Rob Steen, columnist and senior lecturer in sports journalism at the Brighton University had once opined, “The best (commentators) are subtle, unhurried cheerleaders who never rush to judgement but rise above the din’’. Although these are early days to gauge his capacity, 38 year old Deep Dasgupta is one such person who apparently encompasses the qualities as pointed out by Steen in the aforesaid quote and is making up for the paucity of opportunities he experienced as an international cricketer. Somewhere down the line, one would like to believe that his deprivation from the international circuit had kindled the fire of relentless graft in him 14 years ago when he was axed from the Indian Test team. Today, he happens to be one of the most recognised voices in the international arena and offers his perspective on numerous issues pertaining to contemporary cricket in a buoyant and prosaic manner. The former Indian wicket-keeper and Bengal Captain has a keen eye for the various happenstances of modern day cricket and doesn’t hesitate to call a spade a spade while expressing his views. He is someone who had witnessed the international and the domestic circuits from close quarters in a career which spanned over a decade. Besides working as an active commentator, Dasgupta had previously served as the mentor of the erstwhile IPL franchise Pune Warriors India, where he is believed to have nurtured the now Aussie sensations Steve Smith and James Faulkner. In this second segment of his conversation with us, he talks about his favourite batsmen from the current generation, the progress of Bengal cricket, his naval experiences as a commentator and of course India’s chances at the on-going World T20.
Q: You reckon a sub-continental team will win the World T20 this time around?
Dasgupta: Yeah, it is quite possible.
Q: So who is your pick from the five sub-continental teams that are participating in the tournament this time around?
Dasgupta: Sri Lanka is going through a grim phase at the moment. Bangladesh’s chances have also reduced with all that’s happening around the team and the losses they have suffered, Afghanistan haven’t opened their account in the Super Ten stage despite showing considerable determination. So, it’s obviously up to India and Pakistan (Pakistan had won one and lost one out of the two games that they had played at the time this interview took place). India for me are the favourites to clinch the trophy. They were the favourites even before the tournament had begun.
(All views were expressed prior to March 25, 2016).
Q: Do you think India was a bit complacent in the game against New Zealand at Nagpur after having won 10 out of their last 11 T20Is before squaring off against the Kiwis?
Dasgupta: That’s an interesting way of putting it by calling them complacent. It’s difficult to say but I don’t think they were. I would like to believe they weren’t. A World Cup match is a World Cup match. It was the first game of the Super Ten stage and mind you, this group is extremely tough with 5 top notch teams embedded in it. So when they (Team India) know that they are in the group of death and they know that they are playing the World Cup on home soil, there is no scope to become self-satisfied. You have got to give credit to New Zealand. They were absolutely brilliant on that day from the start to the end.
Q: Since Taskin Ahmed and Arafat Sunny were suspended by the ICC recently, you reckon the ICC is too rigid about the 15 degree-rule?
Dasgupta: No I don’t think so. I am glad they are doing it. I am seeing my kids getting into cricket now and I see a lot of other kids taking up cricket. What do you tell a child when he sees his icon or role model resort to chucking? The problem is people don’t realize its ill effects on the game in the long run. People who watch only international cricket and don’t watch local cricket probably don’t realize how rampant the issue has become. It has almost taken the form of an epidemic now.
Q: But the modern day game also demands improvisations from its bowlers. Shouldn’t the ICC introduce some kind of an amendment into the system with which they can allot a wider space to the bowlers?
Dasgupta: No, I don’t think so. In fact I think it was wrong to bring in the 15-degree rule anyway because where do you stop then? Hence in the first place that 15-degree rule was wrong. It’s either straight or it’s not straight; you can’t have degrees like that. I mean what would you do if somebody is bowling with a 15.5 or a 16-degree flex? I don’t agree with the logic anyway. Yes, you need to make changes but not with the 15-degree flex.
Q: You spent a brief time in Bangladesh as a commentator for the BCB. While you were there in Bangladesh, did you notice any kind of change that the system is bringing into place? The rate at which they have been improving as a side over the past 18 months or so is commendable.
Dasgupta: There have been massive changes. It’s that one team we all need to watch out for. Cricket is a game of thought process and nowadays you can observe the Bangladeshi players believing in themselves as they have inculcated a seed of faith with which they believe that they have the potential to beat all the top sides in the world. Also the new crop of players that has arisen in recent times like Sabbir Rahman, Soumya Sarkar, Mustafizur Rahman and Taskin Ahmed looks quite promising. Taskin is a good prospect for Bangladesh if he sorts out his bowling action. The Taskin-issue has obviously made things a bit challenging for them. In spite of that, the new bunch of Bangladeshis looks pretty confident. You have also got to give credit to the involvement of the BCB in making things a lot more comfortable for the players on the field. The Board has changed its outlook and has introduced a proper discipline throughout its hierarchy. The appointment of people like Heath Streak testifies to the fact and what it has actually done is it has given the players a free license to express themselves on the field.
