Couch Talk 149 (Play)
Guest: Daren Ganga
Host: Subash Jayaraman
Couch Talk with guest Daren Ganga.
Subash Jayaraman (SJ)– Hello and welcome to Couch Talk. Today’s guest is former West Indian batsman, Daren Ganga. He talks about his stop-start career, playing alongside some of the West Indian greats like Brain Lara and Curtly Ambrose, his twin back-to-back 100s against Australia and his memories from two Tests – the successful 418 run chase against Australia in Antigua and the 2006 Test v s India on a tough Sabina Park wicket amongst other things.
Welcome to the show, Daren!
Daren Ganga (DG)– Thanks for having me on! i am making my debut here!
SJ– My pleasure!
Your cricinfo profile reads: “It wasn’t until his 4th coming in the international carer that he truly made his mark against the mighty Australians with back-to-back 100s”. What was it that it took you long enough to get to the point and get comfortable?
DG– Well, if you look at my career, you will see that I was virtually plucked out of school cricket and basically got to play international cricket form a very young age. I would have played just one season of first class season for Trinidad and Tobago. I hadn’t done well in the last two games of that particular season, which wasn’t a full season. I scored a 100 against Barbados and scored a big half century against Courtney Walsh and Franklin Rose’s Jamaican team. I was selected for WI’s first ever tour to South Africa post-Apartheid. That was in 1998/99, I was 19 back then. Really, the selection that should have offered me the opportunity to learn more about the intensity of international cricket and what will be required to be successful. Having said that and looking back, I got the opportunity to play and I would not regret having that opportunity – that made me the strong player that I eventually turned out to be.
I travelled a lot initially in my career and I struggled because I was still learning my trade at the highest level, which is always a very difficult thing. A lot of players come and make their international Test debut after playing about 6—70 first class matches. That was not the case for me. We saw in this game – Stiaan van Zyl making his Test debut after playing close to 70-80 matches. Players usually are given the opportunity when they have really understood the rigours of first class cricket and done well and taken that confidence to the international arena. I didn’t have that luxury and that is why it took me quite a bit of time for me to get settled at the international level.
The other thing which I thought was very significant before I really started to realise my potential was that I toured most of the times and I never got the opportunity to play in the conditions that I really honed my skills back in the Caribbean. It took me 17 Test matches before I played my first Test match in the Caribbean, and that is where I scored my first Test 100. So, it is not excuses, but my record and my progress as a players was really sort of _________ a lot because of what I have just explained.
SJ– You talked about not playing in Caribbean conditions, but your debut was in Kingsmead, Durban, probably one of the fastest pitches. And, Shaun Pollock was in his pomp. What are your memories from then? He got you out 5 out of 6 times in that series.
DG– He got me all the times in that series, on all 6 occasions. I debuted batting at no.6. In that Kingsmead Test match I scored 26 in the first innings. I was bowled off a no-ball. I am going to change the outcome, I am not quite sure. But yesterday, we were looking at the clips from that Test match. I got dismissed in the 2nd innings by a brilliant piece of fielding from Herchelle Gibbs. In fact, he took 4 or 5 catches in that innings. The most outrageous fielding efforts from him. I remember him taking a catch to dismiss Brian Lara also in that Test. We lost that Test match. We lost all the Tests in that series.
It was really Baptism of fire. My first ball in Test cricket was from Alan Donald, White Lightning as they call him. It was short ball from him. My first scoring shot was a boundary off his bowling as well. fun memories. Would have loved to have more memories from my first Test match, but nonetheless I was happy with the experience.
SJ– When you finally established a spot in the side with back to back 100s against Australia at home, and that was an epic Test match too – I want to talk about that Test match, that epic chase. But, those two back to back 100s, giving you the confidence that “Yeah, I have arrived as a Test batsman!”?
DG– Yes. It has always been a struggle for me because there are so many players who are competing for our team. Back then we were struggling to get wins consistently, we were in a transition period and the great players were leaving the international arena. I speak of great players like Courtney Walsh, Curtly Ambrose and guys who would have carried the mantle of West Indian cricket. WI selectors were looking for young blood, young players who would have stepped into the fold and really carried the WI cricket. I was fortunate to be given that responsibility and play for WI. But yes having scored a Test 100 against the no.1 Test team in the world and the no.1 international team – the Steve Waugh Australian side – was really a booster. I got back to back 100s in the first two Test matches of the series. The only Test match that I played in front of my home crowd – I got to make back to back 100s there, that was the highlight of my career.
