Sourav Ganguly has had his fair share of difficult times during his playing days, but he has always found ways to navigate out of them. Now, as the president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), Ganguly must steer the ship in the most distressing times mankind has known.
If sport is happening, the credit goes to the resilience of the players. He is mindful that players make a lot of sacrifices and that’s the reason he backs them in their pursuit of cricket. In this chat with Sportstar, Ganguly shares his thoughts on the challenges faced over the past 14 months and the forthcoming series in England, which he reckons will be tougher than the one against Australia.
The Covid-19 situation is unlikely to improve anytime soon. So, what is the BCCI’s biggest immediate challenge? What are your thoughts on the situation?
The challenge has been there for a year now. Covid has hit us badly and we have all been struggling. Barring December 2020 to March 2021, it has been a battle against the pandemic. The battle to stay relevant. The battle to keep the people together. It has been extremely tough for all of us, and the cricketers were no exceptions.
How was the experience of hosting the Indian Premier League (IPL) in 2020?
Hosting the IPL in Dubai was a challenge no doubt. Hosting domestic cricket was going to be a humongous task. Everything went off well until this massive and dreadful second wave of Covid came. You can imagine how difficult it has been to get cricket organised. We have the World Cup in five months. Till this pandemic remains, it is going to be some task to organise any cricket.
How did you get domestic cricket back on track?
Creating the bio-bubbles and sticking to the discipline were paramount. We had cooperation from all stakeholders. Covid cases were fewer in December-February, and we could go ahead with some domestic cricket (women’s cricket, Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, Vijay Hazare Trophy). We had plans for the junior cricketers, too, for this July, but the second wave has left us with little choice but to cancel it.
The BCCI has been often accused of not giving women’s cricket its due…
But there is a lot of women’s cricket happening. We had to cancel the women’s IPL and schedule it for September-October. Now the women’s team is leaving for England on June 2. They have a lot of cricket there. They have got England, Australia. Then South Africa comes here. Some of them are playing 100-ball cricket in England. Some are playing the Big Bash in Australia. Then they go to New Zealand for a series and then they play the World Cup.
Then why are people not convinced of your support for women’s cricket?
Half of them don’t know what is happening. What to do? We have been living with this deadly virus. Other than men’s cricket, we had the women’s IPL. The South Africa women played here. It is a wrong perception that people have of us not promoting women’s cricket. What can I do? Our women are going to play Test cricket after eight years. They play a Test in Bristol and six ODIs (One-Day Internationals) and T20Is (Twenty20 Internationals). Would you still accuse me of not supporting women’s cricket? The West Indies will come and play in India. I think we are doing our best.
Are you not concerned about junior cricketers? They must be disillusioned since there has been no cricket for them for a long time…
How can we expose the young boys to this Covid atmosphere? Imagine a 16-year-old away from home and their parents and staying in hotels for long periods. This virus is so dangerous. We write to the associations. We can’t have direct access to individuals. We keep the players motivated by speaking with them through their associations. They have a World Cup in January. Hopefully by October things will settle down. Covid has ruined so much of sport and life. We will compensate all the domestic players in June-July. The junior players, umpires, scorers – they will all get their fees.
How did you manage to host the India-England series without any glitches and also the domestic tournaments?
Because the numbers were down, and we had just two teams. The bio-bubbles were there. We had 760 players in the bio-bubble (during the domestic games), but the key was that the Covid numbers were down across the country – 7,000 a day. Now we have more than four lakh daily cases.
Do you think you erred in continuing with the 2021 IPL? Could it have been called off earlier?
You can say that now in hindsight that the IPL should have been called off earlier. Mumbai and Chennai (legs) did not have cases. Only when the IPL reached Delhi and Ahmedabad did the cases rise. People will say a lot of things in any case. The English Premier League had so many people affected. But they could reschedule the matches. But you can’t do that with IPL. You stop it for seven days and it is done. Players go back home and then the process of quarantine starts from scratch.
