If you make a 100 today, you will play for India for a long, long time
Arun Lal: Sourav, when you were selected to represent the country, it’s the greatest day for any sportsperson, but it didn’t go too well for you in Australia. How did you handle it?
Sourav Ganguly: The good thing for me was I very young then. I remember going to Australia in 1991 when I was not even 18. When I got left out, it didn’t matter to me that much because at that age, you don’t worry about the world. I was fortunate enough to play cricket in Bengal… play with someone like you, about whom I said to many of my friends, that the misfortune of Arun Lal was that he was born in the wrong era... if he was in my era, under my captaincy, he would have played more than 50 Test matches. I say this because of the way Arun carried himself right throughout his career. He is a man of integrity, character and guts. I was part of a Bengal team which was terrific… that made me raise the standard of my game. I have always believed that players and cricketers are made from winning teams. And we were a winning team then, under your leadership. That helped me become a better person. When I went back in 1996,
mentally, I was a far better cricketer.
Arun: Prior to his England debut in 1996, Sourav was at CC&FC, playing an exhibition game and hitting them longer than I had ever seen anybody hit the ball… way past the tennis courts… beyond the tramline… I remember as a commentator I was sitting with Harsha Bhogle and he asked me that the team for England is going to be selected and who I thought will be there…. I said there is this young boy who hasn’t had a distinguished beginning but even he doesn’t understand his true potential. He is unbelievable. Harsha almost laughed me off.… I said I honestly believe that this little boy was destined for greatness. Sourav, talk us through 1996. Were you ready for it?
Sourav: I did not know whether I was ready. But mentally I was a lot tougher. I had gone through four or five years of domestic cricket. Honestly, on that tour of 1996, I thought I was destined to play for my country. The way I batted at Lord’s, I don’t think I had batted in my career like that before... completely different....
There is somebody up there. If you keep working hard and you are honest, there will be good things for you. I was batting on 26 overnight. Trust me, I remember every ball of that innings. And, I must have played 500 international innings after that. As I went back to the hotel, I thought I just felt very good while batting. It’s that zone.... I felt going to bed that night that if I don’t throw it away tomorrow… there could be something special. I went on to 50. The belief started getting stronger… ‘listen don’t give it away. God has set it up for you… if you make a 100 today, you will play for India for a long, long time’. I think life is about taking opportunities and taking opportunities when things are going good for you. The best thing I did that Saturday afternoon at Lord’s is that I didn’t throw it away.
I hadn’t seen a sword that big! what is there to be scared when you have faced bowling at 90mph? This scare is something else
Arun: Let me tell you about his courage! We were roommates playing Deodhar Trophy in Bangalore. That night we had a good game. We won it and the next day we had to go to Vizag. Sourav and I were sleeping in our room on the second floor. I was disturbed at 4 in the morning by a little sound. It was pitch-dark. As I opened the door of the washroom, a black shadow with a glint of steel came out. Then I felt this massive sword on my nose…. I couldn’t breathe! Sourav was fast asleep. He was a little kid. The thief asked me to wake Sourav up. I was pulling at Sourav’s toe, but he wouldn’t get up and finally I dragged him off the bed. I haven’t seen such athleticism! From that lying position, he jumped up like a jackrabbit and the next thing I see is he is hiding behind me! That was courage personified! The story doesn’t end there. Sourav was so petrified that that he didn’t have a bath. He took a bath in Vizag!
Sourav: We went to Vizag, it was a lovely five-star hotel. As soon as Piggy (Arun Lal) and I checked in, I said we weren’t going for any room below the 13th storey! It was scary. It wasn’t a Hindi film. I hadn’t seen a sword that big and from such close quarters. You might ask what is there to be scared when you have faced bowling at 90mph! This scare is something else.
For me, the biggest challenge was to take that fear of failure away from the cricketers
Arun: Sourav is one of our most successful captains, somebody who created the team when it was really down in the dumps. The other day, I was in Pune and Virender Sehwag was there. He narrated a story that once he was batting with Sourav… they were down by three or four wickets with 260 to chase. Sehwag hit a streaky boundary. Sourav asked him to take singles… ‘no need to take risks’. Sehwag hit the next ball for a boundary, again another risky shot, followed by another blistering boundary. And he hit the last ball for a six. ‘Tu mujhe sun bhi raha hai ki nahin?!’ Sourav went up to him and asked but he did tell Sehwag to play his game… ‘let Sehwag flow… as long as I am the captain, you are there to play for India’. That was the kind of confidence he gave them. He openly said that he was Virender Sehwag because of Sourav Ganguly...
Sourav: I was probably the only Indian captain the batsman could have said, ‘Mind your own business, I’ll play my way!’
Arun: When you took up captaincy, what was your focus?
Sourav: It was important to build a team. In end-1999, we were a very talented bunch of players who would win everything in India, but the moment we would go outside… we would struggle with the pace and the bounce. It was a perception in world cricket that India will not win outside India. That’s the perception we needed to change.
And when you pick someone, you got to allow him to play his natural game. Say, Virender Sehwag. If he knew there was a sword hanging on him every two or three matches, he wouldn’t have been able to play the way he did. For me, the biggest challenge was to take that fear of failure away from the cricketers. You pick them by your gut feeling, your instincts and you back them. Once you give them an opportunity, you cannot worry about the selectors…. It was important for me to give them the cushion to perform but at that same time let them know what I wanted. For someone like Sehwag, I knew if he batted in 10 innings, he won’t perform in five, but the message was pretty clear to him that if you perform in five, you win matches for me. I needed such players and allowed them to blossom.
If I had left that evening, I would have probably lost one of the best players in world cricket
Arun: So many blossomed under you… Virender Sehwag is the topmost on my list, Harbhajan Singh, Yuvraj Singh…
Sourav: VVS Laxman… I’ll tell you one story. I was captain and we were the top side and I was fortunate enough to lead some incredible players. I had to pick an ODI squad and VVS Laxman was at his best. But we couldn’t pick him because he wasn’t the best of fielders and we picked a younger boy in Mohammad Kaif. I finished the selection and went straight back to the hotel and kept knocking on his door. He didn’t open the door. There were two things I could do. Tell him to bugger off because you are the captain or you wait, wait, wait, meet him and then leave. If I had left that evening, I would have probably lost one of the best players in world cricket. I met him. He was absolutely shattered. That was natural.
To create a side where every member stands up and delivers, you need to go the extra mile. You need to put aside your ego. I could have done anything in Indian cricket at that point. If I would have backed a horse, even the horse would have played for India. But you have to put your ego aside because you don’t win matches because of the captain. You don’t win a match only because of a Tendulkar. You need a bunch of 11 players who will deliver.... There is a lot more work off the field.
Text: Saionee Chakraborty