But, it was tough. I have always had to prove myself as an opening batsman. West Indian public is not a sympathetic public. They want to see results time and time again. If the team as a whole is not achieving that they were quick to resort to create debates about players having opportunities. I had a lot of times being in the XI and out of the XI and in the XI and out. That was because of my consistencies in terms for run productions and also in terms of the team winning and the entire environment was a very, very intense environment and it was not easy for players to get consistent performances.
SJ– You mentioned about coming in straight away from high school ,basically, as a 19 year old when you walk into the field with the names you mentioned – Sir Curtly and Courtney Walsh and Brian Lara – the people that you grew up admiring and idolising. What was that experience like?
DG– Well, it was living my childhood dreams. I have always had thoughts of playing international cricket. I come from a rural community in Trinidad and Tobago called Barrackpore. It was the most popular thing for a young person to do – play the game of cricket because of the rich legacy the game has and because of all the great players that we have produced. As a young player growing up you always want to emulate these guys. When I got the opportunity to play and run shoulders with Brian Lara, Sir Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh, Carl Hooper, Jimmy Adams – being in an environment where Clive Lloyd, Sir Vivian Richard s- all these guys were around. It was really humbling. I can tell you I savoured every single moments of my interaction with these folks. They have achieved great things for our small nations in the Caribbean. I just wanted to emulate these guys. I worked really hard as a young player to try and compensate for the lack of experience. i was a student of the game and I really wanted to produce the goods for WI and see our cricket back to the top of international sport.
SJ– I want to talk little bit about captaincy of WI and T&T. First, you went as a deputy to Ramnaresh Sarwan to England in 2007. He got injured and you became the captain. Your experiences of being the captain of WI…? Legends of the game have been the captains of WI.
DG– Of course, another highlight of mine. It happened it the middle of the tour, in unfortunate circumstances with Ramnaresh Sarwan. I had just had a brilliant tear with the bat for WI. I had most runs for WI in 2006. This was my 4th coming as a Test player. I dominated first class cricket in the region for a number of years not only as a batsman but also as a captain for my domestic team – T&T. We had a very, very great period in regional cricket. We won the Stanford 20-20 tournament, we had won the 50 over tournament, we had won the 4-day competition, and we were the dominant team in regional cricket. I got the opportunity to play Test cricket. I had a fantastic year. I was really looking to build on that.
I was really disappointed as well – just prior to the England tour there was the World Cup in the Caribbean in 2007, and out of all the guys who were selected I was not included in the 30 man squad. i am not saying that I had great ambitions of playing in the final 15, but having done so well in 2006, my heart sunk when I was not part and parcel of the group in preparation. Being sidelined and being stereotyped into a Test playing batsman and not given the opportunity to play more ODI cricket because of the nature and schedule, I found myself lacking intense cricket throughout most of the year and having to go into Test cricket and find my form. Because of the lack of intense cricket. That is something that I didn’t raise with our coach back then – Bennet King – or anyone in the WI board, because I was the only one in that situation. Not going on a tour before and not having intense net sessions and not getting competitive cricket and then in the space of a week you have to walk into a Test match and produce. It was a big challenge for me and I was crying out for help and there was little I was getting in return.
Having said that, following the ICC World Cup in WI in 2007, a week after that we had to tour England for the Test series. There were periods of 3-4 months that I didn’t play a competitive match. I got into the England tour as vice- captain of the team. We had one practice game before the Test match and that was rained off. So, I was in a situation where I have not played much cricket having to open in England against very competitive England outfit. Luckily for me, I averaged 80 in the first Test match at Lord’s and when the tour was now looking positive for me, as a player and for WI because we drew the first Test match, Ramnaresh Sarwan unfortunately got injured.
