In the days ahead, I expect the BCCI to be led aggressively. I say this because Sourav Ganguly is in charge now. Back in 2000, when Dada became our captain, he taught us to win abroad, and more importantly, showed us how to put up a fight on the cricket field. Now, I think he will show the same passion in his new role and push BCCI’s case forcefully at the international level.
It was really heartening to hear that Ganguly wants to start from home. One of his opening statements was about improving India’s domestic cricket. He is the best man to do the job. Ganguly knows the problems at the grassroots. When he was dropped from the Indian team, he spent a lot of time travelling around the country. I still remember that when he returned to the Indian team, he used to talk about what was lacking in the domestic circuit.
Seeing Dada in this new leadership avatar, my mind goes back to the days when he was with us in the dressing room. My conviction about Ganguly doing well in his second innings is based on his excellent leadership approach. He leads from the front and backs his players. In case he feels you are a match-winner, Dada will back you to the hilt. Me, Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Mohammad Kaif, we all realised this.
We didn’t need to bother about our last innings, we were told we would be given ample chances to do well. You just go out and play, was the only instruction he gave us. Trust me, this made all the difference.
He gave a player the kind of confidence that makes him forget that he has actually flopped in the last eight to 10 innings. By some strange miracle, the player would think that he was actually performing well. And with that confidence, he would give his 100 per cent all the time and win matches. That I think was Dada’s biggest strength as a leader.
I often get asked this question: How did I become an opener from a middle-order batsman? Dada had a big role to play in my shift to the top of the order. It all started with him asking me to open. My reaction was simple: “Why aren’t you opening, even you open, even Sachin opens?”
He explained to me that the opening slot was vacant, so if I take it, my place in the side will be guaranteed. But in case I was against the idea and wanted to stick to the middle order, he explained, I would have to wait for someone to get injured.
But what convinced me was his very practical suggestion that he was to give me later. He said, “I will give you three to four innings as an opener. Even if you fail, you will continue to play. And before I drop you, I will again give you a chance in the middle (order)”.
It was a very fair treatment. It’s this clarity that makes a player trust his captain. That gave me a lot of confidence. I thought, Dada is backing me so much, so let me try. Whatever I am today, it is because of him.
Dada was a very sharp and instinctive captain. He liked to involve everyone in decision-making. A lot of times, he used to listen to everyone but do what he thought was right. He would ask the senior players – me, Harbhajan, Zaheer – about the opposition and also the conditions. Once we had given our inputs, he would have six to seven views. After that he would either follow one view or come up with his own view that was different from everyone, which he thought was good for him. This, I think, is a great leadership approach.
This meant we had a very ‘open’ and ‘inclusive’ dressing room where people could speak their minds, give suggestions, even have arguments. Not just joke with him freely, we could tell him anything. Even now when we do commentary together, one can see that I joke a lot. I have seen a lot of captains but Dada was a rare leader with whom you can say anything or joke about anything. There was a great comfort level between him and the players he backed and over a period of time, the bond only grew stronger.
If someone unfamiliar with cricket got in the dressing room, he could have never guessed that Ganguly was the captain. He was like one of the boys. I learnt a lot from him. When I became captain — be it for Delhi, in the Challenger Trophy or IPL, I tried to keep the same atmosphere in the dressing room. It was very important, especially in IPL where there are players who haven’t even played for their states. It is important to talk to them, make them comfortable. I made myself available to them, improved my “tuning” with them. This went a long way in us reaching the IPL semifinals.
It’s because when I was a young player, Dada would speak to me, we would have dinner together. As BCCI president, he will do the same, I expect he will take everyone along with him. I have no doubt that he would play a big role in turning the clock back to the time when BCCI had a big say in ICC.
Because of the bond he had with his team mates, Dada always had backers.
Even when he was dropped, the players were behind him. See, he was out of the team not because he was a bad player. So even when he was not in the team, we used to talk about him, talk to him. Jab hamara kharab time tha tab unhone hum se baat ki thi, to phir jab unka time kharab tha hum bhi unse baat karte the, unke baare mein baat karte hain. (During our bad times, he used to talk to us, so when he was going through bad times, we used to talk to him and about him.) We all felt that Dada deserved a good farewell. He should retire while he was playing. So we all felt great when he retired. We were so happy when he got his last match.
But even in his tough times, Dada never looked shattered. That’s his greatness, that’s what we learned from him. There will be ups and downs but dukhi nahi hona, confidence rakhna hai, self-belief nahin khona. (Don’t feel sad, maintain confidence, don’t lose self-belief).
Actually, when I first heard about Dada becoming president, I recalled an incident during the 2007 South Africa tour. It was a Test in Cape Town where me and Wasim Jaffer were out early. Tendulkar was to bat No.4 but couldn’t take the field. Out of the blue, Ganguly was asked to go out and bat. This was a comeback series and there was pressure. But the way he batted, the way he handled pressure and tension, sirf wo hi kar sakte the. (Only he could do.)
That day we all agreed in the dressing room that if anyone among us can become BCCI president, it’s Dada. I said he can even be the Bengal chief minister. Ek bhavishyavani poori ho gayi, aur ek baaki hai (One of my predictions has come true, let’s wait and see about the other one).
(As told to Sandeep Dwivedi)
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