Sourav Ganguly has probably been one of cricket's most dramatic figures. But in all this, it is often forgotten that he is a man with nearly 19,000 international runs under his belt and a man who took over the reigns of an India wanting to rid itself of the taint of match-fixing. And he did a magnificent job, shaping the course of the new India's destiny for the forseeable future.
So on the eve of his final Test, what does the man himself think of the events that unfolded over the last decade or so? Hear it from him, in this two-part interview in Nagpur
What are your emotions at the moment?
To be honest, I’m preparing for this Test match the way I’ve prepared for my 112 Test matches. I’m not too emotional about retiring. Everybody is asking me this question, and to be honest, I’m just happy with the cricket I’ve played in this series which has been a huge bonus. And so, once I finish, my bags will be closed and my other life will start.
When you decided to quit, what were the feelings? Was it a planned decision?
Yes it was because when you decide to leave something you’ve done for such a long time and what you love the most, it cannot be an overnight decision. As I said before, when I was not picked for the Irani Trophy team, I was very disappointed because I felt that I’d had had two outstanding years. OK, I didn’t play well in Sri Lanka but that was just one series. Everybody goes through a bad patch.
You felt very sad?
Yes, very disappointed and very sad. As I said then, I did not expect to be picked for this series and if the selection committee had not changed, I wouldn’t have been chosen.
Do you say this because they dropped you for the Irani Trophy?
And you feel lucky that you were picked?
Yes, the new committee came and I got an opportunity to play
So, the decision to retire in a way was forced upon you?
No, it was not. Nobody told me to quit.
I’m asking this in the sense that you may not have quit, if you were not dropped for Irani Trophy?
Well, it may not have happened now, maybe four months, six months down the line, I would have in any case quit.
But maybe not in this series?
So in a way you’re not going away as a happy man?
No, no… I’m very happy going. See, even when I came back if I had not announced my retirement and scored a century, I would have carried on…
You are playing your last Test at a venue where in 2004, you were injured… there was criticism… that you’d run away…
If I had that mindset, I would not have survived for so long. 113 Test matches, scoring runs all around the world. I would not have survived this long.
Even some seniors felt that you should have played that Test.
Well, everyone thinks differently. Nobody would understand the intensity of your injury. Even I’ve felt that with one player or the other that if he wished, he could have pushed his way into the team. But nobody can understand the extent of an injury an individual may carry.
Does that memory of 2004 act as a motivating factor for your final Test?
Nagpur has been my happy hunting ground. The number of runs I've scored on this ground, I've not scored anywhere else. When I came back and played against the West Indies here in 2007, I made 98. I’ve got One-day hundreds here, I got a 180 in a Duleep Trophy game here before I went to England. Nagpur has always been a belter of a wicket.
The wicket in 2004 here, that too against Australia, shocked everyone. Did you try to speak to the officials?
I spoke to the groundsman. I said, as every captain in India would do, that spin is our strength. That we need a wicket that suits our strength.
And he did not listen to you and you got upset?
Of course, I would be.
But that was not the reason you pulled out?
No, but it will always be perceived as such, because it made a story. It’s happened at many grounds – even my home venue, Eden Gardens – when I asked for a certain wicket and didn’t get it. It had happened many times when I was the captain that we asked for a certain kind of wicket, because it suited us… but were disappointed.
Throughout your career, you’ve had great moments as player, as captain… despite that, you've always been under pressure… what were the reasons?
Sometimes, it’s been unreasonable, definitely. It’s very difficult to speak of one particular moment, but there were times I faced criticism when I didn’t deserve it. And at times, I haven’t got runs and faced criticism. But I’ve taken it in my stride and always realised it’s part and parcel of international sport.
Have you analysed why it’s been so?
I haven’t spent too much time thinking about it. There are other things you have to think of. I always tried to stay focused on my game, because I knew there’s only one solution to all these things – scoring runs.
When you came into the team in 1992 it was said you’re not a team man. It started right from the start…
Yes, as I said sometimes it was very unreasonable. I was 17 then… How can a 17-year-old guy who’s been picked to play for India go all the way to Australia and not play a single game in three-four months? It’s unreasonable.
In 1996, when you were selected again, there was strong criticism. Were you aware of that?
I became aware of it after the series and when we came back to India. Because the team got picked and we left immediately, so I didn’t get to know a lot of things, because you don’t get to know many things when you’re on tour. When I came back, I got to know. But by then, I'd done my job.
What makes you so strong mentally?
I think it’s a bit of coincidence, a bit of faith in my abilities… But I was lucky too, that every time the team needed, I stood up.
You’ve over got 7,000 runs, but a lot of people feel you were capable of far more?
