Nagpur: Sourav Ganguly has been a cricketer like none other: captain extraordinaire and a batsman with rare elegance and class, a fierce competitor and a man who proved people wrong countless times in his career. As the journey ends, Ganguly leaves after stamping his class on the grandest stage of all, against the champions of the world -- Australia.
We relive what has been a staggering career with the words of the man himself; it’s Dada's Last Stand.
Sanjeeb Mukherjea: As Indian cricket enters a new era, it bids goodbye to one of its finest warriors and one of its finest captains. Sourav Ganguly, so the journey has finally come to an end.
Sourav Ganguly: Yes, it's just the last few days of Test cricket. Hopefully it goes well for me and the team.
Sanjeeb Mukherjea: There has been a lot of talk when it comes to Sourav Ganguly. Like Dada doesn't want to go, he still has at least a year of cricket left in him. What is your take on that?
Sourav Ganguly: I can't say much about the talks but whoever goes, he will always feel there is still cricket left in him. When Mr. Gavaskar finished, I'm sure he too had cricket left in him. I know that if I keep playing I will get runs, in Tests and ODIs.
Inspite of all that, after having been around for such a long time, there is a time when you should just go and there are a whole lot of reasons for it.
Sanjeeb Mukherjea:What made you take this decision?
Sourav Ganguly: Basically, as a player who has been here for so long, you want to do well and then go on a high. One must also realise that if you look at the Indian batting order, number three. four, five, six have played 100 Test matches, which means nearly 13-14 years of Test cricket and time comes when somebody else needs to get in as well.
We all are around 34-35, not much difference in the age of the batting group. Anil is a bit elder and he has already quit. So, instead of all of us going together, it has to be in batches so that the replacements in the team suddenly don't suffer.
Sanjeeb Mukherjea: You have always been a straight talker just like the way you have been fearless when you were the captain. There has been so much of speculation about the fact that it is time for the 'fab four' to go and there is a BCCI scheme, what is your take on that?
Sourav Ganguly: No, it's not true. I don't think it is time for all the members of 'fab four' to go. There will be time some day. But I don't think it is time for all of us to go at once. All the talk about the scheme is just speculation and there will be speculation, the sport is so big in India. The rest will go when they want to. They are such big performers, somebody like Sachin has performed for 20 years. And Indian cricket is here today because of their contribution. So, they will go when they want to and nobody can ask them to leave.
Sanjeeb Mukherjea: Why is it then that the seniors in Indian cricket are never given the kind of respect they deserve?
Sourav Ganguly: I don't agree fully to it. People like Gavaskar and Kapil Dev have gone out with respect. It also depends on the stature. Look at the respect Kumble got when he went out. He decided the night before that he wanted to go because of the injuries and his body wasn't holding up and it's going to be the same with Sachin and Rahul.
Sanjeeb Mukherjea: What exactly goes through a cricketer's mind when he says -- 'that's it, no more, I'm retiring now'?
Sourav Ganguly: I don't know what goes inside a cricketer's mind but from my point of view I can tell you that from the time I have announced my retirement, I have been completely at ease and mentally prepared to go, finish with the game and start another life.
It's sport, it cannot last for a long time. Any sport, weather it is cricket, football or hockey, people like Pele and Maradona have gone. They are the greats but everybody has to go. Even Pete Sampras went because your body changes; it cannot be the same when you are 23-24 and when you are 36-37. In international sports, when you are expected to deliver day in and day out, moment you drop from your standards, people will start talking.
Since the day I have decided to retire, I have been completely at ease and have been asked this question many times that I am not feeling any emotion that I'm going. That's because I am completely at ease that I am going.
Sanjeeb Mukherjea: There was a belief that some people wanted Indian cricket to do well but did not want Sourav Ganguly to succeed. How true is that?
Sourav Ganguly: I don't get to know these things because these all are stories which come from inside and when you are playing for India you don't need to get all this. And honestly, it does not matter who wants you to do well and who doesn't want you to do well. I am sure otherwise I won't have survived all these years. I have played nearly 430 games for India.
Sanjeeb Mukherjea: But when it comes to media or the armchair experts, the 'fab four' comes under heavy criticism, nobody is spared. How do you take it?
Sourav Ganguly: We all know it's part and parcel of the game. You will be criticized. It's such a high profile sport. People will pass their judgments, people will say what they feel. But once you have crossed the ropes, it's about what you do with your bat and people will remember you in the middle for all their lives.
Before the Delhi Test, people were talking about Laxman being left out which was really sad because it was on the basis of just two innings. Then he came and got a double hundred. All you need to do is get runs and the rest will take care of themselves.
Sanjeeb Mukherjea: Since you have made your comeback, there has been no looking back. Was this a new phase in your life as a cricketer? Was there a new feeling when you went in to bat?
Sourav Ganguly: I was a lot more determined and I started gaining confidence after every Test match. I though I have batted as well as I have ever in my career in the last two years. I just getting better and better as time went by. Not being a captain also helped.
Sanjeeb Mukherjea: Was it a difficult time when you met your team after a long time?
Sourav Ganguly: It wasn't. I have heard media reports that I was not welcomed but it was perfectly fine. I had played with all of them for a long time and things which happened in the past was a repercussion of all that and when I walked back in South Africa, I could see that all of them were really happy.
Sanjeeb Mukherjea: One question which every media person will ask you is the episode with Greg Chappell. A lot of former players have gone on record saying Greg Chappell destroyed Virender Sehwag's batting and Zaheer Khan's fall was because of him and that Indian cricket was divided between Ganguly and Chappell. What we want to ask you is if that phase had not come, then do you think Sourav Ganguly would have been a bigger and stronger individual?
