“On the offside, first there is God, then there is Sourav Ganguly”
The above has been one of the most legendary quotes in Indian cricket which came from none other than Rahul Dravid and this was directed towards his great friend and co-debutant Sourav Ganguly with whom he had made his Test debut vs England at Lords.
Today the Eighth July is the birthday of the greatest ever left handed batsman in the history of Indian cricket. Coming from a well to do business family from Behala, Kolkata, Sourav was one of the fine young cricketers in the early nineties and played alongside Sachin, Dravid and Kambli in various age group tours . His obvious talent was there for all to see and soon after a few years he was in the dressing room of the senior team . Those silken cover drives and cuts started to captivate the cricket community immediately on his brilliant test debut at Lords in 1996 where his exquisite strokeplay became the talk of the cricket World as he scored a sparkling hundred on the Mecca of World cricket. Thus started the captivating journey of one of the most talked about cricket personalities in Indian cricket.
His nice balanced stance, his constantly blinking eyes while batting , from impact of his contact lens, his aggression towards spinners , his gentle medium outswingers , his strong fighting qualities and his fiery temperament became a part of Indian cricket folklore . As his batting career developed , his legside play also continued to flower as teams targeted his supposedly weaker areas.
The success in Test cricket soon transcended into the One day format where his opening partnership with Sachin Tendulkar became legendary and started rolling over quality opponents across continents with great regularity. The quality of strokeplay by both legends was worth travelling miles to watch.
However , no cricketers journey in his career is complete without its share of adversities and how they deal with them and here Sourav went through certain situations including some horrific ones but came out stronger and all guns blazing.
Firstly it was taking up the captaincy responsibility during the match fixing era in the late nineties when Sachin Tendulkar relinquished captaincy and Azharuddin was under a cloud. Sourav took up the challenge head on and taught Indian cricket how to see eye to eye against stronger opposition at their den , specially the all conquering Australians during his era and his first big success against Australia , in home test series in 2001 (India won series 2-1) completely changed the face of Indian cricket. His captaincy brilliance transcended to overseas series against formidable England , Australia (both ending 1-1) and Pakistan (India winning for the first time in Pakistan 2-1). His strong willed leadership, audacity in his dealings with rival captains and match officials, fiery temperament and ability to rally the team along became features of his captaincy. With a decent but not a strong bowling attack ,he became the first Indian captain to create impact in overseas tours. He rallied his team around from a poor start and took them to the World Cup final in 2003 with his resilient captaincy .
Then there was his strong will to succeed in the Australian tour in 2003-04 as a batsman for which he flew to Brisbane and discussed his batting technique with Greg Chappell as word was going around about his susceptibility against short pitched bowling. Sourav addressed this issue and played a brilliant captains knock of 144 in the 1st test at Brisbane to haul India out of a tough situation and played short pitched stuff with confidence. That became a series defining innings.
Sourav’s face off with high profile Indian coach Greg Chappell during 2005 was the biggest testing time of his career which led to his loss of captaincy and the Indian team spot. This fierce controversy became a part of Indian cricket folklore. However his indomitable spirit came to the fore and he made a brilliant comeback to the Indian team scoring a resilient half century in difficult conditions to help India winning their 1st ever test in South Africa. He continued to have big successes thereafter before finally retiring on a high in 2008.
Sourav ended as a quality Test cricketer with 7212 runs at 42 average and 16 hundreds in addition to his 32 test wickets with his medium pace swing. He averaged 40 plus in Tests in overseas and particularly successful in swnging conditions in England. In ODI cricket he became one of the legends with 11363 runs at 41 average and 100 ODI wickets . He has a total of 38 International 100s. His brilliant allround shows in Sahara ODI series in Toronto vs Pakistan in 1996-97, Natwest series win in England 2002, World Cup runner up medal in 2003 were some of his biggest achievements in ODIs.
Currently he holds the top position in CAB and has already showed great administrative qualities, enhancing the drying facilities at Eden Gardens and providing one of the best pitches in the country and hence can become a strong incumbent for a future BCCI top post.
Indian cricket really needs to use his cricketing intelligence and administrative qualities in the future.
Sourav Ganguly has still lots to offer to Indian cricket.