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March 8, 2000


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The Rediff Cricket Interview/ Sourav Ganguly

'The way we played in the last three months, we can only get better'

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Sourav's Career Graph
I will captain India one day," said a bitter young lad after he was unceremoniously dropped from the Indian team after a single outing. That was in 1992.

Nine years down the line, the lad is the king or Maharaj, if you please, of Indian cricket.

Sourav Ganguly Sourav Ganguly, the Bengali southpaw, has tread on territory very few survive. 'Dada,' as he is affectionately called, takes over the captaincy from Sachin Tendulkar at a time when Indian cricket has plummeted to the depths of despair. He will lead India at Kochi, the city where he missed the match against Australia two years ago due to suspension, in the first of five one-dayers against the Proteas on Thursday.

"I think the way we have played in the last three months, we can only get better. We can't play worse than this," says the 27 year old who is known to see the positive even in the worst of times.

After waiting for two long days, Faisal Shariff managed to pin him down on the way from his hotel to the airport in Bangalore. Despite his hectic schedule, the gentleman that he is, Sourav kept his word and spoke on issues from the Australian debacle to the challenges he faces as captain of a faction-ridden team that has lost the winning habit.

Sourav, this is a very happy and proud moment for you, but what are the other thoughts going through your mind as you take over as India's captain?

The first thing that comes to mind is that we have our backs to the wall and we haven't played good cricket in the past three years. We have to come out of this soon and play positive cricket. And try to improve our performance because I feel that we are a much better side than what we are performing at the moment. We are playing much, much below our potential. We need to forget our losses in the past three months and start a new chapter, and try and improve our performance.

What do you attribute this low in Indian cricket for such a long period to?

It happens. Some teams go through a phase like this. It think one reason why we are not doing well is that we are not putting up enough runs on the board. We are just not batting well. For the last five Test matches we have scored 150, 130 or 160 runs. That, I am afraid, is not good enough to win you Test matches.

Are we mentally weak?

Yes. I believe that the game is all in the mind. I think that is one of the main reasons.

Is that the reason why the team has appointed a sports psychologist (B Ganesh Kumar from Madras)?

He hasn't been with the team for long. He has just been around for a game and is not traveling with us for the one-day games. So for anything to happen in a consistent manner, we need to have him with the team. We can't get through with him in just five days. We really need somebody with us for a year or two. You can't get results just like that. He can't be with the team for a period of five days and then leave.

Whose idea was this to have a team psychologist?

I think it was the BCCI's idea.

Have you had any sessions with him yet?

Not a long session, but a little one. I thought whatever he spoke to me made a lot of sense.

Are you nervous about the new job on hand?

Not at all! I think the way that we have played in the last three months, we can only get better (smiles). We can't play worse than this. So, that's the only positive aspect.

Do you think you will face a problem captaining a team with three former captains in the side?

No, not at all. I don't think that will happen. With respect to Sachin, Azhar and me, the important thing is performance. We all stay in the team on the basis of our performance and only then we are selected as captain or vice-captain. So, performance is the bottomline and we all know that. We all know that if we have to be in the team we have to perform.

In your brief stint as captain earlier on, what did you learn about the job?

I think that was a young team I led, and it was for a span of three days. In those three days we played and we won. It was good all along. We beat the West Indies; I played well and we won the series.

Do you honestly believe this team is not doing well just because of the batting, or there are other problems as well in this team? Maybe, this team is not gelling as a unit.

Sourav Ganguly These things fall into place. If you don't perform, don't put enough runs on the board, the bowlers don't get enough runs to bowl at and the captain doesn't know how to set the field. He doesn't know whether to attack, or defend; or he doesn't have enough runs on the board. So then everything looks lacklustre. It gives a feeling to the people that the team is not gelling together as a unit. You gel as a team when you do all the aspects of the game properly.

Why do you think is South Africa gelling together as a team? Because the batsmen have put 400 runs on the board, the bowlers have taken wickets at regular intervals and the fielders have taken their catches. So, it's all three important aspects of the game, and we have to do well in all three aspects to do well as a team. If you don't do one aspect right then we falter. For example, all the 13 years that we won series at home -- we won only because we had runs on the board. We won in India all along because I can't remember a Test match where we were shot out for 113 in India.

Sourav, what went wrong in Australia? If you were to put your finger on one factor what would it be?

I think we didn't bat well. In the Adelaide Test, the first innings was the only time that we scored around 300 runs. I scored, Sachin scored, Laxman scored a good 40 runs and Rahul got 35-odd.

In Melbourne, 180-200; Sydney 150-200. You can't expect to win a game. The only game we won in Australia was when we scored 270 against Pakistan. We scored 195 against Pakistan in the first game although we should have won that game. We still lost. 195 is no total to defend. One partnership and they were on their way. You have to put runs on the board.

Contrary to this, see how Australia has scored. In Adelaide they scored 420; in Melbourne they scored 460, and in Sydney they scored 500, and won convincingly.

Are you trying to say that our bowling is not good enough? Because batsmen set up a game in Tests, but bowlers win them.

Sourav Ganguly That's what I am saying. You have to give them runs. For a bowler to get wickets he needs to have fielders in catching positions. Now when you have 150 runs on the board, at the back of the captain's mind is that he has to stop the runs; he has to be defensive. In Australia, so many times we had the ball flying off the edges with no fielder in position because we didn't have enough runs. There was no pressure on them at all.

In Adelaide, the first session was completely dominated by India. What happened after that?

We got shot out for 280 in the first innings and then for 125 in the second innings. I alone scored 46 runs.

Do you believe that we let them off the hook? Why did we release the pressure off them?

Absolutely. They were 58 for four and we let them off the hook.

Where do you start picking up the pieces? What is the first aspect you want to look into?

I think it's one win. We have to somehow manage one win. We have to play exceptionally well to win. Luck also is an important factor. We have to be a bit lucky. If we can start off this series with a win, it will be a different ball game altogether.

What we need to do is forget about the past. I know it is not an easy thing to do but we have to. We are professionals, we play cricket day in, day out. We are going to have a great time; we will fall into a rut where we don't win. Every team has gone through it. And we have to put our performances behind. We need to believe in our abilities. Our top six batsmen have scored runs all over the world. So there is nothing wrong with their ability, it's just matter of time.

We have to back ourselves; tell ourselves that we have scored runs all over the world. We are proven customers; we can do better. I could understand if we were a young side and the boys had played just one or two games. We have guys who have played close to hundred Tests, eighty Tests, hundred-plus one-dayers. So this is not new to them. It's just a matter of getting out of that mindset.

PART II: 'When you pick a player, give him five Tests, five one-dayers, before you close the chapter'


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