Sourav Ganguly, the “Off-Side Maestro”

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ourav Ganguly, the
ourav Ganguly, the "Off-Side Maestro"

Kashif Abdul Razzaq – Karachi

Ganguly knows how to identify talent among players, boost their morale, provide support, and give them freedom. That’s the reason why Ganguly proved to be a successful captain. On Ganguly’s 50th birthday, the renowned Sachin Tendulkar, also known as the ‘Little Master,’ spoke highly of him, using these words of pride. So many titles?

Even today, Ganguly’s admirers call him the ‘Maharaja of Indian Cricket,’ ‘God of the Off-Side,’ ‘Prince of Kolkata,’ and ‘Dada.’ He fearlessly broke the traditions of Indian cricket. He is inherently a lively and vibrant personality. Ganguly is celebrating his 51st birthday on 8th July.

Ganguly is unique in the sense that his admirers have bestowed him with numerous titles throughout his cricketing career.”

The Golden Era of Indian Cricket:Ganguly is a passionate and energetic cricketer who was the most successful captain of the Indian team during his time. He improved Azharuddin’s records and his captaincy from 2000 to 2005 is considered the Golden Era of Indian cricket. The truth is that the next captain, Dhoni, followed Ganguly’s path and led the Indian team to win the World Cup. Ganguly groomed and shaped players like Yuvraj Singh, Sehwag, Gambhir, Nehra, Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh, Dhoni, and others.

If Ganguly hadn’t captained the Indian team, it would have lost its shine after the cricket batting scandal in 2000. It is not an exaggeration to say that Ganguly is the one who rebuilt Indian cricket from scratch, brought it to new heights, motivated young players, and infused new blood into the team. When the Indian team won the World Cup under Dhoni’s captaincy, most of the players were nurtured and polished in Ganguly’s workshop.

From Football to Cricket:
Sourav Ganguly, born on 8th July 1972 in Kolkata, West Bengal, comes from a prominent family of Chandidas and Niroopa Ganguly. He had a passion for football since childhood, but his elder brother Snehashish Ganguly’s influence led him towards cricket.

Initially, his mother Niroopa was not keen on Sourav revolving his life around sports, but with the support of his brother, Sourav received proper training in cricket and emerged as a great player. When Sourav began cricket training, he was a right-handed batsman, but he faced difficulty batting with his right hand. So, he switched to batting with his left hand and practiced diligently to become a left-handed batsman.

As the captain of St. Xavier’s School in Under-15 cricket, Sourav realized that left-handed batting suited him perfectly, and he scored a century against Odisha. In 1989, Sourav was selected for West Bengal’s team, and during the 1990-91 Ranji season, he made a remarkable performance for his team.

An Experimental Initiative:
The Indian team toured Australia under the captaincy of Azharuddin in 1992. Sourav Ganguly made his debut in a one-day match against the West Indies in Gabba, Brisbane.
At the age of 19, Ganguly became the sixth batsman to come out to bat and scored only three runs before getting out, playing alongside experienced players like Kapil Dev and Srikanth.
The first match was a test for Ganguly, where he couldn’t showcase a good performance and due to the competition with senior players, he was dropped from the team after the series.

Another Opportunity in the Indian Team:

Due to Ganguly’s hard work and rigorous training, he had a lot of success in the seasons of the Ranji Trophy in 1993, 1994, and 1995.

Especially in the 1995-96 Duleep Trophy, Ganguly’s 171 runs made him a strong contender for the Indian team.

Afterwards, in the year 1996, Ganguly was selected for the Indian team for the tour of England in a Test series. In the first Test, Ganguly was not given an opportunity, and England secured the victory.

In the second Test, when Navjot Singh Sidhu suddenly returned home, Ganguly opened the innings. He made his debut against England in the Test series and impressed everyone with back-to-back centuries.

