after being left out for the Australia series.

How did your family take it when you told them you were quitting?

* My Dad wanted me to play on, but he was just being a Dad.

What had he said when you’d been dropped in 2005?

* At that time he had wanted me to stop, so I guess I’m not very obedient (laughs). He used to tell me in 2005 that I wouldn’t be picked because of all the politics and everything. But I believed I had a lot left in me. I had already gone through a difficult period in 1992. I knew I could perform at the highest level and I was determined.

What does your wife say about your retirement?

* She’s very happy. She used to see me getting very upset sometimes. She didn’t like that.

Could you have imagined in 2005 that you would do so well after your comeback?

* There were too many things going through my mind back then. One part of me didn’t know if I would ever get picked, so I couldn’t think about how things would be after I returned.

The morning of the first Test in South Africa was one of the most high-pressure days of my career. I was very eager to do well. I’d scored runs in the practice match at Pochefstroom, But getting that half-century at the Wanderers, from a tight situation, helping the team win, made me very happy. I wasn’t trying to prove anything to anybody else. I’d wanted to prove to myself that I still had it in me.

Did you become more subdued, and aloof from the team after your return?

* I was the same. But I do believe that when a player returns to a team he’s been captain of, it’s important to take a bit of a back seat. You shouldn’t give the impression that you want to run things again. A new captain has new ideas and he needs to freely express them. In India, especially, I knew people were watching my every move after my comeback, and that they would try to make a big deal out of every small thing.

So similarly, was Sachin Tendulkar not too involved when you became captain in 2000?

* No, he was very involved, and it was great (laughs). But we were much younger then. I was 28 when I became captain, and he was the same age. As you grow older, things change.

Did you make some technical changes in your batting while you were out of the team?

* There were some adjustments. I had time on my hands, so I got to thinking about my batting.

I started to work on things, started to improve as a player. Since I wasn’t captain when I came back,

I could do things on my own. When you are the captain, you’re constantly thinking of how to get opposition players out, watching videos of them, trying to lift your own player who may be down. Things are very hectic.

How was your relationship with Chappell after you returned?

* It was fine. He was the coach and I respected that. We spoke off and on, even talked about batting, especially when I started scoring consistently. I thought at some point he felt that he had made a mistake about me. I know he won’t admit it, but I got that feeling.

It’s been a while now. Looking back, what do you think about the whole Chappell controversy?

* The thing that hurt me the most, in my whole career, was that public email he sent — what was written in it and the tone in which it was written. It was very upsetting, and I found it strange because I didn’t think we’d spent enough time together in the team for him to form such a strong opinion about me. I’m convinced that some people had poisoned him against me.

Some people in the team?

* No, outside the team.

You were the one who had insisted on his appointment in the first place.

* Through all my interactions with him, I’d genuinely thought he would be the best man for the job. I’d discussed my batting with him a couple of times and he’d been very helpful. Most of the others wanted Moody but I pushed for Chappell. You could say it was my biggest mistake (laughs), but I had the best for Indian cricket at heart. People joke with me that I was to blame for getting them stuck with him.

Did you relationship with Rahul Dravid change after your return?

* There was no need for anything to change. Rahul was the captain and he had to take decisions based on what he felt was right. I may not have always agreed with him — no player likes it when he’s dropped. There was no need for our personal equation to get affected.

Before this whole episode happened, the Indian team had started getting known as Dada’s Army. Those must’ve been heady days?

* They were great times because we were doing well. But days like those can never go on forever. Being the captain of a team for five-and-a-half years is a long time. It had to get over one day.

The hallmark of your captaincy was also how you dealt with players off the field. What was the key?

* I tried to make the players feel comfortable and secure. I tried to convince them that they weren’t on trial in every single match. I would talk to them and tell them exactly what I thought. My principle was that there should never be a time when a player felt I was telling him something to his face and saying something else behind his back.

You famously fought for Harbhajan in 2001 and Kumble in 2004.

* The selectors didn’t want Harbhajan in the team after the Mumbai Test against Australia. I told them that he was a must for Kolkata, and he ended up getting a hat-trick. Similarly, Kumble wasn’t the selectors’ choice for the 2003-04 Australia tour, but I insisted. His bowling changed the whole series for us, and he never looked back.

When I asked Sehwag to open in Tests, I felt he was too good to be wasted at number six. He was anyway playing the second new ball, so I told him why not play the first new ball, it’s just a mental adjustment.

Was there parochialism in selection when you took over?

* You can’t call it parochialism. The whole format of zonal selectors is such that each of the five members on the committee watch more players from their own zone. So they naturally push for them. When you’re a winning captain, you usually get your way, and I would mostly get the team I wanted. I don’t know what used to happen before my time, but none of the committees I was part of were parochial.

You will always be remembered for twirling your shirt in the Lord’s balcony.

* I would never do that again (laughs). Unfortunately, I’ll always have to live with that image. Whatever happened was done in the heat of the moment. I was ecstatic after India’s win, and I suddenly wanted to give it back to Flintoff for doing the same thing at Wankhede. I know when I’m on TV even years from now, that clip will be played alongside. I hope they’ll show some of my Test centuries too, at least once in a while.

The rest of the world often viewed you as an arrogant man. Nicknamed ‘Lord Snooty’, you were also a soft target for the media. Why do you think that happened?

* Perhaps my PR wasn’t very good. Most of the impressions that were formed were by people who were watching me from a distance. The stories that were written were never by people who knew me. I don’t know — if they had spent more time with me, they might have formed a different opinion.

What do you think of the junior-senior debate that’s raging?

* It’s all rubbish. These stories, like VRS schemes, only look good in newspapers. There is no reality in them. The only way you can tell a player to go is by dropping him.

Has it brought the so-called ‘seniors’ closer?

* We don’t really think about it that much. It’s not something that upsets us, but it is irritating when you keep reading this stuff. It’s become a joke between us. I told Laxman the other day that he would play another two-three years. He laughed and said, ‘No, I’m not youngistan’.

What are your immediate plans after retirement?

* I just want to spend more time at home, relax for a while. There are some offers of commentary, but I don’t want anything very hectic. I’ve been away for the large part of the last 12 years.

But eventually, I’d like to watch cricket, talk about it. I’m thinking of working more closely with the academy in Bengal and help more cricketers come out from the region.

Will you get into politics one day?

* Not yet, for sure, and perhaps not ever. People tell me I’m very popular but it’s not easy to win an election. Politics is hard work. I can’t think of working that hard. But if I ever decide to take the plunge, I’ll make sure to take lessons from Navjot Sidhu.

You took a stand on the Singur controversy. Wasn’t that politically motivated?

* Not at all. I feel big business houses should be welcomed in Bengal so that the state can move forward. That’s all I said. It had nothing to do with the politics of Ms Mamata Banerjee or Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharya.

Do you think Sourav Ganguly will be remembered in history as a batsman or a captain?

* I know I’ll be remembered as a captain, but I hope my Test and one-day runs will not be forgotten.

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