Exclusive Interview: Was thrilled to know that Dravid sir was looking for me says Sudip Chatterjee : On a gusty mid-January afternoon at around 4:30 pm, I began my expedition for a certain 23 year old batsman who has created quite a stir in the hearts of sports-frenzied Bengalis in recent times. He hails from Barasat, a town which has witnessed stable development over the past decade; a city located in the outskirts of Kolkata, yet nowhere close to the cultural supremacy and glamour associated with the former Indian capital. Kalighat tent was where I was lured to for I couldn’t resist my temptation of having a conversation with this fresh sensation. As I made my way through the adjacent camps of the neighbouring cricket clubs, I saw people young and old relaxing and playing in the lush green fields, using the greenery as a device to deviate from the travails of the concrete jungle. There, I eventually scalped Sudip Chatterjee- a young ‘hermit’ set out to fill his cabinet with voluminous runs. Sudip has scored 4 centuries in this edition of the Ranji Trophy, for which he has been picked in the India-A squad for the forthcoming Deodhar Trophy. The 23 year old has amassed 1826 runs in 24 First Class Games at a healthy average of 45.65 and has emerged as one of the mainstays of Bengal’s batting line-up by embracing the all-important Number 3 slot. Garbed in a blue pullover, coupled with comfortable flip-flops, Sudip greeted this correspondent in a serene voice and advanced to have a chat. He is not an exhilarating figure but a simple, staid person who preferred not to swank by riding a second hand car two years ago, when his earnings would have easily permitted him to opt for a more lavish vehicle. An achiever rather than a hoper, he believes in doing his business with the bat in hand. And thus began the enjoyable ‘encounter’ with the recorder as the umpire.
Q: You gave Rahul Dravid a run for his money the last time he visited Kolkata for the Paytm U-19 Tri-Series among India, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
Sudip: (Seemed well aware of the fact) Yeah. I heard that he (Dravid) inquired about me from a couple of C.A.B officials.
Q: That’s right. He began searching for you right from the time he landed in Kolkata for he wishes to have you in his India-A squad. Thanks to your scintillating form this season, you have created significant buzz in the media. What is Sudip Chatterjee doing right now?
Sudip: Since we have been eliminated from the Syed Mustaq Ali T20 Trophy, I am utilising my leisure time on playing a few C.A.B league matches for Kalighat. I will fly to Kanpur on January 23 for the Deodhar Trophy.
Q: So take us back to the root. You belong to a simple middle class Bengali family which is engaged in a business involving readymade garments. How did cricket begin for you?
Sudip: Yes. I am one of the many middle class Bengalis in Kolkata who are expected to treat their academics with ample diligence. Fortunately, I have a father who has been encouraging me to consider cricket as a career option. He has always supported my passion for the game and has been a firm believer in the fact that success can never be a remote island if one strives for it day and day out. Somehow, these values have also sneaked into my DNA. I started playing the game at the age of eight when I joined Subhash Institute, which is my cricketing nursery you can say. Five years later, I joined Srishti Cricket Academy; an institution to which I owe majority of my success.
Q: Who were childhood heroes?
Sudip: I was an ardent supporter of the trinity of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and dada (Sourav Ganguly) like maximum Indians. Among left handed batsmen, Kumar Sangakkara and Brian Lara are my idols. They made our childhood worthwhile.
Q: You seem to be a very patient man. Cricket is gradually turning into an intense game where tempers are flaring more often than not nowadays. How would you keep yourself calm in situations that would compel a certain person to take the route of aggression? We have learnt from our sources that you’ve a fond association with meditation.
Sudip: I simply focus on my job every time I step on the 22 yards. Aggression is desirable only if it is observable in your game, otherwise not. It would be baseless to exhibit belligerence for an unworthy cause. Yes, I prefer to meditate before every fixture. That keeps the body and soul together. Believe me, meditation does help you sooth the nerves and inculcate a feeling of calmness.
