The prince’s glory
What a travesty of justice that he couldn’t finish what he had started at the turn of the new Millennium. Sourav Ganguly could only watch from the comfort of his living room – although I must admit in the same breath that recently retired cricketers seldom watch the game on television – as his former teammates marched on to be crowned as the Number One Test team in the world. There may be many other secondary issues, such as how long will the team remain on top … and whether they are playing far fewer Tests than they should. But the focus is on the one man who dreamt of this day. One man who made the cricket team of India “Team India.” He played such a key role, drove India forward and led from the front to instill a new winning mindset in each and every member of the squad.
The history of Indian cricket is studded with landmark moments, created by exceptional individuals who had the privilege of leading a uniquely diverse set of teammates. Despite some heroic performances, the Indian cricket team did not win a single Test match out of the 20 they played in the 1930s and 1940s. The 1950s marked their first Test win. But that was, expectedly, at home. It was only in the 1960s that Indian cricket registered its first overseas Test match victory, and connoisseurs will be well aware of the impact Mansur Ali Khan ‘Tiger’ Pataudi had, on raising the levels of self belief within the Indian team. Marked by the indomitable Sunil Gavaskar’s performances, the 1970s were quite glorious. But, strangely, India’s overseas win percentage was a dismal 6.67 in the draw-prone. 1980s and a very poor 5.71 through the 1990s, a decade when home Test wins became quite common place.
Clearly, the biggest cricket frontier that was left to be tamed by Indian cricket, was a respectable win percentage in Test matches overseas. For nearly 10 years before the new Millennium, the captains were not only individually gifted, but also had the services of a fine all-round team. Yet, something was obviously missing. Azharuddin was perhaps a touch too introverted and diffident. Tendulkar … well, who knows the ways of a genius? Maybe he felt too weighed down with the nation’s unrealistic expectations of Tendulkar as an individual, and the thought of also having to shoulder the responsibility of the team’s failure was too much to bear. Like the proverbial fairytale then, as the world moved into the new Millennium, the Prince of Kolkata was duly anointed as the new King.
Sourav Ganguly was born for the role. He didn’t even have to tailor a new cloak, leadership was second skin. What helped enormously was the spectacular way he burst onto the Test match arena, with that rare debut century and his swashbuckling ways as an ODI opener. And let us not even go into that “offside” ability, or we’ll never get back on track. As a batsman, he went through the usual highs and lows. As a bowler he could be relied upon to turn his arm over as a slow medium, effecting the odd important breakthrough. But, fielding? Well … what’s the 12th man there for, right? But fielding is, by extension, directly related to work ethic, fitness, athleticism and other very useful traits of a successful modern cricketer. It was this large chink in his regal armour, which was exploited time and again by the powers that be and led to his premature end. In a sense, perhaps he was a victim of being born in the wrong era. Even till the 70s, Sourav’s aversion to the boring, mundane task of fielding would have been easily excused as a privilege extended to the skipper. But the far more athletically demanding limited overs cricket arena had no place to hide. The kingdom flourished, but the King had to go.
Ganguly will forever be remembered for his imperious leadership. For reinforcing the confidence and self-belief of every team member. The process may have taken root thanks to Tiger Pataudi, but the era had changed and Ganguly had the services of polished professionals on the field, coupled with an enormously successful, powerful administration off the field. Up to the point where his leadership, and even his place in the team, was seriously questioned by Greg Chappell, Ganguly was the supreme commander. The seniors in the team were the best in the business and, fortunately for Sourav, not the rebellious type or ambitions for the thorny crown. However, it was the youngsters in the team who clearly benefited the most from Ganguly’s management style. The skipper was upmarket, socio economically able to hold his own. He was cultured and, being verbally adept, unafraid to express his opinions to the global media. Supported by his Board, he was able to engineer a few indiscretions on and off the field. It may have irked the establishment and, particularly the opposition no end, but it added enormously to his legend. Willing to take anyone on, and quick to spread a protective umbrella over his teammates, Sourav Ganguly was rewarded with the ultimate prize … performance.
Having entered 2010, the first decade of the new Millennium has yielded fantastic results. For the first time in the history of Indian cricket, the decade boasts of more Tests wins than losses — 38 to 24, with 35 draws. The home win percentage is still healthy, but away wins are the ultimate barometer of international success. And the Indian team has achieved a superlative high of 33.33 per cent. No surprise then, that the glittering mace symbolising supremacy in cricket is now housed in India. The current Skipper and his deputy received the mace from the ICC Chief, but, if you looked hard enough, you’d be forgiven for spotting Sourav Ganguly’s benign, smiling shadow in the photograph.