Sourav Ganguly’s 52nd birthday – Memories from a bygone era

Sourav Ganguly as BCCI skipper
A few memories of Ganguly from a bygone era

On a rather cloudy morning at The Lord’s, Saurav Chandidas Ganguly, on his Test debut, walked out to bat on the back of Dominic Cork dismissing his bunny, Vikram Rathour. Ganguly, then 23, had looked assured at the crease in the final ODI of the three-match series against England, at Old Trafford, but there were many sceptics who doubted his credentials in red-ball cricket.

Those comments by his detractors had only strengthened Ganguly’s resolve to succeed in the Test arena. Just nine runs after the fall of Rathour’s wicket, Ganguly ended up playing a fine square-drive of Peter Martin, the tall Lancashire seamer.

When a batter plays a signature shot early on in his innings, it is a clear indicator that the eyes, feet and hands are in sync. It also capsulised the point that Ganguly had the required self-belief. Within no time, another off-drive had been essayed by the willowy left-hander.

For the next few hours, the Lord’s cognoscenti witnessed a splendid exhibition of stroke-play through the off-side. Cork, Chris Lewis and Martin continued to bowl in the channel outside the off-stump, while Ganguly kept moving across just enough towards off-stump to thread the gap through point and cover region with elan. In Ganguly’s hands, the willow seemed more like a rapier as he brought up his maiden Test fifty, with a crunchy cut through the point region off Lewis.

Cork, England’s pace spearhead at that time, shifted to a round the wicket angle and then back to over the wicket, but to no avail. Eventually, with the score reading 218, Ganguly completed a resplendent century on his Test debut by tailoring the gap through the point region with another of those elegant square drives. On expected lines, he soaked in all the applause from the crowd and his teammates by taking off his helmet and punching the air in delight.

‘The Prince of Calcutta’ had truly arrived in Test cricket, banishing those controversies surrounding his ODI debut at Gabba in 1992, and also whispers regarding his selection for the England tour. In retrospect, that Lord’s Test also turned out to be a game-changing moment for Indian cricket. Not just Ganguly, but another Test debutant, Rahul Dravid, also composed a tenacious 95. Those two batters would go on to become the bedrocks of the Indian line-up in the years to come.

If you wear the analytical hat, you also end up wondering where England could have gone wrong?  Maybe, just maybe, they bowled too much in the channel outside the off-stump. Even when they bowled short deliveries, the line was outside off. With Ganguly having a very side-on stance, they could have employed a few short deliveries more at his body, alongside the occasional inswinger. 

As Justin Langer, a fellow left-hander once said to, “As a left-hander, side-on stance can be a real curse because you’ve got the blind spot when they bowl short at you, and also it just takes your weight over a little bit.”

On Ganguly’s birthday, it is also pertinent to share some recollections of his maiden ODI hundred, against Sri Lanka, in Colombo, in August 1997. By then, Ganguly had established his place in the Indian side. He had also started to open the batting in the shorter format, alongside Sachin Tendulkar. However, that elusive ODI hundred was still missing from the list of his achievements. It all changed on a typical humid day in Colombo (RPS). 

On a quintessential slow track at RPS, the salient feature of his innings was how he tackled the spinners – Muttiah Muralitharan, Sanath Jayasuria, Kumar Dharmasena and Upul Chandana. The essence of his batting was he picked the length early, and that helped him to rock right back or take a confident stride forward to cut, pull and drive the spinners.

With the score nearing the 200-mark, Ganguly cracked a languid drive through extra cover to bring up the coveted three-figure mark. And he celebrated the milestone in his trademark style — removed his white cap, raised his bat towards the Indian dressing and looked skywards. Unfortunately for India, Ganguly’s ton went in vain. Those were the days when Jayasuriya and company were in prime form. The Lankan Lions made short work of the chase, hunting down the target of 239 in just under 42 overs.

Time flies. On July 8, 2024, Ganguly will celebrate his 52nd birthday, but some memories stay forever. Ganguly’s maiden Test and ODI hundreds would be a couple of them.