10 November, 2008

End of Dada-giri – A Salute To The Prince

Every cricketer dreams of achieving at least one record set by the great Sir Don Bradman. However, if there is one record no cricketer would like to share with Bradman, it is of getting out for zero in the last international innings. Unfortunately, Sourav Ganguly did just that.

Few, and in the Indian context ‘very few’ cricketers get the chance to go with full glory…when they wish. As the great Late Vijay Hazare put, “You should retire when people ask you ‘why’ instead of ‘when’”. The great player that Sourav Ganguly was he got a chance to do what he always said he would – retire on his own terms.

Ganguly was initially a right-handed batsman who had to turn left-handed just so that he could use his brother’s cricket equipment. And the world faced its consequences for well over a decade.

Starting his international career on the tour to Australia in 1991 – 92, Ganguly was dropped after having played just one ODI. Questions were raised about the debutant’s attitude on the tour. But what the real reason for he being dropped never came in the open as dropping a debutant after including him in just one match is a common practice in India. He was away from the limelight for a good 4 years until he made a comeback to the national side on the tour to England in 1996. But, even before the team left for England questions were being raised about his inclusion. Was it because of Jagmohan Dalmiya, the then president of the BCCI and a family friend of Sourav’s?

There were many who thought he didn’t deserve a place in the side. And, there were many who were praying so that he fails in the series. But, the mentally strong man that Ganguly is, he didn’t let all the talk affect him. He became just the 7th Indian player to score a century in his debut innings and that too at Lord’s. And to prove this wasn’t a fluke, he went on to score another century in his next test match. His critics had their lips sealed. Ganguly’s tryst with Lord’s and his love-hate relationship with critics and media begun on this tour.

Sourav’s batting was magical. Known as a man who couldn’t play the short delivery, he successfully toured all countries. He believed in letting his bat do the talking. Though he rarely had a ‘failure’ in the real sense of the term in test matches, he would have, by his own admission, liked to score about a couple of thousand more runs in test matches. However, coming in at number 6 in the batting order didn’t really help him achieve this target as he was usually left to play with the tail-enders. And still scoring more than 7000 runs in test matches coming in at that position in the batting order is a rare achievement.

Though successful in tests, it were the one-dayers that Sourav really made his mark. Having promoted to open the innings in ODIs, Ganguly formed a formidable partnership with Sachin Tendulkar giving India innumerable amazing opening stands. Ganguly was a fearless batsman who after settling into India’s ODI squad started doing the impossible…he matched Sachin Tendulkar, sometimes even bettered him. Match after match, series after series, year after year the aura of Ganguly started reaching new heights. Whatever he touched turned to gold. His ardent fans and his loving team-mates started calling him ‘Dada’, ‘Maharaja’, ‘Royal Bengal Tiger’ and for Geoff Boycott he was his ‘Prince of Kolkata’. He still holds the world record of being the quickest to reach the 6000, 7000, 8000 and 9000 run marks in ODIs. People used to sit at home and stay glued to their television sets just to see his silken touches through the off-side. He was easily the best timer of the ball in the world of cricket. So much that Rahul Dravid once said, “On the off-side first there is God, then there is Sourav Ganguly”. But his batting was not just about timing. If silken touches were as easy as drinking water for him, dancing down the track and whacking the bowler over the top for huge sixes was like having lunch. He is the 3rd highest in the list of maximum six hitters in the world and the most by an Indian. His sixes were so huge that he holds the record for having sent the maximum number of balls outside the stadium. This ability of Ganguly to send the ball on the roof of stadiums led commentator Tony Greig to name a certain spot on the roof of the Sharjah stadium as "Ganguly's corner" coz Sourav had sent 3 balls on that roof in just one over! He also has more than 1100 ODI fours to his name.

There goes another one out of the stadium!!!

In spite of all these amazing batting records, Ganguly will always be known for the inspirational captain that he was. Ganguly was made the captain in 2000 when Indian cricket was shattered by the match-fixing episode. Several senior players were accused, and consequently dropped. Tendulkar who was the captain at that time decided to give up the responsibility and suggested Ganguly’s name. His stint as captain brought Ganguly - the person - to the fore. He had no choice but to select a young team. Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh, Virender Sehwag, Zaheer Khan, Mohd. Kaif and even MS Dhoni are the fruits of the seeds that Ganguly had sown. He showed the team how to win matches. He made the team aggressive. Indians who used to meekly surrender to the opposition’s sledges suddenly started giving back what they got. This resulted in Ganguly and his team-mates visiting the match-referee’s office a lot more which meant more fines and more bans for their behaviour. But Ganguly never cared. He continued to fight fire by fire. Controvery became his middle name.

