On the 11th of January 1992, at Brisbane against the mighty West Indies, a lanky 20 year old guy took guard against the stumps. The guard was a bit too defensive and he was given out LBW to a delivery from the in-form pacer Cummins. Sourav Ganguly scored three runs in thirteen balls. When he was asked how he found the ball on the fast Aussie tracks, he answered, “I am yet to see the ball… All I can do now is hear it pas my ear”. And then there was a hiatus; a lul in his cricketing career.
Come 1996 –the England tour and history was being written. Navjot Singh Sidhu left the touring Indian side due to some internal ill-treatment from the then captain Md. Azharuddin and made way for India’s future and till date most successful test and one day cricket captain –Sourav Ganguly.
How many cricketers make their debut at cricket’s sacred ground –Lords? And how many of them score a century on their debut at Lords? Only three. And well, his 131 still remains the highest by any debutant. In his next match at Trent Bridge he scores a 136; only three batsman are in this league, to score two centuries in the first two matches. And if you would have seen him play in those days [I did] – the square cuts, square drives and the cover drivers were as masterful as they can be. He could hit any ball on the off-side with such perfection and elegancy that you had to agree when Dravid said, “On the off-side, first there is god, and then there is Sourav Ganguly”. Remember this comes from one of the bookish-est cricketers of all time –Dravid. Overnight he became the Prince Of Kolkata.
After being destructive in the longer version of the game, Sourav Ganguly didn’t stop there. In 1997 Ganguly made his maiden One Day International century against Lanka. In the same year he won four consecutive Man-of-the-Match awards in the Sahara Cup against Pakistan at Toronto, sizzling not only with the bat but also with the ball. It was the same series where he was christened “The man with the golden arm”. In the second match he had taken 5/16 of his 10 overs. The journey towards greatness had begun, and its reputation kept growing.
It was 1996 when Sidhu left, and that players like Rathod, S. Somasunder, Jadeja were being paired as openers against Tendulkar, but none survived. India faced an acute shortage of a killer opening pair and the prayers were answered bountifully. Sourav Ganguly as an opener in his very first match scored a half century and India found its other opener. History stands testimony of how destructive the left-right duo of Sourav-Sachin has been in tormenting the balling line ups of any country. The duo was the most successful opening pairs in ODIs having amassed the highest number of century partnerships  for the first wicket. Together they have more than 7000 runs in their kitty for the first wicket at an impressive average of 48.98. They are also the world record holders for the highest number of 50 run partnerships for the first wicket: 44 fifties.
Sourav Ganguly used to exploit the field restrictions in the initial overs by walking down the pitch and hitting the pace bowlers over extra cover and mid-off. His sense of timing was impeccable and he used his hand-eye co-ordination in picking up the length of the balls early and hitting it over mid-on or mid-wicket either for a six or a one bounce four. The best part of his ground shots were, that they always found the gaps. The only delivery that tormented him throughout his career, not initially, was the short ball. He was not at all comfortable playing the short ball and used to miss-judge or lose his balance. The short ball was extensively used against him not always to get him out with it but to make him feel uncomfortable enough to commit an error in the execution of his strokes. Later he developed the art of a pull or a hook, though not natural but it saved him his wicket and added a few extra runs to the kitty.
One of the lowest points in Indian cricket was its deep involvement in the match fixing scandals and a lot of senior players were lost in it. Sourav Ganguly was the man India turned to as a leader. Sourav brought together the youth and energy, the determination and the grit, the killer instinct and the never say die attitude in the youngsters. He changed them all to Team India. Sourav also has fought with the selectors for youngsters like Yuvi, Bhajji, Kaif, Zaheer, Veeru, Ifran. The never say die attitude is now paying rich dividends. The present Indian team was created by none other than Sourav Ganguly.
It was Ganguly who converted Veeru into an opener discarding the conventional methods of opening an innings. “In India you need runs at the top order, for once the ball becomes older, you can’t score fast. And if you get off to a flier the opposition will always be under pressure. Sehwag was our best bet.”
In the year 2000, India lost 5 test matches in a row under Sachin’s captaincy and the reins of Team India for test cricket was handed over to Ganguly. To add to his woes, Steve Waugh’s Australians were seeking to conquer the “Final frontier” after having won 15 test matches on the trot. Sourav Ganguly’s Team India not only broke the trot at Edens, Kolkata but also won the series for India at Chennai, 2-1. That was Waugh’s last series and he got a gritting team with an un-characteristic attitude to face at the end. Under Ganguly nothing seemed impossible and innovation was routine life.
The India cricket team under the captaincy of Sourav Ganguly was being taken seriously in the cricketing fraternity. Team India had a burning desire, a desire to excel and win and most important of all –a team that believed in itself. It was Sourav who imbibed into his team a new sense of strength and faith in their capabilities. The bowling became tighter, the gaps narrower and the fitness perfect; and with one of the best batting line ups in the world, India was never short of runs on the board. Indian cricket was always about silk, about splitting cover and extra cover with neither fielders moving. It took Ganguly to put the steel in it. He never walked onto a cricket field to win friends, but to only and only win for India and he did that with an arrogance and self belief that irked almost everyone. His fiery attitude rubbed off on Team India; a team that believed in playing tough and winning from any situation. Remember the final at Lords in 2002 for the Natwest Trophy? Kaif and Yuvi were hand picked by Dada. Who would not remember Natwest? The heroic performances by Kaif and Yuvi brought out the spontaneous passion ingrained in our Dada, who celebrated the victory by taking off his shirt and waving it in the air from the Lords balcony. Off-course that was a fitting reply to Andrew Flintoff’s act while in a series in India. Ganguly has rushed from the balcony to the cricket ground and hugged his team mates in more than a bear hug. He loved his team and his nation. He was passionate for the game, for the team and for India and you could see it when he spoke. At that moment, my city was celebrating the victory… a victory that brought the nation together.
