Ganguly - 'I have had enough of this short-ball business'
A country obsessed with Sachin Tendulkar has found a new hero in Sourav Ganguly, whose stirring hundred saved India from embarrassment at Brisbane and added a new significance to India's tour. In this exclusive interview with Wisden Cricinfo, Ganguly talks about how he put his batting back on track:
"I have had enough of this short-ball business"
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Your innings at Brisbane is being considered as one of the most significant in recent Indian cricket history. Was it the best you've ever played?
It was a special innings. But I also played well at Headingley last year. The wicket was doing a bit, we had chosen to bat first in difficult conditions, and we won that Test. So that was special too.
But in the context of what it means for Indian cricket, and in the way you timed your off-side strokes, this seemed exceptional.
I timed the ball well at Headingley too. But yes, this means a lot to me. Let's face it, scoring runs in Australia isn't easy. The team was in a difficult position. To be able to come out and play positively, it is a very special feeling. I always wanted to do well in Test matches here. But getting that hundred in my first match at Lord's was also very special.
The feature of your batting in this innings was your off-side driving. It's been your strong point over the years. There was a feeling that you hadn't been so fluent in that area in recent times - the majesty was missing.
When you play against Australia, you get more opportunity to play your strokes. Their bowlers attack. They don't just bowl line, line and line. They come and bounce you or pitch it up to get you out, so you can play all sorts of shots. Also, after a couple of years in international cricket, people started bowling on my leg stump, realising that I was good on the off side. So I started getting less balls on the off, so I played less shots there. Also, I had stopped playing the cover-drive a lot. It's a difficult shot to play in conditions where the ball is doing a bit. I got out a few times to it, so I kind of took it out. I didn't play it unless I was completely sure about it. But that day I felt in the right mental frame, and I was getting balls in the right areas, so I kept on playing it.
Your footwork seemed more decisive. You were coming forward to meet the ball instead of hanging back.
You play according to situations and according to the bowling. I have played for many years now and have scored quite a few runs, so it's not that there was something drastically wrong with my technique. The thing about technique is you've got to change it to meet a particular demand. You see how the bowlers are bowling, you see how the field is set and then you decide your response. When I played in England last season, where I scored about 400 runs, every time I would come out to bat, I saw a deep square leg. So instantly I knew that the bowling would be short, and I would decide my approach accordingly.
There was feeling that the Australians didn't bounce you too much.
They did bounce a bit. But the point is you don't get people out with short balls, you get them out by pitching it up. I have heard this short-ball rubbish for a long time now. How many times do you get batsmen out hooking or fending? I have played enough cricket, scored enough runs, but how many times have I got out to a short ball? They have been bowling short to Steve Waugh for years now, and while he might sometimes look awkward playing the short ball, how many times has he actually got out to it? He's got 32 centuries and people are still saying he can't play the short ball. I have no time for such nonsense.
You are a proud man, Sourav, does it bother you when people say that you can't play the short ball?
You know, I have had enough of this short-ball business. I have got 33 international hundreds. You don't score so many runs without being able to play the short ball. And you get plenty of short balls in international cricket. I don't bother with what people say. It's not right. But what can you do? You just go and play your game. There are a lot of wrong perceptions about me. It was a lot more earlier, and has lessened now. But then how many people can I change?
But it was obvious that you have worked on your game.
We had a bit of time after coming back from Bangladesh, so it gave me time to look at my game. Then I came here and had a fruitful session with Greg [Chappell].
What are the areas that you work on?
A lot of it was about thinking positive. In terms of technique, I have begun to shuffle a little. In the past, I used to play standing in the crease when the ball was delivered, now I move in a little early. It helps to play genuine pace a little better. It's also a lot about what you are thinking. Very often you are thinking the wrong thing because you are trying too hard. When you think wrong, your feet are moving the wrong way too. Greg helped me a lot in this area.
You told me once earlier that being the captain didn't allow you to work on your batting as much. Have you managed to find a balance now?
Yes, it did affect my batting. There were times I had to come to bat at 60-odd for 4 and I found myself think, oh my God, here we go again. That was the captain in me thinking. But over the last one, one-and-a-half years I have realised that everybody is responsible for their game. The batsmen have to score runs, the bowlers have to take wickets, and yes, as captain, it's my job to guide them in the right areas, demand performance from them, but in the end, they have to be responsible for their performance. As a batsman, it is my responsibility to score runs. When I go out to the middle, I have to bat like a batsman, not as the captain. I can see what Michael Vaughan is going through now, because I have been through it. I think Sachin [Tendulkar], because he is such a great batsman, coped quite well. His batting record as captain is better than mine.
Greg Chappell said on television that this might be a turning point in your career - that he was confident that you will end your career with an average of more than 50.
I don't know. And I don't even want to think like that. In the past, I got myself into many kinds of wrong thinking: I have to do this, I have to do that. I have to score a fifty here, a hundred there. In my first 36 Test matches I averaged more than 50. Then from around 2001, I struggled for one-and-a-half years, for about 11 Tests. Then my average went down and it put a lot of pressure on me. I started thinking about my average and records and all that stuff, and it didn't really help me. Now I just go out, forget about numbers, and enjoy my game. It's not so simple. For example, you are working in a company, earning a salary of 200,000. Suddenly you find yourself earning only 50,000. You are not going to like that, you will keep thinking how you are going to get back to that salary. It will bother you. It's not very simple to accept it.
But you have been contributing as captain.
You are a player first. You get a lot of satisfaction out of scoring runs and taking wickets. And then you are captain. Being a batsman is different from being the captain. These are two separate functions. Captaincy has its own joys and worries, but the joy of scoring runs is something else.
You have always been a very passionate man ...
I like to win. It's not a good feeling coming on a tour and losing. It does not look good. The team has to win. You see the World Cup. Sachin got runs, I got runs, others chipped in, but we looked good as a team because we won. Indian cricket will only go further if we win as a team. Individual achievements will be forgotten. We looked good at the NatWest Trophy because we won.
And because you took off your shirt ...
I think I was wrong there. I shouldn't have done that. I got carried away by the moment. There were a lot of things leading in to it. My experience with Lancashire, with the English media and what had happened at Wankhede Stadium before ... but looking back, I shouldn't have done that.
But have your passions settled down a little? Are you a calmer person now?
Yes. You learn from your experiences. We have to do well as a team. By calming down a little, I can contribute better. I have contributed more in 2002 and 2003 than in 2001 when I first became captain.
Adam Gilchrist has written in his column that you have had more off-the-field conversations with the Australian players before the first Test of this series than you had in the whole tour when they came to India.
Well, they have been a different team so far. There is 180-degree turn. They don't say as many things on the field. Off the field, they have been friendly and nice to us. So I see no problems. We are here to play tough cricket, not to make enemies.
Sambit Bal, the editor of Wisden Asia Cricket magazine and Wisden Cricinfo in India, will be following the Indian team throughout this Test series.