'I want to cherish this for a long period'
Speaking after his final day of international cricket, Sourav Ganguly has said his most significant contribution was to raise the image of Indian cricket by building a team that was competitive overseas.
"During the phase from 2000 to 2005 [when he was captain], and it's still going on now, Indian cricket's image has gone up immensely, especially while touring," Ganguly said. "We were always termed as soft when we travelled. I think that has changed considerably. At the present moment India are a formidable side home and away.
"I was lucky to have Sachin [Tendulkar], Rahul [Dravid], VVS Laxman, Anil [Kumble], [Virender] Sehwag and Harbhajan [Singh] probably playing their best cricket at that stage. We've always been a strong team at home. The overseas results I'll always cherish."
Under Ganguly's captaincy, which began in November 2000, India won 11 Tests overseas including matches in Sri Lanka, West Indies, England, Australia and Pakistan. India's success abroad has continued even after Ganguly's tenure ended but he felt that the challenge for Mahendra Singh Dhoni's team now would be to continue winning after the retirements of key players. However, he felt Dhoni would be up to the task.
"Captaincy is a spark, it's not just preparation or the homework, it's about the spark on the field, which MS [Dhoni] has," Ganguly said. "He's got that extra bit of luck which you require in captaincy. I have never believed too much in the drawing board. I see a lot of that in MS Dhoni. He doesn't believe much in team meetings and all. He just does what he sees on the field. He will be tested when India goes overseas and I'm sure he will live up to it."
There was a lovely moment during the final passage of the Nagpur Test when Dhoni handed over the captaincy to Ganguly for some time. It was a magnificent gesture and fittingly, it was exactly eight years to the day since Ganguly had begun his tenure as captain in 2000.
"I didn't expect MS to ask me to captain the side for five overs," Ganguly said. "I was already switched off, so he woke me up. I didn't know what was happening the first six-seven balls. Luckily they were nine down so I managed to do it for three and then said it's his job, not mine any more."
Ganguly had been under tremendous scrutiny before the start of this series and his place in the squad was uncertain after he was left out of the Rest of India squad for the Irani Trophy. However, he was named in the 15-man squad and he announced his retirement before the series began. Ganguly made valuable contributions during his final series, steering India to safety in Bangalore, scoring a century in Mohali, and 85 in the first innings of the Nagpur Test. He finished the series with 324 runs at an average of 54 and India regained the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
"We've beaten the best team in the world 2-0," he said. "I've played well, the team's played well. There were lot of doubts after we came back from Sri Lanka. The way this Test match finished … it's probably one of the best finishes I've seen in terms of a team performance. I want to cherish this for a long period. I could easily sacrifice ten to 12 Tests for this."
When asked which of the numerous series that he's been involved in was the most memorable, Ganguly thought for a moment before picking out two of India's best moments in this century: the 2000-01 home victory against Australia and the drawn series in Australia in 2003-04.
Was he disappointed with his first-ball duck his final innings? "I was disappointed with the 85 I got," Ganguly said. "I was so close to getting a hundred. That was more disappointing than the first-ball duck."
Ganguly left a Test venue as an Indian cricketer for the final time on the shoulders of Harbhajan Singh and VVS Laxman but the dramatic scenes that played out after Kumble's announcement in Delhi were absent. "This is my time to leave," he said, and he went quietly.