Sourav Ganguly November 14, 2008

Silk and steel

With the bat in hand, Sourav Ganguly was all immaculate timing and delicate touches. As captain, he toughened India up, made them believe they could win against anyone

All about balance: Ganguly was dominant on either side of the wicket and able to punish any bowler who offered width © Getty Images

Rahul Dravid said it right when he said, "On the off side, first there is god, and then there is Sourav Ganguly."

Sourav burst upon international cricket with two centuries in his first two Tests, and went on to carve a niche for himself as one of the best batsmen in the modern game. With his retirement the game has lost a great player, a strong leader and a colourful and unpredictable character.

Sourav the batsman was an attacker, blessed with time and quick hands, a destructive square- cut and the most elegant of cover-drives. All these attributes I saw when I watched him on TV at Lord's during his debut, completely at ease in the big time, scoring a remarkably mature hundred. This maturity, which I believe comes of self-confidence and mental strength, marked him out as a future captain at a very early stage.

Sourav's batting was all about balance. He had a good stride forward or back, a strong and stable base, a heavy bat to add further to the weight transfer into the shot, and a still head. This enabled him to be dominant on either side of the wicket and to punish any bowler who offered him width.

The only delivery that troubled him consistently through his career - except at the start - was the short ball. The bouncer seemed to make him lose his stability and balance, making it somewhat awkward for him to play it. This perceived weakness has been a hot topic in most dressing rooms during pre-match meetings: how to shake him up with the short-pitched delivery - not always to get him out with it but to make him feel uncomfortable enough to commit an error in the execution of his strokes. The short ball was used extensively against him in Test cricket with some success, and also to a certain degree in ODIs. Whether this was the reason why such an able and talented batsman averaged only in the low 40s in Test cricket is a matter of debate and speculation.

He did manage to overcome this weakness sufficiently and become one of the mainstays of the Indian middle order. In fact, he later evolved his game to take advantage of the short-pitched ball. Though not a natural at the pull and hook, he would at times premeditate his shot based on the assumption that the ball would be short and set himself for it, trusting his eye and hands to rescue him if he guessed wrong. The hundred he scored in Brisbane during the historic tour of 2003-04 was for him a vindication of his self-belief and technique.

It was in the one-day arena that Sourav was most at home. Along with Sachin Tendulkar he formed one of the most feared and successful opening partnerships of all time. He was supremely able to dominate any bowling attack, scoring on both sides of the wicket, unafraid to use his feet to the fast bowlers, arrogantly exploiting the field restrictions by hitting over the top. He handled spin with ease, rotating the strike and clearing the boundary almost at will. I watched him do all this against Sri Lanka at Taunton in the 1999 World Cup, scoring a magnificent 183.

To me, his greatest contribution to Indian cricket was as captain. When first appointed, his attempts to not just earn but also demand respect from the opposition ended up with him spending time in the match referee's room on more than a few occasions.

His fiery attitude rubbed off on his team-mates and he seemed to create what seemed a new India. A team that believed in playing tough, in winning from any situation; that believed in themselves and each other

For Sourav, his only responsibility was to win games for India and imbue his team with a new strength of character and self-belief. He knew that his team was good enough to beat any opposition; his challenge was to make his team- mates believe it too. He never walked onto a cricket field to win friends, but instead did so with an arrogance and self-belief that irked almost everyone. He intentionally irritated the opposition. From keeping the opposing captain waiting at the toss, to playing verbal and mental games, he was a master at the art of gamesmanship. All this to give his team an advantage in a competition.

This fiery attitude did rub off on his team-mates and he seemed to create what seemed a new India. A team that believed in playing tough, in winning from any situation; that believed in themselves and each other; a team that revelled under pressure; and above all a team that played to win. His greatest achievement as captain would no doubt be the tour to Australia in 2004. The Indians dominated the Tests, making Australia scramble to save the series in their own backyard. That tour was marked by remarkable performances by Dravid, VVS Laxman and Sachin, but it is the captain who moulded the team into a winning unit.

Sourav's single-minded drive to be the best has coloured the perception others have of him. The people of Kolkata are devoted to their prince, and while some opposition players might not have him on their Christmas lists, they accord him grudging respect. He has annoyed and irked and he has amazed and thrilled. Sourav has not had everything his way. Friction with selectors, with his coach and administrators, has dogged the latter part of his career, and he has risen to meet all the challenges in his own way, with undeniable success.

