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Hiring Chappell was the biggest mistake of my career: Sourav Ganguly’s secrets

In his latest book, former cricket captain of India Sourav Ganguly is rumoured to tell all. The question is: how much?

brunch Updated: Feb 26, 2018 11:46 IST
Dhiman Sarkar
Dhiman Sarkar
Hindustan Times
Sourav Ganguly,IPL,cricketers
Sourav Ganguly has co-authored A Century Is Not Enough with journalist Gautam Bhattacharya (Prabhat Shetty )

For someone who made such a career timing the cricket ball – his off drives were so good that he was said to be next to God in the batting order – it could seem surprising that Sourav Ganguly struggles to be on time. Just as it would to see a man who says he is shy to go bare-chested and twirl his India shirt at cricket’s most famous cathedral.

As India captain, Ganguly had an uncanny eye for talent (Prabhat Shetty )

That’s not all. As India captain, Ganguly had an uncanny eye for talent and yet he went spectacularly wrong in getting Greg Chappell as coach. But the skipper who was always spoiling for a fight on the field says he holds no grudges. He will be 46 this July and time, it seems, has smoothed a lot of rough edges. Except Chappell, of course, but more of that later.

“Now, I am happy so long as Sana is happy. That is important,” he says with a smile. Maybe that’s why he took his daughter and wife Dona for a late night show of Padmaavat, even though Sana is studying for her board exams.

Always the boss

With Ganguly, opposites align. “I don’t panic easily because when I took guard against bowlers capable of bowling very fast, I couldn’t afford to do that. So I had to train my mind to stay calm. Over time, I have also developed the ability to back myself,” he says.

That explains how the introvert can transmogrify into the host of a hugely popular Bengali television quiz show. That is also why, despite not being the fittest, he could compete as a cricketer till he was almost 40. The world may baulk at an idea, but if Ganguly is convinced he can do it, chances are he will.

“For me, the art of captaincy was not theory but practice. I wanted to chart my own way and create a new template for success”

When he became India captain and the team reeled from the aftershocks of a match-fixing scandal, a well-wisher gifted him former England skipper Mike Brearley’s famous tome on captaincy. But Ganguly, not known to read much beyond newspapers, didn’t think he needed it. “For me, the art of captaincy was not theory but practice. I wanted to chart my own way and create a new template for success,” he said in A Century Is Not Enough, a book he co-authored with journalist Gautam Bhattacharya.

Photographer Prabhat Shetty, who has flown from Mumbai for a few hours, and I are at the Eden Gardens, but Ganguly is late to the crease. Shetty rues the dying of the light. Ganguly arrives an hour late but immediately settles into his role as Shetty’s subject. By the time they walk into Eden park, Ganguly seems to have taken charge. “I will give you a few poses, just keep clicking,” he says, taking Shetty towards the stands that bear his name. When he isn’t following a script, Ganguly is in his element.

Shoot over, we are headed to the first floor office of the president of the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) for the interview, when Ganguly is approached by three employees, possibly ground staff. “Dada,” one of them calls softly, and the man who has played 113 Tests, 311 One Day Internationals and led India in 196 matches, reciprocates warmly. They mention salary dues and Ganguly promises to look into it immediately. The trio steps back, looking relieved because Maharaj – in Kolkata, it is always what he is called at home, or Dada – has given his word.

Mr teacher sir

There aren’t many cricketers from Chappell’s India team who would compliment the coach, says Ganguly (Prabhat Shetty )

Inside the office, which looks the same as it did when Jagmohan Dalmiya lorded it over cricket, Ganguly explains early in the conversation that he hasn’t written a biography. “I have no intention of writing one at the moment and it is not because I am afraid of displeasing a lot of people. I just think there is a lot more to learn from life,” he says.

This book is about the mentality needed to be at the top, in cricket and in life, says the man who has walked the talk. “Breaking into the team, surviving for a period of time, handling expectations, dealing with the lows and then working your way back to the top; these are situations every performer faces.”

