Calcutta: Sourav Ganguly, India’s most successful Test captain till Mahendra Singh Dhoni overtook him, spoke to The Telegraph on Saturday evening.
Sourav, 41, finished playing for India in late 2008. With 40-plus averages in each of the two premier formats, Tests and ODIs, he can look back on his career with much satisfaction.
Q A fresh set of engagements overseas begin on Sunday... Well, when will we start winning away from home, particularly in Test cricket?
A You have to ask Dhoni that!
But your thoughts?
Look, the present team has a lot of talent and is young. A young team has to be given time. The selectors seem to have embarked on a policy of encouraging youngsters... They need to be given time to perform. Or, perish.
It was under your captaincy (2000-05) that India started winning overseas with some regularity. What does it take to succeed away from home?
Big totals in the first innings... We can’t hope to win with 250-275. ‘Give me runs and I’ll give you wins’ is what Anil Kumble used to tell me when I was the captain. We have to score at least 450 to give our bowlers a fair chance.
Do we have match-winning bowlers?
We have to get the runs on the board first... The job is cut out for our quicks, who’ll have to play a big role in New Zealand. If we do get green tops, then our quicks will have the opportunity to pocket 20 wickets. Of course, the batsmen have to do their bit. That, really, is the critical part.
Is too much made of green tops?
It’s rather unnecessary... We’ve won in conditions where the wicket had a green look... There are examples... In Leeds (2002), in Perth (2008), in Durban (2010)... People don’t realise that even our bowlers stand a good chance on green tops. You won’t win on flat surfaces, but where the ball either seams or turns.
Instead of losing 0-1, the recent Test series in South Africa could have ended 1-1, with India and the hosts sharing honours...
Dhoni will regret not having forced a win in Johannesburg, when South Africa had to get 458. Having said that, Graeme Smith will regret not having got those eight runs needed to pull off a world-record win... The series would then have ended 2-0 for South Africa.
Any advice for India in the hours before the first match, an ODI, in Napier?
Not exactly... I’m happy that the team got to New Zealand almost a week before the start of the ODI series. It should help.
Just how hopeful are you?
I’m not making predictions, but India will do better in New Zealand than they did in South Africa.
New Zealand have been strong of late...
I agree, but they’re not better than South Africa.
South Africa’s No.1 in Test cricket and No. 4 in ODIs. Where do you rank them?
Right now, they’re the outstanding team.
What is your assessment of Dhoni as captain?
Dhoni’s record in ODIs is remarkable... As for Test cricket, one is hopeful he’ll do better in series’ overseas. India have lost nine of their last 10 Tests overseas and Dhoni was the captain in all but one. He’s a much better captain than what those figures suggest... He’s honest and, clearly, has set high standards.
[Virender Sehwag was the stand-in captain in the Adelaide Test on the 2011-12 tour as Dhoni had to serve a one-match ban for his team’s slow over-rate in the preceding Test, in Perth.]
That’s a nice compliment...
What I like about Dhoni is that he goes about his job without fuss. Win or lose, he reacts in much the same way.
Dhoni reads situations well, especially in ODIs... He has a good game sense. Captains need that quality.
Captaincy, essentially, is all about leadership. Where leadership goes, do you see a common thread running through cricket and politics?
It’s about leading people, only the scale differs. In cricket, it’s limited to 16-17 players (in the squad) at one time; in politics, you deal with thousands and lakhs. It’s tough in politics... Tough to carry cities, states and the country along.
While on captaincy, Kapil Dev has told this newspaper that you had the qualities to have captained India for as long as you played. What do you feel?
Kapil was being nice towards me. Such things aren’t possible.
I don’t see that happening in anybody’s case... Even Smith lost the captaincy in ODIs.
What about Dhoni?
Dhoni will either give away the captaincy in one format or it will be taken away from him.
Do captains have a shelf life?
Poor Alastair Cook has been crucified many times over in the past month or so. What are your views?
Make no mistake, Cook’s a good captain... He’s lost an Ashes, but he’s also won an Ashes... Remember, Cook’s England beat India in India (Test series) last season, an achievement which ranks right at the top. How many captains have beaten India in India? Don’t judge Cook by one loss... Michael Clarke deserves to be congratulated, but he was the regular captain when Australia got thrashed 0-4 by India in last season’s Test series. So...
So, cricket’s a great leveller...
That’s the nature of sport.
But did you expect England to be hammered 0-5?
The scoreline looks unbelievable. I didn’t expect England to fare so poorly. Cook’s men lost it in the mind, they allowed themselves to be beaten mentally. But who’d expected Graeme Swann to retire in the middle of the Ashes? Then, Jonathan Trott went back home very early. He’s a key batsman... I couldn’t understand why England had to land in Australia almost a month before the first Test.
Was that a factor?
What was the need to reach Australia so much in advance? As it is, the Ashes don’t end in a hurry, so why allow for homesickness to possibly set in? The conditions in Australia aren’t very different from what they are in England... It’s not that England were coming to the subcontinent and, so, needed to acclimatise. Having already spent almost a month in Australia, England couldn’t have been fresh when the Ashes began.
Mitchell Johnson was outstanding...
Johnson was very good, yes. That said, England played him poorly.
Who do you think will attract the highest bid in the upcoming auction for IPL VII?
I expect Indian players to rule... Yuvraj Singh should go for a lot... Virender Sehwag as well.
Is it over for Sehwag at the international level?
It’s tough for Sehwag. Both Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir have to wait for Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan to fail. Dhawan had to wait for his first Test cap, Vijay had to wait for a comeback. That’s how it goes.
Finally... Do you agree with Imran Khan that T20 is hamburger cricket? He can’t bear to watch it...
(Smiles) I wouldn’t put it that way, not so strongly, but I agree with Imran that Test cricket is and has to remain the No.1 format. Test cricket remains the ultimate, but T20 is very much there to stay and will pull fans to the stadia. That can’t be ignored.