In that particular game, inherently I had to take over the reins of leadership. It was a real challenge for me because I didn’t have the opportunities to have solid inputs into team selection. I was part and parcel of the discussions with Sarwan but here I was given a squad and I had to deliver as a captain. It was the toughest period of my career. Once I had the support of some of my players, they were some players who were very difficult in terms of the relationship and in terms of pushing them to my philosophies of the game. it is not easy doing that during a Test match and during a series. That was my biggest challenge. I struggled really with the bat after the first Test match because of all these responsibilities, even from an administrative point of view. The WI selectors and the WI board didn’t appoint me straight away as the captain for the rest of the tour, so I had a period of not knowing what my role would be. That affected me mentally . The history will show what transpired in that tour. Whilst I appreciated the honour of leading the WI team in Manchester, I was very competitive in that Test match. We lost the Test match at Headingly. We were a lot better than what we produced. The memories will always stay with me and I will always relish that opportunity to lead the WI team.
SJ– Following on the captaincy theme, there is a question from a listener from Trinidad – Kingsley. He had mentioned about winning a lot of stuff with Trinidad. What is your proudest moment as the captain or Trinidad?
DG– It would have been the win in our domestic 4-day competition after a period of 21 years. Again, my first class debut in 1997, I would have wanted to think that back then in 1997 we had the best Trinidad and Tobago team. When I say “best team”, I meant the best team on paper. You had the likes of Brian Lara, Phil Simmons, David William, _________ Dhanraj, Ian Bishop – guys who were dominating international cricket – they were part and parcel of our domestic cricket. Yet, we were not able to win titles to show that were the best team in the entire WI region.
What I have done throughout my entire career was being a bit observant. I have been able to pick up little things along the way which would have really put me in great stead as a leader. When I got the opportunity to lead Trinidad and Tobago in 2003-04, I was able to bring all these pieces of information to the fore and use it as a major part of my think tank as a leader. As and when we started to do great things, we never wanted to have any distinction in our efforts playing first class cricket as against playing international cricket. That sort of _________ and right in the young players. The young Denesh Ramdins and the young Dwayne Bravo and the young Keiron Pollard. These are the guys who I would have had an impact in terms of grooming, in terms of developing a work ethic in terms of letting them understand that whenever you play a game of cricket you should play it in a professional manner, give your best effort. Cricket is not about switching on and taking it off. It is about playing the game in the true spirits every single time you step on the field. We were able to develop that culture. To me, the highlight would have been winning the 4-day title. Because of the confidence that we gained from that particular victory and season, we were able to use that momentum throughout the next 5-7 years and really dominate our regional cricket back in the Caribbean.
SJ– I want to hear about your memories from two Test matches. The first one would be the 418 run chase. That was in your 4th coming as a player. You had scored two 100s, back to back against Australia and then you come to St. John’s. Australia scored 240 in the first innings and WI scored 240. N the third innings, (Matthew) Hayden and (Justin) Langer tee off and they score some 260 for the first wicket. Your thoughts from there on?
DG– Well, we had a target – 418. The statistics would have shown that it would have been the highest run chase ever by any team to win a Test match. Antigua has always been a fun place for the West Indians to play. I think Brian Lara would be saying something even better than that because he, as an individual, as a batsman has been able to achieve great things at that venue. He broke Sir Garfield Sobers’ record, scored 375 there, and then followed up with 400 against England. So, we were very confident in terms of our ability to chase that total. We had a lot of time left in the Test match and we had a lot of batsmen who were in good form.
I remember batting at no.3 in that Test. Wavell Hinds and Devon Smith opened the batting. They put on a decent start. I got in to my stride and I think I got out, maybe in the ‘teens in that particular Test match and then came Brian Lara, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Ramnaresh Sarwan. It was really that Sarwan-Chanderpaul partnership and later on Ridley Jacobs who contributed with the bat that set the tone for us cashing this total. In Antigua, the crowd is very confident in terms of the team’s accomplishment at this venue. I can recall on the last day when we had under 100 runs left to chase, Omari Banks and Vasbert Drakes had the responsibility to do so. All the hard work was done. A century from Chanderpaul, a century fro Sarwan and one from Ridley Jacobs as well. there was never a doubt in our minds as players in the team that we were not going to win that Test match. We were very confident that we were going to win it. We came to the ground on that morning knowing that we were going to achieve something great. Luckily for us we were able to do so. Omari Banks, in his first series, was amazing. He was able to produce with the ball, and scored a half century with the bat as well. We were able to beat the mighty Australians in our backyard after we had dominated the first three Test matches, to top off the series in that sort of style. I think we won back the hearts of all the West Indians in that 2003 series.
