Sourav Ganguly: 13 controversies involving the man who changed the face of Indian cricket

Sourav Ganguly, born on July 8, 1972, is one of India’s greatest captains. Ganguly was one of the big figures in Indian cricket, a man who changed the face often a controversial one. While he is remembered for a stellar career, there were times when he found himself in the midst of unwanted situations. Nishad Pai Vaidya lists 12 such controversies. 

1.  Refused to carry drinks?

In 1991-92, Ganguly was a part of the Indian team on the tour to Australia, where he made his one-day debut. That was to be his only international appearance in four years until he made his comeback on the tour to England in 1996. It was alleged that Ganguly had refused to carry drinks, one of the roles of a benched player, on that tour Down Under. Years later, Ganguly denied these suggestions. In an interview to Rediff, “I don’t know where this story has come from. We had a manager on the trip to Australia in 1992, Mr. Ranbir Singh. He is probably the worst guy I have ever seen in my life. It is a shame that we have had managers like him for India on long tours. He was a shame, a shame to Indian cricket.”

2.  Unhappy time at Lancashire

Ganguly played county cricket for Lancashire in 2000. It wasn’t a memorable time for him or his team as he did not blend into the setup. His was accused of “princely behaviour” to the extent that one story claims that he once handed his sweater to teammate Michael Atherton, asking him to carry it beyond the boundary. There were also murmurs that he had expected others to carry his kit bag. Also, when he hit a fifty once, none of his teammates were seen applauding on the dressing room balcony. Andrew Flintoff wrote in his book Being Freddie, “He [Sourav Ganguly] wasn’t interested in the other players and it became a situation where it was 10 players and Ganguly in the team. He turned up as if he was royalty — it was like having Prince Charles on your side.”

3.  Alleged affair with Nagma

In early 2001, as India were getting ready to play Australia at home, there were strong rumours of Ganguly’s alleged affair with actress Nagma. There were murmurs that the two visited a temple in South India and had performed a puja meant for married couples. Through that, Ganguly’s wife Dona stood by her man, telling Sify, “It’s all rubbish. I’m extremely angry at the way some newspapers are trying to defame us. It’s unfortunate that Sourav become the victim of such things.” Ganguly’s father Chandidas even told Times of India that he believed that photographs of the two were altered. Two years down the line, Nagma subtly confirmed the alliance, telling the Savvy magazine, “Whatever one says, nobody has denied anything. As long as there is no denial of each other’s existence in each other’s life, any person can say anything they want. There was a career at stake, besides other things, so one had to part. One had to weigh a lot of things, rather than be on an ego trip and insist on being together.”

4.  Making Steve Waugh wait for the toss

The India-Australia series of 2001 is one of the most interesting contests in recent times. A resurgent Indian side took on the might of the Aussies and triumphed in a dramatic contest. Behind India’s resurgence was the young captain Ganguly, who unlike some of his predecessors, had this knack of unsettling his opponents. During that series, he supposedly reported late for the toss for every game, which irritated the normally cool Steve Waugh. “The fact that he turned up late every game, it was his choice. I just thought it showed a lack of respect for the game. It didn’t really affect me. The match referee actually told him that he had to turn up on time,” PTI quoted Waugh during his visit to India in 2013. Ganguly denied that he was late on every occasion and instead claimed that it occurred only once, when he couldn’t find his blazer. Nevertheless, this story became a part of cricketing folklore, thanks to India’s stunning series triumph.

5.  Mike Denness drama

This wasn’t a controversy involving Ganguly alone, but almost the whole Indian team. This was also one of the turning points in world cricket as India’s growing power came to the fore. During the second Test between India and South Africa at Port Elizabeth in 2001, Mike Denness, the match referee, came down hard on the Indian players. The revered Sachin Tendulkar was charged with ball tampering and Ganguly was reprimanded with a suspended ban for not controlling his players on the field of play. Virender Sehwag, Deep Dasgupta, Harbhajan Singh and Shib Sunder Das were also handed suspended bans for over-appealing. Only Sehwag had to serve his ban, while the others were let go after some furore from the Indian authorities and the media. Although he got away, one could see that the Indian team was gradually playing in the Ganguly mould and were no longer meek on the field of play.

6.  The numerous incidents of dissent

Ganguly had numerous brushes with authority through his playing career. On three separate occasions, he was banned for matches for showing dissent to an umpire’s decision. The first time it happened was in 1998 when he expressed his displeasure on being given out during the Bangalore Test against Australia. He was banned for one One-Day Internationals (ODI). Then, in 2000, when Zimbabwe were in India, Ganguly was handed another ban for an “attempt to intimidate the umpires.” The last incident took place in 2001, on the tour to Sri Lanka when he showed his bat on being given out leg-before. He was banned for an ODI yet again. Apart from that, he was once banned for a total of six games for maintaining a slow over rate in 2005. That came at a tough time for him as he was struggling for runs and there were questions over his captaincy.

7.  Shirt-waving at Lord’s

On the hallowed turf at Lord’s, would anyone dare to celebrate by stripping of his shirt to reveal and bare upper body and then wave the shirt? Ganguly did exactly that in 2002. In a dramatic game that saw India chase down 326 to win the NatWest series, Ganguly took off his shirt on the Lord’s balcony and waved it in the air as his team celebrated. John Wright wrote in the Indian Summers that Harbhajan Singh had planned the same for the whole team, only to be stopped by Rahul Dravid. That didn’t stop Ganguly as he went for it spontaneously. It was payback for Andrew Flintoff’s similar act at Wankhede Stadium earlier that year after England had beaten India in a tense game.

