Monday, November 10, 2008

Farewell to Sourav Gangully

One of the many reasons to remember Sourav Ganguly is whatever he did — most of it he would cherish — kept adding to his legend. In keeping with that, those busy with record books before this match, looking for batsmen with centuries in their first and last Tests, ended up creating a cyber jam in search of players to have scored a hundred in their first innings and a zero in the last.

Like this extra spice that he was dismissed on the first ball, his career was full of incidents he would not have fond memories of. But despite working against him, these events enriched the aura of a man famous as much for his cover drives as for his date with controversies.

He was hammered left, right and centre in the Indian media when the selectors sent him to England in 1996. People present at Lord's on June 20 that year recollect how almost everyone was cursing Ganguly and wanting him to fail so that their predictions came true.

On Sunday, wherever they were, perhaps the prayer was for the opposite.

His contrasting reactions after the two innings in his last Test put this tale of contradictions in a nutshell.

In the first, he walked back a shattered man refusing to accept reality despite having 85 under his belt. While returning in the second with what might remain Indian cricket's most famous duck, he was calm, just a look towards the sky in terms of showing emotion.

Irrespective of how he hates it, the first-ball naught adds a special and unexpected dimension to his amazing tale, making it all the more extraordinary.

If his inclusion caused a ruckus, it got louder when he was dropped.

Ganguly was in the news by not playing a match, not scoring a run, but for falling out with the coach. It didn't change when he came back and intensified each passing day amid talk of young India, phasing out seniors and what not. Each move he made stoked the fire.

It must have been annoying at times but Ganguly had to live with the fact that whatever he does draws attention.

He may not have realised it, but everything, including the unsavoury, contributed to his image.

Confirmation of this came on Sunday, from the way what started in Lord's 12 years ago ended at the VCA Jamtha Stadium.
Sourav Ganguly has said farewell to cricket after 12 glorious years and at times controversial seasons in the highest level of the game. But for cricket, it's not merely the loss of an icon, rather of a born fighter, who led his country with passion and shrewdness and would go down as one of the best captains in the annals of cricketing history.

After staging glorious comebacks time and again to prove wrong the cricketing pundits who frequently penned the obituary of his journey, the talismanic left hander finally announced to the world himself that he has reached the end of his glittering international career.

While history will speculate and debate - till the principal protagonists make some revelation at some point of time in the future - on whether any voluntary retirement scheme was forced on Ganguly by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), there can be no second opinion that the game would miss a colourful cricketer and a gutsy genius.

And he should have little regrets. Very few sporting heroes have enjoyed such public support in his home turf, as Ganguly did in India, particularly in his state West Bengal. This is borne by the scenes of public outrage that followed the Prince of Calcutta's exclusion from the national team in December, 2005, with fans blocked roads and railway tracks, and burning effigies of then chief selector Kiran More and coach Greg Chappell.

The tag of India's most successful skipper sits firmly on Ganguly's head, with statistics showing an enviable 21-13 win-loss record in Tests, besides having led the country to the World Cup final in 2003.

Full coverage: Australia in India | More cricket news

In ODIs, he has led India in 147 games, and is in the exalted company of Sanath Jayasuriya and Sachin Tendulkar as one of the only three cricketers to complete the treble of 10,000 runs, 100 wickets and 100 catches.

But the greatness of Ganguly as a captain lay more in his approach to the game than mere statistical analysis. A killer instinct that endeared him to the nation not famed for the quality; a combative style, raw passion and an ability to pick and foster young talents and blend them into a well-knit unit are the attributes that distinguished him as a cut above others in the hot seat.

His 'eye-for-an-eye' approach and the ability to play the mental game to perfection was amply demonstrated when he kept Australian skipper Steve Waugh waiting for him for the toss during the epic 2001 home series, that India won 2-1 to end the Kangaroos' world record run of Test wins.

In Images: Great India-Australia Tests

The impact that Ganguly in the series as a strong no-nonsense leader, despite a pedestrian performance with the willow, rattled the Aussies, who rained invectives and lost no opportunity to belittle him. But their very behaviour was an ode to the Prince of Kolkata's greatness.

Ganguly led India, known for its vulnerability on fast and bouncy away turfs, to rare Test and One-Day series wins in Pakistan, besides finishing at par with Australia in the 2003 series Down Under.

The Natwest Trophy final win in 2002 against England after heroic performances by Yuvraj Singh and Mohammad Kaif brought out the spontaneous passion ingrained in the man, who celebrated by taking off his shirt and fluffing it in the air from the Lords balcony. Ganguly was criticized by the English, but he retorted saying he was only returning the same act performed by English all-rounder Andrew Flintoff during a series in India.

As a batsman, Ganguly combined grace with an aggressive approach and could murder any bowling on his day.

The abiding image of Ganguly's batsmanship was his ability to step out by yards and disdainfully dispatch the most formidable of bowlers for straight sixes. Despite having to face much criticism for what many called his weakness against the short-pitched staff, Ganguly's mastery of the off-side was universally acknowledged. Rahul Dravid's famous comment calling Ganguly the "god of the off-side" is only too well known.

In all, Ganguly has scored so far 18,144 runs in both forms of the game, 6,888 of them came from 109 Tests at an innings average of 41.74, while another 11,363 came from 311 limited-over internationals where he averaged 41.02.

Along with the little master Tendulkar, he formed perhaps the best opening combination in limited over internationals.

The pair produced 6609 runs at an awesome average of nearly 50 per partnership in 136 innings.

Coming from the state of West Bengal, not known for its cricketing prowess, Ganguly made his Test debut in 1996 with a hundred at Lords, and reached his zenith during a tremendous run as Indian skipper from 2000-2005 before becoming an in-and-out member of the national team till the Australia series that begins two days from now.

As a bowler, Ganguly's slow medium place was more than useful in ODIs, and a 100-wicket haul bears ample testimony to that.

Last but not the least, Ganguly's ability to make amazing comebacks after being written off on several occasions showed his grit and perseverance. But the constant scrutiny at times proved too much even for a strong man like him.

"I am always under the scanner, man," he shot back at a young journalist before the Indian Premier League on being questioned about being repeatedly under trial during the later stages of his international career.

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