Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Sourav Ganguly

Drama and Sourav Gangluy always went hand in hand.

In that sense, it was fitting that he got out for a duck in his final innings. It had to be a duck or a century, for anything in between would've been just ordinary.

I'll always remember 'Dada' as the most aggressive captain India had. It was he, without a doubt, who changed Indian cricket as a whole. Not Kapil, Not Tendulkar, but Sourav Ganguly.
He backed matchwinners to the hilt (yuvraj, harbhajan, sehwag), who've repaid Indian cricket with some memorables wins. More importantly, he infused steel and grit in a team which was typically dazzling but complacent, flamboyant but inconsistent. Its not surprising that he's the winningest captain of India (yet).

His on field aggression wasn't always the in-your-face type. The best example was the first test in Brisbane in the 03-04 series, where he hit a superb, counter-attacking 144 (one of his finest hundreds) to set an example for his teammates. India drew the series 1-1, but came damn close to winning it in Sydney (where another message was sent to the Aussies when India declared immedietly after Brett Lee, their premier strike bowler, got hit for 200). 
The thing that struck me there was that Gangluly looked dissappointed with a 1-1 result. He wanted to win the series. Badly. When was the last time an Indian captain didn't gloat about drawing an away series against the best team in the world?

Initially, I looked at Ganguly as a superb batsman (albeit some 'short'comings) and an above average captain. But all that changed on 13 July 2002. It was the Natwest Trophy finals and England had racked up 325. 
Out came Gangluy, smashed 50 off less than 35 balls, got India off to a flyer, dispatching Flintoff repeatedly over cover along the way. India lost their way once he got out and were choking as usual when Yuvraj and Kaif pulled off the win memorably. It was then that I witnessed something remarkable. On the famous Lord's Balcony was Ganguly, pumped up beyond imagination, taking off his shirt and swirling it while uttering F-Bombs. It was a stunning sight. It was the first time I'd seen that kind of intensity from an Indian Cricketer. It changed my entire perception of him, both as a player and as a captain.

It is a bit of an irony that the man who was once called "God of all things off side" will be best remembered for his leadership than batsmanship. But the fact is that Ganguly was always a couple of rungs below Tendulkar and Dravid in terms of pure batting skills. He was a great ODI opening batsman who could pace an innings superbly. In tests though, he was inconsistent and that's why he's at 7000 odd runs while his peers have crossed 10000.

When Ganguly was dropped in early 2006 due to woeful form, I felt a tinge of sadness, even though the overwhelming emotion at the time was hate. Hate, because of his extended run of awful form. Hate, because of the way the media portrayed him during the Chappell fiasco.
But there was definitely sadness too. I did not want my last memory of such a great player to be one of a coward running away from a test match for the fear of bouncers (as it was alleged). I did not want that painful century against Zimbabwe to be his last remembered century.
And I'm sure there were thousands others who felt the same way.

Which is why his comeback brought so much joy and buzz. It was the stuff of fairytales, capped off with the super double hundred at Bangalore against Pakistan.
And now he goes away. Was it too early? I certainly thought he could play till 09. But it was the right decision in the sense that he got to leave on his terms. On a high. With a series win against the Aussies.
And Sourav, you absolutely deserved to leave on a high. In fact, in a strange way, so did we all.

(Image Courtesy: AFP)

1 comment:

Abhi said...

Has got to be one of the best tributes to Saurav Ganguly that I have read.

Thanks... and keep writing