8.  A grassy surface?

Did Ganguly miss the third Test against Australia at Nagpur in 2004 due to a grassy wicket? This remains a popular conspiracy theory that Ganguly was unhappy with the grass on the surface for the important game and opted out of it. In the lead-up to the game, he was quite vocal about the need to have a surface that helps the home side. However, on the morning of the Test it was announced that Ganguly was not playing due to an injured groin and that Harbhajan Singh was out due to an illness. Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist, the Australian players who featured in that Test, wrote in their respective autobiographies that they suspected that Ganguly opted out. Hayden wrote in Standing My Ground, “We put their ailments down to acute cases of ‘greentrackitis’, where you develop a severe intolerance to green wickets likely to give you nothing as a spin bowler and plenty of headaches as a batsman.” Gilchrist wrote in True Colours, “When I got to the middle, Ganguly was not there. Dravid was in his blazer, ready for the toss. ‘Where’s Sourav,’ I said. Rahul couldn’t answer definitively. Between the lines I perceived that Sourav might have pulled out from fear of losing a home series.” However, Gilchrist did go on to write that he doesn’t know what happened to Ganguly before the game.

9.  The Greg Chappell saga

This is the mother of all Ganguly controversies. In 2005, there was a change of guard in the Indian team management as Greg Chappell took over from John Wright as coach. Ganguly was in the midst of a tough run with the bat and pressure was mounting on him. During the tour to Zimbabwe, Chappell told him quite frankly that the pressure of captaincy was perhaps affecting his batting, in-turn affecting the team. Ganguly hit a laboured ton in the first Test and then told the media that he was asked to resign. The whole controversy then snowballed into a big affair as Greg Chappell wrote an email to the board, detailing a saga of disagreements between him and Ganguly. Soon after the tour, Ganguly was dismissed as captain and dropped from the one-day side. He spent about a year on the sidelines before he regained his spot. It remains one of the most acrimonious times in Indian cricket. Fans in Kolkata did not take this kindly and had cheered for the South African team during an ODI against a Dravid-led Indian side. The Chappell era ended in ignominy as India were knocked out of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2007 in the first round.

10.  Taking on Shane Warne

Away from international cricket, Ganguly’s run-ins with the Aussies continued in the Indian Premier League (IPL). In 2008, Shane Warne expressed his anger after a Rajasthan Royals-Kolkata Knight Riders game at Jaipur. Warne complained to the media about the fact that his team had to wait on the field for Ganguly to walk out to open the batting and that his batsmen too waited for the other team for five minutes. He also criticised Ganguly for asking the umpire to check if a catch was taken cleanly by a Rajasthan fielder. Referring to a Spirit of Cricket pledge, Warne said, “I was disappointed because in Bangalore we signed that wall about the spirit of cricket.” Ganguly hit back in an interview to Times Now¸ “We just need to look at Warne’s career to understand that he has no moral right to teach what the spirit of the game is. I just want to laugh at what Warne is saying. He should not be talking about the spirit of the game.”

11.  Kolkata Knight Riders and the multiple captaincy

In 2008, crowd favourite Ganguly had captained Kolkata in the inaugural IPL. However, before the second season in South Africa, it was announced that Kolkata were going for an inexplicable “multiple captain” approach. A day before the tournament, Brendon McCullum took charge of the side. Through that, Ganguly looked a lonely figure — many building him up as a victim. This controversy had more to do with the fans than Ganguly himself. The fans hadn’t taken it well and Kolkata were slammed by many. It turned out to be a horror season for them. The Fake IPL player blog also made its appearance. In 2010, Ganguly returned to captain Kolkata, but was not retained the following year — a season he played for the Pune Warriors India.

12.  Digging old graves

In a chat with Headlines Today in 2011, Ganguly said that Dravid had no guts to speak up to Chappell during his tenure as coach. This came a few days before India were to take on Australia in a Test series Down Under, with Dravid still in the side. Later, in 2014, Ganguly almost reiterated it by saying, “When I came back to the team, I had spoken to Dravid about that much later and told him that these were the things going on. He said he knew it all but couldn’t control Greg.” Dravid hit back by saying, “If Ganguly is saying I could not control Greg Chappell, he is entitled to an opinion. He has played many years for India. But he can’t put words in my mouth as I have never had any such conversation with him.”

13.  Run-in with Ravi Shastri

This one’s the most recent controversy involving Ganguly. When the BCCI launched its hunt for new Team India coach, the responsibility of selecting the candidate was given to the three-men Cricket Advisory Committee (CAC), of which Ganguly was a part. The controversy erupted when Ganguly did not attend Ravi Shastri’s interview, which took place via video conferencing as Shastri was in Bangkok. When Shastri lost out to Anil Kumble, he blasted ‘dada’ in public for disrespecting him and the job that was entrusted upon him. In reply, Ganguly questioned Shastri’s absence from the country for such important event and commented that he should have been in India instead. The controversy died its natural death after Kumble took over the position and both Ganguly and Shastri moved on.

A year on, Ganguly finds himself in a sticky situation. Kumble and Indian captain Kohli had a fallout with the former resigning from his role. Shastri has re-applied for the head coach’s job and Ganguly is again in the selection panel.

(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Mumbai-based cricket journalist and one of the youngest to cover the three major cricketing events — ICC World Cup, World T20 and under-19 World Cup. He tweets as @nishad_45)