Brandished as being outspoken and arrogant, Sourav had often attracted controversies. The most famous being the Chappell-Ganguly one. What actually happened [am not talking about the credibility of the Chappell email] is not really known. But what we all know is that Ganguly built Team India and he brought the grit, the killer instinct, the passion and the determination to excel into the team, into the game. But at that time his form on the field was not too good and he was subsequently dropped from the team and stripped of his captaincy. It’s a humiliation to Indian cricket if they took Greg Chappell seriously. The Aussies have a habit of living upto the standards of their great grandfathers… whether its Clark, Symonds or Ponting, their integrity is always questionable.
It was the second Test match of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy in 2007 in Sydney when Clark unethically claimed a catch [which was dropped] of Ganguly. Gavaskar went on record to accuse the Australian side for un-sportsmanship. Ganguly knew that it was not a catch but had heeded to the umpire decision; the umpire [ -a typical SOB] was shown asking Ponting whether it was a catch or not, but not Steve Bucknor the leg umpire. And whom do you ask? Ponting?? Who in the earlier inning had declined to admit that he was out when he was actually out?? There were many such dubicious decisions in that series and clubbed with poor ethics from the Australian side –it was enough for them to save the series which ended in a tie. I tell you, these Aussies are still a group of crooks…only their modus operandi changes that’s all. And well if I were in the field I would have shoved the Ricky Point finger and the umpire’s finger in each other’s arses… a few of such blunders had costed India the series. Every cricketer in the world is aware that the second test of BG Trophy was a total mess.
But come this year -2008 and India clinches the BG Trophy this time on home ground beating Aussies to a clean 2-0 series win. Dada had walked the Indian team one last time as captain and he is seen here standing extreme right with his simple signature smile on India winning. Looking at him who would say that he is the architect of the current India team?
Coming back to our Dada… he has always been the fulcrum of Indian cricketing performance and his own as well. He has staged numerous come-backs time and again to prove the cricketing pundits wrong who were always ready to pen down the obituary of his journey. But on 8th of October, he finally decided to hang his boots. The world can debate on whether a Voluntary Retirement Scheme was forced down our Dada or not by the BCCI but there would be no second thoughts on the fact that we would miss the numerous beautiful, gutsy, unforgettable performances. If Jack Welch called his book “Straight from the Gut”, Dada should call his “Straight from the Bat”.
Though I did not want to copy paste his cricketing stats but to give a sense of completeness to this blog, I am doing so.
Dada is the most successful Indian captain, having played more than 100 test matches and is the 4th highest run scorer for India. He holds an enviable record of 21-13 wins-losses as captain, Team India besides having lead the team to the World Cup finals of 2003.
Dada has got 16 centuries in Test matches and 22 in ODIs and is only behind Sachin, Ponting and Jayasuriya in the ODIs. He’s also got 35 and 72 half centuries in the longer and shorter version of the game respectively.
Dada is the fourth player to cross 11,000 ODI runs and third player to cross 10,000 ODI runs and so far the fastest in ODI history, after Sachin Tendulkar.
He is also one of the 3 players in the world to achieve amazing treble of 10,000 runs, 100 wickets and 100 catches in ODI cricket history, the others being Sachin and Jayasuriya.
His average is 41+ in both the forms of the game and has never dipped below 40 in the test matches ever.
Sachin On Ganguly: “Sourav has had a lot of ups and downs in his career; tough times but he has fought through it all. He was opening partner in ODIs for a long time and even attempted to teach me Bengali at times. In end we got to know each other so well that I could predict what he would do on the next ball. That for me was special. The entire nation will miss you and Anil when you are not walking with the team. Rest assured, I will too.”
When dada announced his retirement, all I wanted was that he leaves the same way as he entered… with a century, that he does not give another opportunity to the scavengers to write another article of the sorts “Hadn’t-I-said-so?” type. And Dada did it in style, a century with his long standing partner Sachin at Mohali and a gutsy 85 at Nagpur with one signature sixer of Jason Krejza…
This had to happen one day. Dada had to leave. But I was glad that he left when he was scoring. I would also want to show a small comparison of numbers for the benefit of all, of the performances of three great batsman of India cricket over the last two years.
They are arranged as “Matches-Runs-Highest-Score-Average-Strike Rate-100s-50s”
Rahul Dravid: 23-1292-129-33.12-40.40-2-7
Sachin Tendulkar: 20-1558-154*-47.21-55.96-4-9
Sourav Ganguly: 23 -1842-239-47.23-59.07-4-9
On the 10th of November, Dada scored a duck to wrap up his Test cricket and no one could believe that it would end this way. Not even Dada. Dada looked at the sky for a second or so to convey his thanks and embarked on a new journey… He was later hauled onto the shoulders when India won the match and the series and Dada was asked to perform the Lords act of shirt-waving… only the anger was missing, to be replaced with the mystical half smile. And then he left. He was gone.
Modifying Rahul Dravid’s views, I would say “When Sourav Ganguly is on wicket, even God runs for cover.”
But the fact remains, that more than Ganguly as the batsman he would be remembered as Ganguly the captain, the “game-changer”. Would this be his talisman to the Indian cricket? Only time can answer that.