Opening two games absolutely vital for us: Ganguly

Published: Friday, February 7, 2003, 23:53 [IST]
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Cape Town: Putting behind the recent failures in New Zealand, Indian captain Saurav Ganguly is confident of his own ability and that of his team's to do well in the World Cup, but believes the opening games against Holland and Australia will be vital. "The opening two games (against Holland and Australia) are absolutely vital. It would give us a fair idea and it could put us on a roll. I am eagerly looking forward for the tournament to unfold," Ganguly said on Friday.

Though the first game against minnows Holland on February 12 is expected to be a cakewalk for the Indians, Ganguly would be keeping his fingers crossed when the team takes on the mighty Australians on February 15. Ganguly would be fervently praying for his side's success in the mega event as it could be a watershed in Indian cricket in more ways than one - if India do well, Ganguly would remain at the helm of affairs and if they don't the famous Machiavellian politics of Indian cricket would once again effect a bloodless coup. However, Ganguly who is not fatalistic by temperament, does believe whatever has to happen would happen in due course and it does not serve any purpose to keep worrying all the time. "Destiny plays an important role in one's life.

I never thought I would play for India again and I never thought I would captain India in three years time," said Ganguly. "So whatever is destined would happen in due course." Already, the theatre of World Cup has drawn curtains on the careers of at least three illustrious Indian captains in the past - Srinivas Venkataraghavan in 1979, Kapil Dev in 1987 and Mohammed Azharuddin in 1999. The previous experiences suggest nothing less than a title win would help Ganguly keep at bay the hounds. Venkataraghavan was informed on the plane back home he was not the captain any more, Kapil Dev was sacked even though India had reached the semi-finals and Azharuddin was done away with after India lost in the Super Six stage in 1999. Ganguly, however, said he has never fussed over captaincy adding over the years he had matured as a captain. "I haven't fussed about captaincy during my career for personal reasons," he said.

"My only concern has been to see the team do well and bring laurels for the country." The left-handed batsman not only finds an uneasy crown on his head but he also needs to pull his weight in the team as a batsman to keep his illustrious international career going. Ganguly suffered the worst failure of his career in New Zealand recently where he mustered less than hundred runs from four Tests and seven one-day innings. The prospects of coming to South Africa offers him his best chance to strike back form for it was here that he blazed his way to a successful triangular One-day series in 2001. "I had good success on these wickets last time around and it was largely because I could use the elevation of bouncing balls and hit through the line to clear the infield," said Ganguly.

"It could happen because the wickets were true, the bounce was true and you knew what a ball was going to do. The case in New Zealand was entirely different. It was not of true bounce, there was excessive sideways movement and sometimes you could be through with your shot and the ball hadn't still arrived." As if the clouds over his captaincy and his batting were not enough, Ganguly has also drawn criticism in recent times over his slow-footed movement on the field. According to sources, BCCI's diktat for "hard nets" two times a day before the team took the plane to South Africa was primarily aimed at the Indian captain. Ganguly was not bothered by such criticism but said he was fitter now under the physical regimen of trainer Adrian le Roux. "It couldn't have happened if I was lazy. Le Roux has been very good to all the boys.

You only have to look at Sachin Tendulkar, Anil Kumble, Rahul Dravid, Zaheer Khan or me to realise how much body mass the team has shed in recent months." As pressure on Ganguly has mounted, he appears to have withdrawn into a shell and has not indulged in trademark aggression which has been the feature of his captaincy. If India has to do well, Ganguly has to be at his fighting best as a batsman to provide focus to a young team in a difficult tournament and wrest back his waning respect as a leader. Ganguly admitted he was now more comfortable with the leader's attire as he had come to know a lot more about captaincy than he did when he started out in late 2000.

"When I started out, it was a difficult time. A lot was happening in Indian and international cricket. Over the last three years, I have matured as a captain and tried to be fair to my team members." But the 31-year-old Ganguly, leading India to victories in 13 Tests and 45 One- dayers, scorer of 4,100 Test runs and 8,255 One-day runs, knows this is a moment of reckoning. If he blinks, it could be all over.

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