4 Indian stalwarts who owe their careers to Sourav Ganguly

Sourav Ganguly Shirt Wave
Iconic at The Mecca: Ganguly takes off his jersey after the NatWest triumph at Lord's
Harigovind Sankar

If there was one unprecedented thing that Sourav Ganguly gave to Indian cricket and it's viewers - its tens of thousands of viewers who would drop a six-course gourmet meal with shots of tequila and sarsaparilla to watch their favourite stars in action.

It was a sense of self-belief and paramount confidence. Notwithstanding his never-say-die mentality and his hell-bent attitude of giving it back to the opposition under provocation, Ganguly's biggest contribution to world cricket was in developing an Indian team which believed that it could win matches in any conditions, against all oppositions, and most importantly, match fire with fire.

Wherever he comported himself, there was an aura of self-belief around him. His captaincy formula was no different either. Whenever the spatter off the bat of a rookie cricketer, resulting from a cover-drive as scrumptious as his famous Bengali delicacies reached his ears, Ganguly fast-tracked him into the national side.

He moved away from the traditional features of Indian selection called favouritism and regionalism and ensured that every youngster received a fair number of opportunities to prove his worth.

And in doing that, he backed his instincts over the world. The following virtuosos of Indian cricket, some you might know and some you might not, have only been direct beneficiaries of Ganguly's unflinching support and unwavering belief:

#4 Harbhajan Singh

The Turbanator
The Turbanator with the Border-Gavaskar Trophy in 2001

Early 2001. Ganguly's first big assignment after succeeding Tendulkar as captain. Australia were the undisputed, yet uncrowned champions of world cricket back then, and was drawing comparisons to the West Indies team of the '80s.

McGrath, Gillespie, Warne, and Kasprowicz presented a fiery bowling line-up that could run through batting orders and reduce them into ashes, whereas Hayden, Ponting, Waugh, and Langer could take the match away from you in a single session.

Ganguly geared up for what was going to be a gruelling series in characteristic panache, at the selection committee's meeting in Mumbai:

" I am not leaving this room until I see Harbhajan’s name on that list."

To put things in perspective, Harbhajan Singh was a schoolboy-turned cricketer back then, who had taken giant leaps in personal life, changing from the tyro asking for autographs to a shy Punjabi signing his own name.

He had his bowling action suspected twice in a 3-year old career, and it seemed like the wane of another promising young talent, with the selectors burying his name along with some 3 others banned for life owing to unfortunate circumstances.

But not when Dada was at the helm of the affairs.

Result? Bhajji finishes the series with 32 wickets (second-placed McGrath had 17), a hat-trick, and a five-for, as India completed a series victory, that sent an entire country into euphoria, and brought back life into a game marred by the scandals of match-fixing.

#3 Yuvraj Singh

Youvraj Singh of India in action watched by Lance Kluesner of South Africa
A young Yuvraj was unleashed by Ganguly

India's overseas losing paradigm was broken only in 2002, fittingly under Ganguly's captaincy, in the NatWest tri-series against England and Sri Lanka, and the architects of the victory were once again, two youngsters Ganguly was instrumental in getting into the team - Mohammad Kaif and Yuvraj Singh.

Apparently, he first heard about Yuvraj from former India cricketer Ashok Malhotra. Ashok, who'd seen serious potential in Yuvraj, promptly informed Ganguly of this very young southpaw making giant strides in domestic cricket. Sooner than he'd finished the conversation, Ganguly made himself available to watch Yuvraj bat in a Ranji Trophy match at Delhi.

Now he saw a solution to India's middle order woes in international cricket. Here was a batsman who was unafraid of playing shots, had a scintillating back lift, and could send the ball a long way into the stands.

Yuvraj was hardly a finished product by then, but Ganguly fast-tracked him into the U-19 side, and subsequently into the India A side. Yuvraj made his debut in 2000 and started his career with a sensational inning of 84, going on to record close to 9000 runs in ODIs.

#2 M.S. Dhoni

MS Dhoni
The former Indian skipper was spotted by Ganguly.

Arguably India's greatest white-ball captain and the greatest finisher the world has ever seen, M.S. Dhoni's story is the stuff of legends, for having risen from a ticket-collector to a trophy-collector.

Ganguly had heard of him as an unorthodox big-hitting batsman-wicketkeeper in 2002-03. Most people would've wanted to see him bat, before taking a call. Not Ganguly. Dada has himself confirmed that Raju Mukherjee and Prakash Poddar, Talent Research Development Officers appointed by the BCCI, had mentioned Dhoni to them.

Here was a player who could ease the ball into the stands with consummate power and could be a colossal match-winner. When the selectors asked Ganguly whether he'd seen Dhoni, he replied in archetypal fashion:

"No, but I don't want to waste precious time."

The less said about Dhoni, the better it would be. Because the rest, as they say, is history.

#1 Virender Sehwag

Virender Sehwag
Sehwag after his marathon innings of 309 at Multan

It was in Sri Lanka, that Ganguly went to a struggling Sehwag and asked him to open the batting in one-day cricket, in a group-stage clash against New Zealand, a do-or-die encounter for India, to stay in the tournament.

With Tendulkar sitting out with an injury, Ganguly felt the time was ripe to introduce an idea to the players and the coach that had been doing rounds in his head for a fairly long time. Sehwag, who had had a modest start to his ODI career, with 169 runs from 14 ODIs at an average of 15.36, reacted to Ganguly's proposal with reluctance.

He was apprehensive of facing the new ball, and more significantly, scared of failure. This is where Ganguly, the captain, came to the fore. He assured Sehwag of a fair run at the top as well as in the middle order if things did not pan out well in the ongoing tournament.

The result was immediately evident when Sehwag scored a 70-ball 100, hitting his second ball for four, with arrogant disdain and impervious swag.

The first hour in a day's play outside the Subcontinent always belongs to the bowlers. But Ganguly's thinking was different. He spotted merit in only taking control of the match from ball one, and dictating terms to the opposition.

Sehwag gave an ample opportunity for doing this. He would either flash his bat at the first ball and go back to the dugout to recline on his couch, or he could get your team to 80-0 after 15 overs. That was what Hayden and Langer were doing at the same time for Australia. That was exactly what Ganguly wanted.

To get a clearer view of the risk involved, Sehwag had never opened the batting ever in his life - even in a List A match. Understandably sceptical, he was greatly opposed to the idea of opening in England, but Ganguly, for the uncanny chiromancer he is, convinced Sehwag of his spot in the XI and inveigled him to open the batting.

Numbers tell you only half the story, but here are some interesting stats:

Sehwag has 7518 runs opening the batting in ODI cricket at an average of 36.50 and a strike rate of 104 (which was unthinkable in the pre-T20 era), and 8586 runs in Test cricket at the top of the order, averaging 49.34 and striking at 82.11.

Edited by Debjyoti Samanta


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