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'Dada' Ganguly leads by example

The rest of the cricket world may find him cocky and abrasive but to his teammates Sourav Ganguly is simply "dada", or elder brother.

india Updated: Dec 09, 2003 10:32 IST

The rest of the cricket world may find him cocky and abrasive but to his teammates Sourav Ganguly is simply "dada", or elder brother.

The Indian captain, promised some "chin music" (bouncers) by Australia in the first drawn Test at Brisbane which ended on Monday, enhanced his reputation in the team by enjoying every note of what was hurled at him to smash 144 for his 11th Test century.

He was at his imperious best, dismissing the Australian bowling to all corners of the park to give India a rare psychological edge against the world champions for the remaining three Tests.

Written off as a poor player of short-pitched bowling on bouncy wickets, Ganguly led from the front to not only silence his critics but also show that the Indian team were a new aggressive unit under his leadership.

Winning the series, or even a Test, against Australia at home is still highly unlikely. But the Indians got a moral victory in the first match at Gabba, where pundits were certain they would not even be able to compete on the pacy wicket.

The 31-year-old Ganguly, by facing the ghosts of his own past failures in conditions where the ball darted around and rose sharply, played an innings that could be a watershed for his Test career and set the tone for a fierce series.

A series draw would rank among India's biggest achievements. A win would be hailed as nothing short of a miracle.

POOR TRAVELLERS

India have always travelled poorly. In 71 years, they have won only 18 Tests abroad. Five of them, however, have come under Ganguly in the last 20 matches.

But his biggest success as captain was two years ago when India pulled off a stunning 2-1 win over Australia, ending their world record 16-match winning streak.

Ganguly's leadership centres on his ability to get under the skin of the opposition. He is never popular with rival captains and is just fine with that.

During the 2001 Australia series, Ganguly's mind games, which included making Steve Waugh wait at the centre of the pitch for the toss, proved as important for India as Vangipurappu Laxman's record 281 and Harbhajan Singh's 32 scalps.

There may be no love lost between Ganguly and his opponents but he commands tremendous respect from his team mates, many of whom owe their return to international cricket to him.

Unlike some former India skippers, he is not seen as parochial.

Harbhajan had been sidelined after eight Tests but Ganguly persuaded the selectors to bring him back against Australia for a series which earned the off-spinner the nickname "Turbanator".

Left-armer Ashish Nehra had been omitted since an unimpressive Test debut in Sri Lanka in 1999, until Ganguly brought him back in late 2001 to set up a successful pace partnership with Zaheer Khan.

He asked Virender Sehwag to open in a triangular tournament in Sri Lanka, a decision that led to several match-winning innings and to the captain himself losing out as one-day opener.

BATTING BLUES

But Ganguly's form has often deserted him in key Test matches, leaving the Indian skipper open to criticism.

His technique has been suspect against quality pace because of an unconvincing leave, a tendency to flirt outside off-stump and an awkward pull shot that inspires little confidence.

But Ganguly has made up for the deficiency, as he did in Brisbane, with his resolve and strength of character.

His record is often compared unfavourably to that of Rahul Dravid, who made his Test debut in the same match at Lord's in 1996 but now has 15 centuries and 5,971 runs at an average of 54.28 to Ganguly's 4,369 at 42.42.

He scored three centuries at the World Cup earlier this year, leading India to the final after a shaky start, but was criticised for getting the bulk of his runs against non Test-playing nations.

The Brisbane century, therefore, has great significance for him.

"This was the second best day in my career after my debut century which will always remain the first," Ganguly said.

"It was a dream to score a hundred in Australia. Though all Test hundreds are important, this will be a special one. It came against the best team in the world."

But the Indian skipper can be sure of more "chin music" in the second Test starting on Friday in Adelaide.

As Ganguly himself said: "The series has only just begun."

First Published: Dec 09, 2003 10:32 IST