First Appearance in International Cricket
I remember it was 2nd Saturday and was a off day in my school somewhere back in 1992 when a young boy from Bengal after scoring tons of runs in 1990-91 domestic season was debuting against West Indies in One Day International match. My brother who himself was a good cricket player, has super cricketing sense and was a keen follower of cricket at domestic and international level. He asked me to keep a watch on the debutant he was expecting some exceptional performance from him. I use to see every match during those days and use to give match report to my brother and his friends. In that match as usual Sachin held one end firmly and wickets kept falling from other end. Around 4th down this new boy came into bat and got LBW for just 3 runs after playing 13 balls. When my brother came back he inquired me about his innings and I gave him the report. I made fun of him and told him what kind of players he asks me to keep a eye on. This boy got dropped after this match and there were allegations on him that he refused to carry drinks on the ground. He got popular because of all the wrong reasons during that time. Anyways we never discussed about him until he got selected for England series in 1996. This boy was Sourav Ganguly who has been around controversies right from his first international series. At the age of 24 he was making his first comeback.
First Comeback year 1996
His selection was questioned and news was around that he made a backdoor entry into the team. He was part of ODI team and he got his chance in 3rd ODI match in which he made impressive 46 runs and bowled 2 overs for 14 runs. India lost that ODI series 2-0 as one of the match washed out due to rain. He was not selected for the first test match as there was no opening for him in the playing 11. Before second test there was a spat between Navjot Singh Siddhu and Indian captain Mohommad Azharuddin and Siddhu decided to leave the tour in between (reason behind their spat was even more interesting read here). This gave an opportunity to feature Ganguly in 2nd test match in Lords where he batted for around 7 hours and scored 131 runs hence silencing all his critics. In 3rd test match at Trent Bridge he scored another century (136) and made a permanent slot for himself in test team. He went on to become India’s most successful captain and taught India how to win matches in overseas conditions. In 2005 he played a key role in selection of India’s chief coach Greg Chappel. Somewhat Ganguly’s poor form and Chappel’s dirty politics saw him loosing both his captaincy and place in Test and ODI teams in 2006.
Second Comeback year 2006
Following India’s poor batting display in 2006 ICC champions trophy and being white washed in ODI series (4-0) against South Africa India was struggling with their middle order batting. After being shown cold shoulders for over a year selectors finally decided to call back Sourav in test squad against South Africa in foreign conditions. Again his inclusion was questioned by many and I remember I had a 100 bucks bet with my project manager. Bet was in South African conditions Ganguly will not even score 50 runs in entire series:-). Well coming at 37/4 Ganguly scored 87 runs in a tour match against rest of South Africa resulting in India victory. In his first comeback test against South Africa in Johannesburg Ganguly played an important innings of 51 not out which helped India in winning that match. Under South African seaming, swinging conditions and under extreme pressure this was a gem of an innings. Ganguly went on to become the leading run scorer in that series though India lost that series. After his successful test comeback India played with West Indies in ODI’s. In his first comeback ODI match Ganguly scored match winning 98 runs.
Ganguly’s stay in team post comeback
Ganguly was in form of his life and scored a double century against Pakistan during this period. In 2007 world cup India debacle he was a leading run scorer for India. He was really playing very well and as per Sachin he never saw Ganguly playing so well during his entire career. But as India was building a team for 2011 world cup under new captain Dhoni as youth first policy Ganguly again got dropped from ODI team in 2008. After this he never returned in ODI squad. Though he went on to play and perform in Test cricket his every performance was questioned and scrutinized. Finally for one bad series in Srilanka in 2009 he got dropped from rest of the India Irani Trophy team. This incident irked him a lot and finally he decided to hang his boots after 2008 Australia series. As per interview given to “Aajkal” a Bengali daily he has said he was tired of the constant humiliation and at being singled out for scrutiny. He has also issued a sharply worded criticism of his team-mates, saying some “have changed their hairstyle more than they have scored”
“I am bound to feel bad. I had to fight with my heart. If there is a gun to your head all the time, how long can you bear this? After all, I have played 400 matches for India. I have played badly in only one series. Yet every Tom, Dick and Harry is playing in the team”.
“There are players who haven’t scored in the last three series for India, even for the last one year. There are some who have changed their hairstyle more than they have scored for India”.
“How long would I have played? Maybe upto 2009. Maybe seven more Tests. For that I was not prepared to take any more humiliation. I was tired of being humiliated again and again. I don’t want to play cricket at the mercy of others.”
Final Comeback in 2008 Australia Series
In a routine press conference in Bangalore before ending it he gave this statement:
“Just one last thing lads, before I leave, I just want to say that this is going to be my last series,” Ganguly said after taking the last question of his press conference. “I’ve decided to quit. I told my team-mates before coming here. These four Test matches are going to be my last and hopefully we’ll go on a winning note.”
Ganguly was not sure of his recall after being dropped for Irani cup “To be honest I didn’t expect to be picked for this series,” Ganguly said. “But once I was chosen, I started preparing. Even when I was left out of the Rest of India squad, which was a bit of a surprise for me, I was still training with the Bengal boys.”
In his final series Ganguly scored 100 in second test and 85 in first innings of 4th test. His last innings lasted for just one ball where he scored a golden duck.
India and world cricket has seen many great and legendary cricketers but none of them has been tested and scrutinized as Ganguly. He was a player with limitations but with extreme determination. Every time he was pushed against wall he bounced back more strongly. Certainly he was and he will be reminded as “DADA of all Comebacks”