Ganguly on his retirement: Even the Prime Minister of the country has to leave his post one day. It was time for me to go.
Ahead of the release of his book A Century is Not Enough, Sourav Ganguly opens up to Harpreet Kaur Lamba about life inside and outside of the 22 yards.
A sportsperson, they say, is as good as his last performance. Even for greats like Diego Maradona, Roger Federer or Don Bradman, everyone knows it is imperative to perform consistently in the world of intense competition, where every career comes with an expiry date. It is the ability to bounce back from lows and fight those mental demons and find the tact to deal with the highs, that ultimately keeps them going. Former India skipper Sourav Ganguly is no stranger to all this, having led the country from 2000 to 2005, a period that brought tremendous success, a large share of controversies along with heartbreaks and fight backs. Dada, as he is affectionately called, brought about a massive change in players’ mindsets, moulding them into an aggressive, battle-hardened team that focused only on winning. At a time when an Indian win overseas was a rarity, Ganguly instilled belief and also taught them how to play mind games and return verbal bouncers in kind. It is all that and much more that the 45-year-old Ganguly presents to the world in a book A Century is Not Enough, penned by him and journalist Gautam Bhattacharya, that will be launched next week.
Ganguly calls it a “mind book”, a kind of a manual where in he shares the experience of playing at the highest level, on how he went about changing his players’ approach when handed captaincy, his secret trip to Australia in 2003 to prepare for the away series, sustaining pressure and rejections. A long chapter reflects on his infamous spat with then-coach Greg Chappell, a period Dada refers to as the darkest in his cricketing career. It is what eventually led to Ganguly’s downfall and exit from international cricket and he doesn’t shy away from calling the Australian’s coaching stint “a total waste” and “someone who was hated by all.” The cricketer, however, holds back in revealing the real reasons behind the differences between him and the Australian, who ironically was Ganguly’s choice for the chief coach. The books also has some heart-touching moments like Ganguly’s conversation with daughter Sana, his days as India captain and how he lost hair worrying over the toughest job in the world, his debut, retirement and also how his mother still scolds him. Excerpts from an interview:
Your book A Century is Not Enough begins with The End, which tells the story of your retirement. Is there any specific reason to begin with the end?
(Smiles) No, not really. It is just the way the person who wrote the book along with me wanted it and we stuck to it.
What is this book essentially about and what does the title A Century is Not Enough signify? In the book, you mention that your initial period of struggle in international cricket gave you an idea about the title. Please tell us about that.
Firstly, this book is not a biography. It is a mind book. By that phrase, what I wanted to say was that it is not just runs that make an international sportsman. It is about what goes behind it, the mind. You may be scoring all the runs in the world and the outside word might feel what a hunky-dory time it is, but you could be under immense pressure. You will be on the edge because of expectations, and because of the focus you get during the situation. It actually tells the story that you are under pressure at all stages. When you are performing well, you are under pressure (of doing better). When you are not doing well, it is the pressure of under-performance. The exact thing that you have to handle to survive for a long period of time… that’s what you need to have and that’s what is important. The mind.
And is that why there are a lot of places in the book where you try to give an insight into a player’s mind and suggest ways to handle pressure? Is this book in some way a message to the youngsters?
Yes, and this is what every athlete goes through. There are emotions… be it a McEnroe or a Federer. You could be playing a Wimbledon final, Rafael Nadal vs Federer. It can’t be that you wake up and take a walk in the park and play the Wimbledon final. You want to win and it is the biggest day of your life. Some you win, some you lose. It is how you handle the disappointment and come back from it after a loss and become a better player. All these small, small things are a part of it.
You have spoken about your retirement and how not getting picked for the Board President’s XI in 2008 hurt and you decided enough was enough. We have seen a fighter in you throughout, your dad wanted you to retire in 2005 but you didn’t. So, why not fight one more time?
See, I had obviously grown a bit older. My dad wanted me finish in 2005 when I was just 33. And I retired in 2008 when I was 37 and I had already made a comeback and played 100 Tests and 300 one-dayers and I felt that it was time that somebody else stepped in. It is sport and there is always a good way to finish. It is high performance and you know somebody else will take your place and I felt that it was the right time. I was playing well and scoring runs and I wanted to go on a high.
And (despite doing well), you still thought it was time to retire?
Everybody has to think like that. Everybody has to know his time is over or otherwise you would be pushed to do so.
Do you think it was an emotional decision?
It was, but it was both an emotional and realistic view of the situation. Even the Prime Minister of the country has to leave his post one day. It was time for me to go.