Q: You reckon modern day cricketers should emphasise on meditation therapy? For how many hours do you meditate before a match?
Sudip: Why not? Meditation is a good practice without any shadow of a doubt. I do not meditate every day. I do so before every game. I meditate for about 15-20 minutes.
Q: What kind of hardships did you have to face in quest of pursuing cricket as a career?
Sudip: Hmmm, many obstacles you know. I applied for electricity for my house in Basirhat (North 24 Parganas) only after signing for Kalighat. Nothing comes easy in life. I think I have realized it quite a few times in my life.
Q: You have experienced a gradual rise through the ranks in the realms of Bengal cricket. First, you were the Captain of the Under-23 Bengal team and later went on to debut for the senior team. How did you make the cut into the Bengal senior team?
Sudip: I was also the Under-14 Bengal captain of my batch. I had scored near about 700 runs in C.A.B League matches in 2013- the season in which I was selected for Bengal’s senior team. So, it has been a journey you can say. To be able to share the dressing room with seniors like Wriddhiman Saha, Manoj Tiwary, Askok Dinda and Mohammed Shami is really heartening.
Q: You had a splendid season for Bengal in the 2013/14 season where Bengal made it through to the semi-finals of the Ranji Trophy. What were the highs and lows for that batch back then?
Sudip: The best part about that particular batch was that we played together as a cohesive unit. Manoj (Tiwary) da couldn’t feature in that season owing to an injury. Laxmi (Ratan Shukla) da played some match winning knocks in that edition. There were youngsters like me and Abhimanyu Easwaran who came into the side as fresh faces and we were always encouraged by the senior pros in the side. If you remember, our quarter final fixture against Railways was a perilous snag. Up until then, the seniors had been dragging the team’s fortunes with subtle contributions from us on certain occasions. But in that match against Railways, I and Abhimanyu stitched together a partnership worth 160 odd runs against the likes of Anureet Singh and co. on a seaming Eden Gardens wicket. I scored 96 in that match. We stayed together all the time that season, whether on the field or off the field.
Q: Last season (2014/15), you topped the batting charts for Bengal in the Ranji Trophy with 584 runs. What extra effort did you put in behind your game to attain such proficiency with the bat?
Sudip: Eh (thinks for a while and continues), I did not make any substantial change to my game. I wanted to stick it out in the middle and pace my innings according to the demands of the situations. Not throwing the wicket away had been the key for me last season and being promoted to No. 3 actually helped me build my knocks with much care. I would like to thank Ashok Malhotra and the team management for that. The 192 that I got against Baroda at their home was special. That knock instilled a sense of confidence in me.
Q: Let’s talk about that particular innings then. While playing that knock, when did it occur to you that you truly belong to this stage?
Sudip: It was not until I was dismissed that I understood that I had achieved something special. It was my first hundred for the Bengal senior team and the fact that I was able to go past the three figure mark gave me assurance.
Q: Every cricketer over here talks about Dada’s influence. Kindly share any interesting anecdote about him.
Sudip: This season, we had a Group league fixture against Odisha at Kalyani. The wicket in that game was a very tricky one as is evident from the result of the match. It reached its conclusion within two days. I couldn’t do well in that game. Before the start of our 2nd innings, dada walked up to me and said, ‘’See Sudip, don’t get demoralised by one petty failure. I too was dismissed for paltry scores in my international career. Start thinking about your next outing’’. He also helped me with a few technical advices.
(For the sake of statistics, Bengal batted first on a nippy Kalyani wicket and was bundled out for 142. In reply, Odisha could score no more than 107. In the second innings, Bengal scored 135 runs and then went on to dismiss the entire Odisha side for a mere score of 37, thus sealing the tie by 133 runs. Sudip struck 37 runs in the first innings.
Q: How was the Mumbai Indians trial? How was it working under the supervision of John Wright?
Sudip: It was a pleasant experience. (Aamir) Gani, Mukesh (Kumar) and I were sent to that camp by Sairaj Bahutule. About 100 contestants had attended the 3 day trial. John Wright and Rahul Singhvi oversaw the proceedings. I learnt a few things over there.
