He has always left me amazed. I wonder how I’ve managed to admire him and criticize him at the same time. If I ever put down my all-time favourite lists of cricket players or my dream team, he will make it to that list. Maybe narrowly but he will!
He is the reason for my first ever piece on cricket on the internet. No other cricket article of mine on cricket sites or on my blog evoked such fierce reactions as this one did; and almost 90% of them were comments supporting this man.
For all the wrongs we have accused him of; today when he takes stock of his career, I think he did more right!
His baptism into the cricketing world was harsh. A 19-year old making his debut with another teen sensation who had swept everyone down under in ’91-92 series. He played only one match and was immediately dropped after the tour under the pretext of him being arrogant and disrespectful to elders with an attitude problem.
He returned in not the most pleasant scenarios in 1996 to England, his selection being the most debated issue then. He put his head down (unlike him) and quietly made a test debut with a hundred at Lords. Not many have a hundred on debut in the cricketing world and even few at the Mecca of world Cricket – The Lords. He ensured he had left his name in the record books.
In my years of watching cricket for so long, I don’t quite remember such a fantastic comeback to the game( And to note he made it twice in his career!). From then on began a saga which would carry many twists and turns.
He proved his all-round mettle in the ’97 Toronto Friendship Series against Pakistan. Along with Sachin and Rahul he was beginning to form a batting force in world cricket to reckon with. This was further proven by the trio’s performance in the 1999 world Cup. Remember the magic that he and Rahul wove at Taunton against SL. It rained 4s and 6s that day. His knock of 186 remains the best by an Indian in the World Cup. It even prompted Rahul to say that day, ‘On the off-side first there is God and there is Saurav’.
A statement few dispute. In his prime form, the opposition captain could place all his men on the off-side and yet this guy could manage a four. On the off-side he still reigns supreme for me. It’s a pure delight watching him.
Entrusted with the captaincy in the most turbulent times of Indian cricket; his team reached the finals of the first ever ICC Championship held in Kenya in 2000 beating the likes of mighty giants like Australia and South Africa.
Then came the 2001 Australian series at home; by far the most memorable and cherished moment of Indian cricket; close competitor to the World Cup win in 1983. He may not have contributed with the bat but purely for his captaincy and verbal duel with Steve Waugh, he ought to be given due for that victory. I’ve always maintained that you have to beat the Aussies in the mind and then on the field. He was the one guy who had the guts to take the Aussies head on, get on their nerves and give them back in their own language. It worked, ever since that series India has stunned the cricketing world by being the only nation to beat the Aussies at home and away.
He fought hard for his team, brought in young blood and built that killer instinct and hunger for victory in the team, a spirit that was always lacking in the Indian Teams of past. Sometimes purists argued against it and sometimes they applauded. But he did not care and went about his business his way.
He was termed audacious, arrogant, haughty, but he simply did not seem to care as long as his team was winning and putting up a fight. The Bengal tiger was teaching this team to roar.
And how well they did, remember 2002 Lords Natwest Trophy, remember him flaunting his bare chest in the Lords gallery. Now who would have the audacity to do it at Lords. But the answer was simple, he was giving back to the Poms back in their language. If Flintoff does it in my backyard he better expect the same! Only he would have the guts to proclaim it loud. Not Sachin, not Dravid, Not Kumble, not Kumble, only he!
Remember 2002 test series, remember the Headingly Win! It is one of the finest of India’s wins. India had begun to win abroad. It had finally crafted an overseas win after 15 long years in 2001 in Zimbabwe. South Africa, WI, England, Australia followed. Even the World Cup in 2003 remains Índia’s best performance after the 1983 World Cup. India was no longer tagged as tigers at home and lambs abroad.
My most memorable moment of his career apart from 2001 remains the 2003 series down under. His superb 144 at Brisbane set the tone for the series and India did not look back. With a tie we retained the trophy and emerged as the better team.
Then there was the slump in form & captaincy and added controversies. He saw himself in the dark again. He is not a supremely talented guy and he knows that. His attitude and grit have contributed most to his career. He fought hard, went back to domestic cricket, failed and picked himself up again.
He came back in 2006 and had his finest moments under the sun ironically at the fag end of his career. He takes back memories of a double hundred against Pak in ’07, a hard fought ’07 series with Aus down under and a terrific Farewell Series against the same opponent he most loves to beat.
A hundred in Mohali, a fine 85 in Nagpur, a sweet victorious end to a glorious hard fought career. He leaves the field a proud man. The team could not have given him a better farewell, beating Autralia , almost what he lived for throughout his cricketing life!
Saurav Ganguly, I admire him, I envy him, I really do. I’ve rarely seen a guy play till the end on his own terms. Despite all his flaws, all his weaknesses, all his short comings I still like him. He has cared a damn throughout! He has fought it out hard in the mind and on the field. He has made his presence felt and left an indelible mark on Indian cricket. He has led the brat pack of Indian cricket, he has planted the seeds of an aggressive India.
He has given me many a moments to cherish and a history that the younger generation will be proud of.
Though cricket purists will dispute, I won’t and like you I don’t care for them. Hate him or love him, but you cannot ignore him. Think of Indian cricket and you will think of him.
“The Rebel, The Revolutionary, The Prince, The Bengal Tiger, The Dada of Indian Cricket. Such was the man and such is the princely legacy he leaves behind.”