Sourav Ganguly: The controversial general

You may call Sourav Ganguly good, bad, or ugly — but you cannot ignore him.

Sourav Ganguly © Getty Images
Sourav Ganguly © Getty Images

The mercurial Sourav Ganguly was born July 8, 1972. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at a man who appeared in various shades in Indian cricket throughout his career.

Note: This article was written in 2012. A lot of numbers have changed since then (not for Ganguly, but for some others mentioned here).

It is difficult for anyone to remain neutral towards Sourav Ganguly: you have to love him or hate him. Indeed, the cricket fraternity is almost entirely composed of people with strong views for or against the man.

He was the man who made Steve Waugh wait for a toss and made his fans inexplicably proud; he was the man who scandalised Lord’s by taking off his jersey to reveal in torso in the Lord’s pavilion voicing his ecstasy; he was the man whose tussle with Greg Chappell was the most talked-about aspect of Indian cricket in the mid-2000s; he led India to their first World Cup final in two decades and yet won just one tournament during his tenure; he led India to a Test win in Australia after 23 years and to a home series defeat against them for the first time in 35 years.

Being from Kolkata adds in to the factors: How does one remember Sourav Ganguly? I vividly remember his First-Class debut. It was a Ranji Trophy final, no less. After Bengal were mauled in the 1988-89 final at Delhi, they had to pull off something special to avenge the defeat and more importantly clinch their second title.

In what seemed like a quirky move, Sambaran Banerjee decided to draft in Sourav Ganguly. The selectors were shocked— surely they could not thrust a 17-year old into the Ranji Trophy final? Sambaran stuck to his opinion — based on the grounds that he [Ganguly] would provide Bengal with the crucial third seamer on a helpful Calcutta pitch. He also provided Sachin Tendulkar’s inclusion as an example.

Ironically, Sourav replaced his elder brother Snehashish, considered by many as the more talented of the two. When something similar happened in the Waugh household over a year later (albeit at the Test level) people in Bengal were not really surprised.

As things turned out, Ganguly bowled only 6 overs on a pitch conducive to seam (the two opening bowlers picked up 3 wickets apiece) and Delhi was bowled out for 278 on Day Two. When Manoj Prabhakar and Atul Wassan reduced Bengal to 20 for 2 a sense of déjà vu had crept in among us huddled in front of the television.

The teenaged Ganguly stepped out and handled the seamers with ease. One can still remember the strokes between cover and point: the ever-dependent Arun Lal smothered the attack, and at close Bengal were 54 for two with Ganguly on 22. He fell on the same score next morning — but the fashion in which he took on Prabhakar left us with little doubt that Bengal’s best batsman had arrived. Arun Lal then guided Bengal to their Ranji Trophy title — and amidst the celebrations Ganguly’s 22 was forgotten.

Little did we know that he would go on to mould Indian cricket in more ways than one in just over a decade’s time.

Thereafter we heard of him only sporadically. There were tales of him bossing around the St Xavier’s cricket team by virtue of his powerful and affluent family. Some people attributed the attitude as authoritative and even ‘regal’ (true to his nickname ‘Maharaj’ — he was yet to be called ‘Dada’) — while some others called him a snob. We got to know that his sixes easily crossed the St Xavier’s grounds and even the adjacent Park Street on a few occasions: they called him a destroyer of spin; others called him weak against bounce. We knew that he had given up a potentially good career in football and took up cricket on the insistence of his brother.

We had no idea what to believe. Thanks to Doordarshan, we did not see him bat a lot since that Ranji Trophy final and we had to fall back on the stories. Today, reflecting at his career, one cannot help but think that the rumours may have been true. The weakness against short-pitched bowling remained as did the lofted drives against spin, especially left-arm spin.

He scored a hundred and picked up four wickets in the Duleep Trophy match against a strong West Zone side next season and scored 74 in the Ranji Trophy quarterfinal against Karnataka (the bowling attack featured Anil Kumble, Javagal Srinath, Venkatesh Prasad, and Raghuram Bhat, and the side also boasted of Syed Kirmani and a certain Rahul Dravid) that Bengal famously won on ‘quotient’ chasing 791.Ganguly had ended the season with 570 runs at 81.42 and 20 wickets at 38.30. It would certainly not be the last time that Ganguly and Dravid’s paths would cross.

The next year he won a spot in the Indian squad to Australia. He played just one ODI at Gabba scoring a 13-ball three and was completely at sea against the West Indian fast bowlers. He failed in the two tour matches against New South Wales and Queensland, scoring 47 from three innings and not picking up a wicket: he was shelved for over four years.

There were rumours, though, that Ganguly, despite being the newest member of the side, had been arrogant enough to defy his seniors’ orders, even refusing to do his duties as a 12th man. But with time these rumours got quashed and Ganguly began the long hard way up back.
The player

Ganguly had scored 7,212 runs from 113 Tests at 42.17 with 16 hundreds. He had also picked up 32 wickets at 52.53. In ODIs his records were significantly better — 11,363 runs from 311 matches at 41.02 with 22 hundreds and 100 wickets at 38.49 with two five-fors. Just like Sunil Gavaskar, his career batting average never dipped below the 40-mark.

Surprisingly, his domestic records were almost identical: from 254 First-Class matches he scored 15,687 runs at 44.18 with 33 hundreds and picked up 167 wickets at 36.52 with four five-fors; in 437 List A matches he scored 15,622 runs at 41.32 with 31 hundreds and picked up 171 wickets at 38.86 with two five-fors.

Along with Sachin Tendulkar, Dravid, VVS Laxman, and Virender Sehwag, he is often considered a part of the ‘Fab Five’ of Indian cricket in the 2000s: where does Ganguly stand in the quintet? Was he really a part of the league — on the same boat as the others?
The following table is somewhat self-explanatory:

Table 1: Batting records of ‘Fab 5’

Career Career (excluding Ban, Zim) Away (excluding Ban, Zim)
R Ave R Ave R Ave
Sachin Tendulkar 15,387 53.86 14,099 51.08 7,645 52.00
Rahul Dravid 13,265 52.63 11,726 50.11 6,632 51.41
VVS Laxman   8,781 45.97   8,384 46.32 4,648 42.64
VVS Laxman (not as opener)   8,096 48.47   7,699 49.03 4,233 48.95
Virender Sehwag   8,503 49.43   8,151 49.70 3,569 45.17
Sourav Ganguly     7,212   42.17     6,311   41.24   3,447  41.03
Disclaimer: Away matches include matches played on neutral venues
Disclaimer: matches for ICC World XI have been excluded

Ganguly’s numbers had deteriorated substantially as a captain. In fact, he has not batted as poorly under any other captain.

