In this series, we take a look at Indian cricket’s greatest captains, India’s record under their leadership, the most significant triumphs as well as the low points, and what made them stand out as skippers.
Sourav Ganguly the captain was many things. He was inspirational, he was driven, he was in-your-face, he was emotional and he was never afraid. He was also political, he held a grudge and over time, his fitness deteriorated. But it is fair to say that the good outweighed the bad by a large measure.
More than anything else, Ganguly’s stint as Indian skipper was defined by two qualities.
The first one is mentioned in former India coach John Wright’s book Indian Summers. He spoke about how the team management and Ganguly went into great detail to make a plan for a particular batsman during a break in a game but then the Indian skipper came out after the break and did something entirely different. It baffled Wright but somehow it worked.
At one point during his narration on Bruce Reid’s tactical contribution during the 2003-’04 Australian tour, Wright recalled, “after one such presentation, he sat there open-mouthed as Ganguly proceeded to do the exact opposite of what had been recommended”.
Ganguly was, and perhaps still is, a creature of instinct. He would back a hunch and go all in without a single doubt in his mind. It made him hard to predict and even harder to second-guess.
The second, as we even noticed during an interview with Scroll.in, was another illustration of how Ganguly backed himself to come good no matter what the odds were. Years into retirement, he suddenly quipped that he would be good enough to play for India after working out for three weeks. No, he wasn’t joking. He had that look in his eye.
“I woke up every morning, looked at the ground and believed that I could win,” he said. “I picked up a cricket bat and believed I could score. And I believed I would succeed. And I actually believed. Even now I believe – that if I train for three weeks and you make me play, I’ll score. I have this unbelievable faith. I don’t know where it comes from. Maybe it’s because of all the successes I’ve had over the years but I’ve got this tremendous faith in me.”
This self-belief, which sometimes bordered on crazy, was exactly what India needed to carry itself forward in the year 2000. It allowed him to believe not just in himself but also in his method when few others would. It allowed him to trust his vision. It allowed him to put his faith in talented youngsters. And perhaps most importantly, it allowed him to change the face of Indian cricket.
India’s record across formats under Ganguly’s captaincy
Belief alone wouldn’t have counted for much. In sport, results matter. Some might even argue that belief comes from results. Ganguly got a good partnership going with coach Wright, who had looked to professionalise the Indian set-up as soon as his stint began.
Results and performances by youngsters shook up the established order and pushed Indian cricket forward. Ganguly, of course, was at the forefront of this change – taking risks and pushing his team forward even when the going got tough.
|All formats||1999-2005||195||97 (#4)||78||0||15||1.243|
Personal record during captaincy
Ganguly often drew the opposition’s fire. He made himself a target so that his teammates could go out and do their best. This took a toll on his batting. His batting numbers as captain are lower in both Tests and ODIs. The planning, the meetings, the press conferences all took a toll on Ganguly and he also stopped bowling as much as he used to initially.
As his utility as an all-rounder went down, his fitness got worse and perhaps that had an impact on his batting too.
Sourav Ganguly's record in Tests
|Not as captain||1996-2008||64||113||10||4651||239||45.15||51.54||11||22||9||574||40|
Sourav Ganguly's record in ODIs
|Not as captain||1992-2007||164||157||12||6259||183||43.16||71.79||11||42||7||628||75|
Most famous triumphs
Beating Australia in India (2001): India stopped the Australian juggernaut and started off on a journey of their own. For Ganguly and his team, this is where it truly began. The confidence from this series win showed in their game and attitudes for years to come.
2002 Natwest series win: Two youngsters, Yuvraj Singh and Mohammed Kaif, brought into the side by Ganguly, chasing down a huge total. By most common Indian standards at the time, this win should not have happened but it did and once again it served to elevate India’s overall game.
Reaching the 2003 World Cup final: A World Cup in South Africa was supposed to not exactly be up India’s alley given their aversion to pace and bounce but Ganguly’s team once again threw everything you knew about them out of the window. Australia were the only team to beat them in the World Cup.
Border-Gavaskar (2003-04): India retained the Border-Gavaskar trophy after the fourth and final Test against Australia ended in a draw at the Sydney Cricket Ground. But if Parthiv Patel had completed that stumping of Ricky Ponting, Ganguly’s team could well have gone on to win the series outright. It was that close. It was that well-fought.
Winning in Pakistan (2004): A historic tour and India were once again up to the challenge. India’s senior cricketers did their thing and the 2-1 series win was a just reward.
In 2005, there was a change of guard in the Indian team management as Greg Chappell took over from John Wright as coach. Ganguly was in the midst of a tough run with the bat and pressure was mounting on him.
Chappell wanted more from the skipper and he demanded it. That didn’t go down very well with Ganguly, who had recommended Chappell for the job and it resulted in Ganguly eventually getting dropped from the squad. He did make comebacks but it was clear that he was running out of time.
This was also around the time when his fitness clearly wasn’t up to the mark.
Standout qualities as a leader
“From keeping the opposing captain waiting at the toss to playing verbal and mental games, Ganguly was a master of the art of gamesmanship.”
– Former Sri Lanka skipper Kumar Sangakarra
“When you see an Indian side with Ganguly in the line-up. You know it’s game on. You don’t have to like or dislike him. You have to respect him.”
– Former Australia skipper Steve Waugh
“Sourav’s greatest strength is his mind. He is hardworking – not only in the nets but also mentally. He bounces back.”
– Sachin Tendulkar
“Ganguly, I’ve always said, made Indian cricket tough... made it what it is now. Before Sourav, they were a very nice bunch to play with, with some great cricketers, but Sourav made them into a very tough, determined side. You’d be out there waiting for the toss, 10:30 - ‘Where’s Ganguly?’ 10:31 - ‘Where’s Ganguly?’ and he’d stroll out, chuck his paper, his team at you and you knew they were a feisty bunch to beat. And when he took his shirt off on the balcony – brilliant! That is Ganguly at his best. ‘I’ll show the world, Flintoff did it in Mumbai, I’m doing it at Lord’s’.”
– Former England skipper Nasser Hussain
“Sourav is my favourite. His captaincy against Australia in Australia was astonishing. I have great respect for him.”
– Former Australia skipper Ricky Ponting
“I can die for such a captain.”
– Yuvraj Singh on the loyalty Ganguly inspired.