He knew critics were breathing down his neck. He knew that if he failed to perform, he would have to hang his boots permanently. He was also aware that he was well past his prime, his body was not supporting him, and his reflexes had slackened considerably. The year was 2006, the place was South Africa, and the man was Sourav Ganguly.
Ganguly, fondly called as ‘Dada’ by his fans across the country, was committed to come back into the Indian cricket team, after being dropped, and stripped of his captaincy following an ugly spat with the then coach Greg Chappell. He had to prove himself against a merciless battery of pacers on a brutish pitch in hostile conditions. The odds were totally against him. How can someone well past his peak adapt to pace, bounce, and seam movement?
Ganguly batted calmly and naturally. He was tested with the short-pitched stuff and the lethal yorkers. The southpaw responded with steel, solidity, and blazing shots. It was quite clear that he had made vital improvements technically in his game. Ganguly had introduced himself again on the international arena.
Sourav Ganguly’s career can be summarised using 4 C’s – cricket, captaincy, controversies, and comebacks. He was made the skipper of the national team, when Indian cricket had reached its lowest ebb mangled in the soggy gunk of match-fixing. Ganguly rejuvenated the morale of the team and soon made them a force to reckon in overseas conditions.
Ganguly, being a shrewd strategist, coupled with the sagacity of John Wright as the coach of the Indian team, built a squad that forced teams to consider India as a formidable opponent and not a pushover. He inculcated the “Never say die” attitude among players and the “Never lose hope” attitude among fans.
Ganguly was a captain who wore his heart on the sleeve. Be it the infamous episode of Dada removing his shirt and passionately rejoicing India’s victory in the NatWest series of 2002 on the sanctimonious Lord’s balcony or making the great Steve Waugh wait for a toss in a Test Match. He was rebuked by the critics. How can one remove his shirt at Lord’s – the Mecca of Cricket? How dare he make Steve Waugh wait? Only the English reserved the right to celebrate on Indian cricket grounds by removing their shirts, and only Australia had the authority to be insolent, autocratic, and sledge opponents as they were the superpower of cricket.
Certainly these episodes do not suit the code of conduct tacitly expected by the gentleman’s game. But looking from an emotional perspective, he dared to defy the status quo passionately, and revolutionized Indian cricket. After all what is life without passion?
Bishan Singh Bedi was his fierce critic; who always believed that Dada was a man hungry for captaincy, post his comeback in 2006. Bedi always used the limited English words, he possessed in his confined English vocabulary, to criticise Dada. Bedi must realise that in his international career post captaincy, Ganguly played under Dravid and Dhoni. He played under Brendon McCullum for Kolkata Knight Riders inspite of being the highest run scorer for KKR. He even played under Yuvraj Singh during his brief stint for Pune Warriors and yet, never complained.
The core of the 2011 world cup winning team was built in Ganguly’s era. Ganguly was provided with a team that needed to be moulded. He was at the helm when VVS Laxman, Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh, Virender Sehwag, and Yuvraj Singh were not the power houses that they were during Dhoni’s tenure.
Also, Sachin Tendulkar was going through a lean patch at that time. A valid argument could be that, currently, even Dhoni’s team is under transition, after the retirement of stalwarts; but even the opposition teams are facing the same problems.
We must remember that it was Ganguly who instilled confidence and belief in his players that transformed an ordinary middle ordered Virender Sehwag into a swashbuckling exuberant opener, a meek and docile Harbhajan Singh into the tormenting turbanator, and a diffident Yuvraj Singh into the charismatic all-rounder, who won the Man of Series in 2011 World Cup.
Statistics and numbers will point out in favour of Dhoni but numbers cannot purely capture the emotions in any sport. Given the situation Sourav Ganguly had to face and the way he braved the turbulence cannot be ruled out. The debate between Dhoni and Ganguly will continue and without taking Dhoni’s credit away, the answer to this rhetorical question lies in – Who is better: The man who lifted a weak and pale boy from a polluted and contaminated pit, and made him face the world with courage, grit, and fortitude, or the man who empowered the same confident boy to take risks and challenges to complete them skillfully and adroitly to reach the zenith.
If we are to juxtapose history with Indian cricket, Ganguly represented the courage, tenacity, audacity, grit, determination, astute strategy skills of Sir Winston Churchill; who led England in World War 2 to face the onslaught of Adolf Hitler. England may have seen great rulers like Clement Atlee (Dravid) or Margaret Thatcher (MSD) but they can never forget Churchill’s contribution. Just like a phoenix rises from the ashes, Ganguly made his comeback in 2006 to serve Indian cricket for two more years.
Ganguly was neither a holy saint nor a crafty wizard. He signified the incandescent spirit of indefatigable character and fortitude. He served Indian cricket and its fans with utmost credibility and left Indian cricket in a much better state than he had inherited. What we do always determines who we are. Looking at Ganguly’s career in retrospect, he was certainly a fine player and our best captain.
Sourav “Dada” Ganguly was the best captain India had, and MS Dhoni is the captain of the best Indian team ever.