Ganguly's fascinating journey
BCCI's to-be new boss stood out for his drive and passion, but he also gave up hope of an India comeback after being dropped in 1992
Mohammed Azharuddin used to be called Destiny's Child, but Sourav Ganguly has shown that he deserves the title as well.
The next president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has been accorded every honour by the cricket establishment and the significance of his imminent administrative coronation cannot be low on the list of his cricketing landmarks.
Ganguly was not encouraged to play the willow game as a schoolboy since his parents were keen on him doing well in academics. Football was his first love, but there was a state under-19 cricketer in the house — brother Snehasish. And Sourav wanted to get a taste of the game as well. He asked his father to enrol him in a coaching clinic. When the kids from that academy were to play an under-15 team from Orissa, one player reported unfit. Sourav took his place and scored a century. Snehasish was a left-hander and the younger sibling followed his style.
Snehasish could manage only three runs in the 1989-90 Ranji Trophy semi-final against Hyderabad and the Bengal selectors decided to replace him with his younger brother for the final against Delhi (just like the Australian think-tank dropped Steve Waugh and included Mark for the Adelaide Test of the 1990-91 Ashes).
Ganguly carried on impressing keen observers in Bengal and beyond. Mumbai included when he played a sizzling innings for Tata Sports Club at the Brabourne in the SunGrace Mafatal Trophy held in 1992.
A few months before that star-studded tournament, former Mumbai captain Milind Rege and Ravi Shastri discussed the kind of players Tatas needed to recruit and Ganguly was on top of Shastri's list even though his young India teammate got only one game in the 1991-92 triangular series in Australia (v West Indies at Brisbane, where pacer Anderson Cummins trapped leg before for 3). "I remember Ravi saying that this bloke would end up being a great player for India and we recruited him," Rege told me yesterday.
Ganguly's international wilderness ended when he got picked for the 1996 tour of England. Sambaran Banerjee, the East Zone selector, pressed for a fifth pacer with some batting ability. Two centuries in his first two Tests (Lord's and Trent Bridge) on return to international cricket was nothing short of a fairytale considering he didn't believe he would be recalled.
When Sachin Tendulkar was unwilling to continue as captain in 2000, Ganguly was a viable option. After all, he had led India the year earlier in the absence of Tendulkar against the West Indies in Canada and won 2-1.
He made more of an impact with his performances in one-day cricket. They put on a then world record 252-run opening stand with Tendulkar to stun world champions Sri Lanka in the Colombo final of the 1997-98 Singer-Akai Nidahas Trophy, in which Ganguly scored 109 on July 7. It was close to midnight by the time the team returned to the Taj Samudra and they brought in his birthday with a memorable celebration. While I spoke to him just before the team departed Colombo for home, he wanted to know from me what Tendulkar said about his knock in my interview with him the previous night.
Passion was Ganguly's trusted ally. That he was also game for some revenge came out clearly while I was collaborating with him for his mid-day columns during the 2002 NatWest series in England. He admitted that he couldn't get a shirt-waving Andrew Flintoff out of his mind after England clinched the final ODI of the 2001-02 series in Mumbai. That's why I was not surprised when I watched him wave his shirt on the Lord's balcony from the other end of the fabled ground after England were conquered in one of the most incredible matches in limited overs cricket history.
As captain, Ganguly would do anything to get a talented player in his plans. Before the 2003 Irani Cup game between his Rest of India team and Mumbai at Chennai, he asked me about Mumbai pacer Swapnil Hazare and whether he really was a karate exponent. Ganguly got a duck in the first innings of that game courtesy Ramesh Powar but his unbeaten 27 in the second innings blocked Mumbai's bid for victory in a well-contested game that went the Ganguly-led team's way. Less than three months later, I watched him score his first Test hundred in Australia at the Gabba; the very ground he experienced his horrific ODI debut in 1992. It was a knock that shaped India's success on the tour and despite it being Steve Waugh's farewell series, Australian cricket fans and the taxi drivers were singing praises of India. Ganguly played another good innings at Melbourne, coming in at Tendulkar's No. 4 position and scoring 73 after getting hit on the head by Brad Williams.
Greg Chappell was also credited for the change in Ganguly's batting since he worked with him before the series. The Chappell-Ganguly alliance promised much but didn't last long. Not many expected Ganguly to return, but he did and in fine style for the India v South Africa Test at Johannesburg, which witnessed a maiden Test win for India in the Rainbow Nation.
But the series in which he batted imperiously was the 2007 contest in England; never mind if he didn't reach three figures. A year later, I was hoping he could reach a hundred in his farewell Test against the Australians at Nagpur. It would have put him alongside Chappell in the list of batsmen to score a century in their first and last Test. But he perished for 85 in the first innings and the same bowler (Jason Krejza) got him for a duck in the second. He was not Destiny's Child that day, but his elevation as head of the wealthiest cricket body in the world shows that Ganguly is not done with his cricketing destiny.
mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello Send your feedback to email@example.com
The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper
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