An emotional fan tries to touch Sourav Ganguly's feet during IPL 2011 match. Picture courtesy: Youtube (shahzadnandla)
An emotional fan tries to touch Sourav Ganguly’s feet during IPL 2011 match Picture courtesy: Youtube (shahzadnandla)

West Bengal – a state regarded as the hub of cultural activities in India. The state has given India many names who went on to make the nation proud, in various fields like movies, art, music and many more. Cricket in Bengal has also grown remarkably over last few decades, but the state needed a name big enough to inspire. A name that could redefine the way people looked up to the talent in Bengal cricket. Sourav Ganguly became that name: a leader who earned Bengal a permanent place in the history of cricket. READ: Happy Birthday Sourav Ganguly! Former Indian skipper turns 44

Ganguly had that spark in him and it was evident from his very first tour. A lean young cricketer at 24, Ganguly did something that only Mohammad Azharuddin had done before him for the nation— two consecutive centuries since debut. The eyes who were looking up to Ganguly for a good performance were thrilled to see him excel. Ganguly had won every Bengali’s heart with his first stint in whites.

India have been through many dramatic ups and downs as far as cricket is concerned. While it was about surprising the world with the unexpected journey in the 1983 that handed them their first-ever World Cup win, the team probably faced the most disastrous phase while Hansie Cronje accused Mohammad Azharuddin alongside Ajay Jadeja of match-fixing.

Azharuddin, the idol of many, fell overnight. The nation’s cricket fans could hardly see light at the other end. India needed a new face to lead the team. Though there were many, it was that spark in Ganguly that made the men in power put the huge responsibilities of taking the team out of the mess and reinstating it as a giant in world cricket.

With the most powerful figure suddenly gone out of the scene, it was never easy for the team to shrug off the past and move but they did. READ: Sourav Ganguly: 10 things you need to know about the Prince of Kolkata

Since his international debut in 1992 to 2000 — while he was handed the captaincy — Ganguly changed drastically. The player attained a certain maturity that made him the sure choice. He had foreseen that the Men in Blue needed a changeover. The usual image of the team of being very humble needed to be changed. It was time for aggression to take over.

Ganguly was not like the usual Bengalis, or what a non-Bengali makes of a Bengali. Known to be calm and composed, Ganguly proved to be a different type of Bengali — a bit arrogant to a few, the perfect leader with a lot of guts to the rest. His way of captaining the side fearlessly, looking directly into the opponents’ eyes while talking irrespective of how powerful they are — qualities that helped his teammates play comfortably with the pressure and tension reduced.

Ganguly was never afraid of experimenting which resulted in formation of a team full of winning elements. Be it batsmen, bowlers or wicketkeepers — Ganguly tried and tested all the potential options available to find his reliable final squad out. Ganguly’s tenure as captain, hence, is regarded as one of the most productive phase in Indian cricket.

Azharuddin was one of the most loved captains India has ever seen, which changed right after the infamous match-fixing incident. Ganguly turned out to be the knight in the shining armour who took Indian cricket to new heights. After the impact the Azharuddin period had left on the fans, Ganguly created his own legacy. Indians found a brand new leader in their beloved ‘Dada’, who made them believe upon another India captain with unfailing faith. Dadagiri won hearts all over.

Ganguly taught the nation, as well as Bengalis, how to believe in one’s own self, no matter how powerful the opponent be. Right after a phase, which could push Indian cricket to uncertainty, Ganguly stayed strong and guided the team to regain confidence and stand up against the odds. From the jersey-toss at the Lord’s balcony to taking the team to the final of ICC Cricket World Cup 2003 Final, Ganguly became the first ‘bad boy’ of Indian cricket whom the country loved. Someone every Bengali drew inspiration from, and dreamt of becoming like. From being a regular Bengali boy, to becoming the first iconic Bengali cricketer: Ganguly is a dream every Bengali cricket-lover nurtures within.

(Paulami Chakraborty, a singer, dancer, artist, and photographer, loves the madness of cricket and writes about the game. She can be followed on Twitter at @Polotwitts)