Former Indian cricket team captain Sourav Ganguly delivered the keynote address at Sportstar’s first-ever East Sports Conclave on Monday in Kolkata. The session was moderated by the editor of this publication, Ayon Sengupta.
Ganguly, 50, started off the session by talking about how cricket has evolved over the years. “Cricket has changed tremendously over the years. Not just cricket, every sport has changed. Cricket financially has become sound. Even the quality has improved. I never knew quality and finance could go hand in hand. The great Sunil Gavaskar would bat against the West Indies greats without wearing a helmet.”
“Now India goes so many times a year to countries like Australia, South Africa and England.. Look at the Australian team. They are not even playing a warmup match (now in Border-Gavaskar Trophy). This is because they are familiar with the Indian pitches. During my time, I used to go to Australia once in 7-8 years. It’s more important that I kept playing on tour. I kept playing Ranji Trophies and enjoyed playing First Class cricket. I had opportunities to have the selectors watch me and eventually got my chance to play in 1996,” the former BCCI president continued.
‘Administration important to hold on to players’
The administrative bodies have a major role to play when it comes to the all-round development of sport in a country. Ganguly said, “When teams struggle nowadays, it has a lot to do with the administration. Administration is very important to hold on to the players.”
On the growing stature of big-money leagues and their relevance, Ganguly said: “In a few years, only certain leagues will survive due to the ecosystem. Ultimately, the players will realise the country is as important as the league.”
Talking about the contribution that Bengal has had to the sport at the national and international level, Ganguly went on to say, “Look at Bengal cricket over the last 20 years. If you look at players like Mohammed Shami, Wriddhiman Saha and myself, who played a bit more than that... it is not that there have been no players. Shami might finish with 75-80 Tests which is very good for fast bowlers.”
And it has grown immensely over the years as well. The ‘Vision 2020’ programme, according to Ganguly, has been the gamechanger for cricket in this part of the country.
He said, ”Vision 2020 is why we have these many talents. We rope them in early and keep working on their development. Mukesh Kumar, Abhimanyu (Easwaran), Shahbaz (Ahmed) have all come from the system. We have Akash Deep also. They are not lost after a few years. We monitor their fitness and workload. There are youngsters coming up like Mukesh. Used to be a 13-14-year-old boy. Came from a very, very ordinary background. Just wanted to play the game, but did not know what to do.”
When asked whether more local players should be part of domestic and IPL teams, Ganguly said, “Everybody is local here. We do it (hire the services of local players). A lot of teams do it from the junior system. It does not always happen like that here (in the IPL) because the auction is different from how EPL and other leagues pick their players. It is a struggle for fanbases. For example, Delhi Capitals wanted to hold on to Shreyas (Iyer) and Shikhar (Dhawan) but they couldn’t keep them. The plan was to go into the auction and buy them back, but someone then pays more money and takes them away. It (selling) always isn’t the intention.”
Ganguly also elaborated on how the city was placed when it came to creating a new stadium. “We have a land in Rajarhat now. The Hon’ble Chief Minister (Mamata Banerjee) was kind enough to grant that to CAB. We have built a small stadium. We will still want to hold on to the Eden Gardens because it is iconic. We have some rebuilding to do after the World Cup in October where we want to get back to the 1,00,000 capacity. During the 2011 World Cup, the bucket seats came in and we lost a lot of seats then. It became 70k then. It will take about two years to complete the new stadium. In the smaller stadium, we will play Tests, and of course Ranji (Trophy) and other domestic games. Maintaining two stadiums also costs a lot. You want to rather use that money for the development of cricket. It is the balance that needs to happen.”
Dhoni - an absolute champion
Speaking on World Cup-winning captain MS Dhoni, “It is not about how many games Dhoni has played, but the impact he created. He is an absolute champion.”
The floor was later opened up to the audience. “Brian Lara, Kumar Sangakkara, Matthew Hayden, these are the three greatest left-handers according to me,” Ganguly said in response to a question.
The Sportstar East Sports Conclave was held in association with Hero We Care - a Hero Motocorp CSR Initiative, Indian Oil, Shiv-Naresh, Rau’s IAS Study Circle, Pinnacle Infotech, Maithan Alloys Ltd, Merlin Group, SRMB, Techno India Group’s Sister Nivedita University, Meghbela Broadband and Indian Bank.