Lahore, March 23: Wearing a Sachin Tendulkar-signature T-shirt (from Adidas) and catching up on the latest in West Asia (via Fox News), in his hotel room this morning, Sourav Ganguly looked more relaxed than ever in recent weeks. That augurs well, though the Team India captain ó who spoke to The Telegraph exclusively on the ODIs ó is aware the task is truly cut out for tomorrowís decider.
The following are excerpts:
Q: You seem quite relaxed, unlike in Karachi, on the eve of the series....
A: Thatís because the team and I have settled down.... Weíve been around for almost a fortnight and the trip has been good.
Q: Was the initial tension brought about by apprehensions over security'
A: Wouldnít say so.... (After a pause) Some tension is always there because youíre eager to perform.... One is pumped up, but thereís that tension too.
Q: As captain, what has given you maximum satisfaction over the first four matches'
A: Exceptional performances.... Nehra has gone home, but was brilliant in the first two games.... Then, Pathan has been bowling well.... Among batsmen, Sachin produced probably the finest one-day innings Iíve seen (141 in Rawalpindi) and Rahul continues at his best. Of course, I canít forget the contributions from Yuvraj and Kaif.
Q: But, you havenít had a one-day hundred for a year now, not since the unbeaten 111 against Kenya in the World Cup semi-final....
A: I agree, but we didnít play a single ODI for six months.... Iíve been getting starts and, really, itís in my hands to build on that.... Also, donít forget Iím neither opening nor batting at No. 3.... At times, taking guard as a No. 4 does limit opportunities.... Am I anxious to get a big one' Keen, not anxious.
Q: Itís a sacrifice, then, for the team'
A: I wouldnít term it a sacrifice.
Fact is, in the sub-continent, we canít have Laxman and Rahul batting together as both essentially are strike-rotaters. We require a hitter, somebody who can clear the field. So, Laxman has to go at No. 3 and I come sandwiched between him and Rahul.... My batting down the order is a consciously thought-of move.
Q: Where do you place the wins in Karachi and on Sunday'
A: At the very top....
Q: Are you infuriated that the Rashid Latifs have alleged Sundayís match was fixed'
A: Itís unfortunate that somebody who, only recently, was the captain has made such an allegation. For Pakistan, itís a sad state of affairs.... I mean, a defeat isnít accepted as one.... In my opinion, Latif has gone mad.
Q: Looking to the decider, what will we need to do'
A: Given that the wickets thus far have been a dream come true for the batters, weíll have to keep pulling back.... Runs are bound to be scored and big overs are inevitable. What could make the difference is how we regain initiative ó in an over, during a spell.... Kartik, I think, made a big difference the other afternoon.
Q: Itís going to be a huge pressure game....
A: (Interrupting) Whoever handles it better is going to win.
Q: That we donít do well in most deciders or the actual finals is well documented. Is that at the back of your mind as well'
A: I wonít even talk about it at our team meeting.... Why raise an unnecessary issue'
Q: So, what will you be telling the boys'
A: That we play normal cricket and, more important, not look to the match as effectively being a final.... Itís best if we treat it as just another game, thereby not inviting additional pressure.
Q: Frankly, did you expect such a close series'
A: I did, because our attack is depleted.
Q: Would you have preferred wickets which gave the bowlers some encouragement'
A: The preference bit doesnít come into play because of what everybody expects from the one-dayers.
Q: Shoaib Akhtar appears to bowl quicker when youíre on strike.... Is he making a point, considering youíve indirectly questioned his action'
A: (Grins) Is he proving a point' He runs in hard at every batsman.... Puts in a lot of effort and, like other genuinely fast bowlers, is aggressive.... Thatís all, why read more'
Q: The other day, Javed Miandad and you were seen conversing for a reasonable length of time. Did the Shoaib issue come up'
A: No.... We spoke generally and, as John was around, he talked to him too.... Javed had kind words for our coach.
Q: Lastly, are you happy with the Test squad picked yesterday'
A: I am.... With Anil and Ajit there, our attack is on a par with Pakistanís. Only, for now, Iím focussed on the decider.