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Since 1st March, 1999
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If there's a promise for 2005, well, I'll make most of the starts: Sourav
- 'We (Team India) could aim even higher' Each one of us can definitely get better'

Calcutta: Sourav Ganguly would have liked to put his feet up and enjoy mocktails at the Food Pavilion which bears his signature. The Indian captain, though, is having to turn out for his state in what has become an Elite Division Ranji relegation match at the Eden. Despite the demands, Sourav took around 45 minutes off (at his residence) to speak to The Telegraph not many hours before the year ended.

The following are excerpts

What's your take on Team India's performance in 2004'

A In simple terms, we had a very good year (a 6-3 finish) ' in fact, an outstanding one ' in Test cricket but, after the ODIs in Pakistan, our performance in the shorter version left a lot to be desired.

Outstanding in Tests despite losing the home series to Australia'

Don't forget we lost to the No.1 side' (After a pause) Had we done certain things right, we could even have won the series instead of losing 1-2.

Does the 'certain things' bit include the preparation of wickets ' for example, in Nagpur'

Everything' The country's interests must always be at the top of everyone's agenda.

Why didn't we get it right (more defeats than wins) in the ODIs'

Because only one or two of us batsmen got runs in four tournaments/series' in succession ' the Asia Cup, the triangular in Holland, the NatWest Challenge and the Champions Trophy' Key players having a tough time meant the team had a tough time. Moreover, Sachin (Tendulkar) got injured after the Asia Cup.

We even lost to Pakistan in the one-off Platinum Jubilee ODI at the Eden'

Call it an excuse, but it was the dew which beat us'

Fair enough, but losing to Bangladesh (in the first ODI in Dhaka) was a bit too much. You must have been furious'

As I said then, it was a one-off happening' Indeed, if the same XI took them on again, we would be convincing winners. (Pauses again) But, yes, I agree that whatever the composition of our side, we should have won' The boys themselves realised that and hit back strongly the very next day' The defeat, though, hurt' It upset me, it upset the coach' However, we needed to try a few things and we did in that ODI' Remember, the 2007 World Cup isn't far off.

‘He’s young, he’s ambitious, has
the ability and is willing to work that extra hour… Pathan has an admirable attitude and his
controlled aggression is an asset- ’Sourav on India’s stand-out player in 2004

Were you satisfied with the Joginder Sharmas'

The Joginders did well, but need to be tested more' It's too early to make grand statements, besides Bangladesh can't be the yardstick for judging performance.

Are you or are you not happy with our bench strength'

I can't say.

Today, what are the Test-specific memories which quickly come to mind'

Having the upper hand at the SCG (in the first Test of 2004)' We would have won that Test and series had our key bowlers (Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan) been available' The series win in Pakistan' The amazing win (over Australia) in Mumbai'

Surely, there must still be areas where we need to improve in Tests'

Perhaps, we could aim even higher' Each one of us can definitely get better' Personally, though, I feel we're a complete Test unit' We've now got four wicket-taking bowlers (Anil Kumble, Harbhajan, Zaheer and Irfan Pathan)' Each one of them has the ability to close a game' Then, where batting is concerned, we've been blessed with some of the most outstanding batsmen around.


At this moment, we've got somebody (Dinesh Karthik) who is inexperienced' However, with experience, he will get better.

The answer may not be simple, but how do we become No.1'

(Smiles) By knocking off the current No.1 ' Australia.

But that chance won't exactly come in a hurry'

That's the price we must pay for not beating them in the recent series.

Who has been the one stand-out player in the past 12 months'

Pathan, without a doubt' He's young, he's ambitious, has the ability and is willing to work that extra hour' Pathan has an admirable attitude and his controlled aggression is an asset.

[The 20-year-old ended the year with 38 wickets in Tests and a world-topping 47 in ODIs.]

Are you relieved that a successful opening combination (Virender Sehwag-Gautam Gambhir) was 'found' before the year ended'

(Almost interrupting) But, as with the others, the openers have to be consistent' Everybody needs to perform.

So, it isn't curtains for Akash Chopra'


V.V.S. Laxman was quite cut up after being rested for the ODIs in Bangladesh'

I spoke to him' Had a one-on-one, but I wouldn't like to go into details' If anything, the selectors are better placed to talk about his exclusion.

What of your own performance'

I'm disappointed I wasn't able to convert the many starts ' both in Tests and ODIs ' into hundreds' My last Test hundred was 12 months ago' It's frustrating'

Unbelievably, your last ODI-hundred was in the 2003 World Cup'

I'm guilty' In fact, this season itself I missed two hundreds in succession in England, getting out in the 90s against England and Kenya' Last year, though, I hardly played many ODIs because of the double surgery at the start of the 2003-04 season' If there's a promise for 2005, well, I'll make the most of the starts.

Unless something comes up as part of the fund-raising drive for tsunami victims, Team India's next assignment is going to be against Pakistan. Will the advantage be with us if they continue to get hammered in Australia'

No' How we play is alone going to determine whether or not we have the advantage' Form over those six-seven weeks will influence the result.

Being the hosts, are we going to be under more pressure'

Both sides will be under pressure' That's a feature of every Indo-Pak match and series'

Are you worried that the doosra controversy could impact on Harbhajan's effectiveness in those engagements'

Mentally, he's very tough and I'm confident the bowler in Bhajji isn't going to be affected.

Are you planning a complete break after the Bengal-MP match'

Of course' I need a rest, need time to get over the niggles.

Incidentally, why is Bengal cricket in the pits'

Largely because the league matches are played on such small grounds' No purpose is served as the players don't learn anything' The league-structure too has to change.

Physio Andrew Leipus' departure is bound to hurt Team India'

It will be a loss, yes' He understood the players well, understood their body' We're going to miss him, but we also understand he has family compulsions.

Apparently, he could continue on a part-time basis'

That's for the Board to decide' That's an administrative decision.

How much time will Leipus' successor require to settle down'

That's going to depend on just how good he is.

To talk of international cricket, do you agree that England emerged the hottest side in 2004'

England and India, in Tests' (After a pause) Here, I've got a point to make: We must re-define what constitutes playing overseas' The criteria should be the difference in conditions, not the travelling done by a team' The criteria must take into account the degree to which a side has to adapt ' for example, us going to England or South Africa coming to the subcontinent.

That's radical'

I feel quite strongly about the whole issue'

‘He (Harmison) didn’t have much control when he started off, but has improved beyond recognition…
I played him before his debut and…
I knew the lad had plenty in him’
Sourav on his international
player of 2004

In the past 12 months, who has been the one stand-out cricketer internationally'

Steve Harmison' He didn't have much control when he started off, but has improved beyond recognition. Actually, while at Lancashire, I played him before his England debut and, given the way he bowled on a cold morning, I knew the lad had plenty in him.

At different times this season, there have been whispers about differences between you and John Wright'

Never anything out of the ordinary' Two individuals don't have to agree on everything, yet that doesn't mean they have a different agenda. Surely, there are differences even between Ricky Ponting and John Buchanan' There will be' Captains and coaches have always had differences in opinion and that's not going to change. Bottomline is that John and I get along well and we do whatever is best for the team.

The final question: Have you sent the season's greetings to Clive Lloyd'

(Laughs) I haven't.

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