Deep-Final

India’s 500th Test is underway. Virat Kohli‘s men take on Kane Williamson‘s New Zealand in the first Test of the series in Kanpur. After the three Tests, both the sides play five One-Day Internationals (ODIs). Former Bengal captain and Indian cricketer Deep Dasgupta has readied himself for a busy schedule. He will be occupied with the mike and do live commentary for the matches. Born in Kolkata, Dasgupta was raised in Delhi and made it to the Delhi under-16 before making it big for Bengal. Having retired from the game, the Bengal stumper, who represented India in eight Tests and five ODIs, continues to contribute to cricket and is among the noted analysts.

Dasgupta, who has a Test hundred to his name, was India’s makeshift opener in 2001-02 season when the side struggled with their top order combination. However, he will be forever remembered for his fighting 63 in his second Test in Port Elizabeth and the partnership with Rahul Dravid that helped India save the Test. Before the start of the India-New Zealand series, the former India wicketkeeper-batsman spoke with Paulami Chakraborty about himself, his time with Sourav Ganguly, the India-New Zealand series, his expectations from it and more.

CricketCountry (CC): What got you into cricket?

Deep Dasgupta (DD): I was born in an era when cricket in India became the favourite sport. India lifted world cup in 1983, everywhere you went people were talking about cricket, playing cricket. That was there. And then, my elder brother was into sports. My parents would take him to practice. So I also tagged along, and I was pretty young then. So, both factors — the popularity of cricket and having the access to get closer to the practice sessions — got me into it.

CC: How did it feel like to get a place in the national side?

DD: It is everyone’s dream to represent their country and that too in a sport like cricket. Obviously it was a dream come true when I got to know that I was selected for the South Africa series. I still remember that I was in Hyderabad playing Moin-ud-Dowlah Trophy when my dad called me up and said, “I just saw it on TV that you are selected,” and I was like wow! It was surreal, I couldn’t believe my ears. Obviously I was a part of India’s camp before that, part of the National Cricket Academy (NCA) but it was a surreal moment.

CC: South Africa is a place where a lot of batsmen struggled. You had played a very good knock there. Talk us through your experience and the innings.

DD: I was very lucky to have all those amazing players in the dressing room like Sachin [Tendulkar], Sourav [Ganguly], Viru [Virender Sehwag], [VVS] Laxman, Anil [Kumble], Bhajji [Harbhajan Singh]. Few of them are of your age group and you get along with them well, and also the seniors, who you look up to, are absolutely brilliant. Obviously I got a lot of help from them.

I was in that moment when I just wanted to watch the ball and play the ball and try and leave as many balls as possible, because cricket then was a little different. You could get away with scoring 250 runs in the whole day but in these days 250 is not enough. So, the approach was different and I was thinking about the ball and how to play it. I wasn’t too much bothered about anything else like losing my wicket or losing my place in the side, getting out or getting hit because the other important thing is the fear of physical harm which I wasn’t really thinking about.

I think mentally I was in a very very good place.

CC: Coming to your maiden Test hundred which came against England in Mohali, how was it different from that in South Africa?

DD: It was not too different because Mohali, at that point of time, was India’s quickest [ground]. It had always helped the fast bowlers. Like I said, I was in a very good mental space and all I wanted to do was to play for as long as possible, and that was it.

CC: You led Bengal to two consecutive Ranji Trophy finals. Tell us about your experience.

DD: It was great. It is obviously an honour to lead your state team. When I got in, there was a little bit of turmoil because the year before, Bengal underperformed for a few years. We were on the verge of receiving relegation. The last game was between Bengal and Madhya Pradesh and the team which would lose the match was to be relegated. But I always believed in our team.

Bengal, at that point in time was absolutely brilliant. The whole thing was to get people together and believe. Not individually, but as a team, we could go somewhere. Again, I was lucky enough to have some really good cricketers in the team like Rohan [Gavaskar], Devang [Gandhi], Ranadeb Bose, Shib Shankar Paul, Laxmi [Ratan Shukla] and also youngsters like [Ashok] Dinda and Manoj [Tiwary] coming in and were a part of the team as well. It was a really good side and all I had to do was to show them the bigger picture and make them buy into it which they did. Once they do that, the life of a captain becomes really easy.

CC: You have played with Ganguly for a really long time. You have been captained by him as well as have captained him. How is he different in both the situations?

DD: I won’t say he was very different in both the situations. When I was captain and he was playing for Bengal, it was that time when he was trying to make a comeback. But he is a natural leader, so irrespective of the fact that who the captain was, whether it was me or anyone else, we would always look up to him and ask him about his thoughts. So, he would always be the leader that he is.

Back then he also needed a little bit of space as he was trying make a comeback. The fact that all of us were contributing as a team gave him that space he wanted and time to do play his own game as well. Sourav being there helped us for the team as well as me as a captain. The entire cricket world is aware of his potential as a player and captain. He was always there when I needed a suggestion.

CC: Bengal have produced many big players. However, in the recent times, the team has failed to proceed beyond the quarter-finals. What changes are needed?

