Night out in Pakistan and two sides of Greg Chappel: Life and times of Sourav Ganguly
A journey into the life and times of Sourav Ganguly, with the aid of his recently released book.
"How will you play Wasim Akram and Shoaib Akhtar in the pre-lunch session, if you've had delicious luchi and rasgolla for breakfast?"
Surrounded by an overdose of affection and adulation in Kolkata, the Prince thought it best to distance himself from those that showered him with smiles, warmth, goodwill and extra helpings of food (such as the catering staff at the Eden Gardens). He also forbade his doting mother from serving him a lavish breakfast (luchi and rasgolla) whenever he played in Kolkata.
The motive behind the same, writes Sourav Ganguly in his recently released book, " A Century Is Not Enough," was to toughen him up mentally in order to perform better at his home ground.
We are accorded a glimpse into the life and times of one of India's most successful cricket captains by none other than the man himself in the book co-authored by his friend and acclaimed sports writer Gautam Bhattacharya.
The Sourav we know, and the Maharaj we don't
On one hand, we have a hero and a role-model, deified in his home state and admired in the rest of the country. A strong, resolute leader and a larger-than-life character who transformed a talented team tainted with controversy into a world beating unit, at home and abroad.
On the other hand, we have a soft and down-to-earth individual, unsure and insecure, basking in the glory of his achievements, but wanting to get away from the limelight.
"A Century Is Not Enough" is a little about the man we all know about and a lot about the man we don't. "The Prince of Kolkata" was called "Maharaj" at home and spent summers in England practicing cricket. A privileged lifestyle indeed, but not wasteful (which he is quick to point out) as his father did not give him a single pound but kept him under the watchful eye of relatives in England.
Sourav Ganguly is not just another Indian cricket captain. He inherited a team in tatters following the match-fixing saga in the 1990s. It was a decade in which India had a woeful Test record abroad with a solitary series win in Sri Lanka. There was discord in the team, as highlighted by Sanjay Manjrekar in his book "Imperfect" with friction between the juniors and more "senior" elements in the dressing room.
Yet one individual turned things around to catapult the team to a new level. Alas, the ascent was short-lived and a new power center was created in Indian cricket. A new coach, who had once been a friendly guide and mentor (and who was recommended for the position by none other than the skipper himself) turned into a tormentor. This was the beginning of the end of an era for Indian cricket and will go down as one of the saddest chapters in cricket history.
"A Century Is Not Enough" is full of anecdotes, trivia, history, some pleasant memories and utterly forgettable episodes in the life of one of India's greatest cricket captains.
Harsh lessons Down Under
Sanjay Manjrekar in his book "Imperfect" launched late last year had mentioned that he was in awe of Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly who were technically superior to him.
Sourav, however, recalls that Sanjay Manjrekar who had a bad outing in Australia in the 1991 series, was a perfectionist and, in his frustration, gave Sourav Ganguly a dressing down, for no particular reason. Ganguly mentions that Bruce Reid was the toughest bowler to face in the 1991 series Down Under as he was 6'7'' in height and could bowl bouncers from a good length.
The Aussie attack of Craig McDermott, Bruce Reid, Mike Whitney, and Merv Hughes was top class, he writes. India's failure in this series later inspired Ganguly to come back better prepared when he was captain with the intention of taking Australia on in their backyard and doing what no Indian captain had ever done before.
Greg Chappel as guide and mentor
A book by, or about, Sourav Ganguly cannot be complete without certain absolute essentials. The Prince of Kolkata's transformation of the Indian cricket team to become world-beaters abroad is one such element and Greg Chappel has to be the other!
It all started out, says Sourav Ganguly with Greg Chappel being friend, philosopher, and guide, on a secret trip to Australia.
In July 2003, Sourav Ganguly decided to do a recce of the Australian grounds to prepare for the series coming up in December. To aid him, in this ambitious experiment in cricket espionage was none other than Greg Chappel!