The IPL and the BCCI have drawn criticism from many quarters for continuing with the tournament. What will the BCCI do to counter this negative perception? Do you think the criticism coming IPL’s way was justified?
There are different scenarios, and it is not always helpful to be wise after the event. We don’t have the advantage. As I said, we would have continued if there were no cases. We would have completed the IPL. The players were in the bubble and there were no crowds at the venues. Players were not getting infected. Once the players got affected, we called it off. Look at leagues going around the world. They have had Covid cases, but they have continued.
Is there a possibility of holding the remainder of the tournament in England after the World Test Championship (WTC) final and before the England series? The WTC final is scheduled to get over on June 22 and the first Test starts on August 4. Or after the England series?
No. India is supposed to go to Sri Lanka for three ODIs and five T20Is. There are lots of organisational hazards like 14-day quarantine. It can’t happen in India. This quarantine is tough to handle. Too early to say how we can find a slot to complete the IPL.
Your views on living inside a bio-bubble…
Bubble life is harsh; it’s the toughest thing. Since last September, a majority of players around the world have been living inside a bubble. There is no option. We can’t play cricket without the bubble.
Has it taken a toll on the mental health of the players?
I have spoken to the players. The best part is that a majority of them wanted to continue playing. Better off playing sport rather than getting stuck at home, getting worried about the pandemic. Playing takes your mind off Covid. Honestly, I have played the sport and I know how I am affected by this virus. Better to be on the field than sit at home.
What are the reasons behind India’s recent success in the international arena?
The system is strong – domestic cricket, NCA (National Cricket Academy), coaches. The IPL is also a reason. Fairness of selection; only the best get picked. There is transparency. The cricket system is robust. Four-day and T20 (cricket) are different, but the IPL does help. Gives confidence that you can play at this level. Talent is important and adjustment is not a problem.
It has been said that Sourav Ganguly the BCCI president is not visible enough…
For 12 months, all of us have been dealing with the pandemic. I do speak whenever it is possible. I have dealt with the pressure. It has been a tough phase. I have gone past it. I am fitter than before. I went to the hospital at the right time. Stents are not a big deal in the modern medical setup. Murali (M. Muralitharan) has three stents. My heart is absolutely fine. To be honest, I did not feel anything. I don’t feel anything now. The BCCI is doing good. It knows exactly what is going on.
India did well when you led the team, and it is now doing well when you are the BCCI president…
These are two different generations. This is a superb phase. Beating Australia in Australia was a tremendous achievement. We drew with Australia in Australia, beat England in England and Pakistan in Pakistan. Won in New Zealand, too. It was a glorious phase. This team is doing so well. I leave it at that. What happened in 2003 can’t be compared with 2021. I was involved both times – captain and now the BCCI president. I back the players, personally speak to them, listen to them. When they were in Australia, I would speak to the captain during every Test match. The results are because of the players. What Rishabh Pant did on the last day in Brisbane was incredible. He showed guts and character. The players relate to me because I have also played the game. Why can’t I speak to them? It is my job. I am supposed to speak to my players. We don’t hassle them. We are there to support them.
But what about the story of doctored pitches at home…
Not doctored. It is fun. If spinning is doctoring, what do I say? What about when the ball seams? Conditions are different in the subcontinent. India will go to England now and they will get green and seaming pitches. You must adjust.
What is your message to all the young people?
It is very tough, not just for the youth, seniors have also lost jobs. Hold on to it. It is the toughest time anyone of us has seen in our lives. Vaccines are here now, and things will resume. Hopefully, we will be back on track. The world has not seen anything like this. I would say play the ball on merit. Cricket will happen once the pandemic settles down.
Will you be travelling to England for the Test Championship final?
It is a good time to be with the family (now) – Dona (his wife), Sana (his daughter), my brother’s family. But I will go to England for the WTC. Get away for a while. It’s going to be a tough series. Tougher than Australia.