'My strength is my confidence'
Sourav Ganguly has just returned to his hotel room after picking up his wife and daughter from the airport. You can hear Sana, his daughter, running helter-skelter in the background. It all sounds very domestic, very relaxed. But you get the sense that a huge weight lifted from his shoulders when India won the second Test. And it's not for the first time in his career that he is being asked difficult questions about his batting. Ahead of the third Test he spoke exclusively to Cricinfo:
Your body language looked really different in the preand post-match press conferences at the Kolkata Test. It seemed like it was a big relief for you to win.
Yeah, it is. As captain you go through these periods. Especially when you're playing such a big series in a country where fortunes go up or down in the space of one or two games. So it probably does affect the mood of the person leading the side.
Before the Kolkata Test you had Ranadeb Bose and Shib Sankar Paul come in and bowl to you. You had extra net sessions ...
I just have a belief that if I work hard I will succeed. It's worked for me over the last ten years. It's worked even more off late, though I have not scored runs in the first two matches of this series. But in the last three or four years I have been pretty consistent. In England, Australia, the West Indies or the World Cup ... wherever, I've been pretty consistent. I have a little routine that I stick to. I firmly believe that if I work hard and put in the effort it cannot go waste. It's just that I didn't get runs in the first Test, so I thought I'd put in a bit extra in the nets, get some more training in, before the second Test.
You've bounced back from slumps before. The Brisbane innings was one of your best. How do you bounce back from a slump?
I think the last time I was in a bit of a slump was in 2001. That was around the time we won that famous series against Australia. After that I thought I did pretty consistently - 2002, 2003, 2004 - I don't see this is a slump. It is just one or two innings where I haven't got runs. I don't think you can call this a slump. A slump is when it lasts six or seven months. It's just a question of two or three innings, and as a batsman you're trying to put in a bit of extra effort and get some runs.
|Somebody with 15,000 international runs and 33 hundreds cannot be useless|
It's hard to be captain and batsman, isn't it? What's your strength as a batsman?
I think it's hard to be captain and batsman. It's the same for anyone who has to do the job. My biggest strength is confidence. I'm not as technically correct as a Dravid or Tendulkar or Jacques Kallis or whoever ... but everybody has his strengths and weaknesses. My strength is my confidence and belief in my ability, and the manner in which I back myself.
You're under a bit of pressure now. How do you deal with it?
I don't think I'm under any pressure. Obviously there will be criticism when you don't score runs. It's bound to happen in cricket. That's something you have to accept - it's part and parcel of professional sport. At the same time when I get a hundred, I get applauded. But I don't think I'm under any external pressure. Obviously you're expected to perform day-in and day-out in international cricket. When you go through two or three innings without runs it's always going to happen that you are under pressure because of the expectations of you. I don't think I'm under pressure of anything else. It's just that I need to score.
The opposition tends to attack the captain. Shahid Afridi bowled a bouncer to you first-up in the last Test ...
He bowled a faster one that was down the leg and called wide. But, how will Afridi bowl a bouncer? This bouncer thing is crap. I've been playing for ten years now. You want me to believe that all these years people have not bowled bouncers to me and they're doing it now? Going to Australia, Pakistan, West Indies ... even in one-day cricket the bouncer is allowed. People don't bowl bouncers to me? Obviously I'm not a great hooker or puller. Take the last Test match. It's just that I played a poor shot. It's not the short ball, it's the shot selection that's a problem.
Four years and more is a long time as captain. Does that take a bit out of you?
It does take a bit out of you. But I'm fortunate enough to lead a side that has done wonderfully. We've gone to Pakistan and beaten them and if we can win this series that will be two in a row. The way we played in the World Cup, the way we played in Australia ... the only team we've lost to is Australia and that too 2-1. It's been hard, but I've enjoyed it because of the success that we've had.
Not too long ago the press and the public were talking about how you were the captain that stood up to the best in the world. That you were a captain who backed youngsters and built a team. But now people seem to have forgotten that.
I don't think so. I think that's just a perception some people have. That's what I personally feel, although some people might think otherwise. There is always a lot of negative talk that goes around in cricket. People do this either to get attention or sensationalise things. It's not the journalists. It's mostly the unsuccessful ones [former cricketers turned experts] who do this. Somebody with 15,000 international runs and 33 hundreds cannot be useless.
Have you changed? As a captain, or as a player?
I don't think I have changed as a captain. But I have changed as a batsman, because people have bowled differently to me. I think every batsman changes. Whatever people might say, I think I have played much better in the last three years than what I did when I started my Test career. People might not agree with me, but that's how I feel.
What's the diagnosis? Is there a big innings around the corner somewhere?
I think there's a big one around the corner. I always do. That's what keeps me going. I think that's what keeps all cricketers going. If after two or three failures you think you are finished, you won't get far. All along, whenever I've played cricket, I've always believed there's a big one around the corner. That's just how I am.
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo.