Fast is the way forward, a Sourav Ganguly initiative

A throwback photograph of Sourav Ganguly. (Source X)

A lot of talk on Indian cricket centres around the pool of fast bowlers these days. Traditionally a country which produced batters and spinners, India’s identity in world cricket has changed because of the emergence of these quick men. They have won the team matches and tournaments in parts of the world India had negligible success previously.

I saw the genesis of this transformation. It was the first match of an ODI series against Zimbabwe, in Cuttack in December 2000. India fielded four medium-pacers and one spinner in that game at Barabati Stadium. Back then, one spinner in a match in India was unheard of. There would be two as a rule if not three. There were no exceptions.

India won that game after a bit of huff and puff and a nervy chase and I asked the captain afterwards why he chose to break the norm by playing just one spinner. Sourav Ganguly’s reply was a revelation. “We want to win abroad and for that we need fast bowlers. And for that, we must groom them at home. Otherwise, they won’t get the time to learn,” he had said.

There was conviction in his voice. He is a smart speaker anyway, who doesn’t leave any doubt about what he is trying to convey. There was something else in his tone that day. He had seen something and was convinced that this was the way to take Indian cricket forward. He broke the stereotype and thought along lines no other India captain had before him.

The results were not evident right then, but when India started winning Tests in Australia, South Africa, England and New Zealand a few years after that, it was due largely to the contributions of the fast bowlers. Twenty-four years after that evening in Cuttack, this has become the norm. And Ganguly, who turns 52 today, was the pioneer of this movement.

A good player of spin and a murderer of left-arm orthodox spin as a left-handed batter, Ganguly didn’t rate spinners that highly. Unless, of course, it was Anil Kumble or Harbhajan Singh. If you notice, Murali Kartik didn’t get much of a chance when Ganguly led the side, although he was quite good at the time. Dada believed in fast bowling.

Even when he became the captain of Kolkata Knight Riders in 2008, he went for the likes of Shoaib Akhtar, Shane Bond, Brett Lee in different seasons. He was a firm believer that these are the kind of bowlers who win you matches. He obviously had to use spinners, but there was no doubt whatsoever what kind of bowlers he preferred.

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As the head of the BCCI’s technical committee some eight-ten years ago, Ganguly made it mandatory to keep a certain amount of grass on all the pitches for Ranji Trophy games. For one season, life became difficult for batters. But his justification was loud and clear. To succeed abroad, they have to do well on fast and bouncy pitches. For that, the preparation has to begin at home.

Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble, MS Dhoni, Virat Kohli and now Rohit Sharma — all the India captains after Ganguly have benefited from his vision and principle. One may or may not like everything that he has done on and off the field, but India have become a force to reckon with in all countries because he laid that foundation. In India, he propagated the cricketing equivalent of ‘fast forward’.

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