Table 2:Ganguly as captain and otherwise

R Ave
as captain 2,561 37.66
not as captain 4,651 45.15
under Mohammad Azharuddin 1,000 52.63
under Sachin Tendulkar 1,505 41.80
under Rahul Dravid   746 41.44
under Anil Kumble 1,086 43.44
under MS Dhoni      314   62.80

In fact, Ganguly’s stature in the Indian batting line-up has varied substantially during his leadership as opposed to the leadership of others.

Table 3: The three stages of Ganguly’s career

R Ave
pre-captaincy 2,055 45.55
as captain 2,561 37.66
post-captaincy   2,146   44.71

In ODIs, though, Ganguly had been one of the greats of the sport and still stands at sixth on the all-time list in terms of runs and fourth in terms of hundreds. Other than Tendulkar, Sanath Jayasuriya, and Jacques Kallis, Ganguly is the only other one to have reached the double of 10,000 runs and 100 wickets in ODIs.

Other than Viv Richards and Paul Collingwood (who have achieved the feat in the same match) Ganguly is one of the three all-rounders (apart from Yuvraj Singh and Chris Gayle) who have achieved both the all-rounder’s doubles of 50 and 5WI and 100 and 4WI in the same ODI. Other than Tendulkar and Jayasuriya he is the only one to have scored over 20 hundreds and have snared two 5WIs in ODIs.

However, despite his impressive tally of runs, hundreds, and average, Ganguly’s strike rate of 73.7 has not been one of the best in the sport, especially given that Dravid (71.2) and Kallis (73) are typically considered sluggish batsmen.

The following table displays Ganguly’s stature among Indian batsmen with over 7,000 ODI runs. Ganguly’s achievements are obvious from the data, but so is his fallibility in adverse conditions:

Table 4: Indian batsmen with over 7,000 ODI runs

Career Career (Aus, Eng, NZ, Pak, SA, SL, WI) Away (Aus, Eng, NZ, Pak, SA, SL, WI)
Ave SR Score Ave SR Score Ave SR Score
Sachin Tendulkar 44.83 86.23 58.99 43.04 85.24 57.20 40.14 83.05 54.12
Sourav Ganguly 40.95 73.65 52.63 37.97 73.07 47.78 35.89 71.45 47.78
Rahul Dravid 39.15 71.18 50.52 38.61 70.83 49.98 35.85 66.94 46.69
Mohammad Azharuddin 36.92 74.02 49.27 36.35 73.79 48.71 35.78 70.47 47.46
Yuvraj Singh 36.90 87.39 51.89 35.88 85.79 50.60 33.22 83.31 47.50
Virender Sehwag 35.37 104.44 52.84 34.68 102.67 51.85 33.52 100.32 50.25
MS Dhoni   50.63     87.55   64.16   48.77      86.96   62.49   43.58     83.11   57.18
Disclaimer: Away matches include matches played on neutral venues
Disclaimer: matches for ICC World XI, Asia XI, etc are excluded
Disclaimer: The score is the harmonic mean of the average and strike rate

His partnership with Tendulkar at the top of the Indian batting has definitely been one of the features of Indian cricket in the 1990s and 2000s. The pair has put on more runs than any pair in ODI history. Their 176 partnerships have yielded 8,227 runs at 47.55 with 26 century stands (Jayasuriya and Marvan Atapattu are second with 5,462).Ganguly and Tendulkar’s tally only as openers comes to 6,609 from 136 innings at 49.32 with 21 hundred partnerships and they lead this column as well.They have put up three partnerships in excess of 240.

Ganguly had also added 4,363 runs with Dravid from 88 innings at 50.14 with 11 hundred-stands. They form the seventh-most prolific partnership in ODI history. Apart from their world record second-wicket stand of 318 runs they also had a 236-run stand.

The lesser known aspect of Ganguly and Tendulkar’s partnerships is their record in Tests: with 4,173 runs in 71 innings at 61.36 and 12 century-partnerships they rank ninth in the all-time list; of all partnerships with over 4,000 runs they rank second in terms of average — only after Matthew Hayden and Ricky Ponting.

Dream debut

After India’s unexpected exit in the World Cup semi-final in 1996, the selectors looked for options: they brought in Dravid first (albeit for ODIs) and then pooled in Ganguly for the tour of England. He played in the ODI at Old Trafford and scored a solid 46 and made an impression.

Then, after Navjot Sidhu left for home following a rift with Azhar, Ganguly made his debut in the second Test at Lord’s along with Dravid. Four other Indians had made their debut in the first Test at Edgbaston which India lost. Azhar put England in and the hosts were bowled out for 344 in the second afternoon (Ganguly took 3 wickets, for good measure). Coming out at 25 for 1, Ganguly batted till stumps on Day Two with Tendulkar for company. He remained unbeaten on 26.

Conditions were ideal for seam bowling on Day Three; England had a four-pronged seam attack; but Ganguly was up to the challenge, finding the off-side fence with uncannily placed drives (the ‘God of off-side’ tag would come later) — mostly through cover. He lost three of his partners and finally found a reliable partner in Dravid. He eventually drove Dominic Cork through the covers to become the third batsman to score a hundred on debut at Lord’s and his 131 is still the highest score by a debutant at Lord’s. The hundred had taken him 237 balls and he had hit 17 fours.

The form did not stop: Ganguly and Tendulkar found themselves with the score on 33 for two: once again Ganguly played an excellent innings, outdoing his effort at Lord’s. He put on 255 with Tendulkar and went on to score 136 in 268 balls with 17 fours and 2 sixes, thereby becoming the third batsman to score hundreds in his first two Test innings. Still not content he scored a brisk 48 in the second innings.

With Tendulkar also scoring two hundreds in the series and Dravid just missing out (he scored 95 and 84 in his first two innings, falling agonisingly short of his maiden Test hundred) India’s new-looking batting order looked ready for the future. Ganguly was named the Indian Cricket Cricketer of the Year that season.

