'The one thing that a cricketer aspires for is earning the respect of the dressing room and that respect is earned only when any player puts his hand up in adverse conditions and does his job for the team.'
Sanjay Bangar brought Railways on track as far as their cricket was concerned.
He played junior cricket in Mumbai, but never made it even to the probables's list of the oft-crowned Ranji Trophy champions.
It prompted him to switch to the Railways. The move not only changed his fortunes, but also those of the Railways.
Under Bangar, the Railways won its maiden Ranji Trophy title in 2001-2002. Some of its players went on to represent India -- Bangar, Murali Kartik, Karn Sharma.
Bangar had a short stint with the Indian team but he left a mark with some good performances.
His battling half-century (68) and the critical partnership with Rahul Dravid on a lively wicket on Day 1 of the Leeds Test against England in 2002 was instrumental in helping India register an important overseas victory under Sourav Ganguly's captaincy.
"Sourav always showed faith in my abilities throughout my time with the Indian team," recalls Bangar.
Bangar also enjoyed a good run with the bat in the home series against the West Indies in 2002. Opening the batting with Virender Sehwag, he scored 192 runs in the three Tests with two half-centuries.
One of the finest moments for Bangar in limited overs cricket was his smashing knock of 57 from 41 balls when in Dravid's company he helped India achieve a difficult run chase of 94 from 75 balls against the West Indies at Ahmedabad.
Not to forget his memorable last over against Zimbabwe in Adelaide in 2004 when the opposition needed 9 runs for victory with 5 wickets in hand.
Bangar kept his composure and gave away just 5 runs to bowl to India to victory in what turned out to be his last international game.
In the second part of an exclusive interview with Rediff.com's Harish Kotian, Bangar discusses the finest moments of his international career and how he turned around the Railways's fortunes in domestic cricket.
You were born in Bhayala village in Beed district in Maharashtra and played for the youth teams of Mumbai and Maharastra, but you ended up playing domestic cricket for the Railways.
We come from an agricultural background and we belong to nomadic tribes. My father was the first person from our community to clear MPSC (Maharashtra Public Service Commission) exams after which he settled in Aurangabad.
The cricket infrastructure in Aurangabad was not that great so my local coach, Mr Kiran Joshi, suggested we shift to Mumbai for better infrastructure and competitiveness of Mumbai cricket.
What made you join the Railways when you could have played for a high-profile team like Mumbai?
Even though I played for Mumbai Under-19, West Zone Under-19 and Mumbai University in my formative years, I never broke through into the Mumbai Ranji Trophy probables.
Mr Pradeep Jadhav suggested I should consider joining Western Railway so that I could get a platform to play first class cricket.
I opted to shift to the Railways where I got a great opportunity to not only hone myself as a cricketer who could learn on the job, but was also exposed to various cricketers, conditions from all across the country.
When you played Test cricket, India won 7 Tests, including three overseas, while losing just two in New Zealand. How was it being part of the winning Indian team, especially overseas in an era when winning outside the country was very difficult?
As players representing the country, one always aspires to contribute to the team's cause and fulfill the defined role for the team.
Winning overseas is always a challenge and the batting line-up during that period was special.
The main reason I could get into the team is because the team management required a batting all-rounder who could do a job of the fifth bowler in Test cricket and lend balance to the team.
In your debut Test, against England at Mohali in December 2001, you scored a solid 36 batting at No 8. How special was it getting the chance to play Test cricket for India because the Test cap certainly didn't come easy for you?
I tore my hamstring on the first day of the Test match after bowling just five overs and could not take any further part in the fielding innings.
The doctors had ruled me out for 4 to 6 weeks.
As a debutant it is always very awkward that you are on the physio's table. When Sourav asked me how I was on Day 3 around lunch time, I conveyed to him my willingness to bat with a runner. S S Das helped me as a runner.
I was thinking when I was going into bat that after such a long domestic grind I would have loved to be in a better physical state. Fortunately, I settled down and could forge a partnership of 70 odd with V V S Laxman who was very supportive.
In the very next Test match, you scored your maiden Test century against Zimbabwe in Nagpur in February 2002, batting at No 7.
Your selection ahead of Virender Sehwag for that Test made news, but you justified your inclusion with that cracking innings.
And you batted almost like Sehwag in that match.
You were 22 not out from 87 balls at stumps on Day 3, but cut loose on Day 4, scoring 78 runs from 68 balls to reach your century from 155 balls before Sourav Ganguly declared the innings.
Is there a better feeling that getting your maiden Test century?
When I was padded up to bat, we were already in a strong position. I asked Anil Kumble what could be the declaration target. He said bat normally till you get a message.
The next day the plan was to bat 15 overs and add 80 to 100 runs. That is when I decided to bat aggressively and could achieve the target set by the team along with Sachin Tendulkar with a 180 run partnership.
You played another crucial innings in the Leeds Test in 2002. Opening the batting, you scored a solid 68 after Ganguly elected to bat on a green wicket in overcast conditions.
How tough was that challenge because you kept out the England bowlers on a lively wicket for nearly five hours?
I was doing reasonably well in the tour games. Because the team wanted to play both Kumble and Harbhajan, there was a need for an all-rounder.
Yes, the conditions were challenging and the first day wicket was also damp. We (Bangar and Dravid) took a lot of blows on the body, but we just hung on.
Dravid and you put on 170 runs for the second wicket and played out nearly the whole of the opening day, which ultimately proved to the match-winning partnership because it laid the foundation for India's huge score of 628 for 8 declared.Was it satisfying to play your part in such an important win for India overseas?
