Come Sunday and Sourav Ganguly will make his second comeback in a shade over a month — this time, in ODIs. Despite a packed schedule in the lead-up to leaving for Nagpur — from completing the Ranji match against Rajasthan to raising funds for a youngster to have a liver transplant and more — the former Team India captain took time off to speak to The Telegraph for almost an hour. To eliminate the possibility of any comment being taken out of context by anybody, Sourav requested there be no questions on coach Greg Chappell, captaincy and the crowd’s behaviour during the India versus South Africa ODI at the Eden 14 months ago.
The following are excerpts
Q It’s rare for somebody in his 35th year to make a comeback in ODIs after 16 months…
A (Grins) Glenn McGrath, (Darren) Gough and Matthew Hayden aren’t younger, yet all three made comebacks after a long break… Hayden and Gough, for example, were off ODIs for over a year... So, I don’t think you should give weightage to age… McGrath is weeks away from turning 37… Look at form, not age.
What kept you going' After all, you weren’t in the Test team either for ten months… Was it just self-belief'
Had a lot to do with self-belief, yes… I knew I was still good enough to play for India… It’s easy to give up, very easy to hang up one’s boots… I didn’t want to do that… I gave myself a year (from after the Test series in Pakistan)… I wouldn’t have hung around endlessly, but I didn’t want to leave without convincing myself that I’d given my best shot towards a comeback… I wasn’t emotional and accepted that sports is different from fairy tales.
Surely, there must have been occasions when you felt like taking the easy option…
(Pauses) I didn’t give up mentally, but there definitely were times when it dawned that a comeback could become very difficult… The thought that it may not happen at all did crop up, but the next morning I’d wake up thinking differently… Woke up with positive thoughts, thoughts which kept me going…
After the Test series in Pakistan, was there one moment when you wished you were in the India colours and not in a pyjama-kurta at home'
(Very emotionally) When we won the Karachi ODI and took the series 4-1… I felt bad… I felt lonely… It hurt not being at the National Stadium that evening.
One constant from your side was that a “lot of cricket” remained before the World Cup. Frankly, did you take that line to comfort yourself more than convincing others'
But the programme leading up to the World Cup was a reality… Everybody knew it and I also realised a lot of tough cricket would be played (in South Africa, for example)… Having been a part of Indian cricket for a decade, on a regular basis, I knew things could quickly change. I backed myself in domestic cricket, aware that consistent performances wouldn’t go unnoticed.
It couldn’t have been easy motivating yourself for Ranji, Duleep and Deodhar matches…
Doesn’t help thinking about the travelling, accommodation… Playing in front of empty stadiums… The only way to come back is via the domestic cricket-route… It’s plain and simple and I value each of the hundreds I made during the time I was in and out — 117 versus North in the Duleep (Rajkot, 2005-06), 159 against Maharashtra (Pune, 2005-06) and the 118 versus North, again in the Duleep (Guwahati, 2006-07).
Did you draw inspiration from somebody'
Not really… I kept telling myself I shouldn’t get away from the reality of having been dropped… I faced the situation, didn’t run away.
During an interaction in Johannesburg last month, Chappell spoke about how you’d told the team that the last ten months had been a “period of learning” and you’d realised there’s “more to life” than cricket… What made you say that (in Potchefstroom)'
I don’t wish to add to what the coach said… But, yes, cricket isn’t everything in life. For one, there’s the family… One positive of not playing for India for ten months was that I could spend time at home… I could see (daughter) Sana grow up… The family had been with me on some tours, but it’s not the same as time at home. On tours, your mind is on the game… What happened on the day in question, what could happen the next day… Physically, you’re with the family, not mentally.
Chappell was prompt in greeting you with a handshake when you joined Team India as a Test specialist in South Africa… I assume that knocked all the tension for a six'
Were you apprehensive when you landed in South Africa'
Not apprehensive… I’d got good runs on the last trip there (2003 World Cup) and, so, had confidence. However, I knew I had to perform… That was crystal clear.
Seeing you during the Test series, Barry Richards felt you’d matured more as a batsman…
With time, one does.
At home, this season got underway with the Challenger in Chennai. The attention was on you, but you failed (scores of 24, 3). Did that devastate you'
I was disappointed, but soon realised I’d tried too hard… I’d done everything to prepare myself… I couldn’t have done more… But I did it too hard… Perhaps, I ought to have eased off a little.