Sourav Ganguly: No, I don't think so. It was a difficult phase for me. All that happened during that one month was a shock. I still can't fathom why these things happened. And secondly, there was no need for that. If I had to go as captain, I had to go. It could have been done in a much better way. All I can say is all the things that happened to me in September didn't need to happen.
Sanjeeb Mukherjea: Did you feel a little bad?
Sourav Ganguly: Of course, I felt bad.
Sanjeeb Mukherjea: What was worse, losing your captaincy or losing your place in the side>
Sourav Ganguly: I think losing my place in the side was worse. I didn't mind losing captaincy. If it had happened in a better way, it would have been easier. But not getting picked was a lot more difficult because I had been captain for five and a half years and it had to go some day.
Sanjeeb Mukherjea: What kept you going during those days? There were stories in the media that Ganguly is practicing hard and he is not talking to the media.
Sourav Ganguly: It was just that I wanted to play. I had certain goals in life like playing 100 Tests. I had played 88 games when I was left out. I wanted to be a part of the 2007 World Cup team, I was just 32-33 when I was left out. Everything I did was to get my place back.
Sanjeeb Mukherjea: Statistics speak for themselves; you are the most successful Indian captain. You galvanised an entire side and changed the way India's outlook in the field. Some people don't give you credit for is that you took over as captain right after the match-fixing scandal had hit Indian cricket and you were new then. How difficult was it?
Sourav Ganguly: I took over captaincy against South Africa at home and we won the series. After that I went to Lancashire for six months, Rahul had gone to Kent and Anil was playing for Leicester. So we all had gone away. And during this time, all these issues came up. So I didn't have to deal with it head on.
By the time I came back, rightfully or wrongfully, the names that were attached to the issue were not part of the team. So, I didn't have to go and leave anybody out. I had to pick a new team and then we went to the Champions Trophy in Nairobi where we played outstandingly. I had a great series and as a team we did exceedingly well. We beat Australia in the quarter-finals and South Africa in the semi-finals. So that probably didn't make me feel in that strong a way that I would have probably felt if we had kept on playing during that period.
Sanjeeb Mukherjea: You backed cricketers like Yuvraj Singh, Zaheer Khan, Virender Sehwag and Harbhajan Singh. Now when you see the kind of stature they have gained, there must be a sense of pride that you feel.
Sourav Ganguly: Yes, I am very happy where they have got. It's just not my backing, it was the quality of players they were. People like Sehwag, Zaheer and Harbhajan are match winners.
I'm happy to see Gautam Gambhir has gone forward because he has scored heaps of runs in international cricket and it's showing in his performance in the international arena. I am sure when I leave, Yuvraj will get a chance in the Test side. I am looking forward to seeing him doing well.
Sanjeeb Mukherjea: This is something that Indian cricket is getting used to now that they are getting under the skin of the Australians. you, inadvertently perhaps, used to get under the skin of the Australians with names like of Steve Waugh.
Sourav Ganguly: Firstly, for somebody like Steve Waugh, I have immense respect. I am a huge fan of his mental strength. Everybody spoke of his weakness against the short ball but he survived 165 matches in international cricket.
Whatever happened in the field was just a way to win games, it was nothing personal. Over the years, I have realised that India played the best when they were up for it.
Sanjeeb Mukherjea: Talking about Sourav Ganguly -- the batsman, do you think you neglected your batting?
Sourav Ganguly: No, I didn't. In terms of my one-day cricket, it has been outstanding. In terms of Test cricket, I would have loved to have a few more runs. But I batted at No. 5 and No. 6. It is not an excuse but although I have 7000 runs in Tests, a few more would have better.
Sanjeeb Mukherjea: What were the reactions of Sachin, Anil and Sehwag, when you broke the news to them?
Sourav Ganguly: I'm sure they knew that at some stage it had to come. It's going to come for them as well. They were not surprised, they expected it. Everybody has to go in sports. It's my turn today and it will be their turn sometime.
Sanjeeb Mukherjea: It must have been an emotional moment for you also?
Sourav Ganguly: It wasn't that emotional buy obviously we would miss it. Initially, you will miss the competitiveness because the pleasure you got by scoring a Test hundred or an one-day hundred, it cannot be valued by anything else. Every time you get a hundred, you feel 'this is what I wanted to do and I am still good at it'. That satisfaction will not come from anything else.
Financially, when you play for 13-14 years in modern cricket, you are far past well-off. That's not an issue.
Sanjeeb Mukherjea: Do you feel your one-day career came to an abrupt end?
Sourav Ganguly: It was disappointing when I got left out. But I understand that they are trying to build a team for 2011 where at this stage I won't have fit in. It was a call not on the basis of ability but on what is best for the future of Indian cricket and sometimes, you have to do that.
Sanjeeb Mukherjea: How do you see the road ahead for Indian cricket?
Sourav Ganguly: I think MS Dhoni has done really well as captain. I think our one-day team is looking good. Hopefully, these young boys will understand the importance of Test cricket because any cricketer will always be remembered as what he did in Test matches.
Sanjeeb Mukherjea: Who will you miss the most in this Indian team
Sourav Ganguly: Everyone, I have shared so much time with them. They have been fantastic players. We have had arguments but that's bound to happen when you stay together for 13-14 years. But I'll watch them on TV and wish them well. They are all fine players and I'm sure they are going to do well.
Sanjeeb Mukherjea: Sourav Ganguly, thank you so much. It has been a fantastic journey.