To many cricket fans, the modern Indian cricket era truly began after Sachin Tendulkar made his debut in 1989 but the man who at long last managed to mould the team into a winning unit - one capable of winning away from home too - only took over in 2000. That man was Sourav Chandidas Ganguly.
In the decade leading up to 2000-01, India had only two away series wins - one against Sri Lanka in 1993 and then against Bangladesh in 2000-01. Just two. They didn’t manage to win a Test series in any other country.
By the time, Ganguly became captain almost three years and eight months after his debut, he had decided this needed to change.
“The day I became captain I told myself this age-old policy had to change. Enough of romance. We needed to get real. I wanted to build a bank of fit and strong fast bowlers and create a new template,” says Ganguly in the book ‘A Century Is Not Enough’. “I said, within the subcontinent, the emphasis will be on spinners. But outside, pacers will have to assume primary responsibility for picking 20 wickets.”
The template set the tone and pushed India towards being competitive, not just in India but in every match they played. Rahul Dravid, the next captain, carried forward the good work, Anil Kumble didn’t falter in his short stint but we once again hit a snag under Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Now, Virat Kohli wants to tread the same road and achieve even greater success. But few will forget that it all started with Dada, as Ganguly is affectionately called.
During his time as skipper some of India’s greatest cricketers came together to carve out a new era. There was intrigue; there was controversy; there was hurt. Few cricketers have polarized India the way Ganguly has.
This is also why one wanted him to write a book.
He was once asked whether he would write a book and his answer had been a quick ‘no.’ When asked ‘why?’ he had said that he had never learned how to hold back. So the book would ruffle too many feathers.
Another reason to look forward to this book was the fact that Ganguly had always been a fascinating character. One wanted to know what was really going on in his mind during those days. One wanted to know whether he would have, in hindsight, acted any differently now. One wanted to know his side of the story, in many a instance.
But for huge chunks of this rather short book which was written by Gautam Bhattacharya (a well known Bengali journalist), Ganguly seems to have just sat down and talked about the things that came to mind. A question has been asked and he has seemingly responded with what he can remember. He hasn’t been pushed to reveal anything other than his obvious dislike for Greg Chappell and the ‘Kiran More’s of this world’ or even more details of the great 2001 Test at the Eden Gardens.
Take for example, that unforgettable game. The book goes:
“And we did in the next Test at Eden Gardens, which has gone down as arguably the greatest Test match played in India. A freak Test for me. It was the first time the Aussies were stopped in their tracks after a long winning streak.
“My two weapons were Harbhajan and Laxman.
“Of all the knocks I have seen in my cricketing career, Laxman’s 281 tops the list. I have never seen anyone hit Warne continuously against the turn through midwicket so effortlessly. In the 34 overs that Warne bowled in that innings he gave away 153 runs and could take only one wicket. Unbelievable… Laxman’s partner in Eden was Rahul. Together they had scored a superb 376. Two years later, Rahul would partner Laxman in Adelaide for another huge triple-century partnership. I had so much faith in these two that I didn’t send out a single message while they were batting. I just sat in the dressing room and kept on praying.”
There is then a mention of how he decided to back Harbhajan despite his dismal performance in Mumbai.
“I believed in throwing the younger players at the deep end. The better ones did handle themselves, swam their way and beat the odds. Bhajji for instance. The selectors wanted to drop him after the Mumbai Test against Australia. They wanted to play Sarandeep Singh. But I resisted. I had seen a spark in Harbhajan and he justified my faith by almost single-handedly winning us the series.”
And... that is it.
This is one of the matches that made the world sit up and take notice of the new India and it deserved more in the book. This win established Ganguly the leader. As captain, Ganguly was best placed to take the reader through the tactical approach in a match that forever changed teams’ decisions to enforce follow ons, how he helped Harbhajan through and how the all-important Laxman-Dravid partnership played out in the dressing room... but instead all of that is papered over.
The one thing that does become obvious while reading ‘A Century Is Not Enough,’ is that Ganguly does not easily forgive. He describes retirement as ‘still a raw wound.’ Greg Chappell finds more than a mention and the terms used to describe him are not complimentary.
The book also tells us that Ganguly never learned to doubt himself. The feeling simply did not exist for him. It was his undeniable strength and it kept him going even when others (including his father) could see the end.
Inevitably, one wonders if this is all he had to say. Given how Ganguly is not someone who likes to hold back, this seems hard to believe. There is an unconvincing, incomplete and unsatisfying feel once you are done reading the book.
This is a book for the unabashed Ganguly fan. For almost all others, it will seem like a bit of a let down.
A let down because it had the potential to have been much more.
A Century is Not Enough by Sourav Ganguly, Juggernaut