Shiv Sundar Das: Ganguly always had a plan

Das continues to be associated with cricket, coaching at various levels in Odisha.

Shiv Sundar Das said coaching is his new passion.   -  V. Ganesan

He played and practised on matting wickets, cement pitches and makeshift mud tracks with rubber, cork and wet tennis balls. The idea was to strengthen his back-foot play, bat with soft hands and get on top of the bounce. And he would throw hundreds of balls on the back wall of his Bhubaneswar home at different angles and speeds to take sharp, diving catches.

Shiv Sundar Das’s quest for an India cap, a journey of sweat and belief, was driven by passion. The diminutive cricketer idolised the legendary Sunil Gavaskar, wanted to follow his methods.

Inspired by brilliant close catching by the likes of Eknath Solkar, Das trained relentlessly to become a specialist short-leg fielder. Still fresh faced and fit at 38, Das showed he had lost none of his enthusiasm for the game.

A junior officer with NALCO, Das continues to be associated with cricket, coaching at various levels in Odisha.

In a brief but momentous Test career from 2000 to 2002, Das finished with respectable numbers — 1,326 runs from 23 Tests at 34.89. He was a compact, technically pleasing opener.

Asked about the qualities needed for an opener, Das responded “Playing close to the body, judging the length, playing to your strengths and being fearless. You have to let the ball come to you than go towards it.” Importantly, he was a part of the epic series against Australia at home in 2001. “That was the most challenging attack I have faced. McGrath, Gillespie and then Warne. There would be no respite from pressure.”

Psychological games would be played too. “The Aussies would get verbal with you. This would be to just see how you react. How tough you are on the mind. They would probe you both mentally and technically.”

Recalling the immortal Eden Gardens Test of that series, Das said, “We were down. At the team meeting, before following on, coach John Wright and skipper Sourav Ganguly said to us, ‘Let’s go and play our natural game, take session by session and not panic’.”

India required a good start. “Sadagopan Ramesh and I began well, we put on 52. I made 39.” Rahul Dravid joined V.V.S. Laxman at the fall of the fourth wicket.

“What happened then seemed unreal. We never moved from our seats. I remember sitting next to the television in the dressing room the whole day. The experience was magical as Laxman and Dravid put on an unbelievable show during their 376-run stand.”

In the series decider, a cliff-hanger in Chennai, Das’s first innings 84 was a vital contribution.

“Ours was one of the greatest triumphs of all time,” he said.

Queried about Sourav Ganguly’s captaincy, Das said, “Ganguly was calm in the dressing room, aggressive on the field and always had a plan. The team needed his aggression.”

Das enjoyed opening the innings with Ramesh. “He would crack jokes in the middle, relieve the stress. He was like that.”

A fighting 62 on a lively Bloemfontein pitch, 2001, against South Africa is Das’s most satisfying Test effort. “South Africa had Pollock, Ntini, Hayward and Kallis,” he said. Das took 34 catches in Tests, some of them absolute blinders at short-leg.

He said, “You should enjoy close catching and not fear getting hurt. It’s a lot about reflexes, anticipation, reading the wicket and the batsman. It’s a specialist position.”

His focus is now on guiding youngsters. “Coaching is my new passion,” Das said with a smile.