Love thy neighbour, and more

Soon after his return from England Ganguly eloped with his childhood flame and neighbour Dona Roy, a student of the legendary Kelucharan Mohapatra. Given the feud between the Gangulys and Roys over generations a proper marriage was impossible, which meant that they had to marry secretly. Former Bengal cricketer Malay Banerjee arranged for a marriage registrar and a secret wedding took place at Banerjee’s place on August 12, 1996 with only the most trusted friends present.

Both families turned livid as the news got out – more so because it was an inter-caste marriage. Thankfully the parents eventually saw sense and the couple had a proper wedding reception on February 21, 1997. Dona later went on to become an accomplished Odissi dancer.

Exposed against pace — and a fightback

When Australia toured India for the one-off Test at Delhi Ganguly looked all set for his third hundred in three Tests – a record still held by Azhar. However, when he was on 66, a ball from Brad Hogg took his glove (or wrist just above the glove — the replays remain inconclusive) and the resultant catch was taken, thereby ending his dreams. He finished things off with a 21 not out in the fourth innings. After three Tests, Ganguly’s career tally read 402 runs at 100.50.

It was at Jaipur during the Titan Cup that followed that Ganguly and Tendulkar opened batting for India for the first time. They added 126 but India collapsed after their partnership was broken and lost by 27 runs. However, more significantly, the greatest opening partnership in ODIs had been formed.

Ganguly missed out the first home Test against South Africa at Ahmedabad but played in the second Test at Calcutta — his first match against his home crowd. The furious pace and uncanny bounce of the Proteas took him by surprise and he ended up scoring 86 runs from four innings. He was even booed by his home crowd for his apparent inability to handle pace. The nightmare continued in South Africa where he scored 69 in the first four innings.

He fought back at Wanderers, though: as Dravid scored his first Test hundred — a well-compiled 148 when India were down and dusted in the series — Ganguly supported him ably with 78. In the second innings, too, he played second fiddle with 60 to Dravid’s 81.

Thereafter Ganguly scored 3 hundreds (147 at SSC, 109 at Mohali, and 173 at Bombay) in a span of 4 Tests against Sri Lanka; in between came a 99 at Nagpur. In the Bombay Test he hit one of the most humongous sixes Wankhede has ever witnessed — a lofted drive off Kumar Dharmasena that easily cleared the stadium. During this phase he also scored 113 at Premadasa — his maiden ODI hundred — when nobody else crossed 28.

In between the two series, however, was sandwiched the Sahara Cup of 1997 — the highest point in the career of Sourav Ganguly the ODI all-rounder.

Sahara Cup 1997

The annual bilateral ODI series against Pakistan at Toronto was supposed to consist of five matches but after the third match got called midway off a sixth was named as replacement. Ganguly scored 222 runs in the series at 55.50 and picked up 15 wickets at 10.67 from the 6 ODIs. Though ten other men have managed to score 200 runs and take 15 wickets in an ODI series or tournament none of them have achieved it in as few as 6 matches. He picked up two or more wickets every innings he bowled in and won the Man of the Match awards four consecutive times.

Of the 11 Ganguly is the only one to have had a sub-15 bowling average. Also, the other ten cases have either been in World Cups or on Australian soil. In the process he returned figures of 10-3-16-5 in the fourth ODI — his first five-for and eventually his career-best figures.

Toronto to Taunton

Toronto had established Ganguly as one of the leading ODI cricketers. Indeed, not only was his partnership with Tendulkar at the top of the order a peerless one, he also started to contribute with the ball. The form extended to the longer version as well. He shared the new ball at Calcutta with Javagal Srinath in the 1997-98 Australia Test and picked up three for 28, following up with an innings of 65 and put up an unbeaten 194-run partnership with Dravid at Hamilton to draw a Test; but the more grand performances came in the shorter version.

First came Karachi: chasing 266 in 47 overs India lost Tendulkar early but Ganguly kept the match alive with a violent 96-ball 89 before the middle-order pulled off the match — the finishing act providing by a Rajesh Chauhan six that came out of nowhere.

Then came Dhaka: the final was a best-of-three affair where India clashed with Pakistan in their third series in six months. Pakistan piled up 314 for 5, asking India to pull off a world record 315 in 48 overs.

It was one of the greatest chases ever: Tendulkar succumbed after an initial 26-ball blizzard of 41 but the surprise move to push Robin Singh up to three worked. Ganguly eventually fell for a 138-ball 124 and Hrishikesh Kanitkar brought up the winning runs with a single ball to spare.

In 14 matches against Pakistan over six months Ganguly had scored 658 runs at 59.82 and had picked up 16 wickets at 18.75: India had managed to turn the decade-long trend.

There were other moments of glory, like the world record 252-run Singer-Akai Nidahas Trophy in Sri Lanka with Tendulkar (they would break the partnership themselves in a few years). Just before the World Cup Ganguly scored 130 and picked up four for 21 against Sri Lanka, and looked all set for the tournament.

Ganguly began well with a well-compiled 97 against South Africa at Hove. Much had been said about his weakness against pace — and there had been suggestions to send the specialist Sadagoppan Ramesh out to open with Tendulkar — but Ganguly managed to silence his critics with the innings. India lost the match and lost the subsequent one at Leicester against Zimbabwe.

After a convincing win against Kenya India moved to Taunton to face Sri Lanka.Ramesh fell in the first over with the team score on 6; the rest was history: Ganguly and Dravid put on the first ever 300-run partnership in ODI history. The two added 318 runs 269 balls, and even after Dravid fell for a 129-ball 145 Ganguly marched on.

The County Ground was too small to contain Ganguly in his pomp: he hit 17 fours and seven sixes, went past Kapil Dev’s 175* and set a new Indian record, and eventually fell for a 158-ball 183 trying to break Saeed Anwar’s record of 194. India won by plenty and were back in the tournament.

He scored another crucial 40 and picked up three wickets against England to lift his side to the Super Sixes. However, India did not make it to the semi-final and crashed out of the World Cup.

Captain of India: First stint

Ganguly’s captaincy debut came in a rain-curtailed 30-over match against West Indies at Singapore. With both Tendulkar and Ajay Jadeja injured Ganguly was asked to lead a depleted India (that contained six left-handed batsmen for the first time for an Indian side).