Through examples from his journey, Ganguly has tried to tell young cricketers what they may have to face and how to deal with disappointments. “Losing the (India) captaincy (in 2005) came like a bolt from the blue. You are hurt but you can’t show it because you have to put that behind you and make a comeback. That was a huge learning experience because for nearly a decade, things had only gone up for me. It made me tougher,” he says.

It has taken him almost a decade after retiring from the India shirt to write a book. “I kept being prodded to do one and it was just that now I had managed some time,” he says.

Managing time is a constant struggle with Ganguly and maybe that is why, throughout this interview, he works his mobile phone. Is that also why he starts answering even before I have finished the question, I wonder, but don’t ask. Ganguly juggles being CAB president with occasional television assignments, endorsing 12 products, doing 12 to 15 annual corporate talks on leadership and being part of three committees at the Indian cricket board. “I stopped playing cricket but got into many things. Financially things are still as good (as when he was a player) if not better,” he says.

Ganguly is also the face of a quiz show now seven seasons old. “When I started doing this, I told Ma that I wouldn’t be able to complete the season. I am surprised how Dadagiri still stays so popular,” he says, beaming as he shows me a congratulatory message on WhatsApp for the programme’s continued success.

Yes, he misses the high of winning cricket matches but knows it had to stop one day. “It did for Muhammad Ali, Diego Maradona, Sachin Tendulkar and Pete Sampras... But somehow, a cricket ground still pulls me, so here I am. After retirement, I wanted a career in sport.”

The Chappell chapter

Ganguly thinks he has been very fortunate as a player. While A Century Is Not Enough suggests that a cricketer is on trial every time he or she steps on to the park, he says he felt that way only towards the end. Which leads us to Chappell, a subject waiting to be discussed.

“Hiring him was the biggest mistake of my career. I had known a different person from a stint as my batting coach in Australia. I don’t know what led to our relationship breaking down. After the 2007 World Cup, I haven’t interacted with him,” he says and that is the only time his jaws clench.

Chappell may be a relationship beyond mending, but Ganguly insists that nothing changed between him and his long time mate Rahul Dravid who replaced him as India captain (Prabhat Shetty )

“What happened to me shouldn’t happen to anyone. Yes, you will get dropped, but it should never get personal. Every athlete should be judged by what happens in the park.”

There aren’t many cricketers from Chappell’s India team who would compliment the coach, says Ganguly. “Sachin doesn’t have too many good things to say about him, does he? In future, you will find more books that say similar things about him.” The last part of the comment seems to be made only half in jest.

“Hiring Greg Chappell was the biggest mistake of my career. After the 2007 World Cup, I haven’t interacted with him”

Chappell may be a relationship beyond mending, but Ganguly insists that nothing changed between him and his long time mate Rahul Dravid who replaced him as India captain. But Ganguly says he never asked Dravid why he was treated the way he was.

“Having been a captain, I understand things could get sensitive. So I let it be.”

Like he did with former India batsman Sanjay Manjrekar. Ganguly says in the book that Manjrekar had questioned his attitude and though he didn’t know why, he never asked. Not even when they shared the commentary box.

It was the same with Shah Rukh Khan when Kolkata Knight Riders, the IPL team Ganguly fronted for three years, axed him in 2011. “I had hoped to continue as a player under a different captain. Staying unsold in the auction was a massive disappointment,” he says, though that was mitigated somewhat when Pune Warriors, the now-defunct team owned by the Sahara group, signed him to lead the team in 2012.

In his book, Ganguly isn’t charitable about IPL team owners and their helicoptering over everything down to the batting order

In the book, Ganguly isn’t charitable about IPL team owners and their helicoptering over everything down to the batting order. But he is effusive in his praise of the league. “It is a great tournament and has hugely helped cricket in India. It provides so much security for first-class cricketers even as it makes them understand where they stand when they get to share a dressing room with the best in the world,” he says.

There are people in the waiting area just outside his chamber and more in the lobby of Eden Gardens’ club house. This is his daily durbar and yet, Ganguly lets you call time on the conversation. On the field or off it, with Sourav Chandidas Ganguly you can only expect the unexpected.

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From HT Brunch, February 25, 2018

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First Published: Feb 24, 2018 21:15 IST