2nd April 2011 is an amazing memory for all the Indian cricket fans. Dhoni & Co deserve all the superlatives that will be hurled at them now. Of course, we all have invested emotions in this team in some way or other. Among all this euphoria, I remembered 1 man again who certainly did have a big hand in this. And it was great when Kapil cried and made me too shed a tear, but then he did make a great point. Kapil said that the process began in 2000 under the captaincy of Saurav Ganguly. He brought aggression to the team and the team completely changed under him.
I love watching the game not just for the shots or the deliveries or for the catches... but for the stories the game can tell and the characters that are exhibited. Unlike any other game, this is one of the greatest thing about cricket. It will showcase your heart, passion and intelligence. Fortunately, with the advent of TV, we are able to deciper (atleast I always notice) the body language and gestures of the players. It can be Sachin's fierce determination or Rahul's tensed and intense waiting for the bowler or Saurav's passion when he is batting to prove something or Dhoni's almost teary eyed look of dismay to square leg (when he got out in the Australia Q/f, caught at point).
So let's see if we can weave a story around the tale and times of 2 cricket captains of our nation.
Amidst all the controversy around betting and fixing and then the subsequent refusal of Sachin to take the burden (responsibility) of captaincy, it was handed over to the Prince of Kolkatta. Saurav has had a life of a prince for sure with all his riches. But then, he was hardened enough. Selected and dropped after playing just 1 game in 1992, then having the cheek to tell his father that he will be the captain of the Indian cricket team to becoming the second most reliable batsman of the Team, it was an amazing journey. Perhaps, being born in one of the most passionate regions of the country too must have helped. In his 1st match as a full time captain against South Africa in 2000, he surprised us by giving the 48th or 49th over to Rahul Dravid who then took his first wicket (Herschelle Gibbs). India had in that instance too chased down a huge total of 302 runs. But other than that, there were many changes behind the screen. Before Ganguly, the captain had no say in the Selection matters. But a defiant Ganguly fought the system and changed it. We saw a string of players coming in and also being given enough of chances. Ganguly's stubbborness for getting Harbhajan against the Aussies in the "greatest series of alltime" must be appreciated for his foresightedness. If the selectors had their say, it would be Sarandeep Singh who would have played that series and Harbhajan might have become a truck driver in USA. The injection of youth, sticking with them and giving them enough chances helped us in forming an amazing future crux of the team in the likes of Yuvraj, Mohd. Kaif (wherever he is now), Virender Sehwag, Zaheer Khan and yes of course, Dhoni himself. Before Ganguly, the Indian team was just an ascension from the big city teams. We would never ever hear of players who used to play for smaller cities. But then it all changed, it had too. With a huge country and keeping the selection panel too some cities would be a glaring error.
Ganguly has always trusted his instincts. He has tried his best to lead from the front. One of my friends says about a Test Match where it was too early to send in a night watchman and too late to send in Sachin. So he walked in and batted the day out. The biggest impact of Ganguly's captaincy was Rahul Dravid glaring back and charging (walking) towards the bowler who had some words for him ( if I remember correctly it was against a SAF bowler). If Dravid did that, it means that this mode of aggression was talked about in the dressing room and team meetings. There must be directives that we are not going to take it lying down. We are great crickteters and our game can do the talking but ensure that the lips do too. Australia were surprised and they still have not got over it. India were a force to reckon with. Sledge at your own peril. What a transformation? It is so difficult to even pen it down. But let me remind all of the greatest turning points of Indian Cricket, the ones which changed it all: 1.) India's win against the Aussies in 2001, the Greatest Test match ever 2.) Natwest Finals 2001 - India chasing the then highest record of 326 And both came under the captaincy of Saurav. India was never a 1 man team after that, Aussies are still getting beaten in cricket as well as the other game of sledging and the process of becoming a dominant cricketing side and the strides towards it were taken in giant strides.
For me and as would be for all the Indian fans, Ganguly waving his shirt in the "divine" Lords dressing room verandah sums up everything he was. The one who wears his heart in his sleeves, the passionate, stubborn and at times so adamant to the edge of arrogance. India had finally found a leader who did not mince words, was not interested in being a diplomat, was battle hardened with all the criticisms he had got and supported his teammates like anything.