INDIA: As BCCI President and former Indian Cricket team captain Sourav Ganguly is celebrating his 50th birthday today, Transcontinental Times looks at his incredible journey and how he redefined Indian cricket.
Born on 8 July 1972 in Kolkata, India, Sourav Ganguly is the youngest son of Chandidas and Nirupa Ganguly. Growing up, Ganguly had a luxurious childhood and was nicknamed the ‘Maharaja’, meaning the Great King.
When it comes to football, Kolkata people are crazy about the sport. Ganguly was initially attracted to cricket. Academics came in between his love for cricket. Additionally, his mother was not very supportive of Ganguly taking up cricket or any other sport as a career.
Snehasish, his older brother, was already a seasoned cricketer for the Bengal cricket team at that point. He encouraged Ganguly’s desire to play cricket and requested their father to get him enrolled in a cricket coaching camp during the summer.
Ganguly was studying in the tenth standard at that time. Ganguly was fascinated by David Gower, the English batsman. He played for St Xavier’s School’s cricket team. He came to the limelight when he scored a century against the Orissa Under–15 side.
Disastrous Debut in OZ Down Under
Following a prolific Ranji season in 1990–91, Ganguly was selected for the Indian cricket team against Australia in 1991-92. However, he was not considered in the test team, which was already occupied by great players like Kapil Dev, Dilip Vengsarkar, Mohammed Azharuddin and Sachin Tendulkar. He was selected for One Day International (ODI) against West Indies and scored three runs in his debut.
One can gauge his unpreparedness in this tour through his autobiography, ‘ A Century Is Not Enough’.
He writes, “When I got a sudden nod to play against the West Indies that fateful day in January, I found myself thoroughly underprepared. I had not picked the bat properly in two months! I quickly ran into the dressing room, caught hold of Venkatapathy Raju and begged him to give me some throwdowns. But that was hardly enough.”
At that time, Indian cricketer Sanjay Manjrekar even scolded him for what he considered Sourav’s ‘arrogant’ behaviour. He was dropped from the Indian team.
Big announcement in world cricket
He laboured in domestic cricket, scoring heavily in the 1993–94 and 1994–95 Ranji seasons. Following an innings of 171 in the 1995–96 Duleep Trophy, he was recalled to the Indian team for a tour of England in 1996.
Along with Rahul Dravid, Ganguly made his Test debut against England in the second of a three-match series at Lord’s Cricket Ground after colleague Navjot Singh Sidhu deserted the touring party due to alleged mistreatment by then captain Mohammad Azharuddin.
Ganguly mentioned that he took the pieces of advice of two persons in England to survive and score in swinging English conditions; one was West – Indian batsman Desmond Haynes and the other was psychologist Mark Craig.
While the former gave him visualisation technique, the latter gave him mantras to concentrate on the present. He scored a century on his debut in Lord’s.
His timing and placement were immaculate. Ganguly’s score of 131 remains the highest Test run by a batsman on debut at Lords. He hit 136 in the following Test match at Trent Bridge, becoming just the third batter to record a century in each of his first two innings (after Lawrence Rowe and Alvin Kallicharran). Rahul Dravid aptly called him ‘A perfect off-side player after God’.
Ganguly, the Captain
In 2000, Ganguly was elected captain of the Indian cricket team following the match-fixing controversy involving some of the team’s players. The decision was sparked because Tendulkar stepped down from the position as he wanted to concentrate on his batting.
Ganguly writes, “That evening, a journalist friend called me excitedly in my hotel room at the Taj. ‘Please turn on the television. They have appointed you the captain.’ I turned on the TV and saw my name in the headlines. Almost three years and eight months after my Lord’s debut, I had become captain of the Indian cricket team. If someone had told me when I was fourteen, one day you will become the Indian Captain, I would have told them to get their head examined.”
He became the most successful Indian captain, and for the first time, the Indian team began to win overseas consistently. He led from the front and built a team who could match their opponent’s skill by skill, sledging by sledging.
This was the team built by Ganguly, which M.S. Dhoni later brandished as a successful team in the world. Who can forget taking off his shirt on the balcony of Lords after India’s incredible chase against England? He writes, “I have never lived down taking off my shirt in Lord’s in 2002. It was my way of giving back to Andrew Flintoff. After the series victory in Mumbai earlier that year, Flintoff had taken off his shirt to ridicule us. Our jousting continued through the Test series prior to NatWest. After winning the final in Lord’s, I thought I needed to have my say as well.”
Greg Chappel, the Antagonist
Greg Chappell took over as India’s coach for the tour to Zimbabwe in September 2005. His dispute with Ganguly generated a lot of media attention. Chappell had sent an email to the Board of Control for Cricket (BCCI) in India, asserting that Ganguly was “physically and mentally” unfit to lead India and that his “divide and rule” behaviour was damaging the squad. This email was leaked to the media and resulted in a huge backlash from Ganguly’s fans.
He was subsequently dropped from Captaincy and team.
He recalls, “The battle with Chappell was the darkest chapter of my cricketing life. It was perhaps the worst-kept secret in India that the India coach was dead against bringing back Sourav Ganguly. Through the media, he had even offered me a benefit match.”
Even Sharad Pawar, then BCCI President, said to Sourav that, according to Chapel, he was a ‘disruptive influence’ on the team. His stubbornness and tenacity fetched him a place in the Indian team, and he proved his mettle against hostile South Africa in their own den.
Ganguly announced his retirement from international cricket in October 2008 against Australia. In the final test match he played at Nagpur, he scored an impressive 85 and 0 in his first and second innings respectively.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the Indian Captain, asked Ganguly to take over as team captain for the final time during the fourth and final Test, where India needed just one wicket to win.
That was the last time when ‘Maharaj’ captained India. A great career was ended. But he continued to play in IPL for Kolkata Knight Rider for three seasons and two seasons for Pune Warriors. In 2012, he bid final goodbye to IPL.
In 2015, he became the President of the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) until October 2019. In 2019, he became BCCI’s President and continues to serve Indian cricket. His legacy in cricket is an inspiration to millions of upcoming cricketers and fans across the globe.
Amitabh Bachchan, the legendary Bollywood actor, writes, “A warrior never dies till his death. That is what comes to your mind when you think about a certain character in the world of Indian cricket named Sourav Ganguly.”
Long live Dada! You are the real icon of Indian cricket.