Q: Even if it is not in your hand, let me pitch this up front. Which team would you personally prefer playing for in the IPL?
Sudip: As you’ve said, it is not in my control. As a professional player, I will deliver my level best for whichever franchise I play for. But, if I get picked by Kolkata Knight Riders at the auction, it will obviously be exceptional. After all, shohorer team toh (After all, it’s the team representing my city).
Q: This year, you scored a classy 144 in the opening game against Karnataka. Since then, you have amassed 4 centuries and are now the 5th highest run getter in the 2015/16 season of the Ranji Trophy. Where would you like to finish the season?
Sudip: I don’t know to be honest. It has been going pretty well for me and more than my personal milestones, I am concerned about where we finish as a unit. Hopefully, we’ll be able to cling to the momentum we have been able to build in this edition.
Q: What does your intuition say? Which side is likely to clinch the Ranji title this year? Please don’t be diplomatic in this instance.
Sudip: (Smiles) OK. I somehow get the feeling that we will end up winning the tournament. That said, we will face some stiff competition in the knockouts. Mumbai is also a prime contender.
Q: This is interesting. You are gradually becoming the Soumitra Chatterjee of Bengal cricket. These days, when majority of cricketers are busy sporting designer beards and funky hairstyles, we see you in ordinary slippers and with a conformist outlook. Don’t those things attract you?
Sudip: No, they don’t, I reckon. I prefer to do my job in the simplest manner. I have always looked at life this way. It is not as if I am criticising those who do such things. As long as one performs his/her duty with utmost effort, these things automatically take the back seat. I follow a bourgeois attitude you can say.
Q: The Vision 2020 Programme has made its mark in the domestic circuit already. Do you think such quarterly 2 week camps would make any difference to Bengal’s progress in the long run?
Sudip: Yes, it will. Although the camps do not span more than 2 weeks in each segment, the expertise of people like Muralitharan sir and VVS Laxman help us big time. They not only watch over our game in the nets but also make an effort to filter our flaws with the help of the footages available in the video analysis game. Laxman sir has imparted a lot of useful tips to me. Have patience, we can only attain success in the long run if we capitalise on this project. That is why it has been introduced to the system.
Q: Here’s a stat attack. You have scored 700 runs this season and have faced the maximum number of deliveries as of yet. How do you manage to bat for such long hours?
Sudip: It is the product of the kind of meticulousness I have applied in my practice sessions. I just clear the inventory of my mid whenever I walk out to the middle. Maybe, that has fetched me success. Plus, I have personally assigned myself with a task. As the number 3 position is such a vital slot in the batting order, I simply cannot afford to lose my wicket for a baseless cause. That’s what the team management requires from my end.
Q: Laxmi Ratan Shukla’s retirement has come as a massive blow for the Bengal cricket fraternity. Incidentally, Laxmi directly pointed his finger at your coach Sairaj Bahutule for it is understood that the latter had questioned a seasoned campaigner like Laxmi on the grounds of commitment. What’s your reaction to this?
Sudip: Laxmi da has been one of the idols of Bengal cricket and his absence will certainly be felt in the team. However, we need to move on and try and his fill his void by chipping in with meaningful contributions. He will be missed in both departments. He had rescued Bengal from hazardous situations on several occasions. As far as his retirement is concerned, I would not like to comment on anything else barring the fact that it has come as an unfortunate development. I wish him all the best for the remainder of his life.
Q: What do you have to say about Bengal’s performance this season? You people are the only side to have remained unbeaten in the Group stage.
Sudip: Right. This side has a lot of balance and by God’s grace; every person in the team has contributed to the team’s cause in some way or the other. We have a Pankaj Shaw who can score twin fifties at Number 7 and the bowling unit looks particularly good with Gani and Ashok da faring well and Pragyan Ojha getting the crucial breakthroughs on sluggish surfaces.