SJ– During that chase, there was an incident with Sarwan and McGrath. What was it looking at form the dressing room? What did you hear from Sarwan after that incident about what had transpired?
DG– Well, we all know that the Australians are very tough, and very competitive. We had experienced that throughout the entire series. This was pretty much the climax. We wanted to fight fire with fire. It was not just with the bat and the ball, we wanted to show that in our body language. We wanted to show the Australians – “Listen, you are playing in our backyard and we are very confident here.” Ramnaresh Sarwan, he is a close friend of mine. I know how aggressive and tough mentally he is. In that particular scenario, I know there were a few words being passed between McGrath and Sarwan – it is in the spirit of the game. i don’t think anyone is personal in terms of their comments. But sometimes, when you got your adrenaline running and you are pumped up as a player, you say certain things that are not really personal. It is just a reflection of your resilience and your ability to fight for your country and stand up and be counted. It was a couple of personal comments, and I don’t want to repeat these things. To us, it was a defining moment. It showed that we were up against the best team at the moment. We, the WI, even though we were lower down the pecking order of world ranking, we were a force to be reckoned with, more so in our backyard. We had the calibre of players to do so. We just, like we are now, not able to string those kind of performances consistently. That is the reason why we are ranked no.8 in Test cricket.
SJ– Another Test match that I want your memories on, is the one in Kingston, Jamaica. It was a tough pitch. You top scored for WI in the first innings with 40 in a score of 103. Rahul Dravid made twin 50s, which are still celebrated as two of the toughest innings that he has played. Your memories from that Test and the chase? First, your batting in the first innings, Dravid’s two innings, and then the chase?
DG– Just to build that series – we had gone two or three Test matches with draws. No team budging, very competitive cricket. Both teams, when they were down and out, somebody came and delivered. This was the deciding Test match. India hadn’t won a series in the Caribbean in a long time. Rahul Dravid was the captain and there was no Sachin Tendulkar. A lot of young Indian faces. I remember Mahendra Singh Dhoni was on the tour and he started playing in the latter part of that series. VVS Laxman would have been the most senior batsman on that tour as well.
We came to Jamaica expecting a surface that would offer assistance to fast bowlers and before the start of that Test match, we were all very disappointed as West Indians with the nature of the surface. In fact, I talked about the scenario with Brian Lara just ________ the groundsman whilst he was batting in that Test match. Having said that, the first innings was very tough. The Indian fast bowlers were extracting some awkward bounce. They were swinign the ball. (Santhakumar) Sreesanth in particular was outswinging the ball and he was bowling really well, with quite a lot of pace and accuracy. And then, the challenge of Harbhajan Singh. The surface was offering a great amount of spin and bounce. It was very awkward to play spin bowling on that surface in Jamaica.
Having said that, because of the form I had shown in the previous Test matches – I got 135 in St. Kitts and Nevis and 77* – I scored around 200 runs in that Test match. And then I had a good couple of innings before. I was the in-form player and a lot rested with me in terms of ensuring that top of the order we laid a good foundation for the likes of Brian Lara and the lower order with Shivnarine Chanderpaul to come and really capitalise and bat and lay good totals which will offer our bowlers to get 20 wickets in a Test match. I was just contended with putting away the bad balls, ensuring that my defence was very strong. Whilst on tracks like those you would want to survive and play that big long innings, deep down at the back of your mind you knew that on some occasion you will get an unplayable delivery. That is why it was important to capitalise on anything that was on offer. That is what I did. Unfortunately for me, I think I flicked across an outswinger on a ball from Sreesanth – a very beautiful delivery – something similar to what AB de Villears would have received here from Jerome Taylor. It immediately reminded me of that experience. that was my experience with the bat.