He got a longer stint later that year at Toronto against West Indies. The new captain led India to a 2-1 series victory and won hearts by asking “can I call up my boys?” during the final presentation.

Slowly, surely, with Jadeja’s spot in the Test side being under scrutiny, Ganguly emerged as the vice-captain of the Indian side. In between he scored a phenomenal 153 not out against New Zealand at Gwalior — an innings many of his fans consider his best in the shorter version. He scored 153 out of 261 team runs (a whopping 58.6%). The most majestic stroke came off Chris Cairns when a yorker was hit out outside the boundary-line disdainfully.

The mantle, finally

After the debacle in Australia the selectors preferred Ganguly over Jadeja as Tendulkar’s deputy. However, after South Africa pulled off a close match against India Azhar was recalled for the second and final Test at Bangalore.

Dark shadows of match-fixing were already looming heavily on the Indian cricket team. There had been a rift between Azhar, the prime suspect, and Tendulkar, accepted by most as the great embodiment of integrity in Indian cricket — the two men who had defined Indian batting in the 1990s more than anyone else. Tendulkar had already voiced his displeasure at Azhar’s selection. Despite Azhar’s majestic 102 (with his team and the crowd opposing his presence in the side) India lost by an innings.

When selectors named Azhar in the subsequent ODI squad Tendulkar resigned in protest: the great man had probably wanted Ganguly and the other seniors to support him. Instead, Ganguly assumed the role as the captain of India. A few years later Ganguly would criticise Dravid for doing exactly the same — but we will come to that later.

To his credit, Ganguly managed to lead India to a tight 3-2 win in the series. There were speculations that there were several fixed matches, but Ganguly marshalled his troops quite capably on field — the most significant part of which was handling Tendulkar and Azhar simultaneously.

Captain of India

Ganguly began his tenure rather poorly, not being able to take India to the final of the Coca-Cola Cup in Sharjah or the Asia Cup in Bangladesh that followed. However, when India resumed cricket after a gap of four months the suspected players (Azhar, Jadeja, and Nayan Mongia, among others) were not in the side anymore.

Ganguly’s India toppled Australia and South Africa in the 2000 Champions Trophy knock-out matches but lost in the final to give New Zealand their only major trophy till dat — even after India had New Zealand at 132 for five when they were chasing 265 for a victory.

Ganguly had by now led India in three series — failing to win a single one. The good news was the fact that his first Test as captain would be against Bangladesh — who would be playing their first Test.It was not easy, though: Bangladesh, defying the low expectations, piled up 400 in the first innings; it took a superlative performance from Sunil Joshi (92 and eight wickets) to win the match from there.

Despite a bold declaration in against Zimbabwe at Delhi (Ganguly closed the innings only 36 runs ahead) resulting in a win India did not manage to bowl out Zimbabwe twice at Nagpur. Andy Flower seemed impossible to get out and Ganguly looked clueless on field against his masterful display against the spinners.
Defending the final frontier

The critics did not give India a chance when Australia toured India. Ganguly had recently failed to win a Test against Zimbabwe whereas the Australians had won 15 matches on the trot. Things looked worse when India were mauled at Mumbai despite Tendulkar’s brilliant batting; Ganguly’s strange tactics to ask Tendulkar to bowl with Australia on 99 for five were criticised; despite Harbhajan Singh’s hat-trick Australia were allowed to reach 445 from 269 for eight at Kolkata; and India were asked to follow-on.

Then the turnaround happened. On John Wright’s insistence Ganguly sent VVS Laxman to bat at number three: one of the most talked-about rearguard actions happened, and Harbhajan and Tendulkar bowled India to a historical victory. India then clinched a thriller at Chennai thanks to Harbhajan and Tendulkar, and India won one of the most amazing series ever.

Ganguly was hailed a hero, but a closer look would reveal that the series was won on the individual performances of four men — Laxman (503 runs at 83.83), Dravid (338 runs at 56.33), Tendulkar (304 runs at 50.67), and Harbhajan (32 wickets at 17.03). Nobody else averaged over 30 for India with the bat or picked up more than five wickets with the ball, and it could hardly be called a team effort.

The fans also hailed him for making Steve Waugh wait at the toss deliberately, mentioning that it was an excellent display of sportsmanship rarely seen on field. However, years later, Ganguly confessed on the Bengali talk show Dadagiri (which he hosted) that it was not international: he simply had misplaced his blazer which had delayed his arrival at the ground. The incident had managed to annoy Waugh, though: he mentioned in his autobiography that Ganguly had done it to ‘wound up’ Waugh.

The ‘Bengal Tiger’ roars

After the series, however, there was no doubt about Ganguly’s place at the mantle. Incidents like being unable to win a series in Zimbabwe did not matter, and neither did the series loss against Sri Lanka. The second Test at Galle, however, would be remembered for his superlative 98 not out.

India had conceded a lead of 42 but had managed to hold Sri Lanka down at 157 for nine. Muttiah Muralitharan then played the innings of his life — a 67-ball 65 — to lift the Indian target to 264: it was a daunting ask against Murali, especially with Tendulkar and Laxman out due to injuries.

Ganguly strode out at 103 for 2 to join Dravid; the duo added 91 in 157 balls to lift India somewhat, and then Ganguly added 71 with Mohammad Kaif in 101 balls to finish the match in no time. Not only was Murali defied, he was mastered as well, and was taken for nearly four runs an over.

India lost the series as mentioned above, and were then beaten in South Africa — a series mostly remembered for the suspensions Mike Denness dished out to the Indian cricketers. They won the home series against England — but it was a victory that could hardly be called comprehensive.

The next season India toured West Indies and won at Queen’s Park Oval, but West Indies fought back fiercely to win at Kensington Oval and Sabina Park to clinch the series. Ganguly had by now won Tests in five overseas countries — but had managed to win a series only in Bangladesh.

India, however, managed to win the ODI series in West Indies, triggering off an amazing run of ODI successes that season.

The only tournament he won

India reached England without a lot of expectation from the fans. They dominated their way to the final of the tournament to meet the hosts, but once again things looked hopeless as England piled up 325 for three.

