Saurav Ganguly is one of a trio of outstanding batsmen who have dominated the Indian middle order since 1996. His decision to retire from international cricket after the forthcoming series against Australia sets the stage for the eventual handover to the next generation.
Ganguly has been a talented batsman and also a supreme stylist. He has not matched Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid in terms of sheer batting performance, especially in the longer form of the game. Nor, for that matter, could he match the erratic genius of V.V.S. Laxman.
His limitations against the short-pitched ball were soon evident, and exploited by opposing teams. But his silken and imperious offside play was a treat to the eyes. There was only a hint of hyperbole in the claim that on that side of the wicket, there was only God and Ganguly.
But Ganguly’s importance went far beyond his batting achievements. He has been a far more effective leader and captain than either Tendulkar or Dravid. Not everybody liked the Aussie-style swagger and aggression he brought to Indian cricket. Purists cringed at the sight of him peeling off his shirt and waving it from the viewers gallery at Lord’s, after greenhorns Mohammad Kaif and Yuvraj Singh pulled off an improbable victory in the Natwest Trophy finals in 2002.
Some of the aggression he brought to Indian cricket was undoubtedly ugly. But it worked. He led India to 21 victories in 49 Test matches and into the World Cup finals in 2003. There was a time when Ganguly’s boys were the only ones who could take on the might of the Australians under Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting.
A lot of that was because of their leader.
Ganguly has always been an enigmatic and controversial personality who brought out extreme reactions from people. And that is why there has never been a shortage of both admirers and detractors through all these years.
He often hit the headlines for what he did off the field, including his famous clash with coach Greg Chappell. Questions were asked in Parliament when he was dropped from the Indian team.
Like him or not, there can be no doubt that Ganguly changed Indian cricket.
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