It was a moment for me to savor as I had the privilege to meet Sourav Ganguly at Sajan house for dinner.
I had a plate full of questions and the first question I asked him was that as a player he had many great moments in his career. Like the Debut Test hundred at Lord’s, winning the NatWest Finals, winning a series in Pakistan, he mentioned all were special but to win the test series against Australia coming from behind as a Captain is most special to him. He stressed that was an all-conquering team led by Steve Waugh with the likes of Matthew Hayden, Adam Gilchrist, McGrath and his young team could beat them and it was very special to him.
The second anecdote was how he backed youngsters like Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan and Mohammed Kaif as well as Virendra Sehwag and MS Dhoni and got the better of every player. He said he gave the players the belief and the backing which gave the players confidence to perform. Also when he asked Sehwag to open, he assured Sehwag that even if you fail as an opener, you will be in my team and rest is history as Sehwag was India’s most successful opener. His biggest master stroke was to upgrade Dhoni to number three position from No 7 in only Dhoni’s 3rd ODI where Dhoni scored a match winning 149; against Pakistan and then never looked back and became an all-time legend.
Another interesting anecdote Dada shared was about his historic trip to Pakistan in 2006, where he said he was bowled over by the hospitality of the people of Pakistan and how everyone in Pakistan took such good care of the Indian team.
He said he had never seen so much security in his life as he saw in Pakistan in that series. He once sneaked out wearing a cap so nobody couldn’t recognize him, of course with the permission of the manager to eat in the famous Lahore Street where incidentally one of the Indian press reporter Rajdeep Sardesai spotted him eating and it was out in the media. The then President of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf called Sourav Ganguly as he was the captain and told him that the security of the players was his and his country’s responsibility and told him to be careful and go out only with full security.
I remembered another anecdote he shared, during the tour of Pakistan, when playing an off drive, his bats splice had come out. He did play that innings with the replacement bat but the next day, the owner of Pakistan’s biggest bat manufacturer CA sent him two bats as gift for and wrote on it even though you beat our team, we still love you.
Also I could not resist about asking him about removing his T-Shirt and celebrating at Lord’s balcony in the NatWest Finals, he said that he had lost quite a few finals and this win was coming after a long time and moreover Flintoff doing the same thing in Mumbai had inspired him and he removed his T-Shirt in sheer happiness after India’s famous win at Lord’s. Harbhajan Singh asked him if he too should remove, but the moment he was removing, Laxman pulled Bhaji’s t-shirt down.
Sourav was graceful enough in admitting when I asked him about the World cup finals loss in 2003 finals in South Africa to Australia by saying that Australian team during that era was the best team and to get past them was not that easy, eventually Australia had won three back to back World Cup titles in 1999, 2003 and 2007.
When I asked him was there any other sport he loved, he replied he played football better than Cricket and wanted to continue football but his father convinced him to take cricket as a career as in India Cricket had a better following and future. In fact his father had built for him a turf ground when he was a young child so that Sourav and his brother could practice there.
When I asked him about was he sad that the IPL could not be completed in India, he said he was and wished they had held all the games in Mumbai so that the players could avoid the air travel which he felt was the main cause for the cases to spread and the IPL could have been completed in India itself. He said that when they took the decision to play IPL in India it was January and here were hardly any cases and that’s why they took the decision to go ahead. But suddenly things took a turn and there was a huge spike in the number of cases in India.
Finally when I asked him about his health and he said he said he has been keeping well and taking all the right precautions, going for walks and exercising regularly and making sure he has the right food like salad and fish and avoiding red meat and fried food
I had the honor to present him our signature jacket with Dada written on the back as he is fondly called so not only in Kolkata but all around India as he was one captain who indeed turned around the way India played Cricket and backed his players to the core and changed the face of Indian cricket with his aggressive and shrewd captaincy.