DD: It will be really unfair for me to say anything about that as I have not been a part of it for the last three years. But now, I am a part of the team as a consulting coach. I think the new generation is absolutely brilliant. There are some really talented youngsters coming in, and it is heartening to see quality fast bowlers come in like [Amit] Kuila and [Ishant] Porel; Dinda is obviously there…Mukesh Kumar, Veer Pratap Singh.

Spinners are also coming in; Pragyan [Ojha] is there but there is a new kid called [Pradipta] Pramanick. I was there with the Bengal side for the last few days and I was blown away by the talent it has. I think the Bengal team will achieve much more than any other team in the past.

CC: Glenn McGrath recently was heard praising Veer Pratap Singh…

DD: Yes he is an exceptionally talented pacer . The best part is, he is not there alone. He has good players along with him, like Dinda and the others. When you talk about the ‘Fab Five’, everyone is pushing the other one on. I personally think, all these players and India as a team could not be as successful if they all were not there together playing and helping the other out in the process.

CC: Coming to the India’s upcoming tour, there are two players who have not performed in the Tests very well — Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma. What should be on their mind for the tour?

DD: Both are experienced. When it comes to cricket, consistency is something that has to be there. Playing at home is obviously an added advantage but they will have to perform. But again, when a player knows that he is going through hard times and there are chances that the series can be his last, it is never easy to perform. It is not a very favourable condition then.

CC: India are favourites on paper. What is your take on New Zealand?

DD: Playing in known conditions, India are obviously the favourites. But New Zealand are a very good team altogether. I have been following them for a long time now and I can say this will never be cake walk for India.

Though the team lost Tim Southee due to injury, they have Trent Boult. [Neil] Wagner did very well in the recent South Africa series. They have a world-class spinner as well in Mitchell Santner. He has been incredibly well. The way he and Ish Sodhi played in the ICC World T20 was amazing.

Though the formats are different, they can use their experience of playing in India in the series. The batting is also very strong, there is [Kane] Williamson,  one of the best players currently; there is Ross Taylor who is a good player of spin; and [Martin] Guptill who is a good player of spin. All in all, the New Zealand team looks really good.

CC: This is Williamson’s first series as captain in India. What all challenges are there for him?

DD: The first is obviously the Indian condition. The team does not have much experience of playing in the conditions which they will have to deal with. The Indian pitches and facing the spinners here will be a tough challenge obviously. However, Williamson and a few other players have played in IPL, which means they have spent 60 days here in the conditions playing cricket and they know what to expect. Those are the experiences that will help them in the series. New Zealand have had a decent amount of time after their last tour with South Africa, which means they have had a good span to prepare for this tour. They also played a tight game with South Africa. I think they should be ready.

CC: Talking about the wicketkeeper-batsmen in the two teams, whom will you put forward- Wriddhiman Saha or BJ Watling?

DD: Interestingly, for New Zealand, Luke Ronchi can be a good choice. He recently scored a very good hundred in the warm-up game against Mumbai. I will still go with Wriddhiman. I have seen his batting, he can score good runs. As a ’keeper maybe he is the best in the world, and also in subcontinent conditions where ’keeping is not easy at all. The ball is gonna turn, you don’t know what to expect from the pitch. By the fourth or fifth day it will be rough. So ’keeping is going to be tough and I will definitely back Wriddhiman to come on top.

CC: Who are your favourite wicketkeeper-batmen of all time and of current times?

DD: That is a tricky one. There are quite a few names. Pakistan’s Sarfraz Ahmed is really good, obviously Wriddhiman being one, then there is Quinton de Kock who is a fabulous talent.  There are a lot of wicketkeepers around. It is difficult to choose one.

If I have to go back and pick one, I always used to follow Ian Healy. He was really good and I was lucky enough to spend some time with him as well. If there’s somebody whom I would actually like to watch and learn from, it would be Healy.

CC: MS Dhoni announced his Test retirement abruptly and Virat Kohli had to take on the responsibilities. You have seen Ganguly go through a transition as well. How well do you think Kohli handled it?

DD: I don’t think we should compare Kohli and Ganguly, because when Ganguly came in the whole situation was different. There was this whole match-fixing controversy there when he came in. So, there were challenges but there were a lot of senior players. So I think the challenges were different. Even for Virat, the challenges were different.

Talking about Virat, his transition has been fabulous and it is kind of a miracle. From where he was two years back and where he is now, it is an absolute miracle. It is also a great inspiration for people. He showed that you can take such massive strides and change yourself so drastically. If you have that will and want and that is strong enough, you can do it. A couple of years ago he was a different person and look at him now. It is about being a better person than a better player or a captain that people get to learn from him and that is what people appreciate the most.

CC: To end the discussion, what will be your expectations from the series?

DD: I really want to see India to win the series, but at the same time I want to see good cricket being played, which I expect New Zealand to do. They must have prepared themselves really well and they are a good side. From that perspective, I want to see good cricket and of course India to win it.

(Paulami Chakraborty, a singer, dancer, artist, and photographer, loves the madness of cricket and writes about the game. She can be followed on Twitter at @Polotwitts)