Q: You were also a part of the erstwhile Pune Warriors India setup and during your stint as their mentor, you saw Steve Smith from close quarters who at that time, was fairly young by international standards. His current form is a stark contrast to the aptitude he displayed four years back. Was his metamorphosis underway while he was playing for PWI?
Dasgupta: We have all seen Mr. Cricket alias Mike Hussey’s exploits over the years. But Steve is no less. He eats, sleeps and talks cricket and that is why he has developed into a good thinker of the game. Anybody who knows a thing or two about the technical aspects of cricket will tell you that he has got endless problems but his mental strength and self-belief make up for his technical deficiencies. He always prefers to stay a step ahead of the bowler. See, the problem is many of us think that there is only one dimension to playing cricket but Steve Smith has his own way of doing things and so far he has been doing them correctly. At the end of the day, cricket is a game where you need to see the ball and hit it or take wickets regardless of whether you have a conventional technique or an uncanny one. Steve is a smart cricketer who has figured out what works well for him and even though his technique may look ugly and unorthodox at times, it is still very effective.
Q: There are five players of the modern generation whom fans are calling the Fab-Five of international cricket. They are Steve Smith, Virat Kohli, Joe Root, Kane Williamson and Angelo Mathews. All these players are likely to lead their respective sides across multiple formats in the future. Who among them is the most appealing player to you?
Dasgupta: All of them are special. Try and recollect the innings Joe Root played against South Africa the other day. The game was played at the Wankhede and it was a good wicket to bat on. By the time he reached his fifty, he had only played 2 dot balls. That in itself was a grand achievement. So here you have somebody who hadn’t toured India too many times in the past and yet was looking to run the singles and convert his singles into doubles. It’s very easy to get carried away at the Wankhede with the small ground and the placid wicket but the way Root conducted himself was highly laudable. Then you have Kane Williamson who has been exhibiting terrific captaincy skills and the best part about the players whom you have mentioned is that they are good across all the 3 formats. It’s very difficult to pick the best batsman from these 5 names.
Q: OK, so we have a question from one of our followers whose name is Rajesh Khilare. He wants to know why Manoj Tiwary is out of the Indian team.
Dasgupta: There is no tinge of doubt about the fact that Manoj is a wonderful player as is evident from his track record. He has an international century to his name, so he definitely has the talent. I think the 2015 away series against Zimbabwe was a big opportunity for him which he unfortunately failed to capitalise on. He was given ample liberty in that tour for he was allotted the No. 4 slot which has been his favourite batting position. He just needed to go out there and express himself with the bat. He needs to realise that India is a country where there is abundant talent and every individual is persevering day in, day out to earn a place in the national team and if you are unable to grab the limited chances that come your way, in all probability you will fall behind in the race. But sometimes I do sympathise with him. At one point in time, he was made to sit in the reserves for 10 consecutive games which would have been a frustrating phase for any player. Take Kedar Jadhav’s example. He was dropped from the side despite scoring a century in his last outing for India. These things happen. But Manoj is a class act and he needs to make every opportunity count hereon to present a strong bid for a comeback.
Q: Are you an advocate of the modern trend of accommodating a batsman-keeper in a side or should it be the other way round?
Dasgupta: What people like Adam Gilchrist and Mark Boucher have done is that they have transformed the way you used to look at a wicket-keeper. If you see the keepers of this generation you will find that they are all batsmen. Every keeper has to be a reasonably good batsman in order to withstand the requirements of contemporary cricket. Now the question which automatically arises is whom would you prefer more- a keeper-batsman or a batsman-keeper. Consider Peter Nevill’s case. He may not be a top-notch batsman but I honestly believe that he is an excellent wicket-keeper judging by what I have seen of him in the Tests he has played so far. Matthew Wade had been Australia’s premier wicket-keeper in the shorter version prior to the World T20. Talking about the T20 format, you can compromise just a little bit, just a little bit as the team management. It ultimately boils down to the relationship between demand and supply as in if there is a demand for a good batsman-keeper, who can also serve as an opener, then better go for it and vice-versa.
Q: Has the standard of keeping wickets deteriorated since the advent of T20 cricket?
Dasgupta: No, I don’t think so. Many people look at the T20 format as ‘fast-food cricket’. Anyone who says so should step on the field and try his hand at T20 cricket. I wouldn’t like to compare different eras and wouldn’t say that cricket during the 1970s or 1980s was easier but let’s not compare different periods because every period comes with its own set of challenges. Just to make that basic fundamental adjustment in your mind-set and technique from one pitch to another and from one format to the other is a big ask. Yet, when you look at the likes of Dinesh Chandimal and Quinton de Kock, you tend to realise that they have been excelling in all the 3 formats of the game.
