Sourav Ganguly: Leading BCCI not as challenging as captaining India

The BCCI president shares his thoughts on the domestic season, the NCA, the change of guard in the Indian team, and more, in this interview.

Sourav Ganguly...“The pandemic has wreaked havoc all over the world and we are fortunate that we could still manage to get a majority of cricket done.”   -  AFP

Sourav Ganguly does not believe that his present stint as the president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has been more challenging than captaining India. But he admits that the 28-month stint has been “under tough circumstances due to COVID-19.”

While the pandemic has wreaked havoc all over the world, Ganguly believes that the BCCI has been “fortunate” to still manage to get a majority of cricket played in the country.

With the Ranji Trophy set to begin on February 16 after a two-year gap, Ganguly is optimistic that things will eventually fall into place. “It is the most important tournament in India, and we always wanted to organise it…” he says.

In a chat with Sportstar, Ganguly shares his thoughts on various issues.

The Ranji Trophy is set to return after two years. How challenging was it for the Board to find a window for the tournament after it was postponed in January?

Obviously, we missed one year of Ranji Trophy – the 2020-21 season. It is the most important tournament in India, and we always wanted to organise it. But what the world has seen in the last two years, I don’t think it has happened in anybody’s lifetime.

So keeping all these things in mind, it was actually a challenge to organise any tournament. We organised the Cooch Behar Trophy and there came the third wave. On the first day itself, 50 players contracted the virus. So, it is not easy. But we are lucky that we can still conduct tournaments. We still have our fingers crossed that everything goes smoothly.

Your thoughts on the bio-bubble... Is there a backup, since more international tournaments are lined up over the next few weeks?

I think these things happen (the Indian players testing positive) since the players are coming from different parts. So, there is a possibility that a few might test positive. Once this wave goes through, it should be fine. Once the players [complete the mandatory quarantine] and enter the bubble, there should not be any problem.

A section of the cricketing fraternity believes that the Board should look at starting the domestic season with Ranji Trophy. What are your thoughts…

For the last seven-eight years, the season would usually start with Vijay Hazare Trophy, followed by the Ranji Trophy. After that, we would have the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. But because of COVID-19, we decided to start Ranji Trophy late. But then, again the third wave came, so…

Last year, players were given some compensation as we had a curtailed domestic season. But after taking charge as the president of the BCCI in 2019, you had said that the contract system would soon be introduced for the domestic cricketers. What is the update on that?

[Last year] we did not go the contract way because that was suggested by the State associations. But you must have noticed that we have created payment slabs as we did for the Ranji Trophy. We have increased the money to almost double, so their salaries have increased almost twice. So, we have done that. We thought the best option was to increase the match fee. Just like it happens in the contract system, if you play a certain number of matches, you get paid a certain amount of money. We have created that slab, but we have compensated the players almost double.

The domestic season had stopped midway. When will the women’s tournament and the Cooch Behar Trophy resume?

We have time for the Cooch Behar Trophy. Let this COVID settle down a bit, we can hold it because it is just at the knockout stage and only a few matches are pending. We can do it in April-May. Similarly, with the women’s tournament, we will do it as well. We are presuming that in another month, the number of cases will go down and we can host it.

The IPL starts in March. After hosting the tournament in the UAE for the last two seasons, what are the Board’s plans for this edition?

It will be held in India this year, until and unless COVID-19 hits the roof. As far as venues are concerned, we are looking at hosting the matches in Maharashtra – Mumbai, and Pune. We will take a call on the venues for the knockout stages later.

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Do you think this Ranji Trophy season offers Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara – who have failed at the international level for some time – the chance to move away from the limelight to rediscover their form? You had to do something similar in your playing days… 

Yeah, they are very good players. Hopefully, they will go back to Ranji Trophy and score a lot of runs, which I am sure they will. I don’t see any problem [for them to go back to domestic cricket after playing so much international cricket]. Ranji Trophy is a huge tournament, and we have all played the tournament. So, they, too, will go back there and perform. They have played the tournament in the past when they were only playing Test cricket and were not part of the ODI or limited-overs team. So, that won’t be a problem.

The Indian cricket team now has a new coach in Rahul Dravid and a new captain in Rohit Sharma. How do you see this new phase?

I wish them all the best. They have had great careers so far and I am sure they will do well for India. I cannot predict what is going to happen, but there is enough confidence in both to do well.

Going forward, what is the BCCI looking for in a long-term captain? In the past, there have been two separate captains for the white-ball and red-ball cricket…

Let’s leave that to the selectors. Whatever they decide on captaincy, we will go by that.

Now with you as the BCCI chief, Dravid as the head coach, and V. V. S. Laxman as the director of cricket at the National Cricket Academy, the expectations are high. How does the BCCI plan to improve the standards at the NCA so that the coordination is better between the national team and the academy?

We have put everything in place. Laxman and Rahul work together. There are coaches who work alongside them. The U-19 coaches, too, work with the NCA and some of them are currently with the team in the World Cup. The new NCA facility is being built, the construction will start probably this month. It will take 18 months to finish. Everything has been put in place.

What are your plans for the Women's IPL? It has been in the pipeline for a while… And will the Indian women play more Test matches soon?

Yes, of course, they will. The Women’s T20 Challenge will again be back this year in the month of May. Hopefully, in the future, we will be able to host a bigger women’s IPL once the number of women players [player pool] goes up. But this year, the Women’s T20 Challenge will happen during the IPL playoffs.

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There is also a buzz that India’s men’s team will play a pink-ball Test in the Sri Lanka series…

Yes, the pink-ball Test will be happening in Bengaluru. We have not decided on all the venues for the Sri Lanka series yet, but it will be announced shortly.

India will play its 1,000th ODI against the West Indies in Ahmedabad on Sunday. Being a former India cricketer, how do you see this iconic moment?

I was the captain of India in the 500th ODI (against England at the Riverside in Chester-le-Street on July 4, 2002). It is a big moment for Indian cricket, but unfortunately, the match will be played without a crowd. The series, too, will be played in empty stadiums. It could have been done in a much better way had there been no COVID-19, but you cannot help it.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, we can’t really plan anything for this iconic fixture.

2022 and 2023 are going to be extremely busy for the Indian men’s team with two ICC World Cups lined up. What are your expectations from the team?

I don’t expect and don’t want to put pressure on them by expecting too much. I just wish them all the very best. I hope they do well. They are a great side, who will always be contenders and I hope they play well.

Your three-year term as the BCCI president is set to end towards the end around September-October. What do you see as your biggest legacy as the BCCI head? Is this role more challenging than that of the Indian captain?

I don’t think it’s more challenging. What’s my legacy? Well, I won’t be able to tell it now. Let’s see what happens. It is for you all to judge my legacy, it is what it is. But it has been under tough circumstances due to COVID-19 over the last two years. The pandemic has wreaked havoc all over the world and we are fortunate that we could still manage to get a majority of cricket done.

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