Ganguly - the captain

Indians who were considered poor travelers became a force and started winning matches abroad - England, Australia, West Indies, Pakistan - Ganguly left no place unsuccessful. He became the first captain after Kapil Dev to lead India to the World Cup Final in South Africa in 2003. The Sourav Ganguly – John Wright partnership was working wonders for India.

After his century in Australia

Leading India to the World Cup 2003 final

His century in the first test against Australia in Australia in 2003 – 04 set the tone for the series and helped India retain the Border-Gavaskar trophy. I will remember the series for the selfless-ness shown by Sourav during this series. Sachin Tendulkar was woefully out of form. Ganguly promoted himself up the order to protect Sachin from going in early to bat. This classic move paid dividends as Sachin came back strongly with an amazing 248 not out.

Sourav was outspoken as a captain. What you saw was what you got. Rarely did he give any excuses when he lost. He knew exactly what the team lacked and what exactly needed to be done. He backed his young team. He gave them enough chances if they encountered failure. His own experience with failure and of being subsequently dropped after his first tour might have played a part in this.

Ganguly never let anyone one dominate or talk ill about his team. Once when Sachin Tendulkar was wrongly accused of ball-tampering against South Africa, Steve Waugh had unnecessarily stated that Sachin should be punished. This statement did not go down well with Ganguly. He was quick to react live on camera, “Tell Steve to Shut up. He should stop bothering about us and think about Australian cricket.” This was just one of the few Sourav-Steve clashes. Ganguly famously came late for toss during Australia’s tour of India in 2001. This, by his own admission, was just to win matches and get under the skin of the Aussies. This irritated Steve and his team so much that this incident finds a place in Steve’s autobiography. “You had to give him an 'A' for effort in his attempt to annoy us," Steve Waugh writes in his book, "and in particular me. It worked to a certain extent." When India toured Australia in 2003, Steve asked Sourav to be on time for the toss at least this time. To this Sourav replied, “If you behave, I will.” Such was the dominance and straightforward-ness of Sourav the captain. He came back to India with the Border-Gavaskar trophy safe in his hands.

Another very famous incident is his shirt-waving moment at Lord’s in 2002. India chased what was then a record total in a nail-biting Natwest trophy final which India won against England. If the run-chase wasn’t exciting enough, Ganguly removed his shirt and waved it mouthing un-mentionables from the Lord’s balcony. It wasn’t just a series victory for him. It was revenge against a similar shirt-waving incident by England’s Andrew Flintoff in Mumbai a year earlier. When he was criticized for behaving so “un-gentlemanly” Sourav was quick to reply that this was revenge against Flintoff. “But at Lord’s? The Mecca of World cricket?” he was asked. He was quick to pounce, “So what? Wankhede is like Lord’s for us.” The shirt which Ganguly waved now finds a place in the Lord's mueseum.

Sourav waving his shirt at Lord's

The shirt that Ganguly waved now finds a place in the Lord's mueseum

Though he was perfect with all his decisions, he, one can say, went wrong with one which changed his life. He took the help of former Aussie captain Greg Chappell to fine-tune his batting during the 2003 – 04 tour down-under. Perhaps, this bit of coaching by Chappell left Ganguly so impressed that he insisted on Chappell being India’s next coach. Chappell perhaps wanted to rule the team. And to do that the first thing he had to do was somehow remove Ganguly from the team. He started making false statements and accusations against Ganguly. This coincided with Ganguly losing a bit of his batting form. Chappell’s statements such as “Ganguly is not a team man”, “He is not fit to be the captain” made rounds. These statements were hard to believe after all that Ganguly had done for Indian cricket. Ganguly lost his captaincy. Chappell made Dravid the captain not only because he was Sourav’s deputy, but also, I firmly believe, because he was a mellow person who could be easily dominated by Chappell. Although Ganguly scored a century against Zimbabwe and a couple of decent scores against Pakistan, he was dropped. Chappell clearly wanted to rule. No matter how much Sourav tried to defend himself, the BCCI along with Chappell refused to budge. The Indian public too, known to believe what the foreigners say more than their own men’s words, supported Chappell. Ganguly suddenly became the villain. For the first time after being captain Ganguly’s mouth was sealed. When everybody had lost hopes, there were just a few left who knew Ganguly would make a comeback. One among them was Ganguly himself. He knew that the only thing that could prove his critics wrong – again – was his bat.

Ganguly with Greg Chappell

He went back to playing domestic cricket. Pictures of Ganguly practicing like never before made the rounds. One particular incident during this episode is well-known. Way past midnight Ganguly’s father was awakened by a constant noise of ball hitting the bat. When he went out to see where the noise was coming from he found Sourav practicing making his servant bowl to him. Sourav’s father told his wife, “Our son has gone mad. Tell him it’s all over.” She knew it wasn’t.

