Image (c) courtesy of guardian.co.uk
Being an Indian cricket lover in the current era is a privilege (besides the last couple of months admittedly). Never has the Indian team looked so good and Indian cricket's last decade has without doubt been its highest point. In that time, a bunch of ragtorn boys have matured into a machine intent on winning at all cost; over the course of the journey winning T20 and ODI World Cups and been the number one Test team for 20 months straight. Never has cricket been brighter for the Indian fan and I feel all this success has been made possible due to the dream of a man known as the ‘Prince of Calcutta’.
Sourav Ganguly is my favourite cricketer. In a country boasting mountain-sized legends Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, and Anil Kumble, he is the one I adore more. Why? Let me explain.
Ganguly wouldn’t win any ‘most loved cricketer’ awards. He has his share of critics, doubters, and haters. As a player who always tried to be the best he could be and one who expected to win at all costs even if it did mean overstepping the line a little, he played not to make friends but to win. The opposition found some of his tactics quite immature, but the man wasn’t to change. He stuck to his guns and remained one of India’s true princes till the end.
Born into a very rich family, young Sourav Ganguly lived luxuriously, lacking little. Cricket wasn’t always Ganguly’s dream as he was first seduced by football, but once his brother - who played for Bengal - introduced him to the game, the maharaja we now know was born. Ganguly the right-handed batsman transformed into a left-handed batsman so that he could actually use his brother’s kit!
His rise was fast and by 1992 was wearing the blue of India. He didn't have much initial success and was soon dropped, recalled in 1996, to make his Test debut against England. He scored a century at Lords and established himself as a player for the future. His century in the very next match re-established that fact. From then on, Ganguly went from strength to strength with 183 against Sri Lanka in the ’99 World Cup his highest point.
It wasn’t until 2000 that I actually started to notice this man, when he took over the reins of the Indian team after the sport plunged into disrepute. With a strong desire to win he groomed a set of young men he thought fit to be in his team and tried to put Indian cricket back on the road.
The 2001 series against Australia was special in so many ways, and it was then when Ganguly and the Indian team truly started to believe they could achieve the impossible. The foundation was laid as India embarked on a new road with a proud skipper who wanted the best for his team, and a Kiwi coach supporting him. Within three years of the match-fixing scandal, Ganguly's men made the final of the 2003 World Cup. Ganguly had put a new Indian outfit on wheels and rolled the wagon proudly in the international parade.
As a person, Ganguly is a proud human being who will never ever back down from a fight. This is reflected in the cricket he played and the way he led the team. Ganguly was adamant on having players like Harbhajan Singh and Yuvraj Singh in his team irrespective of what others thought. Rumour has it he had played Harbhajan only once in the nets before when he asked for his inclusion in the 2001 series against Australia. I doubt whether these players would have ever made the team had it not been for Ganguly. Also, being a fighter, Ganguly never let any moment go and was always in the opposition’s face trying to get under their skin. Coming in his own time to the toss, and his aloofness in observing certain traditions earned Ganguly the name ‘Lord Snooty’ by Wisden writers.
As a cricketer who wore his heart on his sleeves, Ganguly spared no one. Even his own team mates weren’t spared. As a skipper, he demanded everything from his players. He was a cruel task master who also possessed a sense of humour. When asked whether he was a ‘good bad boy’ or a ‘bad good boy’ in an interview, he smiled and replied, ‘why don’t you answer that?’
Controversy and the name Ganguly seem synonymous and that's probably one of the reasons he is so disliked. The Greg Chappell incident was unfortunate, left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth and many Indians were offended at the fact a foreign coach had the nerve to sack Dada – the maharaja of India. Ganguly’s 2007 comeback really earned my admiration. Against all odds, he fought his way back into the team to play under the same regime that only years before oversaw his exit. It was now that the older, wiser and more mature Sourav emerged; one who for the first time set aside his ego to become a mentor for the younger players. The steely resolve with which he played and proved doubters wrong made the man responsible for his sacking admit that he had never seen Sourav play better. Ganguly finally bowed out of international cricket, but the sagas continue in the IPL.
“On the off-side, first there is God, then there is Ganguly” Rahul Dravid on Ganguly.For me, Ganguly will always be the Bengal tiger who taught India that it could indeed play with the big boys of cricket. He built a team which not only believed, but tasted that very principle. Being India’s best left-handed batsmen has its own accolades, but in my mind, his off-side shots will linger forever in my memory. Though his technique against short deliveries may have been his undoing, but 18000+ runs in international cricket is the stuff of fable. Who can forget him dancing down the wicket to spinners to loft them over long on? Has anyone played the great Muralitharan better? I highly doubt it.
Aside from his seemingly myraid faults, Ganguly's impact on Indian cricket has been colossal. Despite all the controversies, you can hate or love the man called ‘the prince of Calcutta’, but you he remains impossible to ignore. I’ll forever love and cherish cricket's bad boy.
Christopher tweets @poshin_david
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