Sourav Ganguly changed the course of Indian cricket. His record of 21 wins in 49 Tests is the best ever by an Indian captain. He negotiated Indian cricket’s time of troubles — which arose from the match-fixing scandals — with integrity and helped restore credibility. He was a non-partisan players’ man — a rarity in the deeply politicised, parochial world of the BCCI. Under Ganguly, India transformed itself into a side that could beat the best abroad. While he was fortunate to have the services of some of India’s finest cricketers — the great Sachin Tendulkar aside, his time coincided with Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble, and V.V.S. Laxman producing several defining performances in Test cricket — he deserves credit for nurturing young talent and building an ODI side that made the final of the 2003 World Cup. Ganguly led India in two of the most compelling series against world champion Australia, winning the Border-Gavaskar Trophy the first time (2001), and retaining it in Australia (2003-04). Under him, India also registered Test wins in the West Indies, England, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.
The legacy of Ganguly, who was born with a golden spoon in his mouth, is complex. His initiation in 1992 was forgettable, and when he returned four years later, his choice was derided as a quota selection. His classy 131 on Test debut at Lord’s followed by a century in the next innings at Trent Bridge put paid to all that nonsense. He promised himself that he would never let what happened to him happen to a youngster under him, thus becoming a trusted mentor. The hardships and humiliation strengthened his will but also sowed bitter seeds. As his batting form nosedived in 2004-05, his well-publicised spat with strong-willed coach Greg Chappell shook Indian cricket. To his great credit, ‘the prince of Kolkata’ emerged from adversity more determined than ever. He was India’s leading run-getter in Tests in 2007, scoring his maiden double century against Pakistan. The last word can be left to Shane Warne’s Century: My Top 100 Cricketers (Mainstream Publishing, Edinburgh and London, 2008). “Sourav Ganguly,” the great leggie says, “might not be my cup of tea as a bloke, but what he has done for Indian cricket has to be respected. He is…not short of self-confidence or unaware of his standing in Indian life…When I played, I liked the fact that Ganguly was a fighter. Whatever happened, whenever he was hit, he gritted his teeth and fought back. With his confidence, he always backed himself to come good in the end.” He certainly did. Sourav’s final bow against Australia, which was crucial to India’s 2-0 series triumph, very nearly matched his debut series in England 12 years earlier.