Ganguly and Virender Sehwag then launched a thunderous assault, showing utter disdain for the England seamers. He had scored 89 from 6 innings in the tournament but now he came to his elements: 100 came up in no time and when Ganguly eventually fell for a 43-ball 60 India were way on track.

After a collapse Yuvraj and Kaif added 121 runs to pull off an amazing victory which led Ganguly to celebrate at Lord’s in the most outrageous of fashions. The conservative Lord’s was stunned. Indian cricket fans had never seen anything similar previously. He later donated the shirt to a store in London.

Sourav Ganguly: Controversial, candid and combative, he was general that changed the face of India cricket

Photo courtesy: Wikipedia.

Despite the highs the Test series began on a negative note with a comprehensive thrashing at Lord’s. It was some superlative batting from Dravid, Tendulkar, and Ganguly followed by a dogged fight by young Parthiv Patel that saved them at Trent Bridge.

At Headingley, though, Ganguly picked two spinners under overcast conditions and went for the only option he had — to bat first to give his spinners a fair chance. Dravid, in a gritty display of determination, concentration, and technique, carved out what was arguably the innings of his life, Tendulkar scored a dominant 193, and Ganguly provided the finishing touches with a delightful 128, hitting Ashley Giles for three sixes in an over.

The spinners bowled India to an innings victory. Dravid scored a double-hundred at The Oval, and India returned with the series levelled 1-1. It was the sixth overseas country where Ganguly had won a Test, the only series victory coming in Bangladesh.

India reached the final of the Champions Trophy but a washout ensured that the trophy would be shared jointly by India and Sri Lanka. India, however, completely blown away by the New Zealand seam attack in both Tests and ODIs: the morale of the Indian team wasn’t exactly on a high as they went to the World Cup.
Rising like a phoenix

India had a nightmare start to the World Cup: Netherlands pushed them hard (India did not last 50 overs) and Australia beat them by nine wickets. Back home the volatile fans stoned and tarred the players’ residences: the team they had supported — albeit blindly — had turned them down.

India clawed back: the three seamers, Srinath, Zaheer Khan, and Ashish Nehra bowled admirably, and Tendulkar batted head and shoulders above everyone else in the tournament. Ganguly, too, did his bit — finishing second on the runs tally (though he finished 208 runs behind Tendulkar) — but his contribution was restricted to the associate nations:

Table 5: Ganguly in World Cup 2003

M R Ave SR 100s
Against Test nations 7 127 18.14 70.6  –
Against associate nations 4 338 338.00 87.8 3
Total      11           465          58.12         82.3          3     

India reached the final, but Ganguly erred by putting Australia in at Wanderers: the Indian seamers, especially Zaheer, was a bundle of nerves that day; Ricky Ponting and Damien Martyn massacred the bowlers and India went on to lose by a whopping 125 runs.

Down Under and more

After failing to beat New Zealand at home India set sail for Australia. Australia had the weakest bowling attack in years — missing their champions Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne. Their other two stars, Jason Gillespie and Brett Lee, were also available only sporadically throughout the series, which meant that the Indian batsmen made merry on a sun-baked Australian summer.

Indeed, Dravid scored a career-best 233 at Adelaide (topping 300 in the Test); Sehwag made merry and threw it away when he looked like taking it away at Melbourne; Laxman scored big hundreds at Adelaide and Sydney; Tendulkar scored a chanceless career-best 241 not out at Sydney (once again, topping 300 in the Test); but the first of them all came from Ganguly: he scored 144 and added 146 with Laxman for the fifth wicket.

However, yet again, India won an overseas Test under Ganguly but had failed to clinch the series. India moved to Pakistan, and with Ganguly sitting out nursing an injury Dravid led India to their first ever victory on Pakistan soil. It came at the cost of a controversy, though.

With Tendulkar advancing — albeit at a slower pace than desired – towards his 200 Dravid declared the innings closed at 675 for five with Tendulkar on 194. Faisal Shariff wrote on Rediff: “Sourav Ganguly signalled the declaration before stand-in captain Rahul Dravid waved to [Sachin] Tendulkar to return to the pavilion.” However, Ganguly later changed the version, calling it ‘a mistake’.

India lost the second Test but won the third Test at Rawalpindi to clinch their first ever series in Pakistan (thanks to Dravid’s magnum opus of 270) and all was forgotten. That year Ganguly was awarded the Padma Shri.

The decline

Then came the decline, and it came too fast for comfort. India lost a series against Australia after 35 years; they managed to beat South Africa at home but could not defend its home series against Pakistan: Abdur Razzaq and Kamran Akmal defied them at Mohali and the Pakistani spinners won the Bangalore Test for them.

The Indians, especially Ganguly, were booed by the crowd during the awards ceremony; the same crowd, in an uncharacteristic display that was unthinkable even five years back, cheered everything the Pakistan captain Inzamam-ul-Haq said. Things looked ominous for Ganguly and his team.

His own form did not help. As India kept on losing Tests and ODIs Ganguly’s form had plummeted to an all-time low. Since the victory in Pakistan till the end of the Pakistan series at home he managed only 204 runs at 20.40 – in other words, worse than the bowlers:

Table 6: Ganguly’s dip in Test form — May 2004 to September 2005

M R Ave
Parthiv Patel 3 156 31.20
Anil Kumble 9 198 24.75
Irfan Pathan 6 188 23.50
Dinesh Karthik 6 207 23.00
Sourav Ganguly     7     204 20.40

The scene was not very different in ODIs either. Ganguly scored 487 runs from 21 matches at 25.63 with a strike rate of 63.2, and ended up below both Kumble and Zaheer in terms of averages.

His much talked-about extra-marital relationship with the actor Nagma (something that the Ganguly household had vehemently opposed) had already come to an end just before this phase. Nagma herself had mentioned in an interview to Savvy:”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.”

She had added: “When it becomes too much, it starts affecting the interest of one another. Then slowly, though you’re supposed to bring happiness to a person’s life, you bring misery. Then it’s in the best interests to move on. Love and respect for each other will remain.”

Chappell arrives

Greg Chappell and Ganguly were not strangers to each other before the former’s appointment as India’s coach in 2005. During his tour Down Under Ganguly had sought the advice of the legendary Australian on how to improve his performance. Ganguly scored the aforementioned 144 at Brisbane after the session. The grateful student even wrote the foreword to Chappell’s book Greg Chappell on Coaching,and happily admitted that “I have no hesitation in saying he has made a significant contribution to my batting. He suggested a few mental and technical adjustments and they must have been good.”

