Sourav Ganguly is a name that Indian Cricket fans remember with a lot of pride. Every great cricketer has fans of him but Ganguly had followers. Such was the charisma of the man. Let us look back at what makes Ganguly great as he celebrates his birthday on 8th of July.
As Sourav Ganguly made his debut at Lord’s in England in the summer of 1996, little did anyone know that the man was not just another batsmen but a legend in making.
He scored 2 consecutive centuries full of elegant drives through the off side. The knocks made the world take notice of him while the shots he played earned him the title of “the God of Off Side” by none other than the ‘wall’ Rahul Dravid himself, who debuted in the same match as Ganguly. Not many would know that this England tour was actually not the first outing for Sourav. He had travelled with the Indian Team 4 years ago to Australia just before the 1992 world cup. He had made a big name for himself in the Ranji Trophy circuit as a big hitter at a very young age. Infact Ganguly had played one ODI on that tour but was dropped courtesy of bad attitude (as the management stated) after he refused to carry drinks on the ground.
Sourav came from an affluent family where he was used to getting served rather than helping himself and that is the reason that can be explained for his attitude on his first tour but then later on, the same attitude made him as what we know him today – The Maharaja.
He was fondly called as the Prince of Kolkata initially by Geoffrey Boycott but his exploits on the field turned that name into the Maharaja.
He started with his knocks in test matches but the real talent of Sourav Ganguly was unearthed when he started playing ODI cricket. His effortless hitting was refreshing to Indian cricket fans. That trademark Ganguly shot where he would step down the track to the bowler and hit him big towards the long on – mid wicket region for handsome sixes was the new crowd puller. His opening partnership with Sachin Tendulkar is the most successful in all time. The fans were now relieved that Sachin finally had support at the other end. Ganguly was racing with Sachin at one point of time for centuries in ODIs.
Sachin took 8 years of playing to score his first 18 ODI centuries while Ganguly took just 4. That was the caliber of the man.
The best phase of Sourav was yet to come. A phase which made Sourav Ganguly into the most passionately followed cricketer for the Indian fans. That came in the year 2000. Indian cricket was hit by the match fixing storm and the team had to be rebuilt from the ashes. Ganguly was made the captain as he led the new and young Indian team into the finals of the mini world cup in his first series. He was a charismatic captain. He instilled his aggressive approach into the Indian team. An approach that Indian fans had never heard or seen. This new and young team was giving it back to the opponents and the fans were loving it. This was no more the Indian team that was timid and took everything the opponents gave. New blood was infused into this team and they knew how to fight, not just with the bat or bowl, but with their attitude as well. Players like Zaheer Khan, Virender Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh, Yuvraj Singh, Mohammed Kaif, Suresh Raina, Irfan Pathan and MS Dhoni blossomed under the leadership of Ganguly.
In fact it was Sourav Ganguly who had laid the foundations of the best Indian team that won many titles later on under the captaincy of Dhoni. He had scouted and backed players who later on became match winners for India.
Sourav Ganguly gave Indians some unforgettable moments for a lifetime when he took his shirt off in the Lord’s balcony or when he kept Steve Waugh waiting for the toss or that gritty 144 that he scored in the first test match at GABBA against Australia in 2003-04 tour to lay the foundation of the best Indian tour of Australia ever. The match where Laxman and Dravid turned the match for India despite following on in Kolkata was the true example of the fighting spirit the Ganguly had infused in the team. Ganguly was giving results which no one had expected.
Ganguly stopped the marathon winning record of the Australian Team to beat them 2-1 in the test series in 2001. India were the joint winners of 2002 champions trophy and the finalists in the 2003 ODI world cup. They won both, the test and ODI series in Pakistan, and beat Zimbabwe in Zimbabwe to win first ever series there.
Apart from the results, Ganguly gave the best resources to the Indian Team. He had a great eye for talent. He supported Yuvraj, Sehwag, Harbhajan and Zaheer openly even when they were not performing and was all for giving them a long run as he knew the worth of these players. The results are evident for everyone to see. In fact, Ganguly was the one to force Sehwag to open the batting for India instead of batting in middle order and we all know what Sehwag did after that.
The stories about Sourav Ganguly are endless. He is a legend in the truest of its sense. Day in and again there is a comparision between the captaincy of Sourav and Dhoni. All I would like to say is that Sourav Ganguly was the best captain of the Indian team while Dhoni was the captain of the best Indian team.
The world does not call him ‘Dada’ for nothing. He has proved his Dada-Giri time and again and we will keep loving Dada for the way he is.