Players are in abundance, but to find leaders, you have to dig deep. If there’s anything Indians preach after their religion, it is Cricket. If there is anyone needed to be credited for this, after Kapil Dev and Sachin Tendulkar, it is Sourav Ganguly, also known as Dada.
The Royal Bengal Tiger’s fierceness on the field was visible from the very look of his eyes. With every bit of effort invoked into taking the team higher on the cricketing map, Sourav not only made his side a winning one but also created a bunch of champion players who would go on to continue his legacy.
Life was easy yet tricky; he had access to everything since childhood but dreams, it is said, accept no complacency. Dada’s contribution to the supremacy that India enjoys in the world of Cricket is immense, but the man has seen many ups and downs in his life. The journey has been challenging, but the former Indian skipper is used to ‘hitting it out of the park’.
Born in Kolkata, West Bengal, Sourav Ganguly belonged to a well-established family. His father ran a successful print business and was very ambitious about a bright future for both his sons. Ganguly was a notorious child having a supposedly easy and comfortable early life.
In those days, the cities of West Bengal were mostly occupied by children playing football, and Sourav, being a sports enthusiast, was no different as he would also gaze out in excitement with a football in hand.
Unlike him, his elder brother, Snehasish, had musing towards Cricket and was intrigued by the sport right from the beginning.
The shifting inclinations
While Nirupa Ganguly, his mother, didn’t want Sourav to take any sport as a career and instead pushed him towards studies and academics, the child gradually developed a liking towards Cricket.
On the other hand, Snehasish put all his blood and sweat to get into the Bengal Cricket Team and became a well-known state-level cricketer. When the to-be ‘prince of Calcutta’ was in his 10th standard, he took part in a cricket camp in school, and the organizers duly appreciated his talent and skills required to be a competitive cricketer.
Further, his brother also realized Sourav’s potential as a cricket player and introduced him to the world of Cricket while motivating him to take up the sport before convincing their mother for the same.
Dada’s brother became his first coach, who taught him the game’s intricacies and kick-started his journey in the riddled cricketing world. Originally, Sourav was a right-handed batsman, but he learned batting with his left hand so that he could use his brother’s sporting equipment and need not pamper his parents for a new kit.
Both of them would practice together at home, where a concrete pitch was built along with a multi-purpose gym. Cricket took over Dada’s routine, and he invested himself heavily as well.
His goal, by this time, was clear: to represent India at the international level. Both of them would spend hours watching videos to learn the sport’s techniques and tricks and apply them in their respective matches.
Sweet and Salty
The first significant achievement for Sourav came in an under-15 tournament where he scored a century against the Odisha side and earned the captain’s hat of the St. Xavier’s School’s cricket team.
He was a stylish player who would hit the ball firmly with minimal effort and produce the maximum number of runs possible of a particular delivery. Though he had just started his journey on the ladder of success, it was not short of controversies.
After he became the captain, several team players complained of unruly and arrogant behavior from him. However, the veracity of these claims could not be traced to be genuine, and he continued to lead the side.
Dada’s exceptional performances at the school level cleared his way for the Bengal team in 1989. Sadly, his brother was dropped from the side in the same year that marked his entry on the state’s cricketing map.
The young man’s domestic debut was labeled with a good show which he continued in the 1990-91 Ranji Trophy season. He contributed almost 400 runs in just 6 outings and helped Bengal clinch the trophy under the leadership of his brother.
He had an undying hunger for runs, and his gutsy performances proved this all the time. Soon, the consistency with which he was performing brought terrific results, and he achieved his biggest dream of representing India at the international level in the year 1992.
Quick entry and a faster exit
He debuted in One Day Internationals (ODIs) at Brisbane against the West Indies in a tri-series that included Australia. Though he was available for selection in all the matches, it was not until the fourth match that he got to wear the Indian cap for the first time.
The talented batsman looked nervous at the crease while struggling to score runs and fell very early with just 3 runs in his kitty. What transpired after the match was like a nightmare for Sourav as he attracted criticism from left, right, and center for his perceived arrogance and lack of team spirit.
The seriousness of the matter prompted quick action from the selectors, who dropped him immediately from the side. And, the dream beginning ended as a shocker for the youngster.
Unwilling to give up
After recovering from the traumatic experience, Dada again went back to the domestic circuits and continuously grilled himself. Although he had the same dream in mind, the intensity of hard work had increased.
Every tournament saw him getting sharper and sharper while scoring big runs with ease. He gave his all to the Ranji Trophy and the Duleep Trophy to get back into the Indian team, which was even more difficult this time, for he had been sacked due to his alleged behavioral issues.
He had to grab the selectors’ attention with higher conviction. Once again, his consistent performances brought fruits, and after a 171 run knock in the 1995-96 edition of the Duleep Trophy, he was picked for the Indian squad.
On his comeback, Sourav looked more comfortable and played a decent inning against England. Though he featured in only one ODI in that series, what remains a historical event is his test debut on the same tour of England.
