Former cricketer Sourav Ganguly is considered to be one of the best captains in international cricket. Ganguly’s leadership is often credited for the rise of Indian cricket and heralding a new era as he guided the Men-in-Blue to many memorable wins at home and overseas.
The celebrated Cricketer from Bengal, also called the God of offside, was known for not mincing his words as the captain — an approach that sparked many controversies but also won him plaudits.
Ganguly led the Indian team for the first time on 5 September 1999 in the Coca-Cola Singapore Challenge tournament, against West Indies. Sachin Tendulkar was the team captain then and had been rested due to a sore back. India lost that match by 42 runs.
Ganguly became full-time Indian skipper after batting maestro Sachin Tendulkar gave up captaincy in 2000, the same year when Indian and South African cricketers were accused of taking money to underperform. It was a critical stage for Indian cricket but it was the same phase that gave the game one of its greatest captains.
Speaking at an event in Noida on Thursday, Ganguly recalled the early days of his captaincy, his banter with former Australian skipper Steve Waugh and the first time when he walked in the dressing room as Indian skipper.
Recalling his first time as Indian captain, Ganguly said, “When I first took the Indian captaincy after Sachin gave up, nobody from Bengal had ever captained the Indian team. So as the opportunity came to me I was very happy to be the Indian captain. It was one the best feelings for me as a sportsperson, but at the same time I had a huge complex or a thought process in me saying that you have only captained from a part of the country, you have not captained from another region.” He added: “When I grew up I saw captains from Delhi, Mumbai and Karnataka captaining Indian team but nobody from Bengal. So there was this tremendous desire in me to gain respect among the people of India that there should not be a feeling among people after a couple of months or year ke yarr ye to aisa he captain ban gaya tha, isma dum nahi tha (he became captain by chance, he did not have it in him).”
Dada further explained that the desire to gain respect of people was “deep inside me and I wanted to stand up among all the champions”. Talking about his first team meeting, Ganguly recalled: “When I walked into the coaching it was full of star players — Sachin, Rahul (Dravid), Azhar (Mohammad Azharuddin) and Anil Kumble. Three former captains were sitting in that room and to go there and ask them to play the way you want is never easy.”
As a captain, Ganguly said, “your first match, your first tour is never easy”.
He also speaking about Australia’s India tour of 2001. Already down 0-1 in the Test series, after their loss in Mumbai, India were facing the mighty Australians in the second Test in Kolkata and starting at a defeat again after facing a follow-on. Recalling an incident from the match, Ganguly said: “No one believed that India had the ability to defeat Australia. They had beaten everybody around the world, be it England, South Africa or Sri Lanka. I remember, at the end of third day’s game, I was going back to hotel and I was sitting with my coach John Wright. I said John our time is up, Aussies have beaten us in Mumbai and follow on has been imposed; I don’t see us leading India in near future. But things changed the next day. VVS Laxman and Dravid brought us back into the game. People say miracle does not happen but what happened in that Test was like a miracle.”
During India’s second innings, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman snatched the game away from a formidable Australia as the home team posted a mammoth total of 657 runs for the loss of seven wickets before declaring their innings.
During Australia’s second innings, Ganguly dropped skipper Waugh off Harbhajan Singh’s bowling, and the Aussie made a remark for his Indian counterpart.
“After I dropped Steve, he came up to me and said, ‘you just dropped the catch of your captaincy’. I did not said anything to him because I’d just dropped him. But after the break, Bhaji got him out on his first ball and we won the match.”
Ganguly, who retired in 2008, is considered one of the greatest players of his generation, besides being one of the most successful captains India has produced.