Chappell would go on to call Ganguly “a fine batsman (who) had trouble with the ball rising into the line of his body… he was extremely likeable and an excellent student.”Things turned around in less than two years.

Soon after his initial interaction with the captain as the team coach Chappell said “This was a very different Sourav from the positive, ambitious young man I’d met in Australia. This Sourav was full of self-doubt and caught up in his own struggle for survival.” He added that “he didn’t want a coach… he wanted a political ally.” But more on that will follow later.

When India toured Sri Lanka in 2005 Ganguly was facing a four-match suspension and Dravid was appointed captain. However, Ganguly was not reinstated as captain when the ban was over, and he was made to play under the leadership of Dravid. This was the first time he played for India under someone else since the South Africa ODIs of early 2000. The tournament under Dravid passed without much fuss.

Murky. Very murky

The drama began on the Zimbabwe tour. With Ganguly back at the helm India easily went past Zimbabwe but lost to New Zealand in the final. Then came the Mutare match where Zimbabwe Board XI declared at 294 for nine. The score was a comfortable 382 for 3 when Ganguly walked out to bat.

Chappell later wrote: “Sourav batting when the second new ball became due, decided to walk off after four overs. He was retiring hurt, but appeared to have no injury. I suggested he go for an MRI scan, but he declined. He was, in my view, simply frightened of a failure before the Test series.”Ganguly had apparently felt a ‘click in his elbow’.

Ganguly had probably been paranoid of his failure; however, the captain’s reluctance to encounter pace did little to boost the team’s morale. Chappell added: “When the danger had passed, he asked Kumble to retire so that he could go back in. Admirably, Kumble ignored him. The next day, I asked some of the team about Sourav’s antics, and they said it had been going on for years.”

Chappell later wrote in that ‘infamous’ email to the BCCI — the one that ‘somehow’ made its way to the press: “When we arrived in Bulawayo I decided I needed to ask Sourav if he had over-played the injury to avoid the danger period of the new ball as it had appeared to me and others within the touring party that he had protected himself at the expense of others. He denied the suggestion and asked why he would do that against such a modest attack. I said that he was the only one who could answer that question.”Ganguly eventually returned when the ball was 20 overs old and scored 46.

After this match Chappell asked Ganguly to step down and drop himself from the side despite the fact that Tendulkar had ruled himself out of the tour: “I felt we had to pick Kaif and Yuvraj following their good form in the one-day series and that Sehwag, Gambhir, Laxman and Dravid had to play. He said that his record was better than Kaif and Yuvraj and that they had not proved themselves in Test cricket. I countered with the argument that they had to be given a chance to prove themselves on a consistent basis or we would never know. I also said that their form demanded that they be selected now.”

Afterwards Laxman had come up to Chappell questioning whether the coach wanted him out of the side. When Chappell asked Laxman he had to confess that he had got the piece of information from Ganguly. At 6.00 pm that day Chappell arranged for a meeting with both Ganguly and Laxman where the captain could never explain the allegations properly.

Ganguly, however, threatened that he would pull out of the tour had he not received unequivocal support. It took some coaxing from Chappell and Dravid to stop him from doing something so drastic. Thus retaining his place Ganguly came out to bat at 228 for 3 after Zimbabwe were bowled out for 279 at Bulawayo. He scored a painstaking hundred — his first since the Brisbane 144. He eventually fell for 101 in 262 balls after batting for six hours. India won comfortably and Ganguly was retained.

India won the next Test at Harare, clinching the series. A lot was made in the press for India ‘winning a series outside Asia after 21 years’. Things did not look rosy for Ganguly, though. Greg King’s reports consistently mentioned that the captain did the least fitness training.

The worst bit came towards the conclusion of Chappell’s email: “This team has been made to be fearful and distrusting by the rumour mongering and deceit that is Sourav’s modus operandi of divide and rule. Certain players have been treated with favour, all of them bowlers, while others have been shunted up and down the order or left out of the team to suit Sourav’s whims.” Chappell added: “It is time that all players were treated with fairness and equity and that good behaviours and attitudes are rewarded at the selection table rather than punished.”

Ganguly went on to say that Chappell had arrived with some ‘personal vendetta’ against him but was surprisingly quiet on exactly what they were.

Several of the juniors, however, showed immense respect towards Chappell’s tenure and have acknowledged his influence on the formation of the careers. Suresh Raina, for example, said: “Greg Chappell always ensured that youngsters get their due in the Indian team, and it is because of him only that the likes of RP Singh, Dhoni, Murali Kartik, and others were able to play in the Indian team.”

The axing

BCCI, for once, saw sense. Probably as a response to Chappell’s email the selection panel, headed by Kiran More, decided to drop Ganguly for the ODIs against Sri Lanka. Even after India took a 4-0 lead and a fresh team was announced for the last three matches Ganguly was not recalled. The team, meanwhile, returned to its winning ways under Dravid.

Ganguly was recalled for the Test series as a batting all-rounder despite a bowling average of over 50. He was preferred to the seamer Zaheer in a decision that defied logic completely. Ganguly was preferred ahead of Yuvraj in the first Test (Tendulkar had returned by now).

Ganguly failed in the first Test at Chennai and the stage was set for Yuvraj to return at Delhi. However, Sehwag pulled out of the Test owing to an illness and both Ganguly and Yuvraj played. After India won the Test by a huge margin More announced that Ganguly would be replaced by Kaif in the squad.

The drama continued as Dravid pulled out of the third Test, resulting in Sehwag to lead and leaving a blank spot. India, however, played Kaif and Ganguly was not recalled. India won by an even bigger margin to clinch the series.

Meanwhile, protests started, especially in Kolkata. Chappell’s face was used as the face Mahisasura— the demon villain of Durga Puja; effigies of Chappell were burned on the streets; roads were blocked; and the cause was escalated by Federal Parliamentarians to Lok Sabha.

Ganguly was omitted for the home ODI series against South Africa. Eden Gardens supported South Africa in the ODIs almost unanimously, and the uproar that went up as Charl Langeveldt hit Dravid’s timber had put this columnist, who was present at the ground, to shame.

