Sourav Ganguly. A fighter who has done some of the best things for his country’s cricket.

A leader who led his men where they wanted to go. A champion who took Indian cricket to the levels where it ought to be. A man to whom you can’t pay enough homage as a follower of the gentleman’s game. And yet he still is the most questioned and criticised. Yet, he is the one we have done most injustice to throughout his career. And most sadly, made to prove himself time and again, which of course he did in the greatest and most entertaining ways. What moments of grit, timing and stroke play has he gifted us in his last few days and all throughout his time with the national team. Sourav “DADA” Ganguly stroking the cherry square of the wicket on the off side still makes us hold our breath. By the way, DADA is pronounced exactly as it is spelled, and never DODA as Ravi Shastri claims. I can’t even start to imagine where he picked that up from. One of the reasons for Ganguly’s decision to quit was that he wanted to play the last four test matches of his life without the constant public scrutiny he has always been subjected to. But we Indians have denied him that, as well. A respect that he truly deserved, probably more than a lot of other players and for more than one reason. Let’s go back a while and look at some of those reasons, some of the things he has achieved and gifted us over the years. Let’s have look at the ups and downs of India’s most successful captain’s quite unconventional career. Let’s take a look at the man who is nothing less than a legend. He made his debut in ODIs back in 1991-1992 when G.R. Vishwanath (the man who was forceful in Dada’s selection both in 1992 and 1996) said “I did not select him because of the number of runs he scored but because of the manner in which he scored them.” However in 1992, he was dropped only after one match where he failed to make an impression. In his defence, there are a lot of players with genuine class, who have gone on to become some of the biggest names in international cricket without being great in their first ever match. Two names that come instantly to mind are Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar, both of whom took a while to show what they are made of. Sourav’s case was no different, yet he was dropped on the pretext that he had refused to carry drinks to the field. Setting aside the truth of the allegation for the moment, let’s duel on the real question here. Is THAT even a CRITERION for selection to our national squad! That he is a master of his craft has been proved time and again. Four years later, he makes his entry into the test arena during the England tour. He was immediately marked as the “Joker in the Pack” by the forces that be. There were even remarks that his selection had other reasons than cricket, like the quota system prevalent at the time. He scored two back to back centuries in England and a 65 in his next innings in Ferozeshah Kotla, an extremely rare feat achieved by about 2-3 batsmen world over, shutting the lid on his critics. Only Md. Azharuddin had a better debut. During the next year he showed that a new star has arrived in Indian and world cricket. For the first time, there was a player in the team other than Sachin, who could win India matches single-handedly. This alone should have quieted down his critics. If not, then his being the highest run scorer in the calendar years of 1997, 1998 and 1999

should definitely have done it. Other than that, the fact that he still holds the record for scoring the fastest 7000, 8000 and 9000 runs in ODIs can be taken into account. And who among us can forget Taunton, 1999 World Cup, India vs Sri Lanka? When Dravid got out in the 42nd over, Ganguly was in his 90s. He got out in the 48th or 49th over scoring a 183, in the haydays of Muralidharan and Vaas. If he had had enough support from his teammates towards the end of the game then we should have witnessed the first double ton in ODI cricket 11 years back. In 2000 he became the India captain. The highlights of his career were India reaching the World Cup final in 2003 after 20 long years and the 2001 series against Australia which we drew and almost won, for the first time in Australian soil. But even before that, as a vice-captain only he had shown glimpses of his captaincy mettle. In a side match in Australia during the tour of 1998-99, he was the skipper in Sachin’s absence. It was the first time an Indian captain was seen stopping play by standing on the pitch with his hands on his hips and eyes on the giant screen trying to analyse the umpire’s judgement on a LBW decision in the batsman’s favour. A new era in Indian cricket had arrived with Ganguly – The Leader. We were not to be stepped over. As the India captain, Sourav transformed a team that fought hard on occasions only into a team that showed teeth and bit hard every time they were on field. He also brought up new players and stood behind them. Yuvraj, Harbhajan, Sehwag and Zaheer are a few worth naming. There was even a time when Dravid was dropped from the ODI team because of his extremely slow scoring rate. Ganguly retained him in the side as a wicket-keeper who could bat, until Dravid picked up the art of scoring during the New Zealand tour in 2001-02. Sourav was the first Indian captain to have won a test after following on when India beat Australia in 2001 at Eden Gardens. He was only the second captain in the history of the game to have achieved that feat. I still remember, during an India-Pakistan match a few years back, Harbhajan and Afridi were having a verbal fight from their respective dressing room balconies. This was when Sourav stepped in, pulled Bhajji back and duelled on. That action summed up “DADA”. And of course, no one can forget him swirling his shirt over his head on the Lord’s balcony after winning the Natwest final. I don’t think Freddie Flintoff will celebrate a victory football style ever again. John Wright once said that as a coach he would discuss a certain tactics with Sourav and then see something very different play out on the field. He was, as a captain very imaginative, adaptive and aggressive. That is DADA for you. Whatever happened, he has always stood like a mountain behind his team and mates. Alas! Nobody ever returned him the compliment. Even as a captain his batsmanship did not fall. Till 2004 he was one of the steadiest scorers for India. Even in 2004, when people were saying that he had lost his touch, Ganguly emerged to be the fourth highest run getter in the world with 978 test runs in that calendar year, along with a gritty 144 in Gabba saving for India a rain effected match. He showed the Indians the essence of batting and the Australians that no amount of “Chin Music” could stop him. He set the tone for the series and India for the first time won a test and drew a series in Australia. Even apart from Gabba he has scored heavily in some of the fastest

