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I was ready for the blows and bruises, says Sourav

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By THE LATEST INDIA-SA SERIES BEGINS TODAY. IN AN INTERVIEW TO LOKENDRA PRATAP SAHI, FORMER CAPTAIN SOURAV GANGULY REFLECTS ON THE 2006-07 CONTEST THERE
  • Published 16.12.10
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If much of the attention in the lead-up to the latest India-South Africa Test series has been on Sachin Tendulkar, all the attention in 2006-07 was on Sourav Ganguly’s comeback. Sourav, who made the critics (including some exceedingly high profile ones) eat their words, spoke to The Telegraph for over 45 minutes on that Test series.

The following are excerpts

Q What was uppermost in your mind when you landed in South Africa, on the eve of the three-day game against Rest, in Potchefstroom?

A Landed with very positive thoughts and I was determined... Come blows, bruises... I was ready to face everything and there was no fear... Even if it meant dying in pursuing the goal I’d set myself, so be it. My mindset was such that I had to be successful, that I would return home with runs against my name.

All about wanting to prove a point?

No.

You drove straight to Potchefstroom, after landing in Johannesburg...

I did, yes... And, on reaching the team hotel, was told that the coach (Greg Chappell) was expecting me “straightaway” at nets... I left for the ground within 15-20 minutes. Unusually, there was no jet-lag. It helped that I’d slept on the flight from Mumbai.

How did Chappell greet you?

Chappell was warm... As was (captain Rahul) Dravid... I could make out that the boys were happy to see me back in their midst after 10 months.

Did Chappell and Dravid make you feel comfortable?

Yes... Others, too... Sachin, Viru (Virender Sehwag), Harbhajan (Singh), Zak (Zaheer Khan)... Even when I wasn’t in the team, I’d been in touch with some of the players... I’d either talk to them over the phone or exchange text messages... For a period, I wasn’t a part of the team, but they were a part of me... I’d already been in the India dressing room for 10 years, so it wasn’t that I felt out of place... It was like returning to the good old days.

Specifically, what did Chappell tell you?

After I’d batted, he said I was looking in “good touch.” That I’d got runs in domestic cricket back home obviously helped me look good at nets.

How did your interaction with Dravid go?

We had a fairly long chat during nets itself... As we’d been thrashed in the ODIs, he appeared to be a bit down... I can’t recall what exactly I said, but it must have been about the Test series giving us the chance to set things right.

You scored 83, an innings which confirmed that you’d be in the XI when the three-match Test series began (December 15, 2006)

It was great to get those runs and that innings showed I was there to contribute to the team’s cause... Looking back, that one innings in Potch sorted out everything.

On reaching the team hotel, was told that the coach was expecting me “straightaway” at nets… Chappell was warm... After I’d batted, he said I was looking in “good touch”
On how he was greeted by coachGreg Chappell

The first Test, at the Wanderers, began less than a week after the Potchefstroom match... One recalls you regularly spent extra time at nets... Was determination at play?

Well, I was being driven by determination... Then, as a senior player, I had a job to do.

But weren’t you feeling the pressure?

(After a pause) Pressure wasn’t anything new... I’d handled it for 10 years... The pressure of performing was there, yes, but I wasn’t bothered about anything else... It’s not that I was having to cope with something unique.

What did you tell yourself on the eve of the Wanderers Test?

That I was good enough for this level and had performed at this level... I knew that runs overseas, particularly in a country like South Africa, would count for a lot. I didn’t find the challenge daunting, it actually got me fired up.

On a lively wicket, you walked in to bat at 110 for four...

That Wanderers wicket remains one of the two most difficult tracks I've batted on...

The other one?

For totally different reasons, the wicket at the Green Park (Kanpur), which hosted the last Test of the 2007-08 series against South Africa... One was green and seaming, the other a dry minefield.

[Thanks to Sourav, the MoM, who scored 87 and 13 not out, India won by eight wickets to square the series.]

You remained not out on 51, top-scorer in a total of 249... Nobody could’ve scripted a better comeback. What were your own emotions?

I was happy... South Africa were shot out for 84 in their first innings (on Day II), so you can well imagine how much tougher the conditions were initially.

What made the difference for you?

My mindset... As I’ve told you, I could’ve had my teeth or jaw broken, could even have been killed, but I was determined.

Absolutely... But, having said that, I concede that the hype is inevitable... It’s mind-boggling that Sachin’s already got 49 hundreds and that (Muttiah) Muralidharan has 800 Test wickets! They’ve taken cricket to another level
Whether Sachin should be allowed to get his 50th Test hundred in peace

MoM Sreesanth’s fiver in the first innings ensured that the Test finished with more than a day to spare. India winning (by 123 runs) on your comeback made it special... Four years on, how do you look back?

With some emotion and plenty of satisfaction... Our first Test win in South Africa is going to stay memorable... That allowed us to get away from the usual business of ‘been-there-with-nothing-to-show’... We didn’t have to face the ‘same-old-story’ situation.

From such a high, why did we crash in the very next Test, at Kingsmead, losing by 174 runs?

There’d been a gap of more than a week... Bottomline is that we didn’t bat well. I accept that the win at the Wanderers should’ve lifted us, but we just didn’t get it right. At one stage, South Africa had been four down for 122 in their first innings, but recovered. That opportunity came and went.

After scoring 414 in the first innings of the final Test, at Newlands, we ought to have really taken advantage of such a start... Instead, we lost by five wickets, helping South Africa to win 2-1...

I’m still disappointed by that result... It’s a Test which should’ve been won or saved by India.

You scored 66 and 46, the second innings seeing much drama. How did you react on being told that you’d have to bat at No.4 (second innings)?

(Laughs) Where was the time to react? I was in my tracksuit, as I was to bat at No.6... Sachin was going at the fall of (Wasim) Jaffer’s wicket, but he was stopped by the third umpire on technical grounds... Having been off the field, he couldn’t return to the action straightaway... (VVS) Laxman couldn’t be ‘traced’ when, in fact, he was in one of the showers... I don’t know how he manages to have a shower just before going out to bat, though... Being the last specialist batsman, I was asked to immediately pad up and rush. I did.

The series ended with you finishing as the most successful batsman for India (214 runs at an average of 42.80)... Your world changed, didn’t it?

Look, the vibes I felt in the dressing room gave more satisfaction... From what I could make out, everybody was happy that I’d contributed on my comeback... That I’d justified my recall. (After a pause) Many, I’m sure, didn’t like what had happened to me for 10 months and, so, they had more reason to be happy.

Frankly, did either you or Chappell go the extra mile to smoothen relations?

Yes, not that there was a problem in that series.

How about Dravid who, as the captain, had been a party to your being dropped?

I’d say he was nice.

What’s your take on the series beginning Thursday?

It’s going to be tough, but if our quicks stay fit, then South Africa’s batsmen will find themselves under pressure... If there’s a worry, it’s that we haven’t played a warm-up match... The coach (Gary Kirsten) and (captain Mahendra Singh) Dhoni should’ve insisted on one. I’m surprised why that wasn’t done.

It’s a contest between the No.1 and the No.2-ranked teams...

More than the rankings, the quality of cricket over the 15 days will determine who stands where.

Should Sachin be left alone, allowed to get his 50th Test hundred in peace?

Absolutely... But, having said that, I concede that the hype is inevitable... It’s mind-boggling that Sachin’s already got 49 hundreds and that (Muttiah) Muralidharan has 800 Test wickets! They’ve taken cricket to another level.

The last one... What would be your message to Dhoni?

Be positive and look to consistently play good cricket. Good luck!