Not many can claim to have spent long hours coaching him, for this young man knew the best to learn. By watching the great stars of yesteryear and when he got the chance to make a mark, Sourav Ganguly grabbed it.
The century on debut at Lord's was something Ganguly never honestly dreamt of. He earned the chance to play essentially because Sanjay Manjrekar was injured. The century at Lord's not only must have gladdened the heart of the East Zone selector who fought to get Ganguly into the Indian team for the England tour but also must have silenced a lot of critics of Ganguly.
Incidentally, one of the critics was Dilip Vengsarkar who had the distinction of scoring three centuries at Lord's. Vengsarkar would do well to realise his folly and pay compliments to this Bengal batsman.
The new star on the Indian cricket horizon spoke to Sportstar at the end of the Lord's Test.
Q. How did you develop interest in cricket?
A. Actually I was into football in the beginning. I used to watch my brother (Snehasish) play for Bengal under-15 and under-19. And then one fine day, I thought why not try cricket. I just enjoyed going to the 'nets' and bowling to them. I would be happy to be just there and mix with the cricketers. Take catches with them, and stuff like that. And then I got into the Bengal under-15 team to play a friendly match against Orissa. I got a few runs and that was how it all started.
So who was the biggest influence on you?
My father. He is very keen on cricket and would sacrifice anything to enable us play cricket. He wanted me to be a cricketer and I am happy that I did not let him down.
What was the motivation for you?
My desire to play for India was the biggest motivation. I used to watch all the big stars on TV and I just wanted to be like them really.
Did any former cricketer influence you?
Azharuddin has influenced me the most. His first three Test matches and hundreds inspired me a lot. I have been a fan of Azhar since 1984. He is a great person. And always ecourages the youngsters. I have been with him for two series and always found him a nice human being. I have learnt a lot from watching him and being with him. Obviously he is a great batsman. I consider myself lucky to have played with him.
Any other cricketer who made an impact on your approach to the game?
I have also admired Ravi Shastri a lot. For his determination to do well in crisis. Shastri was very gritty and I would like to imbibe this aspect of his cricket.
How was your experience playing for India 'A'?
I think it is the best thing to have happened to the youngsters in India. What happens is that the 'A' tours give you the confidence. You begin to learn the importance of consistency in international cricket and there is this urge to do well so that you can impress the selectors. The concept of 'A' cricket is really useful. It helps those who are wanting to come back and those who are on the fringe can use the 'A' tours to push their case. It really bridges the gap between first-class cricketers and international cricketers. It has helped me a lot.
How did you react to the criticism following your selection in the Indian team for the England tour?
I felt hurt on many occasions when people who knew nothing about me commented so harshly. But you can't help it, can you. I mean I don't mind criticism at all because it helps. But this kind of criticism without even watching me properly and particularly when I had not even got a decent chance to prove myself was unfair. I have scored runs to deserve a place in the team and it is not true that I just walked into the team. I was included on merit I thought and I deserved a fair trial. But I am not concerned because my teammates have supported and encouraged me. The team made me feel that I deserved to be on this tour. Particularly Sachin (Tendulkar). He always told me I had it in me to play for India. I personally felt my performances in domestic cricket had helped me get into the team.
You have also been accused of being arrogant. You do not like carrying drinks on the field...
It is not true. Do I sound arrogant talking to you? It is a totally wrong conception about me since 1991 that I refused to carry drinks on the field. Tell me, can a cricketer say that he won't carry drinks for his mates who strive on the field. It is silly to suggest that. I feel proud to be the 12th man for India. Even the 16th man for India because it is such a big honour. Not many get to be among the 16 for India. I am not arrogant at all. It is totally wrong.
What did all the criticism so far teach you?
It taught me so many things. It taught me to be a strong man, and also showed the way to become a professional really. I was a changed man from then on.
How was the last season for you, being in the eyes of the selectors?
I was very focussed on my cricket ever since I went out of the Indian team after the tour to Australia five years ago. I also realised that I had to work hard to get back into the side. There are so many players competing for one position and it has become hard to find and maintain your place.
What about the innings at Lord's?
I will tell you frankly I wanted to make an impression and it just happened that my debut came at Lord's. I was prepared for the occasion.
What was on your mind?
I had to get runs because I knew people were talking about me. I had to prove them wrong and good for me, I got some runs at Lord's.
How did you celebrate the century on debut?
Nothing special really. I stayed in my room because I don't have many people here to celebrate with except the team. I was in the room watching the highlights. The team was very happy for me.
How do you wish to learn and improve?
By watching the stars. Listening to them. Like Azhar and Sachin talking. That has also helped me. I think apart from coach, personal assessment is important for improving your cricket. Mr. Debu Mitra helped me a lot in my younger days.
What is your aim now?
I must perform and that is what I aim at everytime I walk to the crease. I can only try and be consistent and I assure you I shall try my best to keep improving and not disappoint my well wishers.
(This article was first published in Sportstar on July 6, 1996)
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