Q: Did you prepare yourself any differently before keeping to the likes of Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh?
Dasgupta: I couldn’t comprehend it at the beginning of my career but grasped it later that in order to shine as a keeper at the international level, you ought to have quality wicket-keeping coaches. Even now we have batting coaches, bowling coaches and fielding coaches in the system but we don’t have keeping coaches. On the contrary, keeping wickets is a specific art. Both Kumble and Harbhajan are class-acts and their presence in the same team often tested the aptitude of keepers. They spun and got the ball to bounce a lot more than the spinners we generally kept to in the domestic circuit. Hence, I had to make adjustments accordingly but like I said before, one needs to be aided by the expertise of a keeping coach before making such a transition.
Q: You guided Bengal to the Ranji Trophy final in 2006, a season where you were captaining for the first time. How was the experience of leading a team which was packed with seniors like Rohan Gavaskar and Ranadeb Bose and youngsters like Manoj that season?
Dasgupta: It turned out to be a great season for us. I captained Bengal for two years and on both occasions, we reached the finals. I remember we were almost on the brink of relegation in 2005 and from there to make such a significant resurgence was really admirable. It was an honour to lead a First Class side and we had a great team back then. I haven’t seen too many teams boasting of so many talented individuals in one team like we had Manoj, Ranadeb Rohan, Abhishek (Jhunjhunwla) and Laxmi (Ratan Shukla). We all stuck together through good and bad times that season and those 2 years have been the best years of my life.
Q: What do you make of the current crop of Bengal players like Sudip Chatterjee and Abhimanyu Easwaran?
Dasgupta: These guys are very talented. Sudip is a very down-to-earth person, who is always keen to learn new things about his game. Then you have Pankaj (Shaw) and Easwaran who have exhibited good form this season and you know what? The best part about this bunch of youngsters is that they have tasted success of late and if we manage to keep this group together, they have all the necessary ingredients to serve Bengal cricket for the next five or six years.
Q: How difficult will it be for Bengal to find a potential replacement for Laxmi Ratan Shukla?
Dasgupta: It will be a difficult task to be honest. If you glance through his statistics, you will understand how good an all-rounder he was. At times when somebody is around for such a long span of time, you tend to take him for granted. The game however moves on. When I was child, I was jolted to apathy when SMG (Sunil Manohar Gavaskar) and Kapil paaji announced their retirements but soon after our concerns were condensed once people like Sachin, Azharuddin, Sourav and Dravid stepped in. It will be difficult to fill Laxmi’s shoes but somebody will come in and do the required job.
Q: Is C.A.B going the right way by conducting 2 day matches in club cricket or should they look to increase the duration of the games?
Dasgupta: Listen, you have got to understand that there are logistical issues as well. One would prefer longer matches but as of now 2-day matches is the most viable option as there are several logistical issues and considering the amount of rainfall we have here in Kolkata, it will be difficult to extend the duration of the games. That said, I would like to see a robust school-cricket system being introduced.
Q: Since you also captained the Bengal Tigers in the now defunct ICL, what were your reactions to the Chris Cairns fiasco which panned out last year?
Dasgupta: I was dismayed by all the developments that broke out last year because he didn’t only let himself down but he let everybody else around him down as well and I just couldn’t take it after coming upon the news. I don’t know how much of it is actually true but if it has really happened, it is distressing for the global cricketing fraternity.
Q: You were there at Eden last Saturday and witnessed Kohli play that scintillating knock (55*) against Pakistan. What according to you is that one special element in him which induces people of all ages from the late Arthur Morris to the fifteen year old kids in our country to heap such praise on him?
Dasgupta: It’s fairly simple if you judge by the game at Eden. There were 15 other players who played on that wicket an then there was Virat Kohli who scored a fifty on the same wicket and he fluently played all the shots that he actually intended to, ranging from the cover drives to the pulls. Let’s not just take Kohli into account but also players like Root and Williamson. I mean why are they so special? It’s because all of them are orthodox cricketers who not only keep the scoreboard ticking but also get their runs at brisk strike-rates. You have these players who average over 40 in T20 cricket. When the T20 format was first inducted into the international arena, there were several conjectures about what should be the ideal approach to it? While many have experimented by introducing new shots like the Dil-scoop and the Switch-hit, these youngsters have reaffirmed the fact that runs could come by efficiently even by following the standards of the old school of cricket. This is what makes them so pleasing to the eye across all formats.
Q: How would you rate Sourav Ganguly as an administrator on a scale of 10 after seeing his management skills last Saturday?