ground across the world facing with ease the British, the West Indians, the Pakistanis, the Australians and the South Africans. In the matches that I have seen Dada facing Akram, I still can’t decide whether I was more awed by Akram’s skills or the charm with which Dada took him on. He has scored 16 centuries, been dismissed twice on 99 and once stuck on 98 in test cricket batting at No. 5 & 6, which is a tremendous achievement in today’s speedy test matches. Also, he has 22 centuries in ODI matches and I believe would have caught up with Sachin if 2005 had not happened. He was dropped as a captain and a player from the team after a bout with the then coach Greg Chapell in 2005. Ironically, even this time the reasons were not cricket. He had just scored a century in Zimbabwe returning from a bad patch. The official reason for him being dropped was the century was too slow and his earlier performances were not great. Yes, he was going through a lean patch and yes the century was slow. But the century was slow only according to the expectations of the public from a player who always dominated on the 22 yards. And then again he was the only batsman in that match to have scored almost any runs. Thus it seems that Ganguly’s exclusions rather than his inclusions have always been for reasons other than cricket. He was again picked for the Pakistan tour. His show was decent compared to the other players and only second to Sachin. Still he was dropped again and ignored completely for almost one and a half years. There was no way he was going to be selected. Dada didn’t lose heart. He knew he was still good. His bat spoke. The selectors were forced to call him back to a team struggling to save face in South Africa. He did exactly that starting with a score of 86 just off the plane. Thenafter he played fabulous cricket becoming India’s most prolific scorer in the series. But dejection was still waiting. He was surprisingly dropped from the ODI side at Dhoni’s insistence, citing reasons of his fitness and the need to infuse young blood, while Dada was still at his magnificent best. He went on to become one of the most successful all-rounders in the IPL twenty-twenty, maybe in reply. Oh! By the way, he is alos in Wisden’s list of all-time top 5 ODI batsmen. Then came the infamous Sri Lanka tour in 2008. The Fantastic Five failed miserably. After the last test, former India batsman Sanjay Manjerekar said that Sourav looked the weakest of the Fab Four and should probably be dropped. That was an extremely irresponsible comment from a man who probably had only one good series in his entire career; a man who played cricket at a time when only Sachin was good enough to win India matches. During the Sri Lanka series, in the last test only one should take a look at Sachin’s dismissals. In the first innings he went for a drive and missed the ball by miles to be adjudged lbw. In the second innings he let alone a ball from Ajanta Mendis, which turned sharply and uprooted his off-stump. What was he thinking! Mendis is an offspinner but it looked like Sachin had forgotten that! It looked more horrible than anything that’s been seen in cricket for years, including Azhar giving catch practice to the slip cordon. Sanjay also said that people in India are afraid to talk about someone with a big name. This time he was bang on! If that was not the case he would have talked about Sachin. Certainly, even he could see that

