Today Sourav Ganguly announced that he will be retiring after the Australian Tour. The lump in the throat visible.
I must admit that he is my favourite Indian cricketer. This man largely stands for a change in Indian cricket. Indian cricket was always good at home and the good boy and the gentleman in the game but the moment they toured outside India barring a few occasions, we would just cave in. The moment some one snarled at us we were looking the other way.
For me Sourav Ganguly or Dada as we call him affectionately will always be remembered for teaching us to fight, to look in the opponents eye and not shirk, never say die, never give up.
In 1992 he was first selected for the Indian Team however he only played one ODI back than before being packed away. He was again selected in 1996 and most including me thought this is thanks to the quota system where in Bengal had to have one player in the team. There was no chance he was going to play any test match. He was going to be only a tourist for the trip carrying bottles. But this was destiny’s child. Navjot Singh Sidhu walked off the tour than Manjrekar got injured and in came this batsman at number 3. We all thought now this guy will see the difference between International Cricket and Ranji Cricket. No expectations were made from him and how the man performed that day at lords is history. He made a dream debut with a century and even today when we see the highlights of that innings umpteen times I still marvel at the beauty of the off side shots. They were imperious, magical, marvelous, elegant and regal. His mate Dravid even made the famous statement, “ On the offside first there is God and than there is Sourav Ganguly!!!!” The Dada had arrived…
As days wore on he was made to open the batting with Sachin Tendulkar in an ODI series against South Africa. That made into one of our most successful opening pair in ODI and a reason why we won so many ODI’s in the late 90’s and early 2000’s.
I would like to bring to the notice of all one small incident in his first Australian series under Sachin’s captaincy when we were white washed 3-0 and also blanked in the subsequent triangular by a superior Pakistan & Australia. In one of the ODI’s India had been dismissed for 120 odd by Australia and in the first over of the Australian innings Srinath got Gilchrist out and this man comes running from the slip egging his team mates that we can win this one lets fight. Frankly I probably am a hopeless optimist about India’s chances always but that tour our performance was so lack luster and the Aussies so superior that it was foolish to even think we could make a match out of it. But here was our Dada believing the team could put it across. The moment to me than stuck, a cricketer should never give up and in cricket anything can happen. We didn’t win that match but that gave an insight into this character.
After that tour Sachin was deflated, he had been scoring runs but the others weren’t able to match his performance and we didn’t have bowlers to support Srinath and Prasad. Subsequently when he quit and the match fixing scandal came in again Sourav Ganguly was to be made a scape goat and he was made captain after India lost the Test Series against South Africa in India. But the fighter that he was he won the ODI series against South Africa, this was when Hansie Cronje’s misendeavours came out in the open.
Indian cricket’s lowest ebb the match fixing saga. The fans were giving up on cricket and believed there was no hope. The team from there started its fightback. Sanjay Manjrekar attributes Sourav Ganguly as the man who gave us belief. The belief that we were good enough and we can win any where against any one. None more evident in 2001 against the Aussies.
In 2001 came the Steve Waugh’s Australian’s they were compared and thought as better than even the Invincible’s or Lloyd’s team. So came arguably the best team ever to India, for Steve Waugh it was the final frontier. They had won in all countries except India. This was the last thing that was missing in the portfolio of Steve Waugh.
It was billed as the Final Frontier and most thought it would be crossed. In Mumbai the first Test Match was bludgeoned by Gilchrist a century that turned the match and they won it. In Eden Gardens India were staring down the barrel following on in the second innings and the staunch optimist in me thought that only if Steve Waugh gave us a follow on would we have a chance to win this match. He did but what followed was mind boggling as two men played as if possessed. VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid batted out the fourth day without losing a wicket. On the fourth day evening after Harsha Bhogle interviewed VVS & Rahul he went to Sourav to discuss how would the match progress and Sourav just put his hand around Harbhajan and told Harsha this guy will win me the test match tomorrow. Need say more???
Indian turned that series and won. Ganguly had well and truly arrived. He than went on to back some really good youngsters and built a dare devil team with Sehwag, Kaif, Yuvraj, Harbhajan, Zaheer and later Dhoni. We reached the World Cup finals. However it would be a fairy tale if we would have won. That would have made Sourav the best captain in the world but the fact that he reached so near bears ample testimony to his leadership.
The Greg Chappell and Sourav spat, his subsequent exit and the comeback only epitomized how much of a fighter the man was.
He had an amazing ability of identifying talent and backing them to the hilt. We suddenly had players coming from everywhere the back grounds of the Kaif, Sehwag, Zaheer, Dhoni, Harbhajan were ordinary but they were made to believe they belonged that they had it in them to be world beaters.
Dada always wore his heart on his sleeve. He did for India what Alan Border did for Australia. Made the team fighters. Probably now Dhoni has a much more of a team that knows they can win everywhere. But it was this man who instilled that belief for the first time in the Indian team. We shall always remember him for the T-shirt waving from the Lords balcony but there is more to Ganguly than just that.
The passionate man that he is he would like to go out on a high with a few match winning knocks in this series. Sourav we await your contributions and we bow to the champion that you are !!!!