India surrendered meekly on a green-top wicket to a 10-wicket defeat, much to the joy of the hostile Kolkata crowd who applauded every stroke by Graeme Smith and Andrew Hall throughout the South African innings. Meanwhile, Ganguly, back to domestic cricket, scored 159 on the same day (after picking up 5 for 75) against Maharashtra at Pune; the Eden Gardens scoreboard kept on flashing updates from the match — something they have never done during an international match — amidst raucous cheer from the crowd.

Things went worse as the crowd booed Chappell with banners and posters in front of the team coach. Chappell retaliated by displaying his middle finger at the mob, which made it to the news the next day amidst angry responses.

It took Dravid immense mental strength to square the series at Mumbai with a gutsy 78 not out against a high-quality four-pronged seam attack. Ganguly, however, managed to retain his A-grade BCCI contract while Yuvraj and Kaif had to be content with B-grade ones.

As an outcome More decided to drop Ganguly from the squad to Pakistan. Subsequently, a very fast series of events took place. To quote The Hindu from December 21, 2005, “Former Indian captain Sourav Ganguly flew down here [New Delhi] on Tuesday to meet BCCI President Sharad Pawar to present his case in the wake of the recent developments concerning his ouster from the team.”

After a discussion with Ganguly and agreeing to an independent enquiry, Pawar apparently talked to ‘a few senior cricketers’ of the Indian team, who said that Ganguly’s presence did not hamper the dressing-room environment.

The path of return was now clear for Ganguly. It did not really matter to him that he had ditched his one-time mentor Jagmohan Dalmiya and had sided with the latter’s rival Pawar.

On December 25, 2008, Mumbai Mirror called the entire incident a ‘cheap paperback thriller’ and wrote: “Pawar, the new boss of Indian cricket, has achieved three important goals in one shot by orchestrating Ganguly’s latest restoration:

– He has finished the Jagmohan Dalmiya threat, perhaps once and for all, by taking over the mantle of Ganguly’s saviour and silencing all the voices that were saying the sacking was part of a political vendetta;
– He has managed to show new coach Greg Chappell, the selectors, and other board members that, despite all the heavyweights in the BCCI, he is indeed the boss;
– He has taken the heat off himself, raised in Kolkata by Ganguly’s torch-bearing fans, and by the Left front in Parliament.”

As a result Ganguly replaced Kaif in the tour to Pakistan once again as batting all-rounder. More issued a statement that the recall was not due to any external reason. Dravid opened the batting with Sehwag (something Ganguly had refused to do in Zimbabwe) to accommodate Ganguly a slot and to accommodate an extra bowler at Faisalabad. Ganguly did not do much of note and was dropped for good.

Years later Ganguly vented out his fury on Dravid on the ground that the latter did not speak up to Chappell and the selectors and had accepted the offer to lead India. The fact that Ganguly had not protested himself when Tendulkar had stepped down as a protest against Azhar’s inclusion was conveniently forgotten; as mentioned above Ganguly had assumed the post without a fuss.

The attack had come out of the blue — just when the entire nation was basking in the brilliance of Dravid’s Don Bradman oration, a speech that had impressed the entire cricket world. It was also timed just before a demoralised India’s tour of Australia.

Few people had questioned Dravid’s credibility or integrity before or after the allegation, and of the two it was certainly not Dravid whose image took a toll after the incident. Ganguly has, and will still have his fans — possibly taking a dig at Dravid with an enthusiasm to match their celebrations after Dravid’s aforementioned dismissal off Langeveldt at Eden Gardens — but years ahead, time will probably not be as kind to him for his attitude.

Was it because Dravid was not at fault when Ganguly had lost his place in the side? Was it because Ganguly had been the blue-eyed boy when his career had taken off and Dravid a second hero, only to see the roles swapped— both on field and off it — as time passed? One can only speculate.

The comeback

India progressed well for the next season, as did Ganguly at domestic level. While India thrashed Pakistan, England, and West Indies in ODI series and became the first Asian side to win a series in West Indies in 35 years Ganguly played brilliantly in the 2005-06 domestic season, scoring 521 runs at 52.10 and picking up 19 wickets at 19.31.

Ganguly eventually made his comeback during Dilip Vengsarkar’s tenure as Chairman of Selectors. Playing against The Rest (that included Nantie Hayward and Morne Morkel among others) on the South African tour of 2006-07 he scored a defiant 141-ball 83 at Potchefstroom, adding 139 with Irfan Pathan to lift India from 69 for 5.

Ganguly had changed his technique and had adapted to a middle-stump guard. Chappell, impressed by Ganguly’s improvement and application, was all in praise: “It was a smart move. It showed that he had applied his mind and come up with the right method to overcome the conditions. He looks calm, relaxed, very fit. He looks like he’s worked hard on aspects of his game. He’s applying both mind and method and that’s showing.”

The comeback began at New Wanderers. Coming out at 110 for 4 Ganguly top-scored with 51 and guided India to 249. India dominated the rest of the Test thanks to a lifetime performance from S Sreesanth and a wonderful innings from Laxman, going on to win their first Test in South Africa. However, they lost the series 1-2.Ganguly scored 66 and (after he was promoted to four) 46 in the last Test at Newlands, and was back in business.

Ganguly’s greatest year

Soon afterwards Ganguly made a comeback to the ODI side: in the seven ODIs against West Indies and Sri Lanka at home Ganguly scored 347 runs at 69.40 and won the Man of the Series award against Sri Lanka. Despite India’s early exit (and shock defeat against Bangladesh at Queen’s Park Oval) in the World Cup Ganguly did well, and then played two quality innings for Asia XI against Africa XI. He had scored 629 runs at 57.18 from 12 matches and looked like the Ganguly of yesteryears.

In all he scored 1,240 runs at 45.96 with 12 fifties from 32 ODIs in 2007 and ended fifth in the world. He also picked up his 100th ODI wicket in his final ODI by trapping Shahid Afridi leg-before.

He also sparkled in the longer version, scoring 102 at Kolkata against Pakistan and then eventually scoring that elusive double-hundred: he bludgeoned his way to a 361-ball 239 and followed it with 91 in the second innings — falling only 14 short of Sunil Gavaskar’s match tally of 344 runs. He also did well in Australia, and ended 2007 with 1,106 runs from 10 Tests at 62.59 with 3 hundreds.

