If there is a man who has defied odds and surprised admirers and critics alike it has to be Sourav Ganguly. Now, after 11 years of international cricket, the man, known for his fiery aggression on the field, but radiating calm equanimity off it, tells the world that the thought that two days from now he will be playing his 100th Test gives him a very “satisfying feeling”.
Satisfying it has to be for any cricketer who lasts for more than a decade at the top, and from a purely personal point of view, it is something to be really proud of. Not that it is for the first time that someone will be achieving this landmark and neither will it be the last time. It’s just that to have come so far means that you have been good enough to withstand the ravages of time and age. And in his case he has survived all the slurs, slings and arrows of a world, which has accepted him grudgingly as someone who belongs.
It is a story with so many twists and turns that a scriptwriter can make a living off it. When only 19 he played his first One-day International in Australia and immediately after that was dumped following accusations of having the attitude of a man spoilt by the affluence of his parents. Six years later, he was picked to play for India again and the whole journalistic community screamed in a crescendo that his selection was unjust.
When he met a few of his embarrassed critics a few moments after he had scored a ton at Lord’s on his Test debut, he greeted them with a disarming smile and calmness that conveyed not just good manners but also an impression that he was not a vindictive man.
That hundred spiralled him into an international career of fame and success and to Indian captaincy post the match-fixing convulsions that shook cricket to its core. It was again a choice that was greeted with scepticism but the results proved that the man had the steel in him that did not care for reputations but did care for results.
All international captains, be it a Nasser Hussain or a Steve Waugh, found to their dismay that they were dealing with a man who had the knack of getting under their skin and inspiring his team to perform above themselves. Not since the days of the Nawab of Pataudi had there been a leader who rallied his troops behind him. All that mattered for Ganguly was the skill of the player and not which region or state he belonged to. He may not agree, but captaincy dulled his cricketing skills and then walked in Greg Chappell as India coach.
Chappell humiliated him and manipulated the press to such an extent that the only viewpoint that appeared in print was that of the coach.
It hurt the man, it still hurts him. “I didn’t mind being dropped; anyone can be if he is not making runs. But the kind of things that were said about me were depressing,” Ganguly said.
There were not many who believed he could make a comeback, except the man himself. The eight months he was out of the team were spent in physical training the likes of which he had never done before and in preparing himself for a comeback. You would tell him “give up, what is the point, you won’t be picked again” and the answer would be, “I will give it a try and if I am not there before the World Cup I will give up.”
He is back now and the kind of cricket he has played in this last year has not only raised his stature as a batsman but has made even his bitterest critic finally accept him as someone who belongs. When he steps out in Melbourne for his 100th Test, be sure there won't be a single Indian not wishing him well. At the twilight of an eventful career he finally seems to have won over even those who harboured a strong dislike for him.