'The last two years have been a big learning experience'
Sourav Ganguly feels that the Indian team has built up considerable momentum in the recent months and was happy with the way the batting had picked up after the forgettable series against Australia late last year. In an interview with Wisden Asia Cricket ahead of the much-awaited rubber against Pakistan, Ganguly said that his job as captain wasn't complete yet and anticipated a closely fought Test and one-day series in the next two months.
Ganguly attributed India's inconsistency in the last few months to the batsmen struggling to put up big scores but was upbeat about taking on Pakistan."Top teams have gone through this phase, and so did we," he said. "But I am happy with the way our batting picked up momentum against South Africa and Bangladesh. I suppose the worst is over."
In the last few years India have won games with both spin and pace and Ganguly had no doubt that the pool of medium pacers could prove decisive even in Test matches in the subcontinent. Looking ahead to the Test series he said, "All the three Test venues - Mohali, Kolkata and Bangalore - have good sporting pitches that help seamers, so our pacers should find it to their liking. At the same time, subcontinental pitches will help spinners as well."
The collective influence of the pace attack has often put Ganguly in a quandary about leaving out either Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh, especially in one-day games, and he termed it as "the most difficult thing" in the five years of his captaincy. But he was grateful that it didn't lead to any dissension. Both Anil and Bhajji have taken it very sportingly. They realise the importance of the team first. That's what we have tried to build: a feeling of team spirit."
If India's Test form has been indifferent, their one-day performances have largely been lacklustre. Ganguly zeroed in on two crucial factors for this slump: "I think a lot of it has to do with the mindset. This is the same side which took India to the World Cup final, beating just about everybody except the world champions, so you can't deny the class. And our batting wasn't clicking in that period. If you look at our previous record, you'll see that our batting won us more one-day matches than our bowling."
At the same time, he defended the team policy of experimentation - even though it cost India a game against Bangladesh and took the series to a decider. "Look at how the Australians experiment with the team, with the batting order and bowlers. The idea is to have players who fit into a role given to them."
He extended the logic to the Test team as well: "We gave Parthiv Patel a chance because he has the talent. He is young, will become mature and will know how to handle the pressure, so this break will be good for him. We thought of Yuvraj as an opener because he could then play in the XI. And since the experiment with Sehwag had been successful, we thought it would be a big platform for Yuvraj too."
One of the casualties of India's ODI slide was VVS Laxman, when he was dropped for the series against Bangladesh, but Ganguly brushed aside all notions of Laxman being a specialist Test player. "Laxman is too good a player to sit out," he said. "The doors of the one-day team aren't shut on him."
Ganguly's own form has come under tremendous scrutiny and he admitted that captaining the side did compound the pressure. "Look at cricket around the world today," he said, "except perhaps Ricky Ponting, almost all the captains are struggling. Inzamam-ul-Haq, Michael Vaughan, Brian Lara ... you have to balance your own needs and the team's needs, and at times the captain takes precedence over the batsman." But there was no letting up as far as his hunger for runs went and even added, "I am as hungry for runs in 2005 as I was at any given point. In fact, I have evolved as a batsman."
Looking back at his reign at the top, Ganguly was completely satisfied with the team's rise and acknowledged John Wright's "outstanding" contribution to giving India a steely edge. "It's been a healthy working relationship and we can see the results. This Indian team has moved forward and everybody has enjoyed being part of this run."
Vikrant Gupta is sports editor of Aaj Tak, the news channel.
This interview appeared in the March 2005 issue of Wisden Asia Cricket.
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