Ganguly’s finest hour

The 87 at Kanpur in 2008 can possibly be considered the greatest innings in Ganguly’s career. After scoring 265 South Africa unleashed a rampant attack consisting of Dale Steyn, Makhaya Ntini, Morne Morkel, and Jacques Kallis. The pitch offered awkward pace and bounce and the batsmen had problems facing the lethal attack.

Steyn, especially, was on fire: the previous week he had bowled out India in a single session. Here, too, he bowled with hostile pace and the pitch did its best to help him. Ganguly, however, was unflinching in his approach, and took India past the South African score, completely oblivious to the wickets tumbling around him.

He was eventually ninth out for a dazzling 119-ball 87 with 9 fours and a six — easily the best performance of the Test. Even Harabhajan’s 7-wicket haul did not stand a chance while choosing the Man of the Match award: the choice was unanimous. Ganguly went on describe the innings as ‘one of the very best’ of his career.

Final days

Ganguly had a miserable series in Sri Lanka. The Indians generally struggled against Murali and Ajantha Mendis and lost the series 1-2. Ganguly scored 96 runs at 16, and subsequently announced that he would retire at the end of the home series against Australia.

He did quite well even in his last essay: after a couple of decent scores at Bangalore he added 142 for the fifth wicket at Mohali and eventually went on to top-score with 102 — his last Test hundred. The hundred turned out to be crucial as India obtained a 201-run lead and went on to clinch the Test.

He scored 85 in the first innings of his last Test at Nagpur, getting out just when it seemed that he would finish his Test career with a hundred just the way he began it with one. He scored a golden duck in his final innings.

The final blow

Ganguly played domestic cricket till the 2011-12 season, scoring 424 at 53.00 in his last season and picking up three for one against Baroda. He also played in IPL, captaining Kolkata Knight Riders and Pune Warriors India. In 2012 he led Bengal to the Vijay Hazare Trophy — his first major trophy win for Bengal.

The final blow came when Kolkata Knight Riders did not retain Ganguly in the 2011 auctions (Dravid was not retained either, but Rajasthan Royals showed interest in him and eventually made him captain of the side; Laxman was acquired by Kochi Tuskers). Sentiment had played a large part in Ganguly’s popularity as player and captain: during the auction he found himself facing a different world — one completely devoid of emotion and nostalgia.

As H Natarajan wrote, “Sourav Ganguly could be the first victim of the corporate culture that is invading Indian cricket through the Indian Premier League. When the cold and calculating czars of the corporate world are flexing their financial muscle, they don’t allow sentiments and emotions to come into the equation.”

It was déjà vu for Ganguly. When ousted by Chappell he still had the opportunity to fight back, what with Pawar fighting his cause, his excellent domestic form the following season, and the lack of proper replacements. This was different, though: the situation could not be modified by power or money — or even by on-field performances anymore; in fact, both power and money were working against him this time.

Ganguly was agitated: “This is not cricket at all. I am surprised that things can go down to a level that a cricketer cannot play in his own country for no fault of his… I was very disappointed the franchises stalled the repurchase. The rules of the IPL have been changed in the past. Every rule in sport should give an opportunity to play, not keep them out — whether it’s Sourav Ganguly today or some other player sometime.”

Natarajan summed it up very aptly in his article: “I’m certain many men who mattered from various teams would have walked up to Ganguly — or will do so in future — to tell him that they fought for his inclusion in their team and that the decision not to bid for him was taken by someone else. Yes, nobody killed Sourav Ganguly! The Royal Bengal tiger has been killed and nobody wants to think he is a poacher. Well, saving the Tiger is nothing more than a slogan in our country!”

Ganguly eventually got a chance to play for Pune Warriors India towards the end of the season. When Yuvraj eventually pulled out of IPL the next year he even got a chance to lead the Warriors. Had IPL had its own version of Graham Gooch he might have gone up and asked Ganguly “who writes your scripts?”

The season turned out to be a damp squib, though — especially the much-hyped ‘revenge’ matches against Kolkata Knight Riders. To make things worse for Ganguly, the Knight Riders ended up winning the tournament after making it to the semi-finals for the first time.


He works as a commentator these days and is usually considered one of the best in business. His outspoken, candid ways have not changed and make frequent appearances through the microphone. The freshness he brings in the commentary box is definitely a welcome break from the clichés the networks have been dishing out to the audience for years now.


As a captain Ganguly finished with 21 wins and 13 defeats from 49 Tests and 76 wins and 65 defeats from 146 ODIs. True, his performances have been somewhat lesser against the stronger oppositions, but he still remains one of the better captains India has ever produced.

Table 7: Top captains of India — Tests (cut-off: 25 Tests)

Career Career (Aus, Eng, NZ, Pak, SA, SL, WI)
MS Dhoni 47 24 12 2.00 46 23 12 1.92
Sourav Ganguly 49 21 13 1.62 38 12 12 1.00
Rahul Dravid 25   8  6 1.33 23   7   6 1.17
Sunil Gavaskar 47   9  8 1.13 47   9   8 1.13
Mohammad Azharuddin    47    14   14   1.00   44   13   13  1.00

Though he easily ranks second among Indian captains his win-loss ratio comes down to fourth – not only after the undisputed Dhoni but also after Dravid and Gavaskar. He still makes it comfortably to the top five.

Table 8: Top captains of India — ODIs (cut-off: 50 Tests)

Career Career (Aus, Eng, NZ, Pak, SA, SL, WI)
MS Dhoni 141 82 48 1.71 131 73 47 1.55
Rahul Dravid   79 42 33 1.27   71 35 32 1.09
Mohammad Azharuddin 174 90 76 1.18 150 70 73 0.96
Kapil Dev   74 39 33 1.18   70 35 33 1.06
Sourav Ganguly   146   76   65   1.17  110   45   60  0.75

Here, too, he easily makes it to the top five.

Love him or hate him, you cannot ignore Geoff Boycott’s ‘Prince of Kaalkuta [Calcutta]’. He may or may not have been the greatest Indian captain — but he was certainly a successful one; and he was one of the best ODI batsmen India has produced. Most importantly, unlike many players before and after him he has managed to acquire a cult status in Indian cricket.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)

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