India toured South Africa in 2006 and was badly beaten in the ODI series. The selectors sent an SOS to Ganguly and he got back his chance. He, however, had become a changed man. He had lost his fearlessness and the aura of dominance that he used to create by his sheer presence. He was more watchful and put a price tag on his wicket. All this, however, made him a more consistent batsman. And, he never looked back. Fortunately for him Chappell was kicked out too.

For the last two years, Ganguly was India’s most consistent batsman, in both tests and ODIs. However, Dhoni’s motto of having a young ODI team meant that Ganguly had to give up his ODI place, but he was still an integral part of the test team. Personally, I feel Dhoni made the wrong move. It is always better to have Ganguly who would ensure you good starts and score 80s and 90s and give away about 10 runs on the field than having a young player who would score about 30s and save about 15 runs. India’s mission is, however, World Cup 2011 which the seniors are sure not to play.

Through all these ups and downs Sourav made loads of enemies. Few of them were those whom he backed to the hilt only to be stabbed in the back by them when they came to power. Most noticeably among them was Greg Chappell of course. Another one was Rahul Dravid. Dravid was the wall of India’s batting line-up from the time he made his debut along with Ganguly. Dravid’s place in one-dayers, however, was always a question mark. But, Ganguly always believed in his ability. Ganguly made Dravid the wicket keeper of the ODI team just so that he could be in the team. India’s inability to find a wicket-keeper who could bat also helped Dravid’s cause. Dravid succeeded. Ganguly’s ploy worked once again. But during the Chappell-Dravid era when Chappell was constantly stabbing Ganguly’s back Dravid failed to take a stand…perhaps he too, just like Chappell, wanted Ganguly out because Ganguly was easily the more popular among the two. Though when Ganguly came back, he and Dravid were back to their best.

Ganguly and Dravid before the Chappell episode

Even after going through all this, the only thing he wishes he could change about his cricket career is the World Cup loss. All through his ups and downs one man who supported Ganguly whole heartedly was Sachin Tendulkar. Sachin-Sourav first met during their under-15 days when they were room-mates. Ganguly happily describes one episode of their under-15 days. Late at night when Sourav was sleeping in their room, Sachin filled the room with water. Ganguly woke up to find water all around him and Tendulkar laughing there in a corner! Ganguly describes Sachin as a great batsman and a great human being who could never manage to learn Bengali!

Sachin and Sourav during U-15 days. I dont know who is in the middle!

The first families of Indian cricket - Sachin and Sourav with children

Having gone through all this, the final nail in Ganguly’s coffin was when he was dropped from Irani Trophy team in September 2008. Reason – unknown. By the time he was picked for Australia’s 2008 tour of India Ganguly had had enough. Having answered journalists’ questions during a press conference, Ganguly had one last thing to say at the end. "Just one last thing, lads, before I leave. I just want to say that this is going to be my last series. I have decided to quit and I have told my teammates before I have come here. These four Test matches are going to be my last. Thanks for all your support. Hopefully, we'll go on a winning note. Thanks." Everybody was too stunned to ask any question regarding this. Pin drop silence. Ganguly left. He had achieved what he had planned for himself when he was dropped in 2005…to go on his own terms…as he wished…when he wished. India won the series 2-0. Ganguly went on a high with a century in his last series and another 85 in his last test. Even the Australian team, under whose nerves Sourav loved to get under gave him a guard of honour as he came out to bat for the one last time. On 20 June 1996 when Ganguly made his test debut there were several who cursed Ganguly and wanted him to fail so that their predictions came true. Ganguly fooled them by scoring a century. On 09 November 2008, wherever they were, perhaps prayed again…this time for the opposite. Ganguly fooled them again by getting out on a zero. Perhaps it’s a habit of great players to get out early in their last innings. This last-test duck just adds to the aura of Sourav Ganguly. It will certainly be the most famous duck of Indian cricketing history.

Receiving the Padmashri award from APJ Abdul Kalam

On 10th November 2008, Sourav's last day on the field as an Indian player, Indian captain MS Dhoni let Sourav captain the side for some time. It was a wonderful gesture by Dhoni honouring a player and captain of Ganguly’s brilliance. This incidentally is the very day when Ganguly was made captain 8 years ago.

My sentiments exactly...and if Sachin retires then "What's cricket?"

Thank you Dada for all the memories. There will never be a cricketer like you ever again.

I ask myself whether I will ever watch cricket with the same enthusiasm again. The answer is ‘No’.

1 comment:

Gajendra Hv said...

Very nice article bro....

We cannot find another warrior like DADA.