Long before the acrimonious relationship between the two threw Indian cricket into one of its worst crises, Ganguly and Chappel were partners in crime in the Indian captain's mission. It was ther latter who accompanied the Indian captain to the Sydney Cricket Ground and guided the Indian skipper with batting drills and advice about field placements.
Ganguly admits that he had immense respect for Greg Chappel and his cricketing acumen and that he had suggested the Australian's name to succeed John Wright as coach.
The connect with Australia is strong as he gives a detailed account of his rivalry and friendship with Steve Waugh and the fact that he liked Aussie banter. Did he wish to infuriate Steve Waugh by being late at the toss multiple times? No, he writes in the book. The first time, he actually forgot his jacket, but seeing how it affected the Australian captain, the next around, he did it deliberately!
India in Pakistan: Night out in Lahore and a call from the President
During the 2003-04 series in Pakistan, Ganguly writes, the Pakistan public showered a lot of love on him. He even indulged in a midnight rendezvous to Food Street in Lahore without informing the team's security manager. It was a series that was being played under heavy security and the Indian skipper did his best to conceal his identity. His cover, was broken, he writes by Indian journalist Rajdeep Sardesai who shouted his name out, leading to news spreading like wildfire that the Indian captain was in Food Street at midnight.
A large crowd gathered and a few policemen escorted the Indian captain back to his car before a speeding motorcycle motioned Sourav to roll down the window. The biker told Dada that he wanted a strong leader like Sourav Ganguly to lead Pakistan.
News of the midnight escapade reached the very top and the Indian captain writes, he received a phone call from President Musharraf who politely but firmly forbade him from repeating such adventures and told him to ask for a security entourage to accompany him if he did.
March 1, 2003, was the historic day when Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag demolished one of the strongest bowling attacks in the world. The venue was Centurion and the match was against Pakistan in the ICC World Cup.
The inside story, which we, the public do not know is that a scuffle between Harbhajan Singh and Yousuf Youhanna in the common lunch arena led to tense stand-off. The Indian captain asked the openers to take it easy and accelerate after ten overs.
The openers, were in no mood to comply with the skipper's instructions, however, and India raced to 60 for no loss in five overs. Did the skipper mind? Not in the least, he writes, in fact he was "smiling ear to ear."
Admiration for Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Shoaib Akhtar, and Zaheer Abbas
He writes in his book that he looked up to Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis and engaged the assistance of the former in guiding Zaheer Khan and Irfan Pathan. He even wanted Akram as India's bowling coach but the same did not materialize. He did meet with success in this regard as captain of Kolkata Knight Riders by roping Wasim Akram in as the bowling consultant.
He shared a great friendship with the Rawalpindi Express, Shoaib Akhtar, he writes, adding that he found Shoaib's Pakistani British accent funny and could not sometimes comprehend what the pacer was saying. He also adds that, he doubted if Akhtar himself understood a lot of what he said!
Zaheer Abbas helped Ganguly with his batting technique in 2006 when he was attempting a comeback and he credits the Pakistani legend with advice that helped him begin a great phase a few months from then.
The book also covers a lot of what we know with regard to the Greg Chappel episode, including the leaked e-mail, friction within the team, and Rahul Dravid's captaincy.
Every page is crowded as Dada attempts to guide us through multiple phases in his career, the spectacular rise, the tragic fall, the Pepsi ad, the comeback and the tough decision to retire. The book starts with his decision to retire in 2008, in the middle of the Durga Puja festival (on the most auspicious day of Mahastami) and the pain of walking away from the game he loved amidst the celebrations.
For those who are fans, and for those not, the book is definitely worth a read with rare insights into the life and times of a great Indian cricketer, the dizzying heights of his success, little-known incidents in the dressing room, interesting conversations in restaurants abroad, and a voluminous amount about his nemesis, Gregory Stephen Chappel.