From the publishers of THE HINDU
VOL.28 :: NO.39 :: Sep. 24 - 30, 2005
S. RAM MAHESH
FROM a century on Test debut to being India's most successful captain to being the third of only four men to cross 10,000 ODI runs, Sourav Ganguly has done things greater men would be envious of. But the graceful left-hander's recent past has been troubled. Battling an alarming dip in both personal and team form, Ganguly's six-match ban for slow over rates was thought to be an ominous portent. The selectors then chose Rahul Dravid for the entire Indian Oil Cup tri-series in Sri Lanka, sparking talk of the man from Bengal being marginalised. A man whose life seems to have been scripted by a thrill-seeker, Ganguly went to Sri Lanka, his ban reduced, to play under Dravid. Theories of factionalism and of there being two camps in the side began doing the rounds. To compound matters, Team India seems poised to have its second straight disastrous season.
Ganguly is a past master at battling extinction and how the intertwined destinies of the man and his team unfold will make for compelling, maybe heart-rending viewing. In Harare, he spoke to The Sportstar on the most recent twists in his fascinating tale.
Question: What frame of mind were you in when the Justice Albie Sachs committee reviewed your ban?
Answer: To be honest, I just went and played County cricket, so I wasn't really worried about it. Whatever was to have happened would have happened. If the ban had been reduced, it would have been good for me, I would have gone and played. If the ban had not been reduced, it was okay because it was not in my control. Obviously, the Board had taken up the issue, for me it was just concentrating on playing for Glamorgan. Actually it helped playing for Glamorgan to keep focus on cricket. Actually I had given up on whatever was going to happen.
How tough was it playing under Rahul Dravid in Sri Lanka?
Even before going to Sri Lanka, I had said I have no problems. Playing for India is more than enough. And I have been captain for five years all around the world. I've got nothing left to prove as a captain. Really did not matter to me, actually it felt nice to play without any thoughts and just concentrate on my game. I didn't find it difficult to adjust. If I felt the need to say anything to Rahul that I felt was good for the team, I'd go up and say it. When Rahul picked the team, he was always asking me to join the team management.
Did you expect to regain the captaincy?
I'd be lying if I said I didn't expect to get it back but if I hadn't, it wouldn't have mattered.
Do you think this was fair to Dravid?
I think whoever is going to be captain, I am sure it is going to be decided very shortly, should be made clear. It's good to be clear, whether it's me or Rahul. It's good for both for us and good for the team also. Also, the World Cup is not too far away. It's up to the selectors, whoever they think is good for the team should be selected. Both of us, whoever is the captain and whoever is not, will have a role to play in the team for whatever time. Till the World Cup, and take it from there. As I said before, it doesn't matter who is the captain, it has to be a team and all 16 contributing if India has to do well from now on till whatever time.
There is a feeling that the youngsters in the side have stagnated resulting in India's poor run. Do you agree?
I don't want to say this but not just the youngsters, it's the entire team that has not been doing well. Some have played well at times, some have not at times. When we were doing well in that period between 2001 and 2003 till Pakistan, it was everybody contributing, and that has been missing over the last 6-7 months. If we have to be a good team, it's not just the juniors or the seniors, it's all together who have to fire. It is a team sport. We have delivered at times, they have not delivered at times, and the same is the case with the guys who have been around for a long time. Over the past one year, there has been inconsistency with a lot of players, it's not just the juniors.
Sourav Ganguly enjoys a good relationship with vice-captain Rahul Dravid as well as coach Greg Chappell.
Why has India's recent form in ODIs been abysmal? Is it a better Test team?
At the moment we are playing better in Test matches but it's the same side that has won one-day tournaments whether it is playing well in the World Cup or England or the West Indies or the ICC Champions Trophy or in Pakistan. It is the same bunch of boys, there is no change. It's a question of mind, as I said before, it is a question of going out and playing freely in one-day cricket. The fear factor has to go away if you have to win one-day games because it's a fast game. In Test matches, you still have time to get back. If we can win one year ago, there is no reason why we can't win now.
Where has this fear factor come from?
It's a process which comes with failure, with the team not doing well. Obviously, when the team does not do well, in India there is a huge hue and cry. If we don't do well in one series and if we don't win the next one, it just keeps on increasing.
There has been a decline in player behaviour. Are you concerned?
I think it has come because of the team losing, boys not performing, the frustration keeps coming out. We have addressed that, we have said that it is not the solution to winning cricket matches, and it has been good in the past two matches. And I hope in the future, it remains the same because showing dissent on the field doesn't make you win matches.
