Dada and his gift of the gab

Spell-binding… Former India captain Sourav Ganguly fields questions from the audience during the Dilip Sardesai Memorial Lecture in Mumbai.-VIVEK BENDRE

The former India captain, Sourav Ganguly, charms the packed Bombay Gymkhana hall with supreme felicity and candour. By G. Viswanath.

Sourav Ganguly held sway at the plush Bombay Gymkhana. Invited for the Dilip Sardesai Memorial Lecture, the former India captain charmed the packed hall with supreme felicity and candour that he brings forth while in the television commentary box these days.

Caught in the labyrinth of Mumbai’s notorious traffic, Ganguly arrived a trifle late. He took a few steps in the direction of the stage, turned towards the backdrop for a few seconds and declared that on his many previous visits to the city to play cricket he had seen the Hindu Gymkhana, Islam Gymkhana and the Parsee Gymkhana beside the Kennedy Seaface, but regretted that he had never played at the Bombay Gymkhana.

Bombay Gymkhana was where India, under Col. C. K. Nayudu, played its first Test at home, against England led by Douglas Jardine in December 1933. Lala Amarnath scored 118 with 21 fours in the match.

Ganguly lavished praise on the ethos of Mumbai cricket and its cricketers. Invited to speak on Twenty20 cricket, he spoke candidly and with great interest on the subject, which must have been like paeans to the men who founded the Indian Premier League (IPL).

Four years ago, Sunil Gavaskar had given a resounding start to the lecture series saying those who ignore Twenty20 do so at their own peril. The purists and romantics, however, expressed their misgivings. This, after Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s team — without Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid — had won the inaugural ICC World Twenty20 Championship and the IPL was born.

Sachin Tendulkar is clean bowled by Doug Bracewell of New Zealand in the first innings of the second Test in Bangalore. Sourav Ganguly came to the little master's defence, saying: "It is not the first time that he has been bowled - it has happened even when he was at his peak. He had then found a way out, and he is going to do it again."-K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

This year, Ganguly reinforced the belief that Twenty20 and IPL are good things to have happened to cricket.

“The IPL is the best thing to have happened to Indian cricket. It has given a platform to a lot of young cricketers to interact with players from all over the world. We used to get Rs. 400 per day for a Ranji Trophy match, and look what the IPL has done. I still see Ranji Trophy as the place to search for good cricketers, especially in the Test format, because it needs completely different skills. IPL will produce players for that format and the 50-over format. If I am a selector, then I will give a lot of importance to Ranji Trophy, Duleep Trophy and Irani Trophy performances while picking players for the Test side,” he said.

According to Ganguly, captaincy in IPL was significantly different. “When I captained India, nobody asked me anything and I didn’t have to answer anybody after the day’s play. However, when I captained the IPL teams, I had to answer the owners before the game and after the game, and I am telling seriously, it is enormous pressure.

“When you lose a game, the first thing (you do) when you get back to the hotel is think, ‘What am I going to answer? Why didn’t Ashok Dinda bowl the slower ball at that moment?’ So, there is enormous pressure on someone who is in T20 cricket nowadays. It is much easier to captain India.”

He also touched upon Sachin Tendulkar’s manner of dismissals in the three innings he played against New Zealand. “The retirement talks would have definitely hurt Sachin, and he would try to resolve the issue soon. It is not the first time that he has been bowled — it has happened even when he was at his peak. He had then found a way out, and he is going to do it again. Tendulkar knows when he needs to call it a day, just as all great players are aware of it,” Ganguly said.

Ganguly also fielded questions from Harsha Bhogle and a few others from the audience on India’s domestic cricket and spin bowling among others. He also shed light on how the former Australian fast bowler and the erstwhile coach of the MRF Pace Foundation, Dennis Lillee, changed him from an aspiring seam bowler to a batsman. “I was told by Lillee that batting is a better option for me. Sachin Tendulkar was with me during that MRF Pace Foundation camp.

“I did not even know he was Tendulkar; he was just another young boy and we shared a room. We had gone there to learn to bowl fast. There were a lot of fast bowlers in that camp and there were no batsmen. And on day three, when Lillee saw both of us bowling some loose deliveries, swinging away from the right-handers, he said, ‘Why don’t you pad up since there are no batsmen in the nets’. Sachin batted in the nets for half an hour and we both came out of the nets and followed the coach. We were at a stage where we were trying to impress the coach and I heard Lillee tell Sachin that batting is a better option for him than bowling, and he was absolutely right,” said Ganguly.