He has been a magnificent player, not just for India but for all cricket. He has enjoyed great success and undergone myriad trials and tribulations. Fought for his rights and beliefs and led his team with courage and conviction. Now Dada walks away with his head held high, with that ever-present, almost arrogant half-smile, secure in his wonderful achievements, knowing that he did it his way.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ilin on November 16, 2008, 9:11 GMT

    Saurav was the best captain of against aussies,natwest trophy i.c.c.champions trophy,and w.c.finalist,proves it all.when dadi crowned as captain,the whole cricket world was stung by match fixing cases.india was at top to suffer.that time skipper azhar was sacked,future captain jadeja was banned,sachin denied to become captain,and all the things were extreamly was ganguly,who took the team forward.he won in bangladesh,and then beat steve waugh & 2-1.when dravid conspire against him,with greg chappel n kiran more,he came back with bang.he slapped all those faces with his performance,including vengsarkar,recently.till then,dravid has finished,greg make aus lost,n vengy has very insulting exit from bcci.its dada,who exits with bang bang.

  • Srinivasa on November 16, 2008, 6:38 GMT

    Kumar Sangakkara has proved that he uses his pen and bat for writing poetries off and on the field respectively . Great article and it shows that how good a human being Sanga is . hte common thing between Dada and Sanga is their aggression and the no-nonsense way of playing the game. Well done once again .

  • anantha on November 15, 2008, 18:15 GMT

    Dada had the last laugh in the nagpur test after winning the aussies. But it was not enough to sign out. If he had bothered for more runs rather than captaining, he could have survived for more couple of years. It is the test scenario but his elagancy in the one day is still remarkable. Ganguly was a tough competitor for sachin, and also a better reliable than the 'later'. His extraordinary power for sixes and stylish offside boundaries always worth to watch. However he is little bit weak in running between the wickets. His aggressive character in the field as both mixed responses from selectors and spectators. For the past two years he was under threshold and finally as expected BCCI won.

  • Francis on November 15, 2008, 14:34 GMT

    Well done Sanga! You are as good with the pen as you are with the bat. And a generous spirit.

  • Arvind on November 15, 2008, 10:01 GMT

    Sanga deserves compliments for a very balanced and insightful article on Dada. The fact of the matter is that a large number of cricket fans like me across India have identified with Dada, and have somehow lived their dreams through him. His anti-establishment stance has reflected the rebellion that a lot of us have inside us, and in his victories, we have found our personal joys. His impact has thus been well beyond his cricketing heroics, and it shows in the emotional, near fanatical, support that he has enjoyed. Thanks a ton Dada for giving us the joys beyond cricket, that no Tendulkar, Jumbo, Dravid or VVS could bring. All the best...have a great life ahead.

  • Arindam on November 15, 2008, 7:38 GMT

    Brilliant shows why Sanga is rated as one of the most respected writers amongst the current crop of cricketers. My view: If Gavaskar gave Indian cricket its body, Kapil its heart, Sachin blood then Sourav gave it character ... all these things are something which just can't be removed from Human System till somebody dies. Hence till Indian cricket lives all these things shall be inseparable. As we say in Management there are different phases in the process of team management:.a leader is one who builds the team, identify roles and works out need for each role. That is where Sourav was exceptional, in team creation..making the next captains/selectors job easier as he now has to identify the best player in the country to fill that role...In my book the best captain world has seen in the last 15years post Arjuna has to be Saurav...there have to be reasons beyond cricket and the part of the world where we come from that RICKY/STEVE WAUGH have been rated better than SAURAV

  • Jayaraman on November 15, 2008, 7:12 GMT

    An excellent and well deserved tribute to Dada by Sangakarra... I do agree that Dada as a captain overshadows his abilities as a batsman..

  • gopal on November 15, 2008, 2:44 GMT

    Great article Sanga.I watch ganguly in 1996 lords test is all of stroke play(god of off side).We going to miss him to see the punches and taking spiners in to the stands.

  • Bunty on November 15, 2008, 1:39 GMT

    Beautifully written article!Sanga has given a really balanced tribute .Expect a fellow Asian to do that.I am little surprised to not see some Paki fans acknowledging Ganguly.I especially remember Ganguly fondly ever since he played heroically in '97 Sahara Cup and '98 Bangladesh cup when India successfully chased down 300+ score. A first in ODS history at the time I believe. Sachin as great as he may be has never won a series against the arch rivals as unequivocally as Ganguly did. I think Ganguly was not given his due in the ODI scene and his Test performances especially in his twilight of his career has been nothing short of heroic. Dhoni giving captaincy to Ganguly and to see Ganguly make those field placements in the last few minutes of his titanic career brought tears for chapter is to end.As this is exactly what an everlasting image of Saurav an ardent Indian fan like I wanted.Saurav the first entrant in pinnacle of Indian captains forever - you are etched in stone!!!

  • Suresh on November 15, 2008, 0:30 GMT

    As a Indian, I always knew Dada was a great player. But I felt sometimes that my patriotism/nationalism/jingoism was giving me a less than objective view of him. Now a piece like this from an opposite number who is himself so well respected for his batting/cricketing knowledge, convinces me beyond any doubt that Dada was indeed great.

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