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Leadership mantra: Trust, transparency & freedom

Calcutta: Sourav Ganguly had a ball, at the Ball Room of the Oberoi Grand on Wednesday evening.

He came, he spoke and had everyone enthralled for one hour and 15 minutes at the 3rd Annual Tiger Pataudi Memorial Lecture, a joint initiative of The Telegraph and The Bengal Club. From making us understand the relevance of Mansur Ali Khan Patuadi in Indian cricket to giving an insight into the tough life of a captain, Sourav was at his best. Discerning, to the point, insightful and inspirational. Such was Sourav’s flow that someone in the audience compared his lecture with his 131 on debut at Lord’s.

Sourav admitted he was scared for the first time in 20 years. But as time wore on, he got more relaxed. There was wit and a bagful of anecdotes. Even after the Lecture, as the packed room jostled to get a photo or an autograph, he was in an obliging mood. As Guest of Honour Sharmila Tagore put it: “Of the three memorial lectures since this beautiful thing began in 2012, Sourav’s was the most enlightening. Teamwork, trust, transparency, strategy... I have learnt a lot”.

Well, everyone present on Wednesday evening will vouch for that.

Excerpts from the Lecture…

First meeting with Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi

It was in 2000 in Chennai. I was adjudged the Player of Year by a sports magazine. Meeting Patuadi was a big thing for me. I had heard so much about that man. And so I asked him, since I am now the captain of the Indian team you need tell me one thing, which would help me to shape up myself. He said, ‘pick the team you want, pick the team you want India to win, do not pick people you like.’ Those were the words.

Pataudi, the captain

To me he was the greatest India captain... He was a trend-setter and a mind-changer. He shunned regional bias, which was so prevalent when he first became the captain and chose an India team. And when someone like Bishan Singh Bedi says he was good, that means he was good... Pataudi had the class and character. He never went back to the Board for any favours. He taught us the art of fielding.

Pataudi, the batsman

Everyone speaks of Pataudi the captain, Pataudi the fielder... But, to me... Pataudi the batsman is real inspiration... Just imagine yourself, standing between the wicket-keeper and the 90 miles per hour, one an uncovered pitch, without a helmet, with one eye and the red cherry coming at an enormous pace, and if you misjudge, you could be killed! Real inspiration for the batsman of the modern era and to someone like us… The fact remains he averaged 35 with one eye. I saw the video where people were talking about him, and Bedi said, Pataudi was so lazy that he never used to carry his kit. These days players carry 10 to 11 kits. You have to be very confident not to carry a bat. One eye, no bat and still a Test average of 35!

First team meeting as India captain

It was in Kochi in 2000... I was nervous… Read out the team and then said for me a hundred at the top-order is as important as a 30-ball 30 at No. 7. That probably changed the mindset of the players. They realised here is someone who has faith in the players and not just the stars. After the match (against South Africa) I told my wife, Dona, I will not be able to continue for long since I cannot speak at team meetings. But slowly I got a grip of things…

Essence of leadership

Trust, transparency and giving your team the freedom… These are the three most important things of leadership. Been an Indian team captain is not an easy job. It’s a pressure job. You have to have in yourself to be a leader. Only the strong and desired ones take up the job. I had faith in Virender Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh, Yuvraj Singh and Zaheer Khan. I told them what I want from them and what I was getting. And the same thing I told at the selection committee meetings. I was transparent. I also gave them the freedom… Gave them space to express themselves. To be a good leader, you have to identify the talent and allow them to flourish. I would always want an Ashish Nehra in my team.

Strategy

I personally never believed in strategy. You cannot plan things. Captaincy is an on-the-field job. I give you this example. It was in 1997 during the Sri Lanka tour. Sanath Jayasuriya was hammering us right, left and centre. And then in one of the team meetings, Venkatesh Prasad said he would get rid of Jayasuriya. We had a plan ready and Sachin, who was the captain then, gave the new ball to Prasad. And the first ball he hit it over square leg for a six. I was conscious whether the camera was on me and then I started laughing. Next day I told Sachin that we had enough of team meetings let’s play one match without any. And Srinath got Jayasuriya early. During my tenure as India captain, it was all about letting people do things on their own. That was my strategy. And I think it paid off.

Relationship with a coach

It was during the NatWest Trophy in 2002. I was not getting runs and one the eve of the final we had a practice session. Before the practice session, there was a media conference and I got late for the nets. Coach John Wright was fuming. We had a heated argument and he said he would not speak to me again. After the practice session, I announced the team without his consultation and then went back. In the final, after the first England innings, I thought this would be my last game as captain if we lose. John would complain against me to the Board. But we won… I got some runs, Sehwag played well and then Yuvraj and Mohammed Kaif were excellent. After the match, John hugged me and I told him you would have crucified me had we lost. He smiled. I shared a very cordial relationship with John. Even though the same cannot be said about Greg Chappell.

Not so memorable dinner at Perth during 1991-92 tour

I got selected for the Australian tour in 1991-92 and I was just 18. We were in Perth and badly beaten by Western Australia. A senior member of the Indian team took me out for dinner and told me I should not have been in this team in the first place. That I was too young and still needs time. Imagine a youngster being told by the senior-most player that I shouldn’t have been picked. That night I could not sleep, and one thing I promised to myself… When I become a senior player, I would never speak to a newcomer like this.

Chat with Rahul Dravid

For both Rahul (Dravid) and I, the 1996-97 was our first tour to South Africa. Rahul was batting at No.3 facing a battery of fast bowlers like Shaun Pollock, Allan Donald, Lance Klusener. I asked Dravid whether he was enjoying batting at No. 3 or would prefer to come at No. 6. Rahul told me he would always prefer to play at No. 3 when the ball is hard and doing something. “There in lies the challenge. Not at No. 6 when the ball is not new and one can hit sixes at will. I want to be remembered as one of the best players and not someone who was not ready to face challenges”.