And yet, opinion on him is so divided. Labelled as pretentious, smug, selfish, and i'm sure our old friends Greg Chappell and Martin Crowe probably have choice words that I will not divulge in this family friendly forum. Hardly has there been such a polarized view on a pivotal figure in our recent cricketing history, how has this come to be?
I present you...
Each phase in the Ganguly history can be explained accurately:
Ganguly 0.1 (Beta)
The fresh faced Ganguly didn't waste any time making an impression, carving up England with a debut century and never really looking back. A lot of people don't realize the value he gave the ODI team, particularly since Tendulkar was comparatively low in the late nineties. Ganguly feasted on the runs with great consistency and with the minimum of fuss, most of these centuries resulting however in lower order collapses and therefore going unnoticed. There was no question however that as long as Ganguly was there at the top, at least one hole in the batting equation was nicely patched up.
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With the departure of the disgraceful Azharuddin and a failed run for Tendulkar, Captain Ganguly was born. Backing the then young Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan, Zaheer Khan and others, Ganguly helped forge a side that was at least capable of competing with the best of them. His captaincy style was aggressive and bold, and liked or not, he did take a young team and get them noticed, none more famously with his counter-attacking 144 against Steve Waugh's Aussies in Brisbane. He was also there when Bhajji and Laxman ended the Australian record test run in 2001 and their 2003 World Cup run to confirm they were the number three side in the world (behind space and Australia).
But at a price. His batting fell away, none more spectacularly against New Zealand in the 2002/03 tour. The Ganguly standard codes of dismissals was written at this stage:
- The Wet Bat - Hanging the willow out to dry for the slips to gobble up. If a naughty slipper did drop one, rest assured more came.
- The Stump Destroyer - The wickets sponsors would have been laughing all the way to the bank as the off stump flew around gloriously with late cuts from France or China, take your pick.
- The Straight Up - While he did manage to crunch a few short balls around, if it wasn't a six, it was a spoon straight up, a dead set dolly which even Kamran Akmal couldn't fake.
- The Suicide - And when all else failed, the suicidal run out. Not just any run out, a run out by country miles as Ganguly would jog past stumps smashed five seconds ago.
Thanks to him munching away on the likes of Kenya and Namibia, his record never reflected it, but this was when the Crowe's and the Chappell's began gunning for his head and replacing it with Dravid's. Words flew around, fingers were pointed, and eventually Ganguly was gone, seemingly to the same place Kambli and Prabhakar went.
Around a year later emerged a fellow resembling only in appearance to the Ganguly's of the old. With a slightly tweaked technique, gone was the easy ball creaming of the beta version and the minnows-only 1.0 version, he came back solid, bloody minded, and ready to put a bounty on his wicket. No freebies here, as he saw off the good balls, and put away the bad ones, not with pomp, but with purpose.
He soon became the most reliable ODI opener they had, and a solid middle order presence in tests, offering a nice blend of class and experience. But that wasn't the telling difference, it was that this Ganguly didn't get in the faces of the opposition, the public or the administrators. He quietly went about his way under different captains, minding his own business and paying attention to his batting and fielding. When he was dropped from the ODI side, he was their most consistent, but was at least allowed a glorious test exit.
A remarkable change in attitudes in a remarkable career, one of the few players who went through a true metamorphosis as the years rolled by. He should be remembered fondly for his contribution, as be it through his bat or mouth, he help lay the groundwork for what the Indian team is today.