'Test cricket is the cricket'
Navjot Singh Sidhu, now a famous television personality and respected Member of Parliament, may appear very funny to those who have seen him laugh heartily on the Idiot Box, but fewer people can discuss cricket and politics, among many other subjects, as honestly and seriously as the former India opener.
"Test cricket is the real cricket. You're truly tested in Test cricket and not in shorter versions, like one-day and Twenty20 cricket. The Mohali Test was a classic example of this.
"Tight situation in Test cricket brings out the true character of a player. And VVS Laxman played outstandingly in a very tight situation and under mounting pressure.
"What was noticeable was that despite battling it out in the middle in trying circumstances with only tail-enders to accompany him, he didn't lose his focus, nor curbed his natural game, and ensured that India won in the end. Hats off to him and the entire India team," he told Haresh Pandya in Rajkot.
Image: Pragyan Ojha celebrates after winning the Mohali Test
'India played like the world's No 1 Test team'
Clad in black, looking fit and dashing as ever, Sidhu was in the city to campaign for the Bharatiya Janata Party, for Sunday's municipal corporation elections.
"Despite many ups and downs in the game, India played like the world's No 1 Test team. I'm sure this Indian team is capable of great deeds. In the last few years India has proved that it can win even Test matches as easily abroad as at home. Gone are the days when Indian cricketers were labelled tigers at home and pussycats in foreign countries," he said, getting increasingly animated.
How did this happy metamorphosis come about?
"Well, it all boils down to attitude in the final analysis. And attitude matters a lot in sports. Whether you talk of talents, total commitment or ruthless professionalism, Indian cricketers are in no way inferior to any other set of players in the world. Individually, as well as a team, they can compete with the very best in the world, including the Australians and the South Africans.
"Importantly, they know the art of how to adept themselves to different situations and play accordingly," he elaborated.
Image: VVS Laxman celebrates after winning the Mohali Test
'We have a strong batting line-up'
"Today we've some very good, world-class fast bowlers in our ranks. They've the talents to bowl intelligently and effectively anywhere in the world, even on less helpful wickets and in adverse conditions.
They're backed by some top class fielders. And with a strong batting line-up studded with gems like Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and, of course, Laxman, it's no surprise that India is at the top of the pole of Test teams," Sindhu said.
Image: Sachin Tendulkar celebrates after reaching 49th Test century
Ganguly key to instilling this aggression
Sidhu, feared both for his dour defence and brutal aggression when armed with the willow, gave credit to the former skipper Sourav Ganguly for sowing the seeds of the present Indian team and the current captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni for building it into a powerful unit.
He emphasised that a captain has to play a key role in any team sport.
"A captain has to inspire his players by setting a personal example. Rather than dictating terms, he has to earn love and respect of his players. The role of the captain in cricket can never be underestimated," he added.
Image: Sourav Ganguly
No dearth of talent
According to Sidhu, there is "no dearth of talent" in the country and hence the future of Indian cricket is "bright" and "rosy". He expressed "satisfaction" with the way young players have been "nurtured" and "encouraged" by the BCCI.
"If you are young and genuinely talented, there're opportunities galore for you simply because there is a lot of cricket. But you shouldn't rest on your laurels once you get the India cap.
Otherwise you'll be thrown out of the team as quickly as you may have entered it. You've to prove that you deserve it by playing a longer innings, in cricketing parlance, which is possible only when you put up consistently good and impressive performances," he emphasised.
Image: Cheteshwar Pujara and Suresh Raina