'I am batting as well as I ever have'
The first IPL is behind us and the India team is already into what is going to be a season of non-stop cricket. Out of the one-day scheme of things, Sourav Ganguly though has a less taxing schedule. Apart from some light training, he is spending time largely at home with daughter Sana and family. The Cristiano Ronaldo and, therefore, Portugal fan is yet to catch Euro action but intends doing that soon.
Ganguly spoke to HT on his immediate past and present.
In October 2005 after being ousted from the team, a newspaper front-paged a superimposition of your face on a Durga idol being immersed. A year later, you failed in the Challenger Series, which was a trial for you. Everyone thought that was it. What kept you going then?
The first incident you are referring to didn't bother me. Such things keep happening and I have never been hassled by this kind of stuff. About the second, yes, it was a tournament where I was expected to do well but didn't. People might have written me off, but I didn't. If you look back, I was back in the team in about a month after that.
Have you come back a better batsman? Have you ever batted any better in your career?
You can't be at your best all the time if you play for 12-13 years, but you can still keepscoring during those bad phases. That's something you have to learn in international cricket. I think I have played well all through my career. It shows in the number of runs I've scored. Having said that, the way I am batting now is as good as the best I have batted, maybe even better at times. It's not about the number of runs, but about the way I scored them. The double-century against Pakistan, the 87 against South Africa and on the tour of England last year; I have probably played some of my best cricket in the last 15 months. I can feel there is a difference.
You treasure the half-century on comeback in South Africa. How valuable is the 87 against them in Kanpur on a crumbling pitch in a Test India, sans Sachin Tendulkar and Anil Kumble, had to win to save the series?
It was very special. The way I played, a difficult pitch and the importance of the Test - it was satisfying for many reasons. Getting the first-innings lead was vital because chasing even 250 on that pitch against the best fast bowling unit in the world would have been very difficult.
That innings came at a crucial time and I was very happy to have played an important role in a Test we had to win.
You didn't agree with this in the past, but do you think that not being the captain has helped you get better as a batsman at a vital stage of your career?
Everybody dreams of leading the national side and I was no different. But yes, not being the captain did help me in certain ways. As captain, you have to think of hundreds of things like talking to the players and coach, planning, dealing with the board and the media. It's like being the owner of a company where one has to look after everything. The difference with me now is that I can just concentrate on my game and nothing else. It's like being in charge of just a section of a company. I led India in almost 200 international matches and the captaincy had to go some time. It helped me... I came back fresher as a player.
Before you, Indian captains relied more on spin. What prompted you to turn to pace?
Look, two of my best bowlers were spinners (Kumble and Harbhajan Singh), but there was no genuine allrounder when I took over. That meant I couldn't have a fifth bowler. Two spinners and two pacers wouldn't do in Test matches away from home. The toss becomes very important in that case because it's difficult to take wickets in the first innings with two spinners who hardly get any help. At home, there is still something for them even while bowling first. So, I had to rely on pace.
The absence of a third suitable quick was a problem, but we did find one. If you go through records, you'll find that we are behind only Australia in terms of winning Tests away from home in the last seven-eight years, although they have more series wins. The fast bowlers have played big roles in these wins. And it hasn't been a bad trend. Today, we have match-winning fast bowlers in Sreesanth, Ishant Sharma, Zaheer Khan and R.P. Singh, provided they are fit.
Indian cricket and cricket in general is witnessing a transition because of the advent of T20. There is talk about focus on youth. How important is the age factor?
Age is not a factor, performance is. There are players older than me like Sanath Jayasuriya who are going great guns. As long as you are fit and performing, you are fine. After coming back in late 2006, I played every match until I was dropped before the tri-series in Australia. It shows that there was no problem with my fitness. Even Rahul Dravid played every game before being axed from the ODI squad. Fitness wasn't a problem with him either. Age should never be a criterion for selection.
In sections of the media, there have been attempts to make a villain out of M.S. Dhoni because he keeps talking about the importance of youth. How tough are such things for captains?
I don't think the media is trying to make Dhoni a villain. The media has actually been supportive of him and the results he has achieved in his short tenure as captain are commendable. It's just because the media wants issues to sell their products that these things are getting so much importance. For them, it's a hot topic.
But a captain or a player has to face it. I have been hammered by the media at home and abroad on many occasions for one reason or the other. After being dropped from the side, every move I made was criticised, even mocked at. This is part and parcel of the deal. One has to live with it.
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