December 9, 2007

Ganguly's fairytale

Sourav Ganguly is living out a dream at the moment, and nothing he achieves will be a surprise anymore

The most noticeable feature of Sourav Ganguly's batting since his return to international cricket has been his poise © AFP

If you're looking for a clue to what has helped Sourav Ganguly sustain his spectacular run in Test cricket since his return at the fag end of last year, don't bother looking at his footwork or the flow of his bat. Take, instead, a close look at his eyes while he is batting. They speak of a calmness that borders on serenity, and a combination of composure and resolve. You could see it in his comeback innings in Johannesburg, which fetched him an unbeaten 51, and you could see it through his epic innings in Bangalore that marked a new high in his career.

In his bowling, and on the field, we have seen the more familiar Ganguly; excitable, emotional, even fiery. He has appealed cantankerously and celebrated his wickets and catches with child-like gusto. His batting hasn't lacked his natural flair - in fact, he has been batting with greater freedom than he did in the period leading up to his temporary banishment - but the most noticeable feature about his cricket has been his poise. It hasn't left him even after he has occasionally been cornered into an awkward position by a short ball.

He has let himself go only once: it was an emotional moment, getting to his first hundred before his adoring home fans. But his celebration after he got to his first double-hundred, a landmark he sought and will cherish, was far more subdued. There was the raising of the arms and the acknowledgment of applause from his team-mates and the crowd. But then there was also a series of little pumps of the fist, and a waving of the helmet. Those were for himself. There was an air of fulfillment, of a man celebrating privately in public. His smile touched a million hearts: his struggle to regain his place, and some would say his honour, have been among the most stirring and uplifting stories in cricket.

Let's be done with the numbers first. Incredibly for a man who was given up for dead, 2007 has been his most successful year statistically. Potentially he has three innings left still, and he has already scored 932 runs at 62.13. His most prolific year to date has been 2002, when he managed 945 runs - but it took him 16 Tests back then. Put together, 2005 and 2006 yielded him only 422 runs from 11 Tests at 28.13, and that included a painstaking hundred against a hopeless Zimbabwean bowling attack.

The manner of his removal, first from captaincy and then from the team, continues to rankle with his supporters, and surely with him. But it is undeniable that from that low has emerged this high. It was perhaps a bit disingenuous for Greg Chappell to claim credit for Ganguly's revival, but in the cold light of the day, the exile, the sheer indignation of it, did make the revival possible, and ultimately far more poignant.

The credit for it must go entirely to Ganguly, for few rational observers would have seen it coming. It wasn't just that the runs had dried up; his skills, his responses, seemed to have deserted him, and he bore the look of a haunted man.

He owes his return to a change in the selection committee, but the rest of the story is about a man who simply refused to surrender to what seemed inevitable to most. Much can be said about his improved footwork and the decisiveness of his stroke-making, but in the end, it has been a triumph of spirit, of incredible strength of mind and faith.

Ganguly is living out a fairytale at the moment, and nothing he achieves will be a surprise anymore. There are many, me included, who believed Ganguly's time as an international cricketer was over. We owe him an apology and a salute

Remarkably, in a batting line-up featuring Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid, Ganguly has been India's best batsman since his return. Not merely for consistency and the number of runs scored - during the course of his double-hundred he became India's leading run--getter this year - but for the assuredness of the manner in which he has made them. His half-century in his return Test in Johannesburg, though subdued and a bit laboured, helped India to what ultimately turned out to be a match-winning first-innings total in a low-scoring Test. And in the decisive Test in Cape Town, only he looked fluent and in control in the fateful second innings; his dismissal induced a crawl that proved terminal.

In England he had a series of vital contributions, and none better than a 79 on a challenging pitch in the second Test at Trent Bridge. Apart from Zaheer Khan's inspired swing bowling, my warmest memory from that match is of Ganguly's square-driving.

Michael Vaughan set an off-side trap, with four men between cover and gully, and Ganguly teased and mocked him by caressing, punching and guiding the ball repeatedly through that cordon: one to the right of point, then one to the left, and then a couple between the two gullies. He was denied a hundred by a wrong decision, and his response to that dismissal told a story. In an earlier time he would have left kicking and stomping; here he did so with an ironic, rueful smile. The protest was registered, but without causing offence.