Then we had that run chase trying to win this Tests match after India had set us a total. I remember Denesh Ramdin batting in the end in the lower order taking the attack to the Indians and in the end we could not have pulled it off. India was celebrating. They worked hard. I have clear images of Rahul batting and him just being gritty and being determined, being Dravid-like as I would say – middling every ball, showing his shrewd class as a Test batsman, playing a typical Test innings in tough situations. I equated him to Steve Waugh – someone who really made you fight to get his wicket. His two innings in that Test match really made the difference. He was able to take India over the line. Whilst we were disappointed, India played better cricket and they showed more fight with the bat – that was mainly because of Rahul Dravid – and then with the ball. They were able to hold the composure all the way through that Test match.
SJ– (Anil) Kumble took a 6-fer in the final innings. As you mentioned, it was a target of 268 or something like that and you were short by 50 in the end. There was a partnership between Ramdin and (Mervyn) Dillon and then with Taylor. Was there a hope in the dressing room that even though you were a 120 runs or so away the boys could have pulled that off?
DG– Yes, we were always very confident. We felt that if Denesh Ramdin could have created a couple of more partnerships, we might have been able to cross the line. But, deep down we know that it would have been challenging. We have all had the experience of batting out in the middle. We knew that there would be some unplayable deliveries and it would have been a matter of hope and luck. We were always very reserved in our confidence to win that particular game. We never questioned the abilities of our players, but what we did question as the conditions, if our players were able to overcome these unplayable deliveries. Confident all the way through, India were able to be in that dominant position. I remember clearly, we having a note board in the dressing room. We were breaking down every single session and trying to come up with targets in terms of partnerships for our lower order so that their focus would not be on individual and would have players batting and fighting together. Those were some of the things that I can recall from the dressing room that we were trying to incorporate for us to try and win that Test match.
SJ– Last question – when you look back on your career – 48 Tests. You said that it wasn’t until your 17th Test that you got to play at home. For a top order batsman you had 3 100s. When you look back on it, what are the feelings that you have on how it all worked out for you?
DG– The experience, would never regret. I am forever grateful for the opportunity to wear that maroon cap and represent the WI. I really think, from a player’s perspective, I was not as talented as a Brian Lara or even a Ramnaresh Sarwan from a batting point of view, but I was very determined. I worked really hard and prepared really well as a player and I wanted to produce the goods time and time again at the top of the order. You know how challenging it is batting at the top of the order. As a player, over the years, I would have regretted not being able to consistently produce runs at that level. But, I was never short of motivation and inspiration. I would have wanted to convert a lot more of my half centuries into my 100s. I can recall straight away – two big half centuries against Pakistan in Pakistan that I really would have wanted to convert. 90 odd in New Zealand, in a very tough condition where we had a Test match to win. We didn’t really capitalise on it. a big half century against Zimbabwe in Zimbabwe.
When I analyse my career, I have been able to average nearly close to 50 in Test cricket against India, I have done well against Pakistan, against the lesser teams like Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. Against New Zealand too, I have dominated. But I struggled early in my career. Unfortunately for me, I played a lot of my earlier Test matches against the best teams of the world. I struggled against South Africa – and that is because of my inexperience. I played a lot of Test matches against South Africa and I struggle. I played against Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka and I struggled. I was decent against Australia. If I had better earlier experiences, I think my Test average would have been a lot higher. I would have been able to convert a lot more. My opportunities were limited. In a _____ period where you can really set your mind to achieving a goal. In fact, in 2006, when I scored the most Test runs for the WI, that would have been the only period when I played 10 or 12 Tests matches on a trot. Those are things that when I look back I would have probably liked to have, probably change a bit, but I would not regret my career.
My experiences at international level has really placed me in good stead to dominate at first class level where i had the opportunity. My experience at Trinidad and Tobago, where I have been able to win the most titles as a player in the history of Trinidad and Tobago cricket as a captain, I have been able to score the most regional runs for any Trinidadian, most centuries for any Trinidadian in regional cricket. I can’t say that I regret those things. When I look back, I think there is a bigger role for me to play in making sore that other players don’t make the same mistakes that I make. I am involved to some extent in terms of the administration of the game in the Caribbean. I would like to contribute a lot more. Now, as a cricket commentator, I would like to give my insights into the game and share this great game to the whole world and the universe.
SJ– Thank you so much, Daren. It was an absolute pleasure talking to you.
DG– Thank you very much.
Transcribed by: Bharathram Pattabiraman