When it comes to Sourav Ganguly, it is difficult for anyone to remain neutral. You either love him to death or hate him. Indeed, the entire cricketing fraternity is composed of people with strongly opinionated views for or against India‘s mercurial captain.
Controversial, dynamic, in your face and combative, Sourav Ganguly changed the face of Indian cricket like no other captain before him had managed, earning global respectability for a side which had a reputation for chickening out in adversity.
Perhaps Ganguly’s contribution to Indian cricket can be summed up briefly in the words of Peter Roebuc, who famously said, “Ganguly has neither been a genius or a saint or a great batsman, but he has served with distinction and leaves Indian cricket in a much better state than he found it”.
Let’s take a trip down memory lane and take a look at the Top 5 greatest moments of an illustrious career of one India’s greatest sons.
1. That don’t impress me much!
Rewind to 2000-01, Australia are the greatest cricket team on the planet with 15 straight test wins behind them and arrive in India looking to conquer their final frontier. Ganguly, however, isn’t impressed. “They have won most of their games at home, they beat West Indies 5-0 at home, beat India and Pakistan also at home. They toured India in ’96 and ’98 and lost. So obviously, that will be on the back of their minds”. No awe here, no respect for a team that had blown every other nation away in the last few years under Steve Waugh‘s captaincy. Respect, is not a present that is unwrapped and placed on a silver platter; which you enjoy on your mirth – it is but an acclamation that has to be earned with time; and Sourav had a similar mentality. He makes Steve Waugh wait at the toss on each occasion, and if he got lucky with the coin toss, walks off on his own after letting the TV interviewer know what India chose to do. And let’s not forget Sourav pulling the red rag out of the pocket in the Goa ODI. When the match referee pulls him up for arriving late, Sourav turns up five minutes before the toss in his tracksuit top! Yet today, ruffling Australia’s feathers remains Ganguly’s greatest achievement – Sourav succeeded in getting up the noses of a team which got up the noses of everyone else. “You have to give him an ‘A’ for his attempts to annoy us, and in particular me. It worked to a certain extent,” Waugh admitted in his book.
2. Owning the Gabba
Heading into the tour Down Under, Sourav Ganguly’s batting record as a captain wasn’t the most impressive, and you could see a fiery determination in his eyes to set things straight. Thanks to the rampaging Virender Sehwag, India made a cracking start to reach 61-0 in reply to Australia’s 323 in the first innings. But a couple of overs and one horrendous Steve Bucknor decision later, India were in a precarious situation at 62 for 3. Jason Gillespie was on fire with two wickets in eight overs, leaking just 5 runs in the process. In walked a left hander well known for his weakness against the short delivery. Steve Waugh greeted Ganguly with four slips, a gully and a forward short leg, and the message to Gillespie, Bracken and Bichel was loud and clear. Pitch it SHORT! A tentative edge through the slip cordon on the very first ball showed signs of Sourav’s inherent weakness. But Ganguly was keeping his cards rather close to his chest. A square cut eased some of the nervousness, and what followed was the sweetest marriage of bat and ball one is ever likely to see. Poetry in motion! For once Sourav restrained himself from using his feet to the spinner Stuart McGill, instead relying on the sweep. As he swept McGill through fine leg and came back for the second to complete a memorable ton, Ganguly pumped the air, held his arms aloft in celebration and let the Australians know that he quite enjoyed the ‘sweet chin music’.
3. “I was asked to step down as captain”
Sourav Ganguly, after scoring his 12th test century in the 1st test against Zimbabwe at Bulawayo in 2005, sensationally revealed that certain people in the management were calling for his head as captain of the Indian side. The revelation sent shockwaves across the cricketing fraternity and a few days later, Greg Chappell took the world by storm by sending an email to the BCCI, which read that the then Indian Chief coach did not feel that Sourav was in the right state of mind to lead India and that his captaincy responsibilites were taking a massive toll on his batting form. “Everything he does is designed to maximise his chance of success and is usually detrimental to someone else’s chances.” were Greg Chappell’s words in that controversial email as he explained that Sourav’s time was up and it was time that India moved beyond his alleged ‘divide-and-rule’ policy. But Chappell soon received a prompt reply from the Prince of Calcutta as Sourav came back into the Indian team the following year and re-established himself as one of India’s greatest servants.
4. The comeback knock
Many cricketers of the stature of Sourav Ganguly would have felt it was time to step away and look back on what had, until then, been a glorious career. Sourav had achieved virtually everything as a batsman and captain – 34 international hundreds as a batsman, famous series wins over arch rivals Pakistan and Australia, and leading India to their first World Cup final in 20 years. But Ganguly had other ideas. He wasn’t prepared to live with the fact that his last ever innings for India would read as a solid 34 in tricky Karachi conditions in February 2006. A spell at Northamptonshire and consistent domestic performances later, Ganguly forged a memorable comeback into the Indian fold and announced his rebirth on the international stage with a gutsy, unbeaten 51 against South Africa at Jo’burg. The Dravids and Tendulkars of the world had fallen. Dada however stood tall. What followed was two of Ganguly’s most prolific years with the bat before he announced his retirement from the game in the winter of 2008.
5. Take off your shirt and celebrate in style!
Lord’s is considered the most sacred place to play cricket. But that’s not how Sourav saw it. Ganguly, after Mohammad Kaif and Zaheer Khan took India home to complete the most memorable run chase in the nation’s history, scandalised the home of cricket by taking off his jersey and revealing his not-so-impressive torso in the Lord’s pavilion. Wait, aren’t Indians, particularly Bengalis, supposed to be the studious, meek and courteous guys? They aren’t supposed to go shirtless in a public place, with the eyes of the world on you, shouting four-letter cuss words obvious to anyone tuning into the broadcast. The so-called purists slammed Sourav for tarnishing the “gentleman’s game”. In Sourav’s defence, it was merely a response to Andrew Flintoff‘s act a few months earlier in India. That very moment, with Ganguly, India’s aggression went naked, and the events at Lord’s turned out to be a turning point in India’ cricketing fortunes in the open era.