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March 26, 1999


The Rediff Interview / Dodda Ganesh

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Nowhere man!

M D Riti

 Dodda Ganesh
"Yen guru, hegiddiya? (How are you, Boss?)", asked the man sweeping the pitch, pausing for a minute to greet a lanky cricketer as the latter strode onto the turf of the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore.

The tall, well-built young cricketer, who had driven up in a gleaming mauve Maruti Zen, acknowledged the greeting with a casual wave as he strolled past, into the empty stands. A friend rushed up to bring a couple of chairs, and Doddanarsaiah Ganesh settled into one of them, waving me to the other.

"Naanu Kannadane, (I would rather do this interview in Kannada)" said Ganesh quite unselfconsciously, eyeing the tape recorder in front of him.

The 26-year-old quick bowler, who made his Test debut for India at Cape Town, against South Africa, in the second Test of the 1996-'97 (one day debut, India v Zimbabwe at Bulawayo, 1996/97) could well have been pardoned for imagining that he had a long career at the top ahead of him.

After all, when he made his debut, pundits of all persuasions had compared him with the young Srinath, and indicated that Ganesh had the pace, and the potential, to develop into a lead bowler for India in years to come. A fluid run up, a high arm action, a natural away-swinger and the ability to bring the ball back in both off the seam and in the air, meant that Ganesh appeared, at that early stage of his bowling career, to have the basic arsenal for a fast-medium bowler.

That dream bit the dust at the end of the fifth Test against the West Indies at Georgetown, in the 1997 series -- which, as it turned out, was the last time Ganesh would get a chance to play for India.

At the end of that tour, his then captain Sachin Tendulkar and then coach Madan Lal hailed him as a find for the future. Immediately thereafter, the national selectors headed by Kishen Rungta unceremoniously dumped him, adding insult to injury by publicly stating that the lad showed no promise.

The selection committee has since changed in composition -- but apparently not in thought process. Ajit Wadekar, now chairman of the national selectors, and his fellows picked Ganesh for the 30-member shortlist for the World Cup. And yet, despite Ganesh's 85 wickets in Ranji Trophy this year and counting, despite the fact that England, where the World Cup is going to be held, is believed to be a seamer's paradise, this selection committee found no place for the young quick bowler in the 19-member shortlist.

You expect a cricketer in that position to hem and haw, to evade questions, to try and keep on the good side of the establishment. But Ganesh spoke his mind, in a candid, revealing interview with M D Riti. Excerpts:

Go back to the beginning, Ganesh, how did you start playing cricket?

That was when I was still in school. The menfolk in my family are all football players. I used to play football with a tennis ball, then I started playing tennis ball cricket, and that was the start.

And at what point did this casual play turn serious?

It happened in stages. I was wicket-keeper and opening batsman for my school team. At that time, I remember, my heroes -- and I used to really hero-worship them -- were people like Ravi Shastri and Sadanand Viswanath.

 Venkatesh Prasad
I gradually veered around to bowling, and then I joined Syndicate Bank. There, I caught the eye of G R Vishwanath, at some tournaments, he liked my bowling action and took me along to the Tarapore Club. So I started playing there, but in two months, I didn't get a break because the club was already well established, with players like Rahul Dravid and Deepak Kini already around.

So I then joined A V Jayaprakash's training camp, and he was kind enough to waive the coaching fees, which I couldn't afford anyway. He even got me a bat from Hatrick Sports, as at that time I simply could not afford one. That bat cost Rs 1,200 and I offered to pay for it at Rs 200 per month, but Jayaprakash didn't take a single penny from me.

 Anil Kumble
From there, I progressed to the Under 19 level, joined the Swastik Club, went on to play Under 23, then I was selected for the S A Sreenivasan tournament where I took 58 wickets, and that performance got me a Ranji Trophy slot.

I didn't get too many chances to play for the state in the beginning, as there were many established bowlers like Venkatesh Prasad, Anil Kumble, Sunil Joshi, Javagal Srinath... Finally I got a chance in the Irani Trophy, and took 11 wickets in the game, and then everyone took notice and I was picked for the national side.

You mentioned the presence of seniors like Kumble and Srinath in the state team, did they help your own development in any way?

 Javagal Srinath
Srinath was my ideal. My bowling action was patterned on his. He himself appreciated my bowling, after watching me in the nets, and brought me shoes from abroad when he went to play the World Cup in 1992. That gift was a great morale booster for me.

They've all helped me, actually. When I found it difficult to afford clothes while turning out for the Ranji Trophy, Kumble gave me some of his spares, as he and I are about the same height and build. And I remember when I went to the MRF Academy, I had a major language problem, and Venky used to patiently translate for me. They have all been helpful in their own ways, the senior players...

You seem to have had problems being able to afford to play the game...

Yes, because I belong to a very poor family. My father works for a public sector company. I used to play tennis ball cricket, only because that is not as expensive as regular cricket -- all you need is a bat and a tennis ball.

"The selectors have to give some excuse..." -- the Dodda Ganesh interview, continued

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