The one thing that a cricketer aspires for is earning the respect of the dressing room and that respect is earned only when any player puts his hand up in adverse conditions and does his job for the team.
I am very proud to be part of that Test win as it is counted by many as among the top Test victories of the Indian team.
Did batting with Dravid make things easier for you in that innings because the England fast bowlers were getting the ball to move all day long, but you and Dravid showed discipline to not play loose by not chasing wide deliveries? What did you and Dravid discuss between overs?
To be honest, we did not talk too much during that innings. We could sense the frustration of the England bowlers who were expecting to roll us over pretty quickly in those seaming conditions.
It was about ugly batting in the sense that you played the line, got beaten by late swing, but survived because you did not throw hard hands at the ball.
Rahul was entering his best phase of batsmanship. He was always urging me to run hard between wickets and play close to the body.
In many ways, you were very much like Dravid who also preferred to stay behind the scenes, didn't talk much and just let his game do the talking.
Did you get along the most with Dravid in the dressing room?
Rahul made the effort to make me feel comfortable by spending a few evenings on tours whether in the West Indies or in England.
We discussed the needs of top order batsmen against tall and strong international bowlers as also the need to look to get forward to negate swing with Duke balls or seam with Kookaburra balls.
You enjoyed your best series against the West Indies at home in 2002, when you scored 192 runs in the three Test series with two fifties.
You opened the innings with Sehwag and your primary task was to see off the new ball and support Sehwag, who used to take on the bowlers at the end.
Did you enjoy batting with Sehwag?
It was very different batting with Viru (Sehwag).
Even when he started opening the innings he had this supreme self belief to attack the new ball.
He used to say, 'You do your job of seeing off the new ball and I will keep hitting boundaries'.
In the Mumbai Test we had a partnership of 200 runs of which he scored 150. He was one of the main reasons why India started winning more Test matches overseas.
The pressure he exerted on opposition bowlers and the mental edge he gave to the dressing room by getting those quick runs.
In ODIs, one of your best innings was the 41-ball 57 you smashed against the West Indies in Ahmedabad in November 2002, when you took India to victory from a difficult situation in Dravid's company (109).
When you came out to bat, India needed 94 runs from 75 balls, but you took the game away with some spectacular strokeplay, hitting five fours and two sixes to help India win with 14 balls to spare.
Though you played to the merit of the ball through your career, did you enjoy such knocks when you could just swing your bat and take on the bowlers without worrying about anything else?
I had played a lot of domestic cricket, but always in the top order. Never at No 6 or 7.
It is very different when you bat against a new ball in ODI cricket where there are field restrictions but greater opportunity to get boundaries if you find gaps.
Batting at No 5 or 6 or 7, you have lesser boundary scoring opportunities, the ball is softer, it reverses etc, so you have to be able to assess and find a way of scoring.
I am glad we could chase a target which used to be considered very stiff during those days.
You bowled a brilliant final over in the VB series ODI game against Zimbabwe in Adelaide in 2004. Zimbabwe needed 9 runs for victory from the final over with 5 wickets, but you conceded just 5 runs to bowl India to a famous win.
Do you recall how you planned for the final over with Captain Ganguly?
Sourav always showed faith in my abilities throughout my time with the Indian team.
When I was not part of the Australia Test tour, he messaged me that I would have been able to do a job for the team which was a confidence booster.
What we planned together was to use the long boundaries at the Adelaide Oval by bowling yorker length deliveries after bowling a dot ball and mixing it up with slower variations.
Fortunately, it worked that day and we could win the match.
I remember being asked to lead the team back into the dressing room. It happened to be my last international match for the team.
You were part of India's squad for the 2003 World Cup, but didn't get a single game along with Parthiv Patel and Ajit Agarkar. Was it frustrating to be just on the sidelines match after match?
It was between me and Dinesh Mongia who would take up the No 7 position. He was doing well and as the tournament progressed it became obvious in training sessions that the team would stick to a particular combination.
Even the great Anil Kumble sat out majority of the matches.
Talking about domestic cricket, you were like the engine for the Railways in domestic cricket.
You played two decades for the Railways in domestic cricket, winning three domestic titles including the Ranji Trophy in 2004-2005 along with the Irani Trophy and the One-Day National Championship in 2005-2006.
From being one of the weaker teams in domestic cricket, you transformed the Railways into one of the forces in first class cricket.
How did you turn the Railways into one of the top sides in Indian domestic circuit?
Credit for that should also go to Mr Amrit Mathur (then Railways sports secretary and selector) who identified a group of players in 1996 and showed faith in us.
The team had a lot of good all-rounders, great depth in batting and bowling.
The underlying desire was also to deliver as a lot of us had moved away from our home states.
We formed great camaraderie and worked hard in inadequate practice facilities.
It toughened us up and 8 to 10 players of that Railways team went on to play for India 'A'.
Abhay Sharma and Vinod Sharma also played a key role in that phase. It was a wonderful phase for Railways cricket.
I truly cherish the friendships that have lasted for a very long time. It was a total team effort.
You played a couple of seasons in the IPL. Even though your record shows that you played 11 games for the Deccan Chargers in the inaugural season in 2008 scoring just 57 runs, what it doesn't show that you rarely got a chance to bat in that tournament and a few chances you get, you had come in with a couple of balls left in the innings.
How frustrating was that first experience of IPL?
In 2008, I was already 36 and in my last phase of my career. I was not part of the auction list and could get a contract because of Robin Singh and V V S Laxman.
At least I got a taste of the new beast which was going to be such a platform which transformed Indian cricket and mindset of cricketers.
- Part 3: 'Kohli never stops learning'