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.

India trounce invincible Oz to nail series

The men in blue signed off a remarkable series by defeating reigning champions Australia by 172 runs in Nagpur on Monday to clinch the Border-Gavaskar Trophy 2008.

Team India will remember this series for more reasons than just winning it, as the tournament saw two of its veteran greats retire. Anil Kumble and Sourav Ganguly leave a trail of besotted fans behind them as they bid goodbye to the world of Test cricket.

Excellent bowling came to the rescue of Sourav Ganguly, who was captaining the final Test and ensured that his last series was sealed with a win.

Set the daunting task of scoring an imposing 382 to win, Australia were tottering at 111 for three wickets at lunch on the fifth and final day.

The batsmen out in the visitors' second innings, after they had commenced at the overnight 13 for no loss, were first innings centurion Simon Katich (16), captain Ricky Ponting (8) and his deputy Michael Clarke (22), promoted up the order in quest for quick runs despite being unwell.

Ishant Sharma, India's most successful bowler of the four-Test rubber, was easily the pick of the attack on Monday morning and accounted for Katich and Clarke, while Ponting was run out through a brilliant piece of fielding and throwing by Amit Mishra.

The home team should have ended the session with more Australian wickets in their clutch but for a few dropped catches and a few edges that eluded the slip cordon.

Australia needed to make 271 more runs on a wearing track where the ball was spinning sharply with two left-handers - opener Matthew Hayden (46 off 67 balls with four fours) and Michael Hussey (14 off 20 balls) - at the crease.

India would have been placed in an even more happy position had they taken their catches.

Rahul Dravid, normally a superb fielder at slip, floored Ponting on zero off Zaheer and MS Dhoni let off Hayden when he tried to cut Harbhajan Singh when on 30.

The miss off Ponting did not prove costly as the visiting team skipper was run out soon afterwards, but Hayden who was dropped by Dravid later when he reverse-swept the Indian off-spinner five runs later remained unbeaten at lunch.

Katich, who made 102 in the first innings, once pulled Sharma from wide of the off stump for a boundary and fell while trying to repeat the same shot by top-edging the attempt. The ball ballooned high for Dhoni to take the swirling ball with some difficulty.

Ponting was lucky to edge Zaheer on arrival and survive with Dravid dropping the regulation catch, but tried to take on Mishra fielding at mid-off by attempting a cheeky single only to see the fielder attack the ball and run him out with a direct throw at the non-striker's end.

Australia, 29 for no loss, slid to 37 for two in nine balls.

Clarke, up the order but batting with Katich as his runner, should have been sent back by Sharma who rapped him on the pads with a late in-swerving ball, but umpire Billy Bowden did not uphold the strong appeal for leg before.

In between, Hayden was dropped by Dhoni and it looked as if things were going the Australian way when Sharma got his revenge by dismissing Clarke.

The gangling Delhi bowler, who bowled with a lot of pace in the first innings too in his long spells, got the visiting team's vice captain with a superb, out-swinger which was feathered by the batsman to 'keeper Dhoni.

Clarke and Hayden added 45 runs off only 54 balls before the dismissal.

Hayden then reverse-swept Harbhajan twice, the first one being a clean strike for four and off the second Dravid got his hand to the ball but could not latch on to it. Hayden and Hussey later piloted the visitors past 100 before the break.

India trounce invincible Oz to nail series

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