London: Sourav Ganguly was a pleasant surprise at the presentation party for the ICC Champions Trophy final at Edgbaston on Sunday night. Dressed in a sky blue suit, when the former Test captain presented the Golden Bat and Golden Ball to Shikhar Dhawan and Ravindra Jadeja, respectively, a glorious and golden past met the future of Indian cricket.
June and the English summer has been very special for Ganguly. Seventeen years ago on June 22, he scored a century (131) on debut at Lord's. It was the second Test against England and two dramatic events changed the lives of two rookie batsmen. Navjot Singh Sidhu had walked out of the team under Mohammed Azharuddin's captaincy and Sanjay Manjrekar was indisposed. Ganguly and Rahul Dravid thus made their debuts. Ganguly became the 10th Indian to smash a century on debut while Dravid fell just five runs short of the coveted three-figure mark. Both went to lead India in Test cricket.
Today, Ganguly is arguably one of the world's best TV analysts of the game. Pushing 41, he remains a crowd-puller. During the Champions Trophy, he was often seen doing his live TV stints, outdoors. Whether it was The Oval, Edgbaston or Cardiff, chants of "Dada, Dada" clearly showed he was more popular than a Sunil Gavaskar, a Kapil Dev or a Navjot Singh Sidhu.
The world reckons Ganguly as the man who turned Indian cricket around with his leadership skills and clarity of thought. Often boisterous, he taught Team India to look the opposition in the eye. From 2000 onwards, there was a distinct shift in India's body language as some of the biggest 'battles' with Australia and England have been 'fought' when Ganguly was in the hot seat. He taught Indians to play the game hard and never get overawed by names or occasions.
As a cricket analyst, Ganguly commands the same respect as he did during his playing days. He remains 'special; even during times when some of the top TV experts are 'paid' to say what the game's administrators want. Ganguly speaks his mind - straight from the heart, honest and with a lot of logic and substance. (Watch Video: The Rise of MS Dhoni)
Ganguly spoke to NDTVSports.com in an exclusive chat during the Champions Trophy semifinal between India and Sri Lanka in Cardiff on June 20. Excerpts from the conversation:
Q:For someone with 38 international hundreds, how do you look back at the century on debut at Lord's 17 years ago?
A: Oh, I have very fond memories of it. I will always remember that innings. It was a life-changer and it will always rank among the best knocks I have ever played.
Q: June has always been special for Indian cricket, for both good and bad reasons. We will be celebrating 30 years of India's first World Cup win at Lord's on June 25 (today). As a 12-year-old, do you have any memories of that event?
A: Yes, of course. I remember it was raining and we were at home watching TV. It was a big game and the victory changed the face of Indian cricket. We started taking cricket seriously after that.
Q:India won the World Cup in 1983, in 2003 we almost clinched it and in 2011, it was a dream come true. How do you reflect on these high points of Indian cricket?
A: The best part about this is that Indian cricket has remained strong. It is very important because we always fall in the trap of comparing eras, judging captains and trying to find out who is the best. At the end of the day, it is a team sport and it's about Indian cricket. And most important thing is how strong Indian cricket stays over a period. As I said, captains and players will come and go in an era. You have to keep producing good players to get the results.
Q: Cricket has always been about characters and individuals. You and Dhoni have been India's best captains. Don't you think comparisons are justified?
A: I really don't know why people are comparing me with Dhoni. I don't think it will be possible for me to compare myself with him. I don't believe in comparisons. You can't compare players or captains or people of different eras. Situations are different and you react differently. Dhoni has been an outstanding captain. His record as captain is terrific. He still has a lot of cricket left in him and he has done wonders to Indian cricket.
Q: What makes a good captain?
A: It's a mixture of many things. It's not just numbers. You always have to consider the finer details like where you play, what impact you have, what are your performance overseas and the teams you play against. All these make a difference.
Q: The history of Champions Trophy shows India has found new talents from time to time. We saw the emergence of Yuvraj Singh and Zaheer Khan in Nairobi 2000 when you were captain. And now players like Shikhar Dhawan and Jadeja.
A: Well, it's got nothing to do with a Champions Trophy. Yes, there were a few who made their mark in Kenya, but it was what we did after that. The next one in Sri Lanka we did superbly and then we started doing well in Test cricket and we played better, overseas. I think every team should be judged on what they do in Test cricket. ODI is a different ball game but to rate a team as a strong and solid one, Test cricket should be the yardstick. For a period of five-six years, the team under me started getting better and I am sure this one (under Dhoni) is a young and rebuilding team and it's about what they do over the next two-three years. Then only we should comment on this side. A Champions Trophy win is a great achievement but let's watch and wait.
Q:You backed players to the hilt. How do you rate Dhoni on this aspect?
A: Dhoni backs players as well. People like Raina, Jadeja, and Rohit Sharma have developed under him as players and he has some terrific qualities as a leader.
Q: Dhoni says the mantra to success has been to keep things simple. How easy is it to be an Indian captain?
A: Well, you try to keep things simple...You TRY! Dhoni looks okay from outside. There must be a lot of pressure from inside. Situations are something you react to and he looks less fussy. But whatever it is, he has done a marvelous job for India. (See in Pics: Dhoni, the superman)
Q: India will be playing at least three tough series abroad over the next 18 months or so. Do you think the core of the squad lies in this Champions Trophy team?
A: Only time will say. There is no hard and fast rule in cricket that this IS the team. It will keep getting readjusted and changed as time goes on. I am sure this will happen here too. The next 18 months will see good tough cricket for India and it will make and break some players.
Q: Do you see Dhoni as the 2015 World Cup captain? He never looks beyond a certain point and sounds circumspect.
A: That's the way he always is. I am sure he has got the 2015 WC at the back of his mind. He is young, a terrific ODI player and there is no reason why he won't be captain.
Q:Dhoni said fielding was neglected my previous teams. You agree?
A: The Indians have done very well in this competition, but it's wrong to say the previous teams have neglected fielding. They have indeed looked after their fielding. There have been brilliant fielders ... when Yuvraj and Mohammed Kaif came, they were outstanding. Before that there was Azharuddin. They were classy fielders. As I said, let's not compare eras and let's enjoy the particular moment.
Q: How important is it to enjoy the support of the management?
A: It's a team game and support is very important. I am sure Dhoni has enjoyed terrific support from the Board. He had a tough two years since the World Cup but the Board and the selectors believed in him.