Q: You talked about meditation a while ago. Apart from that how do you keep yourself fit? Any 2 tips that you would like to share with budding cricketers.
Sudip: Meditation plays a big part in developing mental tranquillity. Besides, I do my gym workout and stretching exercises as per the instructions of the physiotherapist.
Two tips that I would like to share with the youngsters would be:-
- Don’t put yourself into an extremely tight diet chart. At the junior level, you need to focus more on playing practice games and hitting the nets regularly.
- Do some stretching exercises, freehand exercises according to the guidelines of your coach. And please drink plenty of water.
Q: People say that KL Rahul has benefited a lot from his proximity with Rahul Dravid. You share a similar kind of rapport with Sourav Ganguly. Who do you see as your prime rival in the domestic circuit?
Sudip: I don’t pay any heed to such things you know. I consider only myself as my biggest competitor. I solely emphasise on improving with each day.
Q: Despite having a good Ranji campaign, Bengal’s display in the Vijay Hazare Trophy and Syed Mustaq Ali T20 Trophy were unsatisfactory. What’s worse? Manoj Tiwary and Pragyan Ojha have been ruled out for injury concerns. Has it shaken the morale of the team?
Sudip: Our performances in those two tournaments were indeed sub-standard. We just couldn’t pile up enough runs in the games gone by; I am myself to blame to a certain extent for that. Manoj da and Pragyan’s injuries did not help us either. We could have done better had they been fit. You never know. Hopefully, we’ll compensate for that in the Ranji Trophy.
Q: Your greatest distinction as of now is the call up to the India-A squad for the Deodhar Trophy. What are you expecting from that tournament where you will be sharing the dressing room with Murali Vijay and Ambati Rayudu?
Sudip: It will be a big assignment for me. Sharing the dressing room with international players will serve as a learning lesson for me. I’ll definitely seek batting tips from the two of them, especially Vijay who has been in such sublime form in recent times.
Q: Do you prefer watching chat shows on Television?
Sudip: Yes, I do.
Q: All such shows have one thing in common- a rapid fire round. This shall be no different. Are you all set to face the next few ‘rapid’ deliveries?
Q: Your nickname.
Sudip: (Giggles) Babai.
Q: Your favourite holiday destination.
Q: Your favourite cuisine.
Q: Your favourite cricketing shot.
Sudip: Square Cut.
Q: Any particular superstition you believe in?
Sudip: Nah, no superstition as such.
Q: Longest format or limited overs cricket?
Sudip: One has to play both these days. I personally favour Test Cricket.
Q: Your best buddies in the Bengal Dressing Room.
Sudip: Pankaj Shaw and Sayan Banerjee.
Q: Your hobbies.
Sudip: Watching movies, listening to songs, adda with friends (chatting with friends).
Q: One superstar you dream of clicking a dual-fie with.
Sudip: Shreya Ghoshal. I am a huge admirer of her songs.
Q: Your favourite movie.
Sudip: ‘3 Idiots’, ‘Iqbal’ and a Bengali movie named ‘Belaseshe’.
Q: Your favourite actor.
Sudip: Shah Rukh Khan.
Q: Your favourite actress.
Sudip: Deepika Padukone and Kajol. Loved Kajol’s comeback in ‘Dilwale’.
Q: Best compliment you have ever received.
Sudip: I think you said it at the beginning of the interview. Rahul Dravid sparing his time and looking for me. What else can you expect in life?
Q: If not a cricketer, then what?
Sudip: Well, I have never given it a thought.
Q: The last question. You have obtained the pass marks as far as cricket at this level is concerned. The competition is intense nowadays. What would you do from hereon to obtain letter marks- that is attaining the Indian cap. The likes of Laxman, Ganguly and Bahutule have a lot from you.
Sudip: Runs and runs. That would be my license to qualify for the next stage. I would once again thank these stalwarts for what they have been doing for me. If I bat consistently without thinking of any otherworldly concern, I think I should be able to qualify for the Indian senior team in the near future.