Sourav’s dismissals were while he was going for his shots and looked much more respectable when compared to Sachin’s. But then again maybe he was just plain biased. However, after the Sri Lanka tour Ganguly’s miseries started again. Dropped from the Rest of India team during Irani trophy and not getting a call even when Sachin was unfit to play was the worst possible way to humiliate a man who has been a much more successful cricketer than most of the selectors who have decided his fate till date. Kiran More once commented that he should get into a better shape to get selected again. That is truly laughable from a man with an average of 12 and a highest score of 46. A few days back Venkatpathy Raju, a most forgettable cricketer and now a selector, made a comment that Sourav was frustrated at being dropped repeatedly and Raju understood as that had happened to him as well. Well Mr. Raju, the only reply to that can be, if it was not for Azhar, you would not have played even your second test and maybe also the first. There were at least 30 better spinners in the Ranji Trophy circuit including the kingly Utpal Chatterjee who was ignored forever. And it is doubtful if till date anybody has figured out even one reason as to why Raju played so many matches. He took wickets only by mistake. Actually it is doubtful if anybody even thinks about Raju or remembers him anymore. It was due to Azhar’s bias with Raju that made excellent spinners like Utpal Chatterjee (a man with more first class wickets than Raju ever dreamt of) never get a decent shot at a seat in the national side. However, this is something even Sourav is guilty of. I don’t think that even his staunchest supporters till date have been able to figure out his reasons for liking Murali Karthick and Ajit Agarkar so much. But that apart, Sourav has never displayed favouritism towards his zone or state which every previous Indian captain is guilty of. But now Ganguly has played his last test and we will never see the Fab Four bat together again. By the way, they have 36,000 test runs between them and have been rightly named by a sports channel as the “Extraordinary League of Gentlemen”. Ganguly had announced his retirement to let himself play his last four games in peace. But sorry dada, we couldn’t allow you that. We had only chosen you for 2 tests initially. And if you hadn’t performed, that would have been your end, not four. Even in your last days we had the gun levelled at your head. Looking at Ganguly’s record -- he has 11363 runs in 311 ODIs, including 22 centuries at an average of 41.02. He also has 2 five wicket hauls with the best being 5/16. In 113 tests he has 7212 runs consisting of 16 centuries and 35 half centuries (consisting of two 99s and another 98 not out) at an average of 42.18, batting at number 5 and 6 and also another five wicket haul. Only the third player in the world to have 100 wickets, 100 catches and 1000 runs to his name. He also has the feat of scoring ten thousand runs in ODIs in lesser number of matches than Sachin. Rarely has a player had better records. He also is India’s most successful captain having led the side to 21 wins, out of which 12 are on foreign soil (all previous Indian captains together have won lesser), and 15 draws in 49 tests. Adding a pinch of salt to these records, he also has another rare

distinction—India has never lost a match (Test or ODI) when he has scored a century – something not even Sachin can boast of. He has also led by example teaching India to successfully chase 300+ targets – NatWest Final and Dhaka, 2000. We cherish the feats and yet refuse to acknowledge the man. We still refuse to give the man who taught India to bite back, his dues. Instead of throwing our hats at him when he walked out to bat for the last time, we were still busy looking for demons to unleash. It was 10th November 2000 when he stepped on the cricket field for the first time as a captain. The same date 8 years later saw him go off the field forever in the same city where he was accused of sitting out of a match due to cowardice. It was a fitting reply. A very outspoken person quietly let his bat speak and sing for one last time. We all danced to the wonderful tune. Rahul Dravid once famously said that on the off side first there is God and then there is Sourav Ganguly. But DADA’s contribution to the game was best summed up by the Indian cricketing great Sunil Gavaskar that at 35 you don’t expect somebody to score even a century (in 2007 after DADA scored 239 against Pakistan in Bangalore). A double ton, instead, certainly tells a tale about the legend who probably bade the most passionate sport in India an untimely adieu. But still he has left behind a legacy that will be most difficult to emulate. However, it has been heartening to see how Yuvraj Singh, dada’s replacement in tests have batted so far, especially against the spinners on low and dying pitches. I consider that being replaced with “one of his own boys” who has worked so hard on his game just to try to fill in the boots of his first captain. On ending notes, M.S. Dhoni, however is a true successor to Dada in the way he is carrying the torch and Indian cricket forward. There is more than one similarity between them, though their styles are different. For starters, both became India captain around the same age. Sourav also had only four years of international cricket behind him when he became captain. He had to deal with loosing key players to the match-fixing controversy while Dhoni is losing players to old age. He like Sourav has an aggressive streak, a will to pay back in kind. If Dada was the roaring Tiger from the Royal Bengal then Dhoni is the silent Cheetah from the neighbourhood. While Sourav gave direction to a bunch of cocky youngsters, Dhoni has to show the path to a group of very hungry men. Let’s just hope Dhoni can fulfil the Sourav dream for the sake of Indian cricket. The greatest respect to this extraordinary gentleman, whom Geoffrey Boycott lovingly christened the “The Prince of Calcutta”, will only be paid when India becomes the World No. 1. His dues will only be given by completing the journey he undertook. And that day he won’t need to be carried by Ishant or Bhajji or Laxman. He’ll be riding his final deed of setting up India on its path to glory. He did to Indian cricket what probably Steve Waugh did to Australia. Till then let us all forget our differences, submerge our biases and become Indians once again. Not Marathis, Biharis, Bengalis or Tamils but Indians. Let us stand behind our band of boys and ensure that no other greats of the game should suffer as Dada did. Because with the end of the road for Sachin, Dravid and Laxman coming soon we don’t want to bid the golden era of Indian cricket a controversial goodbye.