Are there double standards in selection? Anil Kumble and V. V. S. Laxman for instance have not always had a fair deal.
I don't think that's been the case with Laxman or Anil, specially with Anil. Anil has been a champion performer. Some players who have better records would always get more chances, it's the same all over the world. You look at Matthew Hayden, he hasn't scored runs over the last one year but he keeps on playing because he has got 20 Test hundreds. That much advantage will always be with somebody who has got a better record than the other guy. Sachin Tendulkar will always get more chances because he has got 13,000 one-day runs. Even from that point of view, somebody with a couple of thousand one-day runs and an equal number of failures and a guy with 13,000 one-day runs, the opportunities are going to be different. You have to accept that and go on, go forward. And I don't think that any of these guys have got less opportunities, and I don't think it is the end of the road. There is a whole lot of cricket coming up, you never know who does well.
How different is current coach Greg Chappell from John Wright?
Greg and John are different sort of personalities, their approach to the game is different and their way of approaching cricket matches is different. Two individuals can never be the same and I think Greg has his own style. He has been working very hard with the boys in terms of technique both bowlers and batters and how to win cricket matches. But it's early days for him, we have to give him time.
How has the team adapted to the change of coach?
I think they have adapted pretty well, they have to because when you have a coach and he wants you to do certain things which he feels is important for winning cricket matches, you have to.
Are you concerned about your batting form?
I have not played well in the last six to seven months and I understand that. But when you have been around for 10 years, you go through periods like that. But at the same time, I realise that I have to get big runs as an important member of the team. I agree that I have not played well in the last six to seven months but I have played well over a span of 10 years. If I can get things together, I don't see why I can't do well again.
What has been the problem? Do you work on it by watching videos of successful innings?
You do that, but I don't think I have noticed a drastic change in anything. It's the confidence factor. One must also realise that when you play for a span of 10-11 years, it's not going to be the same standards that you have set for yourself. I am pretty much sure that it's my performances before this because of which my standards have been set pretty high which I have not been able to match. You must also realise that I have not opened consistently in one-day cricket, which used to be my strength, where I have got all my hundreds and whatever, 10,000 runs, it's been at the top of the order. And to get a stronger team, I have sacrificed and batted at number four. Still, in spite of batting at number four, before the Pakistan tour started last season, I was the third highest run-getter in the world in one-day cricket. Rahul was number one with Sangakkara second, and I was third, and the difference was only 20-30 runs. The only opportunity I got to open was in England, and out of the four games, I should have got two hundreds, instead I made two 90s. We have played well in one-day cricket, except in the last one year. I also feel our performances in the last one year have dipped because people like me and Sachin haven't made big hundreds, which we did for the last one year. When you get two of your top-order batsmen, one with 13,000 runs and the other with 10,000 runs in just a span of nine years, you cannot be out of form for a long time. The only thing I see is that I have not met the standards I have set in terms of scoring hundreds and in terms of the number of match-winning knocks that I have played. Nobody in the world will be able to do that over a span of 10,12,13 to 14 years. You will have phases of six to seven months where you struggle. I struggled against Pakistan, but I did well in Sri Lanka.
There is a school of thought that the captain must hold his place in the side first and that you might not be able to.
I don't think it's right to say that I won't be able to hold a Test spot as a batsman. As I said, it all has cropped up because I didn't play well against Pakistan in the last series. I realise that I have to make runs, I have to make the most of the opportunities that I get.
How can India turn its ODI form around?
We have to play freely in one-day cricket. All good sides in one-day cricket just bat freely, without worrying about getting out because in one-day cricket, strike rates are important. We need a little bit of luck to get through one final, then that can change things around because it's such a huge confidence game. There needs to be a bit more focus. Our batting has been a bit of a worry in one-day cricket and at times there have been batters who have got stuck in terms of the balls they have played and that is because there is pressure on them to perform. You won't be a good one-day side if that situation keeps going on and on. We have to pick a team and back them for two series and have a strategy to win games. The players need to be set free to go and play their shots. That's what one-day cricket is all about.
Is there pressure to break India's bad run in finals?
This works on the mind of any team. We realise every time we get to the final and don't win. That is going to weigh on everybody. It's important to get through one one-day final some way or the other, and for that I am sure we need a little bit of luck.
I thought we should have won the one-day final in Sri Lanka recently. We need one blinder of a knock from somebody in a final, like what Yuvraj and Kaif did in England, and we just kept on winning after that.
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