'With the right team, you are always going to get results'
With India on the verge of a historic Test victory in South Africa, Sourav Ganguly thanked his team-mates for the "outstanding" support that had facilitated his return to the side after nearly a year away. He was fulsome in his praise for the bowlers who have put India in a position of such strength in this game, and there were also encouraging words for the man who succeeded him as captain.
Wearing a blue India T-shirt, and peppering his answers with the occasional half-smile, Ganguly spoke eloquently about his return from exile, and the breathtaking turnaround in fortunes that he has been part of over the past three days. "It's not just Zaheer or Sreesanth," he said, when asked to pick out the standout performers. "It was also the fields which Rahul [Dravid] set, which have been outstanding and forced them to bowl certain lengths. And they swung the ball."
Like every other senior pro, he said that he too had shared the odd suggestion with Dravid as India strove to finish the game inside three days. "We all do at times," he said. "But we don't want to complicate things for him because he's thinking certain things on his own. But whenever required, we do."
Having played his last Test match at Karachi back in January, Ganguly said that the months in between hadn't seen him riddled with doubt. "I felt I was good enough," he said. "I felt I still had it in me to play international cricket. And I always believe it's always to try than give up. It's come full circle, you could say. When you arrive at this level, you have to be tough to survive for 11 or 12 years."
He refused to point fingers at anyone for missed chances, saying that no individual had been immune to the selectors' axe. "We are making too much of a person being dropped or a person being brought back," he said. "Rahul's been dropped from one-day cricket for a year, he's come back. Somebody like Anil Kumble has been dropped. The only guy who has not been dropped in this team is Sachin. It's part of professional sport. You get dropped and you come back again."
He was grateful for the public support that came his way while he spent time on the periphery, but added that he hoped it would be the case for every Indian cricketer who was going through a rough patch. "It's been nice, but I am not surprised," he said. "I'm sure that if Dravid or Kumble had been dropped, it would have been the same support because these guys have also been huge contributors to Indian cricket. Or Sachin. Sachin will never get dropped [smiles]."
According to him, the time away from the national team hadn't been an ordeal. "It wasn't tough at all, being away from the game," he said. "I enjoyed my time with the Bengal boys. It's a great dressing room there, lot of talented players."
He insisted that nothing much had changed on his return. "I have done nothing different," he said. "I've worked a lot on my fitness, played domestic cricket, worked a lot on little things in my technique and just played. I've realised in the last seven or eight months that cricket is not everything. And I had the mindset that I would try. If it happens, it happens, if it doesn't, it doesn't. It's good that I'm back and I can play."
The South Africans had spoken in the build-up to the game about how they had special plans for every batsman, but Ganguly showed considerable grit and application on his way to scores of 51 not out and 25. "It was just out of experience, knowing what the conditions will be, knowing what they will try to bowl at you," he said, when asked how he had handled it.
"This is my fourth trip to South Africa. I have been to Australia about three times. It was just the experience of playing under these conditions. When you have been in these parts of the world, you have a picture of how you had played and what adjustments need to be made. Obviously, I have worked hard over the seven or eight days since I have come here."
He reckoned that he was still good enough to represent India in both forms of the game - Ganguly last played a one-day match in September 2005 - but refused to look as far ahead as the World Cup. "It's still some distance away," he said. "But it's just not this performance. I hope my performances in one-day cricket will be noticed. And if everything goes well, I hope I'll get an opportunity."
Asked whether his wealth of experience would count in his favour, he merely said: "No, it's performance which has a place in both forms of the game."
When someone tried to suggest that the upswing in the team's fortunes had coincided with his return, he laughed. "I hope it continues," he said. "That's important. When you pick the right team, you are always going to get the results."
As for the game itself, he could only see one outcome. "We should win," he said. "If we don't win from this position, we should not get back to the dressing room," he added with a smile. "But the way we're bowling, I'm sure we're going to win."
Millions of Indians will certainly hope so.
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo