Subash Jayaraman: Your ESPNcricinfo profile reads: “It wasn’t until his fourth coming in the international carer that he truly made his mark against the mighty Australians with back-to-back hundreds.” Why do you think it took you so long to get comfortable?
Daren Ganga: If you look at my career, you will see I was virtually plucked out of school cricket and got to play international cricket from a very young age. I would have played just one full season of first-class season for Trinidad and Tobago. In 1997-98, I scored a hundred against Barbados and a half-century against Courtney Walsh and Franklin Rose’s Jamaican team. I was selected for West Indies’ first tour to South Africa post-apartheid. That was in 1998-99. I was 19. Really, the selection should have offered me the opportunity to learn more about the intensity of international cricket and what was required to be successful. Looking back, I got the opportunity to play, and I don’t regret having that opportunity – that made me a strong player.
I travelled a lot initially in my career and I struggled because I was still learning my TRADE at the highest level. A lot of players make their international Test debut after playing about 60 to 70 first-class matches. That was not the case for me.
Before I really started to realise my potential, I never got the opportunity to play in the conditions in which I had honed my skills. It took me 17 Test matches before I played my first Test in the Caribbean, and that is where I scored my first Test hundred.
SJ: Your debut was in Kingsmead, Durban, probably one of the fastest pitches around. And Shaun Pollock was in his pomp.
DG: He got me on all six occasions. I debuted at No. 6 and scored 28 in the first innings. I was bowled off a no-ball. Yesterday we were looking at the clips from that Test match. I got dismissed in the second innings by a brilliant piece of fielding from Herschelle Gibbs. In fact, he took four catches in that innings.
We lost all the Tests in that series. It was really baptism by fire. My first ball in Test cricket was a short ball from Allan Donald. My first scoring shot was a boundary off his bowling as well. Fun memories. I would have loved to have more memories from my first Test match, but nonetheless I was happy with the experience.
SJ: Those back-to-back hundreds against Australia in 2003 – did they give you the confidence that you had arrived as a Test batsman?
DG: Yes. Back then we were struggling to get wins consistently. We were in a transition period and the great players were leaving the international arena. Having scored a Test hundred against the No. 1 Test team – the Steve Waugh Australian side – was really a booster. The only Test match I played in front of my home crowd, I got to make a hundred there. That was the highlight of my career.
But it was tough. I have always had to prove myself as an opening batsman. The West Indian public is not a sympathetic public. They want to see results time and time again. I had a lot of times being in the XI and out. The entire environment was very, very intense and it was not easy for players to get consistent performances.
SJ: As a 19-year-old, walking onto the field with Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh and Brian Lara – the people that you grew up admiring and idolising – what was that experience like?
DG: It was like living my childhood dreams. I come from a rural community in Trinidad and Tobago called Barrackpore. It was the most popular thing for a young person to play cricket. When I got the opportunity to play with Brian Lara, Sir Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh, Carl Hooper, Jimmy Adams, it was really humbling. I just wanted to emulate these guys. I worked really hard as a young player to compensate for the lack of experience.
SJ: What were your experiences of being the captain of West Indies?
DG: I had the most runs for West Indies in 2006. This was my fourth 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 T&T. We won the Stanford 20/20 tournament, the 50-over tournament, and the four-day competition.
I was really disappointed when I was not included in the 30-man World Cup  squad. Being sidelined and stereotyped into a Test-playing batsman and not given the opportunity to play more ODI cricket, I found myself lacking intense cricket throughout most of the year and having to go into Test cricket and find my form. That is something I didn’t raise with our coach back then – Bennett King – or anyone in the West Indies board, because I was the only one in that situation. It was a big challenge and I was crying out for help and there was little I was getting in return.
Following the World Cup, a week after that we had to tour England for the Test series. There were periods of three to four months that I didn’t play a competitive match. I got into the England tour as vice-captain. We had one practice game that was rained off. Luckily I averaged 80 in the first Test match, at Lord’s. And when the tour was looking positive for me, Ramnaresh Sarwan unfortunately got injured.
It was a real challenge for me because I didn’t have the opportunities to have solid inputs into team selection. I was part of the discussions with Sarwan but here I was given a squad and I had to deliver as captain. It was the toughest period of my career. There were some players who were very difficult in terms of the relationship and in terms of pushing my philosophies of the game. It is not easy doing that during a Test match. I struggled with the bat after the first Test match because of all these responsibilities. The West Indies selectors and the board didn’t appoint me straightaway 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.
SJ: There is a question from a listener from Trinidad – Kingsley: what is your proudest moment as the captain of Trinidad?
DG: It would have been the win in our domestic four-day competition [in 2005-06] after a period of 21 years. Back 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, Rajindra Dhanraj, Ian Bishop – guys who were dominating international cricket. Yet we were not able to win titles to show that were the best team in the 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 that would 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 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. The young Denesh Ramdins and the young Dwayne Bravo and the young Kieron Pollard – these are the guys who I would have had an impact on, in terms of grooming, developing a work ethic.
SJ: I want to hear your memories from two Test matches. The first one would be the 418-run chase.
DG: Antigua has always been a fun place for the West Indians to play. So we were very confident in terms of our ability to chase that total.
I remember batting at No. 3 in that Test. Wavell Hinds [Chris Gayle] and Devon Smith opened the batting. They put on a decent start. I got into my stride and I think I got out. Then came Brian Lara, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Ramnaresh Sarwan. It was really that Sarwan-Chanderpaul partnership that set the tone for us catching that total.
In Antigua the crowd is very confident, in terms of the team’s accomplishment. 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 from Sarwan. There was never a doubt in our minds that we were not going to win that Test. Omari Banks, in his first series, was amazing. He was able to produce with the ball, and nearly scored a half-century as well. We were able to beat the mighty Australians in our backyard after we had dominated the first three Test matches. 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 did it look like from the dressing room? What did you hear from Sarwan 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. We wanted to show the Australians, “Listen, you are playing in our backyard and we are very confident here.”
Ramnaresh Sarwan is a close friend. I know how aggressive and tough mentally he is. Sometimes when you’ve 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. Even though we were lower down the pecking order of world rankings, we were a force to be reckoned with, more so in our backyard.
SJ: In 2006, on a tough pitch in Jamaica against India, you top-scored for West Indies in the first innings, with 40 out of 103. Rahul Dravid made two fifties, which are still celebrated as two of the toughest innings he has played. What are your memories from that Test and the chase?
DG: This was the deciding Test. 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.
We came to Jamaica expecting a surface that would offer assistance to fast bowlers. Before the start of that Test, we were all very disappointed with the nature of the surface. The first innings was very tough. The Indian fast bowlers were extracting some awkward bounce. They were swinging the ball. Sreesanth, in particular, was outswinging with quite a lot of pace and accuracy. And then the challenge of Harbhajan Singh. It was very awkward to play spin bowling on that surface.
Having said that, because of the form I had shown in the previous Test matches – I got 135 and 66 not out in St Kitts – I was the in-form player and a lot rested with me. I was just content with putting away the bad balls, ensuring that my defence was very strong. On tracks like those you want to survive and play that big, long innings, but deep down you know 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, [in the second innings] I think I flicked across an outswinger from Sreesanth – a very beautiful delivery.
I remember Denesh Ramdin batting in the end in the lower order, taking the attack to the Indians. We could not have pulled it off. India was celebrating. They worked hard. I have clear images of Rahul being gritty and determined, being Dravid-like, 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.
SJ: It was a target of 269 and you were short by 50 in the end. Was there a hope in the dressing room that even though you were 120 runs or so away the boys could have pulled that off?
DG: Yes, we felt that if Denesh Ramdin could have created a couple more partnerships, we might have been able to cross the line. We never questioned the abilities of our players, but what we did question was the conditions – if our players would be able to overcome these unplayable deliveries. I remember we had a notice 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 be on fighting together.
SJ: When you look back on your career, what are the feelings that you have on how it all worked out for you?
DG: I am forever grateful for the opportunity to wear that maroon cap and represent the West Indies. From a player’s perspective, I was not as talented as a Brian Lara or even a Ramnaresh Sarwan, but I was very determined. I worked really hard and prepared really well as a player. I can recall two big half-centuries against Pakistan in Pakistan that I really would have wanted to convert, 90-odd in New Zealand, in very tough conditions, where we had a Test match to win. We didn’t really capitalise on it. A big half-century 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. If I had better earlier experiences, I think my Test average would have been a lot higher.
My experiences at international level have really placed me in good stead to dominate at first-class level. I have been able to score the most regional runs for any Trinidadian, most centuries for any Trinidadian in regional cricket. When I look back, I think there is a bigger role for me to play in making sure that other players don’t make the same mistakes that I make.