Back-to-back centuries in debut Test:

Ganguly made his debut at Lord’s in the second Test and scored a century (131) in his very first match. In the same match, Rahul Dravid also made his debut and scored 95 runs. Ganguly confirmed his selection by scoring 136 runs in the third Test at Trent Bridge.
After Kalli Charn and Lawrence Rowe, Ganguly became the third player to score centuries in both innings of his debut and second Test matches. Not only that, but cricket enthusiasts and critics also praised Ganguly’s finesse, batting style, shots, and well-timed strokes in both Tests and One-Day Internationals. The cricket world began to recognize and celebrate Ganguly.
Ganguly is the only player to win four consecutive Man of the Match awards in the 1997 series against Pakistan. In the 1999 World Cup, his partnership of 318 runs with Dravid against Sri Lanka created a sensation in the cricket world. Ganguly scored 183 runs against Sri Lanka.

The Crown of the ‘Maharaja’ of Indian Cricket:

The year 1999-2000 was the most tainted period in the history of Indian cricket.
Match-fixing allegations were tarnishing world cricket, and the Indian team was also entangled in this storm. Mohammad Azharuddin and Ajay Jadeja faced allegations and were banned.
Match-fixing and spot-fixing had severely damaged the spirit of the “Gentlemen’s Game,” and the passion and interest of cricket fans suddenly dwindled. Cricket’s reputation suffered not only at the international level but also in India.
It was a challenging time when cricket fans in India lost faith, and during this period, Sourav Ganguly was appointed as the captain of the Indian team.

When Ganguly was appointed captain, the Indian team had three main batsmen – Sachin, Ganguly, and Dravid. Yuvraj Singh and Zaheer Khan were in their early days, and in the bowling department, only Venkatesh Prasad seemed promising.
The task of restoring the image of Indian cricket was entrusted to Ganguly, who was handed the responsibility amidst the dark clouds of notoriety.
Ganguly put up a fight against Australia. After taking over the captaincy, the Indian team won a five-match ODI series against South Africa and reached the final of the ICC KnockOut Cup in 2000.
At that time, the Australian team, led by Steve Waugh, was dominating world cricket. They had a record of winning 16 Test matches against any team on their home soil. However, under Ganguly’s leadership, the Indian team defeated the touring Australian team in 2001, breaking their winning streak.
Not only that, during the same series, Ganguly identified and included a young spinner, Harbhajan Singh, in the Indian team. Harbhajan Singh went on to become a hero in the Test series.

Team India, an Experimental Workshop:

Ganguly, as captain, broke conventions and introduced new things, bringing in fresh blood to the team. He dropped experienced wicketkeeper Nayan Mongia and gave opportunities to players like Parthiv Patel as a wicketkeeper-batsman. When Patel also couldn’t perform well, Ganguly took up wicketkeeping.
When Sehwag was not performing well in the middle order, Ganguly’s dramatic decision turned his career and the team’s fortunes around. Ganguly decided to open with Sehwag, which proved to be a brilliant move.
Ganguly vacated his position for Sehwag. It was a big decision in a time when the Sehwag-Ganguly opening partnership was achieving splendid results at the international level. Ganguly left his position in the team’s interest and came to bat at the number three position.
Not only that, when the Indian team was struggling in the middle order, Ganguly tried Irfan Pathan and Dhoni at the third and fourth positions.
In an interview, Sehwag proudly mentioned Ganguly, saying it was Ganguly who proved to the outside world that Dhoni had an undeniable ability in batting.

Memorable NatWest Series:

No one can forget the victory of the West Indies in the Net West Series under the captaincy of Ganguly. During the tour of India, Andrew Flintoff had taken off his shirt at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai to celebrate England’s win.

In response, when the Indian team secured a fantastic performance by Mohammad Kaif and Yuvraj Singh to win the Net West Series against England, Captain Ganguly, standing on the balcony of Lord’s, took off his shirt to celebrate the victory, a moment that is still etched in people’s minds.

After winning the World Cup in 1983, the Indian team could not reach the final of the World Cup until 2003. However, under Ganguly’s leadership, they managed to reach the final of the World Cup in 2003.