Admittedly his hundreds in the current series have come against feeble opponents. The pitch at Kolkata offered nothing to the bowlers, and Shoaib Akhtar was drained by illness. But at Bangalore he was not so much up against the bowlers as the match situation. He provided the calm cushion for Yuvraj Singh to flow at the other end without ever sacrificing his own strokes.

Personally, my favourite Ganguly innings of the series is a small but vital one. It came during the run-chase in the final innings of the first Test. Shoaib had just cleaned up Rahul Dravid with a ripper; India had over a hundred runs to get; and Tendulkar was finding non-existent demons in the pitch. In this banana-skin situation, typical to India, Ganguly, who had fallen cheaply in the first innings, set about cutting down the target nervelessly, with deliciously timed fours against Shoaib, Mohammad Sami, and Danish Kaneria.

The toughest challenge lies ahead. Australia will come hard at him, and the pitches will test his skills. But he is living out a fairytale at the moment, and nothing he achieves will be a surprise anymore. There are many, me included, who believed Ganguly's time as an international cricketer was over. We owe him an apology and a salute.

Sambit Bal is the editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Shakar on December 15, 2007, 22:13 GMT

    Ganguly has always been an cricketer whom I have alot of belief in after the 2001 defeat of the mighty Australians. He has again shown the kind of mettle Indian cricket needs at this time to gain world class status. Together with Sachin, Dravid, VVS, Sewag,Dhoni and Yuvraj, the Indian team can definitely battle the Aussies. I look foward to seeing him dominate some Aussie bowling and then conquer his detractors through his peformance. I am sure there are few who can dispute his SIX hitting prowess !!!!!!!

  • Sakai on December 14, 2007, 20:52 GMT

    For a moment even I thought that his carrier is over. When he was dropped from the team I really thought that now he would be staying out like Kaif and Raina for at least 3 or 4 months but after S.Africa series he was like playing every match till now. I never thought that he would perform so fluently and consistently. Ganguly worked hard and this was an inspiration for me and all those people who wants to achieve their target. "FOR ME GREAT PLAYERS ARE NOT THOSE WHO HAVE AN AVERAGE OVER 50 OR 60, BUT THOSE WHO DOESN'T GIVE UP EASILY WITHOUT A FIGHT" like Ganguly, the Bengal Tiger

  • Faraz on December 14, 2007, 19:14 GMT

    I am an all time Ganguly Fan, I hate indian team because I am from Pakistan but I loved watching Saurav. He is one hell of a batsman and since his comeback in South Africa, he has a chip on his shoulder and just want to prove it that Indian Board was wrong who supported Chappell and now after every single inning he is rubbing into the face the fact that he still got the firepower..Keep going Dada, at least I am sure that he is a better cricketer then Sachin because I think the success is the only motivation for winning and Sachin has never won as many games as Dada did for India...

  • ADRIAN on December 14, 2007, 11:18 GMT

    Well only Sachin can do no wrong - he even scores a "duck" gloriously. Let's give credit where credit is due - to grit, self belief and the will to excel. That's all what Ganguly has been since his come back. He has done it and done it in style. Well said Sambit Bal and you could not have finished your article on a better note.

  • SGBatsForever on December 14, 2007, 3:44 GMT

    Good and honest article, Sambit. As for Ganguly what more can you say of the man and warrior! The spirit and fairytale comeback we have seen from him is inspirational stuff straight out of Hollywood epic.It is,however, cruel how some of his critics still continue to hound him and refuse to give credit for what has been a great year for both him and India.Even if the Pakistani attack was depleted-it had reduced the Indian top order and top middle order to shreds almost everytime he walked on to the field in this series.Also let's not forget he was the top batsman in South Africa and one of the top batsman in England this past summer. Guys like "ClearViews" should stop grudging the man the honor and respect that are well overdue, especially in a year where he has been by far the best batsman for India. If there is one man who deserves a place in the Indian batting line-up based on form it is SC Ganguly.If you want to drop someone look at Karthik or Dravid a little more critically.

