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The man India loves to hate

Two days ago, Sourav Ganguly penned what amounted to a small note at the end of his column in this paper.

india Updated: Mar 12, 2003 00:04 IST

Two days ago, Sourav Ganguly penned what amounted to a small note at the end of his column in this paper. Something to the effect that those who had criticised Virender Sehwag's form, or the lack of it, should give it a break. "Sehwag is a class act," he said. "And I have full faith in him." He ended by saying, "Mark my words".

Less than 24 hours after these words appeared in print, Sehwag announced his return to form with a brutish six over backward point, smashed the hapless Sri Lankans around the field, had his usual lucky chances and rattled off a quickfire 66.

Few Indian skippers in the past have been either as brash, brassy or bold as Sourav Ganguly. Few have been as brave. Few have backed their players more. And few have been as disliked.

This, in spite of the fact that he has managed to mould a team that has made a billion-strong nation believe in them and their dreams.

Ganguly, for some strange reason, is a man Indians love to hate. He is also, contrary to popular belief, a man his teammates would probably die for, or, even if that's a bit drastic, they'll at least stand by him through anything.

And why not? He stood by them, backed them against all odds, believed in them.

He brought Sehwag up the order in Sri Lanka a couple of seasons ago when he was failing in the middle order.

He fought for and brought back Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra. He publicly pleaded with Javagal Srinath to come out of retirement.

He insisted on having Harbhajan Singh on before that memorable series against Australia.

He took on all of Mohammad Kaif's detractors and maintained he was necessary to his scheme of things despite the UP player's many detractors.

He said Yuvraj was indispensable.

And he said Dravid would come good behind the stumps. (I mean, c'mon, how many of us even notice that it's Rahul Dravid behind the stumps now?)

Indeed, one of the best things about the much-maligned Indian skipper is his eye for talent. And his confidence in backing himself through anything. And the other amazing thing about him is that despite his own lack of form every now and then, he is an inspirational captain.

The change in the attitude of the Indian team ever since Ganguly took over the captaincy three years ago has been slow to register but it's been happening for quite a while now. Ganguly represents the new breed of Indians, who are out to get what they want, by any means possible. And what's wrong with that?

He is unashamedly aggressive, is not in the least bothered by derogatory labels such as Lord Snooty, he's not parochial. He's managed to get the team to forget that most of them don't even speak the same language at home.

Then why is he so vilified? It's probably something to do with India, the land of the underdog. We don't like anyone with attitude.

Ganguly, for example, would never plead with Indian cricket fans to stop burning his effigies and posters. His statement after that first prominent, now famous, huddle after the win over Namibia, that the team needed to openly support each other as no one else was supporting them, is more his style. The words left unspoken were: "To hell with you, we know you'll come back when we're back on top."

With confidence bordering on arrogance, Ganguly very clearly gives the impression that he gives a damn about what anyone thinks of him. He's doing what he has to do --- getting results. As long as that's on course, he's okay with anything.

We will find it in ourselves to praise a Steve Waugh or a Nasser Hussain for their mind-games, but we will dub Ganguly an uncivil so-and-so if he so much as he gives what he gets (and what they're asking for) in the same breath.

The Indian captain is definitely not as inventive on the field as Kiwi Stephen Fleming, who knows how to get the best out of his limited resources. Ganguly might not make all the bowling changes at the right times or have the field setting down to a T.

He is known to be stubborn, even mulish at times. But he's learning. With every passing match, he is looking more in command of the team.

And more importantly, he's giving them an aggressive cutting edge.

Ganguly's band of boys might or might not win this World Cup but they definitely have that something indefinable that takes them above the rest.

It's there in the way you see Tendulkar actually laugh a lot these days, in the way Srinath talks a lot, in the way Kaif and Yuvraj swoop down on the ball.

And you'd probably have found the genesis of all this in a man who famously bared his chest, whooped and swung his T-shirt round and round in the hallowed balcony of Lord's.

And, there was nothing impulsive in that.

First Published: Mar 12, 2003 00:04 IST