Hmmm… You can also say that a lot of times I’ve batted at No. 6 in Test cricket and there have been times when I got sent late and ran out of partners. Yes, you can say that I could have probably got another 1500 runs.
You don't think you have underperformed?
No, that I did. Not in a huge way… but I have an outstanding One-day record, and I don’t think you get everything in life.
If you had not been made captain, don’t you think you may have got more runs?
No, I don’t think so. Captaincy is a huge honour, and at times it can affect players. But the honour you get by captaining India cannot be compared with anything. I’ll always live with the memory that I’ve taken Indian cricket forward as a captain. That will be my biggest memory, rather than the 19-20 thousand runs I’ve scored at the international level.
There were lots of problems like match-fixing when you were asked to lead. How did you handle the crisis?
I just led and did things as they came. I never planned anything. The best bit that happened was that during those six months when all these things were going on, India didn’t play much and I was in Lancashire, playing county cricket. So, I didn’t even get to know half the things that were going on in this country. Those were not days like these, of internet and computers, and we never got to know a lot of what was happening.
But there were issues and did you address them?
No. I did not feel the need. By the time I came back from England there were directions from the Board that certain players would not be taken. So I picked a young team, the selectors gave me a young team, and from there, we went to the ICC Championships where we did outstandingly.
Had there been a lot of cricket played during that period, I’d probably have been drawn into it. But it was all sorted out by responsible people when I was away, and I didn’t have to handle that situation.
How did you handle the seniors when you became captain… you had Sachin and Anil and Srinath… Was it difficult?
I’ll honestly tell you: we have all these issues over the seniors now but when I was the captain, these thoughts never came into mind. I don’t know whether it actually occurs with the same intensity as it’s talked about nowadays. The debate over seniors and juniors is going on. When I was captain, these things never even occurred… even when Rahul became the captain, or when Anil became captain, I can certainly say that it did not occur with him also.
You say you took India forward as a captain. What were we lacking?
People like me and Anil, Sachin, Rahul made a conscious effort that we need to become a better team overseas. We made the players aware that doing well overseas is more important than doing well in India. We were always considered poor tourists…
I don’t know! It was very difficult to say, despite all the talent we had, all the players we had in the past were phenomenal. Probably better than some of the guys who performed well overseas. I think it was something in the mind, more of a confidence problem.
The team started winning overseas. How did you instill confidence in your players? Through being aggressive?
I had to make the players believe that they'd be a part of the team if they did well overseas. Aggression on the field, was that part of the strategy. It was a conscious decision. I realised that our team was at its best when it was aggressive.
Did you tell them 'let's sledge'?
Yes, let's wake up… off the field I'm a very docile person, completely a different person. It was a conscious effort…In the 2001 series against Australia, we realised that the only way to beat that team was to be aggressive. Otherwise they'd just roll over you.
Did you instruct the players?
It was a decision made by the players themselves, that they needed to be aggressive, especially in terms of body language, otherwise they'd just roll over you.
And it worked.
Of course it worked. The reason England won the 2005 Ashes series against Australia was that in the first Twenty20 game they played in Hampshire, they came out with an aggressive body language against Australia - Pietersen, Flintoff, Harmison… and that completely changed the series.
What has captaincy given you?
It's made me responsible, it's made me take responsible decisions easily… have faith my abilities…
A lot of times it's said that the team had decided on a certain strategy or a certain XI, but you suddenly changed that relying more on your judgment.
I think every captain would do that. It's been the same for me, it's been the same for captains after me and it's going to be the same for the future. Every person would have a different way of doing things, that's why you have a captain. At the end of the day, the captain has to take a call.
It's also said that the reason for discord between you and coach John Wright was that you had not followed the strategies decided at team meetings and he used to get very upset?
A lot of these issues between me and John were over perception. Two people will always have different ideas; it can't happen that two people would have the same ideas on one issue. But one must accept that when I crossed the rope, I had to take a call, and I had to take a call on the basis of what I'd seen. At the end of the day, the captain has to make the decisions, because he has to control the game. And 70 per cent of the times, things will not go the way you have planned once you are on the field. It never works like that. Ask anyone. Ask Shane Warne, he'll tell you the same. You have to keep changing according to the changing situation. It can't be as is written in a book. So all good captains are people who've taken decisions by instinct, unless you had a team like Clive Lloyd had or Steve Waugh had. They'd just give the ball to anyone and they'd pick up wickets.
When you came back into the team in 1996, how much faith did you have that you'd last this time?
My batting changed after I got 46 against England in that One-day game at Old Trafford. Getting runs in domestic cricket is hugely different from getting runs in international cricket. Until you go through it, you never realise it. I was a good player before that, I became a confident player after that… I knew I could get the runs.
