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Football was his first love, but ever since he picked up a cricket bat, cricket has been Sourav Ganguly’s only passion. Everything he has done since then – scoring a century at Lord’s on Test debut, captaining Team India to lofty heights, fighting his way back into the national team, emerging as the leading run-scorer for the Kolkata Knight Riders in the inaugural IPL season, or airing his views in the commentators’ box – has been driven by passion.
As the inimitable Ganguly gears up to lead Pune Warriors India in IPL 2012, the passion hasn’t diminished one bit. It is evident in the flash in his eye when he talks about the lead up to the big tournament.
“I have been preparing round the year,” Ganguly says. “It’s hard when you’re not playing for India any more, but I have worked as much as I could.
“I feel good,” he says, referring to his batting form. “I had a good domestic season, got a lot of runs in the Ranji Trophy [424 runs in six matches at an average of 53]. I’ll play the one-dayers [Vijay Hazare Trophy] starting from February 20 and hopefully I’ll be ready in time for the IPL.”
PWI’s participation in the fifth IPL season hung in the balance after owners Sahara India pulled out of the IPL Player Auction 2012 due to differences with the BCCI. Ganguly is pleased that the two sides have reached an agreement. “It’s important for Pune to play and I’m happy that the matter has been resolved and we’re playing.”
The Pune franchise, however, will be without their skipper Yuvraj Singh, who is being treated for lung cancer in the United States. Ganguly, who will play the role of captain-cum-mentor for the side, admits it will be difficult to replace a player of Singh’s calibre. “We will miss Yuvraj a great deal. It’s a big blow for us. He’s the captain and a terrific limited-overs player.”
The former India captain is taking solace in the fact that the team will be reinforced with the addition of star players who missed the last season due to injuries. “We will have Angelo Mathews and Ashish Nehra coming back this season and that’s going to help.”
PWI’s bid to strengthen their team for the coming season was thwarted by their withdrawal from the IPL Player Auction 2012 where they missed out on some of international cricket’s biggest names. Ganguly admits, “It is a handicap not being able to get the first-choice players in the auction but we will make the best use of whatever options we have.”
Now, Pune’s only chance of securing new players is by way of the trading window which has been extended for 12 days, up till February 29, in order to accommodate the needs of the franchise.
While PWI’s batting line-up boasts the likes of Graeme Smith, Jesse Ryder, Manish Pandey, Callum Ferguson and Ganguly himself, the fast bowling and wicketkeeping departments could do with some bolstering.
Ashish Nehra and South Africa’s Wayne Parnell lack any significant support, while Robin Uthappa is their sole option behind the stumps in the absence of injured Australian Tim Paine. While Ganguly reposed faith in local pacers like Shrikant Wagh and Bhuvneshwar Singh, he said the keeper’s slot would be filled depending on the availability of players and the balance of the team.
“We’ll see what players we get. If we trade in a ‘keeper, we’ll play Uthappa as a batsman or else we’ll have to stick with him as our makeshift wicketkeeper. It also depends on the balance of the team, which is a crucial aspect in the shorter formats,” said Ganguly
PWI made a forgettable IPL debut in the 2011 season, finishing second last on the table with four wins from 14 games. Ganguly, who joined the team at the fag end of the tournament, is determined to change the team’s fortunes.
“I really don’t know what went wrong in the last season because I was in the team only for the last three games. I don’t think the team faced teething problems. Probably, we just didn’t play well. Hopefully, we can remove the cobwebs of the last season and start afresh,” he said.
PWI shift base to the newly built stadium in Pune this season. Excited at the prospect of playing there, Ganguly hopes the team can convert their new ‘home venue’ into a fortress like some of the other IPL teams have done over the years.
“I’m looking forward to playing there. I haven’t seen the stadium but will go there next week and have a look. That’s the home for Pune and hopefully we’ll try and build that home advantage over the season,” he said.