It’s not just a coincidence that a change at the top in the selection committee brought about a change in its outlook towards you… What were your thoughts when Dilip Vengsarkar succeeded Kiran More as chairman'
Felt he would understand a cricketer’s mind… He’d himself been a captain, had played with distinction for so many years… He’d gone through everything and I had the belief he would appreciate one had to overcome hurdles to become an international cricketer and, then, to retain one’s place…
Was there anything personal between you and More'
Don’t wish to talk about that period. I hope you understand.
Ironically, one of the selectors (South’s V.B. Chandrasekhar) who’d been a party to your banishment had something rather positive to say hours before his term got over — that you could be India’s Sanath Jayasuriya!
I didn’t pay attention… So many people were saying so many things… What mattered is what I felt about my abilities… How I looked at myself as a cricketer.
Even your fiercest critics have been applauding your mental toughness…
The scrutiny, so to say, was a bit more during the ten months… Fact is I’d already been through a lot in ten years of continuous cricket (at the highest level)… There was plenty of scrutiny in the five-and-half years of my India captaincy… Captaining India is never easy… It’s never going to be… I would go to the extent of saying it’s quite like a slow death… I’ve always been mentally tough and have had the attitude that I must do what I think I need to.
Is there a message for those who see you as an inspiration'
If the going isn’t good, don’t wake up with your head down… Wake up thinking you’ll be successful… You won’t be if you wake up thinking ‘shit, I’m going to fail’… Believe me, one day can change your life… It’s how you approach it… Therefore, back yourself and never give up.
Did you learn something in the ten months between Karachi and Johannesburg'
Having played non-stop international cricket for a decade, I’d already learnt a lot. Except that I wasn’t playing for India, nothing changed… Indeed, in that period, my life didn’t change. I’m being frank.
What did you miss the most'
The challenge… The opportunity of continuing to compete against the best… Some feel that cricketers are driven by the urge to make a packet… That they’re focused on bagging rich endorsements… That’s not so… It’s the challenge which drives cricketers, not the money. That, at least, is my assessment… I missed the challenge, regretted the opportunities which went by (for example, 41 ODIs)… The satisfaction any batsman gets from scoring a Test hundred means much more than the lakhs earned from an endorsement. For a pro, there’s no better feeling than knowing he’s good at the job he wants to do.
Given that you had time for yourself, did you watch more of your one-time first love, soccer, on the TV'
Oh, no… If I switched on the TV, it was to watch cricket… Not soccer or tennis or… Cricket isn’t everything, sure, but I can’t stay away from it either.
Did you encourage the pujas and yagnas'
I didn’t… One person engaged in that claimed to be close to the family, but I’d never even met him… Of course, pujas and yagnas are faith-driven… It’s what some believe in… I’m sure they’ve been done for other sportspersons. I couldn’t have been the lone one.
John Wright’s book, Indian Summers, came out during the time you were out in the cold. Some of the references were far from complimentary. Did that upset you' Were you hurt'
Once the book began making headlines, I made it a point to read it… My opinion is that he said the truth from a coach’s perspective… He has been humorous… As an individual, he’s entitled to an opinion and I have to respect it. Contrary to what some may feel, the book didn’t offend me… John and I had differences, but also trusted each other… (Adds laughing) Together, we went through a lot and I haven’t lost any respect… He’s a superb human being.
How would you rate Wright as coach'
Very highly… He did wonders for our team.
Geoffrey Boycott feels Wright should succeed Duncan Fletcher as England’s coach. Your take'
He’ll be a very good choice.
You’ve got god-like status in Bengal. Why is it that people connect so emotionally with you'
(Grins again) I suppose they’re happy that a Bengali is playing some role on the biggest stage… Hopefully, others are going to follow me and they will get the same love and affection. Generally, Bengalis are an emotional lot. Being one myself, I know that.
Your popularity, though, took a beating after that email in the lead-up to the CAB elections last July…
That’s done with… I wouldn’t like to speak about the email (and its consequences)…
Do you regret it'
Back to the ‘now’… How are you looking at the forthcoming ODIs'
Would like the team to do well… Would like to do well myself…
Why have we become inconsistent in ODIs'
It’s a cycle… Keeps happening to teams across the world, with the possible exception of Australia. We’ve got the potential to beat both the West Indies and the Sri Lankans… However, we’ve got to bat well. Having come off a hard tour (South Africa), I think we’re going to do well. Even if the results aren’t good on tough tours, they help if you look beyond the immediate.
The final one: What’s the future you’re looking at'
(Smiles) Right now, my thoughts are on the next match… Nothing more.