He was initially not a part of the squad, but after one of the players pulled back his name, Dada was called in to fill the void. The cricket pundits could have never guessed the result of this last-minute change. The 23-year-old was all set to put on the pads and show his class.
He was roaring to infuse in his first-ever test innings all that he had learned for so many years with utmost diligence. He walked in to bat as an unknown player greeted with nothing more than silence and ignorance by the crowd but came out as a star performer with applauses all around.
The reason behind this was his sublime performance, where he scored 131 runs to become the first Indian and only the third player worldwide to score a century in his debut test match at Lords.
Skipping to the next test match, he repeated the heroics and scored another century becoming only the third player in the world to score consecutive hundreds in his first two test innings. He had announced his arrival at the grand stage in a great way.
The Love Story With a Twist
After a successful tour of England, Dada was set to indulge in another special thing, marriage. He had planned to commit to his childhood friend and neighbor, Dona Roy, but the journey was not a cakewalk.
Both the families were sworn enemies. Keeping it in mind, Sourav planned to run away with his love and get married before coming back home. Their families got to know about the development months after they accomplished their mission, and an expected fight of rejection ensued among both sides. It took some time before they reconciled and accepted their relationship.
Man of the Moment
In 1997, Ganguly scored his maiden ODI hundred against Sri Lanka, and later in the same year, he swung his bowling talent in front of the world by taking his first-ever five-wicket haul against Pakistan.
For his supreme performances in the shorter format, he won four consecutive Man of the Match awards. Continuing his dominating participation, Dada scored his highest score, 183, in ODIs in the 1999 World Cup against Sri Lanka.
He had some of the most significant partnerships with Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid in both formats of the game. For a brief period, he stayed on top of the PwC ODI ratings for batters in 1999.
The Leader’s Hat
The year was 2000, Indian Cricket was going through a rough patch with events of alleged match-fixing taking place, and the captaincy position of the team fell vacant. Being the vice-Captain, Sourav was given the charge to lead the side, and he didn’t disappoint.
Though controversies never left him, Dada led India to many successful campaigns both in India and outside, excelling in terms of a leader and a performer. It was under his leadership that India broke Australia’s streak of 16 consecutive test victories.
From not wearing his playing attire to the toss to brandishing his bare chest from the balcony of Lords after winning the Natwest series in 2002, Dada continued to remain in the headlines. Ganguly led India to the finals of the 2003 World Cup, a tournament where he scored at an average of 58.
At Loggerheads With the Coach
No one can ever be immune to failures, and Ganguly was no different. He was again dropped from the team in 2004 and 2005 owing to his poor form. The tiger was wounded but was bound to come back with even more robust claws.
He made a comeback in 2005, but a pool of problems was still to come with the arrival of Greg Chappell, the new Indian coach. In the eyes of Chappell, Dada was not the right choice for captaincy as he was “mentally and physically unfit” for the same.
The coach’s allegations sent shockwaves in the cricketing world, and the controversy remained unresolved for quite some time resulting in another sad ouster of Sourav.
More than anything, it was a mentally challenging phase for the ‘Prince of Kolkata’ as he couldn’t decide or think of ways to get back into the side. As fortunes would have it, due to the poor form of India’s middle order and subsequent losses, he was recalled to the test team.
The opportunity gave the tiger a chance to roar again. Upon returning, he played some match-winning knocks for his side and topped the batting charts in a series against South Africa. During the same time, he was included in the ODI team after a long gap of two years, and once again, Ganguly made a noisy comeback by playing a match-winning knock for India.
End of a Glorious Career
The ‘God of the Off Side’, as fans fondly called him, was at his best during 2007, scoring his first double hundred in tests and bagging a tally of over 1000 runs in both the formats of the game throughout the year.
He represented the Kolkata Knight Riders and the Pune Warriors India in different editions of the Indian Premier League that began in 2008. Dada’s last test series came against Australia in the latter half of the same year, where the leftie scored at an average of 54, showing that there was still a lot of cricket left in him.
He retired from the IPL in 2012 but remained connected to the game in some or another way. Currently, Sourav is the president of the Board of Cricket Control in India (BCCI). His current position may not reflect the amount of ignorance and hardships he had to face throughout his career, be it not getting continuous chances as a youngster or getting dropped at regular intervals despite being a successful leader. Sourav Ganguly is to Cricket what sugar is to sweets.
His name may be enough for people to recognize him, but his efforts in making this true were massive. He was fierce, competitive, bold, and had nerves of steel, thereby making for a great leader and mentor of the side.
Sourav always backed youngsters and gave them ample chances to prove themselves so that no other player was forced to go through the mentally challenging phase he had to at the beginning of his career.
Dada excelled in all the departments and formats of the game and broke several records of the books. His perseverance, hard work, and attitude of never giving up have made him what he is today.
Not a cricketer, he was a designer who crafted the pathway for Indian Cricket to run smoothly on the right track. Under his leadership, the Indian team broke the myth of not winning overseas and presented an unassailable image of itself in both formats of the game.