How was it playing for six years in domestic cricket. Were you hopeful of coming back into the team?
I was too young when I got dropped in 1992 and I didn't even worry about all those things. When you are young, you don't even think of half the things you think of when you are 28 or 30 or 33. I had no financial problems, my life didn't change because of cricket, I was enjoying playing for Bengal. An 18-year-old playing Ranji Trophy - at that age, your priorities are different. They are going to college, enjoying with friends, coming back playing the sport. I didn't even think of it.
What technical adjustments did you do to succeed in Tests?
It's all about adjustments at this level. You come with certain form of technique, and after that you make adjustments. I make adjustments even now. Ask any batsman, they make adjustments in their game all the time.
In your second comeback to Tests, you seemed to have worked hard on your technique. In those brief innings in Karachi you looked best equipped to handle swing and short ball. What did you do differently?
Yes, I worked on my batting because I had this tag of not being able to play the short ball well. And if you see the last few years, 2005 to 2008, I've got hundreds, even double-hundreds against Shoaib… I've done better in South Africa, I did best in England. When SA came here as well and now a hundred against Australia.
The Greg Chappell episode, the allegations he made against you, was that one of the worst moments of your life?
Definitely it was, because it wasn't required. I don't know from where he got those stories. Or may be he panicked that he'd created that furore… I don't know. But it was absolutely uncalled for…
But why did he do it?
I was surprised with the way he reacted. I just had a feeling that people gave him wrong ideas about me once he landed in India. A lot of people were worried that I had been captain for too long, that I was controlling the team. It is bound to happen anywhere…
Lot of people in or outside the team?
Outside the team, not in the team. I think he was misinformed. And he must have believed them.
A lot of people thought you had no chance of making a comeback? .
I knew I would be back because I was good enough, I was still not old and I knew how Indian cricket works. If you lose, you're horrible… if you win, you're the best!
When you went to bat in SA — in a way your second debut — what was going through your mind? Compare that with your first Test at Lord's.
Lord's was different. When you are young, you are different. The mindset I had during that Test I still don't have it. I didn't worry, every ball I played, I was just happy to play Test cricket. I didn't even think I'm going to get a 50, a 100… I just enjoyed batting. Got runs during that series. But when I came back I knew I had to deliver against South Africa. There was little bit of pressure but I had belief in my abilities, that I'd survive at this level.
What gives you the confidence? Something to do with your formative years?
No. I've been brought up in a very conservative family, a very protective family… I think it's just that many experiences have shaped me. I think it's just the criticism I've faced which a lot of times, as I said, was uncalled for. And the belief in my abilities. I don't know where this belief came from, I guess it comes with time, with experience; probably the desire to play for India, the desire to do well at this level.
There's one criticism and this is about over your fitness… that you were never keen on working on it?
Completely wrong. I could not have survived so long if it had been so.
If you'd worked on your fielding, your ODI career could have got extended?
I don't think so. I think I can still play One-day cricket and produce matchwinning performances. When I came back in 2007, I produced matchwinning performances whether it was with the bat or the ball… I was never a Jonty Rhodes, but I was not that bad also! I've worked on my fitness and would not have survived so long if I had not been fit.
What are the moments you remember the most?
The first time I was picked in 1996 to play Test cricket; first time I was the captain; beating Australia, I think that Test match in Kolkata was fantastic. Then reaching the World Cup final in 2003… 2005, the entire incident for which I lost my captaincy… then coming back and doing well again…
2005 would be a low?
That too was a moment… these moments will come, no life will be completely smooth all way.
If you had to change something about you, what would you change?
I'd win the World Cup final, that's the only regret I have. Otherwise I'd not change anything.
Who has been your inspiration in life?
I've not followed anyone's career to have such an effect on me, but I've always admired the way Steve Waugh played his cricket. He was a fighter. It was said about him too that he could not play the short ball, he was not as talented as some of the other Aussies.
It's interesting that you admire the man whom you needled the most as a captain. When did this admiration begin? Before the 2001 series or after?
It was there always. He was a very gutsy fighter. I've heard stories that Australian coaches and selectors would tell him that he was never going to get the runs "this way", and he'd say that "I'm going to get runs this way".
I believe the year he finished, the year the selectors were telling him to go he said I'll go whenever I want to go. I admire the courage he had.
And when you captained against him, made him wait for the toss, your admiration for him did not come in the way?
I had that at the back of my mind, but I knew I had to do my job as captain. I knew it was important for me to win the series. Otherwise, they would have rolled over us in that series. But I still idolise him. I admire his grit. Sometimes when I bat, even now, when I feel a little loose, I think about him.
While at the crease?
Yes, I do that even now. I've done so in the past.