An aggressive opening batsman and wicket-keeper during his playing days, Deep Dasgupta, donned the Indian jersey in 8 Tests and 5 ODIs. Although his international career didn’t go on for a long period, he caught many eyeballs in the short span he represented India in the international arena. The 40-year-old has now broken boldly into the territory of cricket commentary, where he has earned himself the tag of one the most familiar and revered voices in world cricket.
Dasgupta, who is currently a part of the commentary panel (Hindi) covering the ongoing ODI series between India and New-Zealand, managed to take some time off his busy schedule and caught up with our correspondent Yash Kashikar. In the exclusive conversation, he spoke at length about his experience in the commentary box, the changes in the Indian and Australian cricket over the last few years, the next generation of keepers in India, his association with CAB and a lot more.
Q: How did commentary happen to you? Please talk us through the experience of your debut match as a commentator.
Deep: It was during the Champions League Twenty20 in 2014 when I actually got a call from Star Sports. And since then there has been no looking back.
As far as my first game as a commentator is concerned, I had Kapil Paaji (Kapil Dev) and Sunil Gavaskar by my side. So, it was me with two of my childhood heroes and therefore, to be honest, it was a bit scary and nervewracking initially. However, ultimately I got into it because at the end of the day once the game starts all other things don’t really matter. Altogether, I consider myself quite lucky to be a part of this system wherein I have shared the commentary box with some of my childhood heroes and obviously my contemporaries with whom I have had a great time playing together.
Q: You are actually one of those persons who has seen Virender Sehwag evolve both as a cricketer and as a commentator quite closely. So, how do you look at this journey of his?
Deep: To be honest, there is not much of a difference. The only thing which has changed is the fact that he now has a mic in his hands instead of a bat. His approach is still the same and he likes to keep things as simple as possible. If you look he doesn’t mince words and says what he wants to. And that is how I suppose it should be because I believe that cricket is a lifestyle sport as in you are on the field for close to 7-8 hours in a day and so you cannot hide your natural instincts. So, the overall personality doesn’t really change whether it is on or off the field.
Q: Let us talk a bit about the overall performance of the Indian and the Australian side in the recent past. If we look on one hand India has done really well across all the formats but Australia no longer looks like a side with a strong intent. So, what according to you has been the difference maker between these two teams?
Deep: Of course the mindset has changed quite a bit. As you rightly spoke about the intent, I think that is something which matters a lot. When I look at this particular Australian side, I don’t find the killer instinct or ruthlessness among them for which they were once known. They are actually a very talented unit but somewhere down the line, they are missing out on their old approach towards the game. On the other hand, the Indian team has changed immensely over the last couple of years or so. I don’t find the fear of losing these players. Eventually, it’s all about making a statement and when you are not afraid of losing, half the battle is already won.
Q: You were also a part of the Pune Warriors India (now defunct) setup and during your stint as their mentor, you saw Steve Smith from close quarters. How do you look at his evolvement as a cricketer over the last few years?
Deep: Well, when we had picked him for PWI he was actually dropped from the Australian side but he had a good Big Bash that year. So, to be honest, from there on I feel he has only become stronger as a batsman. And he has always been one of those players who have the zeal and intent to go out and give their best no matter what the situation is. As a captain too he is a good thinker. He is actually one of those guys who always talk about cricket and is extremely intense in his approach.
To a great extent, he is someone like Kohli, though Kohli is a little more outspoken and expressive. But when I see them I feel they are somewhat of the same mold or so in terms of intensity and hard work. So, it’s actually quite good to see these players competing against each other and rivalry is something which makes a sport watchable and exciting. Altogether, I think there is a very healthy competition between the likes of Virat, Root, Smith, Kane Williamson and Hashim Amla. And I see Smith as one of those cricketers who is raising the bar every time he goes out to play.
Q: With the likes of Wriddhiman Saha, Rishabh Pant, Naman Ojha and a few more, who according to you is more likely to be the man behind the stumps for India once Dhoni decides to hang his boots?
Deep: See, Dhoni has kind of reinvented himself over the last year or so. He has changed his game a bit, understanding the fact that he is no longer a 24-25-year-old MSD. And when I look at him now I still see a good few years of cricket left in him. In terms of the next batch coming through, obviously, there is someone like Saha, Rishabh and Ishan Kishan is also a good option for limited overs cricket.
