The duo that makes up international cricket’s most enduring opening combination — Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly — are as different from each other as chalk and cheese.
Sachin Tendulkar may be short but his frame has enough strength to be thudding across 22 yards with express speed or racing to chase the ball in the outfield like a sprint champion.
Despite all the injuries his squat frame has suffered, he can still throw from the deep with a speed few Indian fielders can match. And when it comes to his real craft, he can, and normally does, outshine the best in the business with some awesome stroke-play that leaves even his opponents stunned at the power he can generate while striking the ball.
Even when he uses his wrists to whip the ball across the line to pierce the onside field, it is not done in the delicate manner most Indian batsmen play this stroke. What stands out is the power of the man and his wrists and not the elegance of the stroke.
And there is no better sight in one-day cricket than watching him slap the ball through an arc between mid-on and cover even to balls of perfect length with the bat whose weight appears even more than that of the man holding it.
Just compare this to the man with whom he has shared more than 6,000 runs as an opener and won more matches for India than one can remember.
The first difference is the obvious one. Sourav Ganguly bats left-handed. The more striking differences are not just in the style of play, but in the physical attributes. Taller than his partner, Ganguly does not relish wasting energy in the field. It is an attribute that has exasperated his most ardent admirers. Like a true gentleman, physical labour is not something that comes naturally to him.
He does not know what hard labour can achieve, but what he does have is the elegance, the grace and the gift of timing that make him equivalent to tennis’s touch artistes.
There is no sign of any effort, no hint of any power behind Ganguly’s offside strokes. He does not seem to be hitting the ball, does not seem to be even wanting to make that laborious effort, yet, when the ball leaves his bat, even the most agile of fielders find the ball eluding them and racing towards the fence in a flash.
Yes, the power play does come into action, when Ganguly decides to withdraw from the line and heave the ball over the ropes. It is a stroke for which he should get a patent as no other batsman in the world plays this shot with such perfection.
You could never even think of associating aggression with the man, least of all a temper that he uses against his rivals with devastating effect. He knows when to scream and when to be calm. He knows what psychological warfare is.
Unlike Tendulkar, who prefers to keep his emotions wrapped up behind a boyish visage, Ganguly loves to give a face to his emotions. He is a man, who, when irritated, would look straight into your face and tell you to “f*** off.”
But when the history of the one-day game is written, these two will find mention in it as partners in arms, a duo who forged such a bond with each other that they are not just inseparable at the crease but even off it.
Stories abound of their differences when Ganguly was the leader of the team. These stories surfaced even when Ganguly was stripped off the captaincy and when Greg Chappell publicly humiliated him.
Yet, when Ganguly returned to the Indian team, he would invariably be found in the company of Tendulkar. Even when Ganguly was the captain of the team, he would treat Tendulkar as someone special, someone to be revered and given utmost respect. And on Ganguly’s comeback from international isolation, Tendulkar was the one who understood his former captain the best and the two connected so well that even someone as strong-willed as Chappell felt insecure.
Not to say that the two had a common enemy, but it was obvious that both shared the same views and hated to be ‘unfairly’ labelled as ‘divisive forces’.
Tendulkar, despite his outwordly silence, threw enough hints that he was not being treated fairly by his coach. Initially, Tendulkar threw his weight behind Chappell, or to me more correct, behind Dravid. But with each passing day, Tendulkar felt he was not being given the status he deserved as world cricket’s premier batsman. The final straw came when Chappell insisted that Tendulkar bat in the middle, much against his wishes.
Tendulkar felt humiliated and finally made no secret of his feelings towards the coach. Now that he is back at the helm, he is with each innings proving his point and making every one wonder why was he not allowed to open in the World Cup.
One-day cricket’s most enduring partnership, first broken to give Virender Sehwag his rightful place in the sun, and later torn apart by Chappell’s intervention, is now back on track.
First in Ireland where India won a one-day series against South Africa outside home for the first time, and now in England, the duo has complemented each other to perfection. Tendulkar is back to his imperious, murderous self, something for which we had known him and loved him.
Ganguly is the perfect foil. He lets Tendulkar take centrestage and very quietly goes on doing his job, that of making runs and making sure that their partnership lasts long enough to set a perfect platform for others to take over.
They might not be around for too long though now, as age waits for no one. Savour it for now. You may not see the likes of this ever again.