For some time now, even in the face of some radical and acute ridicule from friends of mine, I have been a staunch, steadfast and avid supporter of Saurav Chandidas Ganguly. All of this fascination for Ganguly’s contributions to Indian cricket started off with an argument that I had with friends of mine in Melbourne subsequent to India’s disastrous tour of New Zealand in December 2002 (a few months prior to the 2003 World Cup).
The tour to New Zealand was a total and utter catastrophe from an Indian perspective; hardly the sort of preparation that a team should have to undergo prior to a World Cup. The pitches in New Zealand were under-prepared and horrible. So much so that New Zealand Turf Culture Institute guru Keith McAuliffe had to even publicly discount an El Nino theory for the state of pitches in New Zealand in the summer of 2002!
At that time, a few friends of mine said, “the whole team should be sacked, especially Ganguly”. Now, for some time now, I have felt that the best solution to all known problems that Indians seem to know or care about is what is often referred to as “Danda Raj” (to rule by the stick). The magic potion, the panacea and the silver bullet to all known and unknown Indian ills is, apparently, to whip out the “danda” (the stick) and sack everyone!
My excessive and, at times, befuddling defense of Ganguly started then.
I yelled out, “A collection of sacks will only give us a godown (warehouse) and not much else!”, before setting off on a path of search and discovery.
But before that, let me chronicle some of Ganguly’s contributions to Team India. In my own view, he has achieved a lot for Indian cricket. He brought into the team
- a sense of self-belief.
- a fighting spirit.
- a sense of unity (team above individual).
- a personnel policy that blended youth and experience.
- a policy of far-sightedness that meant that players were backed and carried for a whole series instead of the prevailing revolving door policy that meant that players had one match to prove their worth!
Ganguly, perhaps on the basis of his own awful selection experiences, was the first India captain to state his selection principles openly within days of being chosen. He provided a clear vision. He wanted to give players ample opportunities to perform. He identified, nurtured and — in some cases — resurrected and created the careers of many of the personnel who are a part of today’s Team India (Harbhajan Singh, Virender Sehwag, Zaheer Khan and Yuvraj Singh, to name a few). He was the one that insisted that Rahul Dravid keep wickets in ODIs. This, curiously, revived Rahul Dravid’s career at a time when Dravid may not have been a part of the Indian-ODI-roadmap! Ganguly was the one that insisted that Virender Sehwag open in Tests when even Sehwag himself opposed the idea! And to realise the impact of that foresight, let us consider this: Sehwag opened for the ICC World XI against Australia in the Super Series, 2005!
It was my view at the time (and remains today) that a revolving-door selection policy will only give you dizzy players and even more dizzy selectors. Ganguly was the first Indian captain who made this a policy in terms of personnel management: a collection of sacks will only give you a nasty godown.
As a leader, he took on the Board and won several important battles for the team. The fact that he was close to the Board — by dint of his association with then Board President and head-honcho, Jagmohan Dalmiya — and was able to play its politics was, no doubt, in his favour too. But a good leader has to do that. A leader has to make compelling cases and win resource management battles. A good leader has to manage upwards effectively. Ganguly fought and got a physio, a non-Indian coach, a support unit around the team that included a media manager and the services of a sports psychologist on tap.
Note that in the years that Tendulkar was at the helm, he struggled to get even a full-time physio for the team! That doesn’t make Tendulkar a bad leader or an incompetent personnel manager or a bad player. It is just an example, in my view, of Ganguly’s effectiveness as a leader. Ganguly can legitimately cite these and many more as impactful outcomes that he has been personally responsible for.
There is no doubt in my mind that he is the first “true leader of men” in Indian cricket.
In my view, the rest were either
- totally incompetent, or
- corrupt, or
- completely incapable of motivating men to give off their very best, or
- played regional politics, or
- divided the team to safe-guard their own passage, or
- all of the above.
Ganguly was, in my view, a competent leader who motivated his players to “do battle for him”. He supported players and backed them totally. He did not play regional politics and, instead of embroiling the team in administration politics, he himself took all of these with the Board. We have had examples of all of the above.
So, in my view, my support for Ganguly emanated from that belief that he is the first true leader of men India cricket has had.