When you debuted in 1996, skipper Mohammad Azharuddin wasn’t sure if you were the right choice. Coach Sandeep Patil too at one stage of your career wasn’t keen on picking you in the XI. How did you take the initial rejections and went on to carve your place in the team?
Yes, they did not believe that I would go on to play at the top level one day. But then that’s life. There are so many sportsmen who go through these doubts but they have eventually made their names.
I was too young then. I was just 19 when I was first selected and I went ahead, performed and felt good. I was too young to even understand all this and to be honest, that belief on a player would not come at that stage because they had not seen you.
In this book, you finally mention the drinks incident too. Whenever one speaks of Sourav Ganguly, they almost always talk about how “Maharaj” refused to carry drinks as 12th man in 1992 on the Australia tour. Do you think you have finally put the controversy to rest? (In the book, Ganguly says he was late and had not refused to carry drinks).
Yes, because that was not the truth. So, I needed everyone to know the actual thing. Even the Rahul David discussion (about promoting Ganguly to the opening slot) in the middle of the session in Lahore... A lot of things look different from the outside and so I wrote about them.
The Greg Chappell issue too gets a lot of mention in your book, but then you haven’t really dwelled on the real reasons and details that led to such a massive difference of opinion between you two. Why?
It was an era that brought Indian cricket down and I was targetted. It was a mistake to hire him. It was important for me to talk about it but yes, I didn’t tell too much of that story because this is not an autobiography. It is not something that I needed to say and it was in the past. For me, the important thing of this book was that about the young athletes and knowing about what goes in between the ears.
But then Chappell, after becoming the India coach, said you were a disruptive influence on the team and slowly you lost your place in the side. Did you ever walk up to him and ask the reasons? After all you were the captain.
No, I never asked because I was dropped immediately and was left out for at least six months. And when I came in, I was too engrossed in trying to do well myself. I performed, got my place back in the side because that was very important. The runs were very important and I had played a lot of cricket by then and I knew that ultimately at this level, it’s performance that’s important. I got back into both the formats of the game and he left after the 2007 World Cup. He was sacked.
But then again, it was the most talked about incident of Indian cricket during that time. And finally when you decided to write a book a decade later, why not take the opportunity and share your entire story with the cricketing world?
This book is not meant for that, but may be some day if I decide to write an autobiography, I might probably put in a bit more information. Right now, it was not my focus.
So, is an autobiography on your mind?
No, nothing at the moment.
Through this book, we also get to know about the little emotional incidents of your life, especially with your daughter Sana and your mother getting angry when you carried home champagne bottles from a tour. Please talk us through that.
I came from a very conservative Bengali family. My mother would jump up and down at the sign of alcohol and here I was carrying three champagne bottles that came along with my man of the match awards. She was absolutely furious! So, yes it was like that. As for Sana, she and I love London and she wants to study there. One day, we were walking past Piccadilly and I showed her around the small hotel where I had stayed for the first time with the India team. These are my memories and very significant to me and I shared them with my daughter who thought it was no big deal (laughs).
Time and again in the book, you say you are a shy, emotional person who found talking to people very difficult. And then here is this aggressive captain who even sledges and makes the Australian skipper wait at the toss to go one-up in the mind games. So which one is the real Sourav Ganguly?
On the field is a put-on. Off the field, is what I am. I made the transition because in the year 2000 I realised that India played the best when they were aggressive and up and running. So, that’s when I realised that if this team had to do well, I would have to probably to be the torchbearer and off the field, I am a completely docile person.
So docile that your mom scolds you even now?
(Smiles) Well, I do not like it but then she actually still monitors me!
Tell us about the phase when this docile cricketer went about building a fearless India. Is that your legacy to Indian cricket?
I didn’t go with any hard and fast mindset. I just reacted to what I saw on the park and how the players responded to it. I realised that in the second Test during the 2003-04 tour of Australia, that this team was up and ready when they were competing and fighting hard. I just wanted to get that mindset every time they walked up the path.
There hasn’t been an India captain before you who travelled to a country to study conditions three months in advance, like you did for the 2003 tour of Australia.
I did that because I wanted to make a difference in Australia because that was the toughest place to tour during that period because the team was superb.
I wanted the players to play with freedom. When I was starting and I was young, there was so much pressure… to prove to the world that you belong to that level.
Even as a captain, I wanted to give them as much support as possible so that they can express themselves. Doesn’t the same happen in any job? You join as a new employee, are tentative but then that’s when a leader comes in and makes a difference. I wanted to be that leader.
There is also a passing mention in the book about match-fixing. How did it affect cricket and cricketers at large?
I didn’t speak about it wholly. I just touched upon it. I became captain during that era. So, by the time I came in, it was different. New players had come in and to be honest, it did not bother me that much.