The Knight Rider is now a Warrior! But was he always not a warrior? Sourav Chandidas Ganguly. The prince of Kolkata or shall we say the King of Comebacks.
Once there was Mohinder Amarnath and now there is Sourav Ganguly.
A scintillating hundred on debut for India in a Test match at Lord’s in 1996, following it up with another 100 at Trent Bridge. Promoted later on in the same year to open the innings in ODI’s along with Sachin Tendulkar, to be a part of one of the best opening pairs in the history of the game, Sourav did it all. His ODI debut though was in 1992 against Australia, but he was dropped after a forgettable innings. Many thought that he would never be seen again on the international circuit again. However, fate had something else in store for Sourav and rest as they say, is history.
Taking over the captaincy reins in the ODI series against South Africa at home in 2000, after the match-fixing saga had put a blanket of gloom over the Indian cricket, he started the turnaround for Indian cricket with his brand of inspirational and tough captaincy, making the team believe that they could win against any team, anywhere.
As one of India’s most respected and best spin bowler, Anil Kumble, once said about Sourav, “He had confidence in his players and always backed them even when things weren’t going their way. He was an inspirational captain and it was under his captaincy that we started to believe we could win overseas as well.”
Kumble added, “Ganguly was a thinking captain and wanted to be a step ahead of the opposition – both on and off the pitch. He and John Wright worked very hard in instilling a winning mentality in Indian cricket.”
His ability to lead was acknowledged by one and all including the little master Sachin Tendulkar himself, “When I took the decision about not leading the Indian team, I had suggested Sourav’s name to succeed me as Indian team captain. I always thought that he had had the ability to lead the team. He is a thinking cricketer who loves challenges. He is always ready to take a few risks and loves to lead the team aggressively.”
He backed players like Yuvraj, Harbhajan and Dhoni purely on the basis of their merit and not some zone selection policy. No wonder Yuvraj Singh once famously said, “I’m ready to die for such a captain”. And Harbhajan Singh’s undying support for Sourav is known by one and all.
Winning the Test match in Kolkata despite a follow-on in 2001 and consequently winning the historic Test series at home against the Australians, he announced to the world that the Indians were no pushovers. Taking India to the World Cup final in 2003 for the first time since 1983 and later in the same year, with a match changing century in Brisbane, he once again told the world why he was named as Bengal Tiger. As captain, drawing the Test series against the mighty Australians Down Under in 2003-04, when most had predicted a drubbing of the Indians was another high point in his career. Winning the first ever Test series in Pakistan in 2004 and with 15 Test wins, becoming the most successful Indian captain is no mean feat.
He made a comeback to play in the national side in 2006 against Test series in Pakistan when many had written off his ability to play with the same panache.
Ending as the highest run-scorer in the Indian side in the away series in South Africa in 2006-07 and second highest scorer in Tests against England in their own backyard, Sourav was a man on a mission. Top scorer (543 runs) and man of the series in the 3 Test series against Pakistan in 2007- when he hit back to back centuries against Pakistan at home with the sublime 239 in Bangalore to retiring on a high from the Indian cricket team when he played his last Test Vs Australia at Nagpur, Nov 6-10, 2008, there is never too much that can be said about this gritty soul of Indian cricket.
And then there were the lows…
Under Sourav’s captaincy, India lost the Test series at home in 2004 against Australia for the first time in 35 years. He was banned for 6 matches for slow overrate in the ODI series in Pakistan, a series which India went on to lose 2-4. The differences with Greg Chappell which became public when Ganguly revealed in Zimbabwe that the coach had asked him to step down from the captaincy.
His personal lack of form, the technical errors in his batting which he could never correct and his fitness level going down and eventually the end of his reign as captain in 2005 when Rahul Dravid took over from him, all were things that tested his mettle.
He was a successful captain one day, but was out in the cold the very next day. Sourav Ganguly has seen it all.
He evokes extreme viewpoints in people. As they say - love him, hate him but you can’t ignore him. Whereas some called him God of the offside, others insist that he could never play bouncers. Some criticised him for being a bad fielder and slow in running between the wickets, but there were others who swore by his sixers. Some accused him of playing politics, others backed him for his ability to bring out the best from his team.