There are also a few good keepers coming through from the Under-19 level. So, as of now, we are just looking at only a handful of players which we mentioned before just because these guys have already played the IPL and have got the exposure. However, if MS goes on to play for say another 2 or 3 years which seems quite likely, then the next generation of keepers will make their way in as well. So, the pool of players is only going to get bigger in the coming years. Therefore I feel it will be a little unfair to start talking about a particular replacement for him (Dhoni) at this point in time.
Q: Are you in favor of the modern trend of having a batsman-keeper in a side rather than the other way round?
Deep: I don’t actually see a huge difference in this because if you have a look at all the keepers around the world, they are all good batsman. So, at times this term becomes more of an oxymoron. However, I do understand the fact that when we see someone like a KL Rahul or Kedar Jadhav keep wickets in the IPL, one tends to start thinking in terms of a batsman-keeper. But that is predominantly IPL where there are a lot of restrictions in terms of the number of overseas and Indian players you can play. Eventually, when it comes to international sides almost every other keeper bats quite well. So wicket-keepers nowadays is a proper batsman.
Q: Almost every other international side has a specific coach for different aspects of the game apart from a specialist keeping the coach. Do you think it is something which the teams should consider?
Deep: Yes that is something which can surely be considered by the sides. Currently, that is what I am doing for the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB), looking after all the keepers right from the U-14 to the seniors. However, when it comes to the Indian team, I don’t feel there is any need especially if you have someone like Dhoni who has got an experience of around 10-12 years. Or for that matter even Saha who has been around for a long time.
Also, the fielding coach we have, R Sridhar, he is absolutely brilliant. I have worked with him and I think that he is one of the best fielding coaches in world cricket at the moment. However, when it comes to the basic setup, I feel every association should have a specialist keeping coach.
Q: How do you look at Bengal’s chances in the ongoing Ranji season?
Deep: The current Bengal side has a very good combination of youngsters and senior players. There is Ashoke Dinda, Wriddhiman Saha and of course the skipper Manoj Tiwary. Moreover, Saha will be available for the first half of the season which is a great news for the team. Also, there are a lot of good young bowlers coming through like Abhimanyu Easwaran and Sudip Chatterjee. So, I feel this side is good enough to qualify for the semis at least and then take things forward from there.
Q: How do you look at Sourav Ganguly’s work as an administrator since he has taken over the reigns as the CAB President?
Deep: I think he has done really well and has surely made a difference. Starting from the local format, he has introduced 3-day games. He has streamlined a lot of things and has started something called as Mission 2020 which includes the academy. We have Legends like Muttiah Muralitharan and VVS Laxman as a part of that. Even when it comes to basic facilities such as the drainage system of Eden Gardens, the problems over there have been sorted out as well. So, overall, he is doing a wonderful job.
Q: Over the last few years or so many former cricketers have started their own cricket academy. Have you ever given a thought to it?
Deep: To be honest, yes I have. However, I feel that if I do open an academy I should be able to dedicate a good amount of time to it. And at this point in time, I have other commitments which I am more inclined towards. But when it comes to coaching it is something I love and that was the reason I took up the offer from the CAB to look after their keepers. So, every time I am in Kolkata I spend a lot of time with these kids. As far my own academy is concerned, as of now it doesn’t seem to be possible but maybe somewhere down in the future, it can happen.
Q: Do you think it is possible for a non-cricketer to break into commentary?
Deep: People like Harsha Bhogle have opened the way. Then there is Jatin Sapru who is doing a great job currently. Charu Sharma used to do it for a while. So, definitely, there are opportunities. However, to be honest it is very difficult to tell how can one go forward into it. All these people came through their unique ways. So, there is no hard and fast rule as such to become a commentator. But then it’s all about seeing and explaining the game and if non-cricketers can be coaches then they can be commentators too.
Deep Dasgupta is all set for the special rapid fire (CricFit Twenty 20) segment.
Your nickname: DDG.
Favourite cuisine: Any home-made food like Daal-Bhaat (Ghar ka khana sabse acha khana, he says).
Favourite movie: Sholay.
Mishti Doi or Rusagulla: Neither of these to be honest.
Best batsman of modern day era (Kohli/Smith/Root/Williamson): A very tough choice to make actually, but in limited overs cricket Virat Kohli and Test cricket, Smith.
Favourite co-commentator (Kapil Dev/ Sehwag/ VVS Laxman/Aakash Chopra): All of them bring in different flavors so I can’t really choose one among them.
Favourite keeper-batsman of all time: I liked Ian Healy a lot but in today’s era definitely MS Dhoni.
Any funny anecdote in the commentary box you would like to share: There is a lot to be honest and some which I cannot talk about in public (He giggles).
Describe yourself in one word: Hard working.
– by Yash Kashikar