In terms of on-field results, it is evident that he led India successfully. He is probably one of the captains that Steve Waugh – perhaps the best cricket captain that I will ever see in my lifetime – had a lot of regard for. Yes, Ganguly and Waugh had many a run-in, but to the end, Waugh did maintain a healthy dose of respect for Ganguly, as a leader!
Throughout his reign, the Indian cricket press (yes, that “braying mediocrity of Indian cricket”) continually talked about Ganguly’s “form”. What specific aspect of his form did these people have a problem with? His win record for India? His batting average? The runs he has made in the West Indies? The runs he has made in England?
Often, the press would quote his “form” in the “last 10 games”. Well, if we were to look at changing the team every 10 games, we’d want to have more players in India than we do knickers!! 🙂
Ganguly always advocated the selection of players on a combination of potential and form. A player like Ganguly will fire on a few days. He will fail on a few days.
OK. Now onto some facts on Ganguly’s value to the team as a player. In this analysis I concentrate on ODIs only. Here’s an attempt to tease out some myths…
Ganguly’s overall ODI record is:
Certainly not a career that can be sneezed at. It is pertinent to also look at his stats in matches that India has won. It reads:
In other words, he has scored quite heavily in matches that India has won! Indeed, 18 of his 22 centuries have come in games that India has won! Also, check out the low and respectable bowling average in games that India has won. The strike rate may not be good and I have not compiled the economy rate, but his average is certainyl one to be proud of even if one were only an ODI bowler.
Let us now look at his ODI career stats for India in matches as captain:
Not bad at all, I’d say. It is also perhaps fair to say that he has probably bowled himself less as captain.
As captain, he won 76 matches. In other words, he won more than 50% of his games as captain. In these matches his career stats read:
Note that his average is higher in matches that India have won, whether he was captain or not. It would be fair to say that he has helped India to a lot of these victories.
Let us compare these with the ODI stats for Tendulkar for (a) all matches, (b) matches that India won, (c) matches for which he was captain, (d) matches that India won when he was captain.
It is fair to say that, although Tendulkar’s stats are very impressive, Ganguly’s are slightly better when he was captain especially in those games that India has won. Overall, they are quite comparable. Clearly, Ganguly as a ODI player is not one to be summarily consigned to the history books as a no-gooder for India. He ranks up there with the best there has ever been — Sachi Tendulkar!
If we look at games outside India, the stats for Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid (perhaps three of India’s greatest ODI batsmen) read:
Ganguly’s stats stacks up well against these three contemporary greats of Indian cricket.
Ganguly believed in his leadership qualities. Unfortunately, that may have also been his downfall. He may have constantly concentrated on empire building. So much so that that may have become (in his own mind at least) his reason for existence – the very reason for his existence! Towards the last year of his reign as captain, my feeling was that he began to resemble a landlord who looked after his subjects and therefore, expected to be looked after by them! Moreover, my feeling was that he perhaps grew a bit too complacent and thought that his achievements would glide him past his disappointing digs at the crease – of which there were aplenty until that fateful moment when he got dropped. He did get sloppy and began to work less and deal-make more. His work-ethic slipped. All of these may have worked if India had a far more lenient coach. Cricket does not work that way.
Greg Chappell dismantled the landlord myth in a systematic manner and worked out that the team needed. He wanted to cleanse the rot. He perhaps had the best interests of Ganguly at heart too. Often, time away yields different, more relaxed perspectives. Yes, Ganguly had tremendous pride in playing for India and in seeing India succeed, Greg Chappell may have seen that that had translated into a “kissa kursi ka” mentality in the captain.
The straw that broke the camel’s back was the “outing” of the dressing-room conversation between coach and captain; and that too after scoring a century against a below-strength Zimbabwe team. It spoke of a man who was desperate to cling on to a position that he was fast losing grip over. Alas! Ganguly’s renowned and artful political skills and his strategic thinking perhaps let him down at that stage.
But to Ganguly’s ultimate credit, he went back. He re-assessed his priorities. He dug deep. He tired himself to fatigue in the gym and around the Eden Gardens. He played the domestic circuit. He got fitter, meaner, better, hungrier. He made his comeback. He made his mark.
He has had a great career. Let us remember him for the good things that he did for Indian cricket and let us cheer him as he — hopefully — drives India to a good outcome in the 2007 World Cup — surely the last for India’s modern day Batting Trinty: Tendulkar, Dravid and Ganguly.