Sourav once said in an interview, “You know I have had enough of this short-ball business…You don’t score so many runs without being able to play the short ball. There are a lot of wrong perceptions about me. But then how many people can I change?”
And he said to one of the anchors in an interview to a TV Channel before the 2011 World Cup – “you don’t achieve what I achieved just by doing politics”.
He at times did what his heart told him even if it meant breaking some boundaries. Doing an emotional commercial after he was out of the team takes some guts and self-belief - to say in front of the whole world that he was doing everything to get back to the team. And consider this – in a period of 10 years he was summoned by the match referee around 12 times. Maybe it was this attitude which made him a winner more times than not.
But should Ganguly have accepted the offer by the new franchise to play in the IPL mid way into the tournament. He has signed a contract for a period of one year for the Pune Warriors. There is a section of the media and experts who feel on the contrary.
One of India’s best pace bowlers Javagal Srinath wrote in his column in a daily, “Ganguly has been a great contributor to Indian cricket and achievements as captain and batsman speak for themselves … The judgement of Ganguly and Warriors can’t be questioned but in every sense, I doubt if this is a great move by someone who bid adieu with grace and dignity.”
Yes, as far as people like me are concerned, to be playing in the fourth season of the IPL after being left out in the auctions with his base price being $400,000, is undermining his stature. People like me do want to see Sourav being involved in Indian cricket in some way or the other.
Many like me were extremely happy to see Ganguly in the new avatar as a Commentator in the recently concluded World Cup. He was his usual self - intelligent, straightforward and honest. So Dada as a future commentator, administrator or even the coach of the Indian team is welcome.
So is deciding to play in the IPL just an ego trip for Sourav? Or maybe he still has a point or two to prove to the world. Just like he made a comeback to the Indian cricket team and went out on a high, maybe here too he wants to bow out amidst applause.
But coming back to play in the IPL is not like making a comeback to the Indian cricket team. There is no patriotism or nationalism involved here. And I would cringe to see him fail. Then who knows, like Sourav has surprised his fans and his critics time and again, in this new innings too maybe the left-handed batsman has something up his sleeve which the world is yet to see. As one of the owners of the Pune Warriors said – “he is a fighter and a master of comebacks”.
Just when people are busy writing his epitaphs he springs a surprise and confounds one and all.
Ganguly once said in an interview, “Somehow I have this ability – whether it’s God-given or not, I don’t know – but I believe that I can be successful. That’s the only way you can be successful.” Maybe it’s the belief that the man has in himself has made him take the decision to play in the IPL once again.
After all he was a successful cricketer but never considered to be in the same league as Sachin or Brian. He was one of India’s most successful captains but never talked about in the same league as Mike Brearley or Mark Taylor. Still he took India to new heights as a cricketing nation. As Sourav himself once said, “If you are blessed with the ability of Tendulkar or Lara then it may be different. For players like me it’s never easy.” That sums up the man.
Ganguly recently called Dhoni as the greatest captain of the country. In an interview to a Daily he said, “His record is a proof of that. Under Dhoni, India have won the Twenty20 World Cup and the Asia Cup. Under him, India have become the No. 1 ranked side in Test cricket. And now we have won the World Cup. Obviously, he is the greatest ever captain to lead India.”
Yes it is true. But for sentimental blokes like me, the foundation of the present team was laid during Sourav’s era. Not to take anything away from Dhoni. MS did a great job of taking Ganguly’s legacy forward.
On a personal level two of my favourite moments of Sourav are ironically not the cricketing ones. First is the oft quoted incident about Sourav, when he as the captain of the Indian cricket team made the Australian captain, Steve Waugh wait for the toss before the start of a Test match. Some say it was cheeky for him to do so but every proud Indian like me loved him for this. It epitomized the confidence of the man and made an announcement to the world that India did not fear anyone.
The other is again one of the most talked about incident – when Sourav removed his shirt from the balcony at Lord’s after India won the one day Natwest series in 2002. The passion of the man who showed that not only was a thinking captain but also wore his heart on his sleeves still brings a smile to my face. After all what is life without a little bit of passion.
So, IPL or no IPL, Ganguly’s place in the history of Indian cricket can never be doubted. And the Indian fans will always bat for the prince of Kolkata.