  • A on December 13, 2007, 22:38 GMT

    If one is to analyze Saurav's career, you have to take into account the burden of Indian Captaincy. After Azhar, no Indian captain has come out with his batting reputation intact - be it Sachin or Ganguly or Rahul. They all played in the form of their lives before captaincy and just faded as batsmen when burdened with captaincy. Sachin has never been the same batsman since that experience. Rahul has found a few chinks in his wall after his captaincy stint which he didn't even know existed before and is definitely looking a lesser batsman. Only Saurav has actually put aside his captaincy experience and is batting like a dream and bowling better than most of the other Indian bowlers in view. Wonder why he does not get to bowl more because he looked like taking wickets more often than the others. Possibly this has to do with retirement thoughts that Dravid keeps showcasing and Sachin keeps suggesting. Saurav clearly thinks there is a lot of cricket left in him. That must be the key

  • Murali on December 13, 2007, 16:57 GMT

    Fantastic article on Saurav.No one in this world can be written off and the Bengal TIGER-Truly Royal has the last laugh.I am searching for comments from the likes of More and Greg who would want to take credit for his comeback. Truly a hard fought way back. It is needless to mention that under the able captaincy of Saurav we have seen the revival of positive Indian cricket and make the world take note of this dangerous team.His Ton in Kolkata was a SLAP on the face of Kiran More and his double ton was two SLAPS on either side of Greg Chappels Cheeks. Had he completed his ton in the II Ings of the III test it would have been another slap in the face of (EX) at his home town who could not stand for Sourav during his trying times and instead kept pushing for a non performer Shewag. Certainly Performance is above Politics. Hats off DADA. Continue your good work we are here to cheer for you. Sambit DADA's bat made you eat your words. But I appreciate your article written in its true spirit.

  • bad on December 13, 2007, 15:17 GMT

    STOP boasting about Ganguly's fairytale - wait till he performs in Australia. He played and scored a couple of hundreds in this recently concluded test series against Pakistan's weakest bowling attack ever in their history with 1/16th fit Shoaib Akhtar and no one else to bowl. Also the wickets were not made for fast bowlers nor for the spinners.

  • Sarma on December 13, 2007, 13:35 GMT

    Now that the India-Pakistan series is over, let us give a relative rating to each of the players. Let us also see the matches, runs scored, wickets taken and catches taken by each player. India: Ganguly 10(3-534-4-0), Kumble 8.2 (3-28-18-1), Laxman 6.7 (3-209-1-1), Jaffer 6.1 (3-378-0-2), Harbhajan 4.7 (3-5-10-2), Yuvraj 3.6(1-171-2-1), Dravid 3.6 (3-191-0-4), Dhoni 2.9 (2-144-0-2), Pathan 2.8 (1-123-1-0), Tendulkar 2.6 (2-139-0-0), Zaheer Khan 2.5 (2-9-5-1), Karthik 2.3 (3-115-0-4), Ishant Sharma 1 (1-0-5-2), Munaf Patel 1.5 (2-0-3-1), Gambhir 0.4 (1-8-0-2). Total 65. Pakistan: Misbah 8.1 (3-464-0-2), Kamran Akmal 5.1 (3-249-0-10), Kaneria 5.1 (3-4-12-0), Younis Khan 4.4 (3-260-0-2), Shoaib Akhtar 3.9 (3-3-9-1), Salman Butt 3.6 (3-197-1-1), Yasir Arafat 3.5 (1-44-7-0), Mohammad Sami 3.2 (3-76-4-0), Sohail Tanvir 2.6 (2-17-5-2), Yasir Hameed 2.5 (3-158-0-0), Mohammad Yousuf 2.2 (3-129-0-0), Faisal Iqbal 1.5 (2-73-0-2), Shoaib Malik 0.2 (1-11-0-0). Total 46.

  • KASTURI on December 13, 2007, 12:07 GMT

    I got goose pimples while reading S Bal's article & the comments on Dada. Needless to mention I'm a diehard fan of Ganguly so much so that India's highs & lows are linked to that of Dada's. Once he was ousted I stopped involving myself in anything related to Indian cricket. It's such a relief to see him back in true style! He has brought the zing back to Indian cricket. His body language while congratulating Yuvi on his hundred (which was in the front page of most newspapers) speaks for itself. There is nothing cut & dried about him. He wears his heart in his sleeve, & we love him for it!

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