December 12, 2007

Tiger’s Tale: Magnificent Roar in the Twilight Zone

By H Natarajan

There was a time, not long ago, when it looked as if it was all over for Sourav Ganguly as a cricketer at the international level. He game was in total shambles which was evident from consistent failures. Even on the rare occasion that he scored, the lack of conviction and the painful manner in which he got runs invited derision. He was then still leading the team. And when a captain is struggling the way Ganguly was, it was inevitable that he could not command respect.

The guillotine had to fall. And it did. Considering Ganguly’s lack of fitness, his advancing age and a dramatic decline in his cricketing skills, it did not seem he would get an international recall. The then chairman of the selection committee, Kiran More, was unambiguous about that. Considering all that, Ganguly’s spectacular comeback must be hailed as among the finest in international cricket history.

The determination to regain his Test place and establish himself again as a quality batsman in the Indian middle-order was fierce. He got out of his comfort zone to put himself through punishing fitness regimen, which is saying a lot for a man who was never too fond of exercises. He also made sacrifices in his eating. His efforts earned him a meritorious recall and since then he has ensured that his critics also change their diet by forcing them to eat their words!

On the comeback tour of South Africa last year, he emerged as the highest run-getter in the Test series and then on the tour of Bangladesh that followed, he feasted alongside the rest of the Indian batsmen by scoring a hundred in the opening Test. That was followed by the tour to England, where he emerged as the second highest scorer in the Test series. And in the series that just concluded against Pakistan, he was by far the highest scorer for India, plundering in excess of 500 runs. What a comeback!

In the final Test against Pakistan at Bangalore, he scored 239 in the first innings – his first-ever double hundred in Tests and the highest by an Indian left-hander – and then came within nine runs of becoming only the seventh player to score a double hundred and a hundred in the same Test. He has thus far scored 1023 Test runs in 2007, which is just two behind Jacques Kallis who is enjoying a phenomenal year. With one more Test to go before the year ends, Ganguly could end up as the highest run-getter in 2007. His new-found confidence is translated in the pace and fluency of his run-getting which compares favourably with the likes of dashers like Kumar Sangakkara, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Chris Gayle.

Ganguly’s immense self-belief during the depths of despair is vindicated by what he has achieved in his rebirth as an international cricketer. While the vast majority of the world had given up on him, he kept telling to all who cared to hear that he was far from finished and thoughts of retirement never crosses his mind. The world was convinced that it was a case of a player unwilling to accept realities and that his glory as a batsman at the highest level was history. The author Normal Vincent Peale, who espoused the power of positive thinking, once said: “First thing every morning before you arise say out loud, I believe.” Ganguly epitomized those words.

It was Greg Chappell’s belief that Ganguly would be better off without the cares of captaincy on his shoulders. The feeling then was that Chappell was making those comments to get the abrasive Ganguly, who was never afraid to take on any authority, so that he could get the more amiable and malleable Rahul Dravid in the saddle. But that Chappell was right was conceded later by Ganguly himself, even if he did not admit in so many words, when he said in an interview: “I've got so much more free time. Captaincy is never easy but in India it is harder because the demands are more. Now that I'm away from the job, I've been able to concentrate on myself and my [own] game again. I've got a lot of time to relax."

In the flood of runs have also come other milestones – the honor of becoming only the third cricketer after Sanath Jayasuriya and Sachin Tendulkar to score 10,000 runs and capture 100 wickets in ODIs; a first-ever Test century in front his passionate fans in Kolkata; and by the time the year ends, the satisfaction of playing his 100th Test.

Ganguly goes to Australia on a fantastic high. He knows that he will be a marked man, because of his acrimonious past with them. The Aussies also know that despite all his achievement, he has remained vulnerable to the short, rising ball. But when it comes to taking up a challenge and emerging as a winner, there is none better than Ganguly. His hugely successful comeback as a Test cricketer has certainly surprised me. I may have been proved wrong in my thinking, but I am absolutely delighted to see the success of a man who took on the world on his aggressive terms like no other Indian.

Well done, Sourav.