Dasgupta: I wouldn’t like to give numbers. He has got big shoes to fill. As we all know, Mr. Jagmohan Dalmiya is a legend. Talking about Sourav, anyone who was present at the ground for the India-Pakistan game could see how hands-on he was. He was running around, looking after the ground, and also ensured that all the dignitaries including Mr. Amitabh Bachchan, Sunil Gavaskar, Imran Khan and West Bengal’s honourable CM, Mamata Banerjee were treated with proper hospitality. That’s the way he is. He is a leader, be it on the field or off it. He is making every possible effort to change the complexion of Bengal cricket by initiating new schemes such as the Vision 2020 programme.
Q: Since you are now an active commentator, would you like to impart any 2 tips to people who want to get into the media in the near future? What are the prerequisites for getting into cricket media?
Dasgupta: Again, it was not pre-planned and was more of a coincidence. It’s a good question you have asked I must say. I am new in this field as it has only been a year. I am fortunate to share the commentary box with people who have been in this profession for decades and they have been quite helpful to me over the course of this one year. It’s (The commentary box) is a much secured place as they come up to me and suggest areas where I can improve. I am new in this field and there are still plenty of things that I need to learn. As far as the pre-requisites are concerned, you don’t need to possess any pre-conceived notion as such. You should mainly have 3 key elements- confidence, a fair knowledge about the game and a good sense of awareness and then sky is the limit.
Q: Mr. Dasgupta, it’s now time for the slog overs. Are you ready for Cric Fit’s rapid fire round?
Dasgupta: Yeah, go ahead.
Q: Your nickname.
Dasgupta: It’s Deep only but the cricketing fraternity calls me DDG (Chuckled at being reminded that the acronym is similar to Manchester United’s David De Gea).
Q: Your favourite cuisine.
Dasgupta: Paneer is something that I love and it is safe too as you can have it anywhere.
Q: Your favourite holiday destination.
Dasgupta: As of now home it seems.
Q: Your favourite cricket stadium.
Dasgupta: The PCA stadium at Mohali.
Q: Which one did you enjoy more? Batting or keeping wickets?
Dasgupta: Both actually. There were times when people asked me if I would stop keeping wickets in order to concentrate more on batting but I never thought on such lines. I enjoyed doing both.
Q: Your favourite cricketer of all time.
Dasgupta: Hmmm (pauses for a while and then continues), there is no one cricketer as such. I might sound a bit diplomatic but the fact is I have always appreciated different qualities of different cricketers say for example Steve Waugh’s grittiness, Rahul Dravid’s technique, Sachin’s determination and Sourav’s attitude.
Q: Your favourite keeper-batsman of this generation among the Jos Buttlers and the Quinton De Kocks.
Dasgupta: De Kock is a fabulous talent but watch out for Nevill. So, Nevill and De Kock would be my picks.
Q: After M.S Dhoni retires, whom do you see donning the gloves for India in the future?
Dasgupta: Wriddhiman Saha is there and he promises to do a tidy job in limited-overs as well. There is a perception that he is not a good batsman but he is one of the best keeper-batsmen we have in the country at the moment. As of now, he is the front-runner in that race.
Q: Your best friends in the cricketing circuit.
Dasgupta: I think I got along with everyone. That’s one thing I am very proud of. Today I can call up say a Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh or even Sachin and ask them to catch up somewhere. Rohan Gavaskar, Ranadeb Bose and Devang Gandhi have also been my buddies for quite some time now.
Q: Any superstition?
Dasgupta: I didn’t have a superstition but a ritual. There is a thin line between a ritual and a superstition. I had a set routine following which I would wake up and do the same things before the start of every game.
Q: Your hobbies.
Dasgupta: Watching football.
Q: Which is your favourite club and who are your favourite footballers then?
Dasgupta: My favourite club is Manchester United and my favourite footballers as of now are Ronaldo and Messi.
Q: Best compliment you have ever received in your career.
Dasgupta: I think it came from Graeme Pollock. I came across one of his columns 14 or 15 years ago where he mentioned that I had the ability to serve Indian cricket at the international level for a fairly long time. It was my father who noticed it first and called me over to have a look at it. So, this incident will remain embedded in my memory for a long time to come.
Q: Your favourite cricketing moment of all time.
Dasgupta: I think it would be the match saving fifty from that Port Elizabeth Test?
Q: It’s the final delivery of this innings. On 3rd April 2016, do you see myriads of blue flags in the stands at Eden?
Dasgupta: I definitely think so. I expect India to qualify for the final.
Q: OK, so if India reaches the final, who according to you will be THE MAN who will guide India through to the final?
Dasgupta: It has to be Virat because the kind of impeccable form he is in; let’s not just say only form but the kind of player he has evolved into is giving assurance to innumerable Indian fans. The fact that he comes in at No. 3 and gets to face a lot of deliveries kind of helps him to build sturdy knocks and so I am backing Virat to win India the tournament this time around..