But they suffered a bitter defeat in the final against Australia. Almost 20 years after 1983, the Indian team reached the World Cup final under Ganguly’s captaincy. In that series, the shining star Ganguly, as a captain and a batsman, scored 465 runs with three centuries. Winning the World Cup would have been a great achievement for ‘Dada’ as a captain, but Australia’s brilliant performance led to their defeat.

How did the name ‘God of Offside’ come about?

Ganguly’s offside and cover shots were unstoppable for any fielder. The moment the ball made contact with his bat, it raced towards the boundary at lightning speed. Ganguly was adept at playing from both back-foot and front-foot positions on the offside.
Interestingly, it was Rahul Dravid, often referred to as the ‘Wall of India,’ who bestowed the title of ‘God of the Offside’ upon Ganguly, a fact not widely known.

Golden era’ of Ganguly’s captaincy:

During Ganguly’s tenure as the captain of the Indian team, India experienced significant success. Particularly in Test matches between 2000 and 2005, out of 21 domestic Test matches, India won 11 and lost only 3.

Overall, Ganguly captained 49 Tests, winning 21 and losing just 13. In domestic ODIs, India won 18 and lost 18 out of 36 matches. Under Ganguly’s leadership, India played 51 matches abroad, winning 24 and losing 24. In 146 ODI matches, India achieved 76 victories and suffered 65 defeats. It is noteworthy that under Ganguly’s captaincy, the Indian team’s overall Test and ODI win percentage exceeded 50%.

However, after the 2003 World Cup, Ganguly’s form declined, leading to his exclusion from the team, and the captaincy was handed over to Rahul Dravid. Nevertheless, it was Ganguly who deserves credit for rejuvenating the stagnant image of the Indian team. Though the team didn’t secure any ICC trophies under his leadership, Ganguly made significant contributions by introducing several young players, fast bowlers, and spinners to the Indian team.

Thanks to Ganguly’s captaincy and the reforms he introduced, the Indian team transformed its performance in the international arena, and it now stands strong, with a World Cup victory to its name.

Greg Chappell and Ganguly:

Greg Chappell’s tenure as the coach of the Indian team has been heavily criticized by several former players, who consider it a dark era. The conflict between Chappell and Ganguly, in particular, had a detrimental impact on Ganguly’s batting performance. Chappell’s email to the BCCI, containing allegations against Ganguly, caused significant trouble for the player. The BCCI attempted to mediate between both parties, but the incident led to a decline in Ganguly’s form, ultimately resulting in his exclusion from the team. In response, Ganguly shifted his focus to domestic matches and Ranji Trophy.

However, after being out of the team, Ganguly made a strong comeback after a span of 10 months. His natural form in the Test series against South Africa earned him a place in the ODI series and the 2007 World Cup. Ganguly’s remarkable double century in the Test series against Pakistan in 2007 brought him back to top form, delighting fans.

Despite his fame and success, Ganguly decided to retire from international cricket after the Test series against Australia in 2008. Notably, he played a role in appointing Anil Kumble as the coach of the Indian team following Christen’s tenure. Unfortunately, Kumble’s coaching stint was short-lived due to various reasons.

Later, when Ganguly assumed the role of BCCI president, he initiated significant changes that marked a new era for Indian cricket. He emphasized day-night Test matches, increased players’ salaries, raised Ranji Trophy players’ earnings, and focused on the development of women’s cricket, leading Indian cricket into a positive direction.

Ganguly’s records:

In 311 ODIs played for the Indian team, Sourav Ganguly showcased his brilliance, amassing an impressive total of 11,363 runs, which included 32 centuries and 72 fifties. His contributions extended to the Test format, where he accumulated 7,212 runs in 113 matches, comprising 16 centuries and 32 fifties. Beyond his batting prowess, Ganguly also showcased his skills as a medium-fast bowler, securing 100 wickets in international matches.

One of Ganguly’s remarkable achievements was his unforgettable innings of 255, a significant overseas knock that continues to be cherished by cricket enthusiasts to this day. His partnerships with fellow players resulted in 7000 runs being scored collectively in 136 matches. Notably, he achieved 26 century partnerships and 44 fifty-plus partnerships during his illustrious career.

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