Twenty years ago, a young Sourav Ganguly was called back into the Indian team after a four year hiatus.
Some said he was unworthy of a national call-up, others suggested that his was a case of the board trying to fulfil regional quota requirements. The coach didn’t want him in the side and the captain didn’t either, but the young left-hander from Kolkata grew on everyone as soon as he unleashed his flowing drives, straight sixes and confident square-cuts.
Two decades on, as one of India’s most elegant batsmen, Ganguly’s record reads sixteen Test hundreds and over 7,000 Test runs – with his average never having fallen below forty. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Prince of Calcutta’s debut, Sport360.com takes a look at five of his finest innings.
131 VS ENGLAND AT LORD’S (LONDON), 1996
Navjot Sidhu storming out of the country at the last minute after an altercation with captain Mohammad Azharuddin opens the door for an unlikely debutant at the Home of Cricket. Ganguly who impressed during the tour games steps up to take Sidhu’s place in the side.
After picking up two wickets in the first innings, he joins Nayan Mongia in the middle with India 25-1 and trailing England’s first innings total by 319 runs.
The result is now part of folklore. The twenty something unleashes a flurry of shots on the English bowlers, ferrying them to all parts of the ground. Chris Lewis, Dominic Cork, Alan Mullally, the list goes on – none are spared the signature cover drives or slashes over backward point.
On 90, he hits what Richie Benaud calls the “most glorious on-drive” and then cover drives Cork for three. Later in that over, he leans into a fuller delivery outside off and dispatches it to the extra-cover boundary.
The helmet comes off, the hands go up in the air, and the whole of India joins him to celebrate his century. Many years later, Ganguly calls it a knock in which he felt the least pressure ever but acknowledges that a failure that day would have ended his career.
144 VS AUSTRALIA AT THE GABBA (BRISBANE), 2003
The obituaries have been written before the tour starts, there’s talk of chin music wherever the Indian skipper goes and the visitors are not given a hope.
After a splendid showing by their fast bowlers in the first innings, the Indian batsmen squander the opportunity and are tottering at 62-3. That’s when Ganguly walks out to the middle and Australia captain Steve Waugh immediately surrounds him with fielders on the off-side. Ganguly swings and misses and nearly finds the hands of point with a mistimed cut. But that dismissal never arrives.
Ganguly gets into his stride, piercing the narrowest of gaps, rocking back and cutting over point and pulling ferociously. The Aussie bowlers throw everything at him but nothing deters the Indian skipper.
When he eventually does depart with 144 against his name, one of the opposition’s most feared stadiums in Australia, The Gabba, stands up in unison to applaud a remarkable innings. India draw the Test and go on to win the next, subsequently entering the third with a rare series lead Down Under.
51* VS SOUTH AFRICA AT THE WANDERERS (JOHANNESBURG), 2006
Just as people start to use his name in the past tense, he shows up in a beverage advertisement appealing to the emotions of countless fans and telling them a comeback isn’t far away. People mock him, some pity him, but a month later Ganguly has seemingly written a fairy tale.
He gets a call-up to the national side after nearly a year, replacing the injured Yuvraj Singh in the middle-order. In a warm-up match he strolls out at 59-4 and revives India with 83* against Rest of South Africa. Something similar happens at the Wanderers when the Test series gets underway.
India are four down for 110, Makhaya Ntini and Jacques Kallis are on fire. All of this sparks Ganguly into playing the most high pressure innings of his career on a lively deck. He bats for three hours and remains unbeaten on 51, helping India reach a match winning 249 in the first innings.
He ends the series as India’s highest run-getter. The epitaphs could now be disposed of.
87 VS SOUTH AFRICA AT GREEN PARK (KANPUR), 2008
India enter into the third Test at Kanpur having been humiliated by Dale Steyn at Ahmedabad in the previous game. With a rare series defeat at home looming large, the generous curators dish out an under-prepared track.
The ball starts turning square from day two and at 123-4, trailing by 142 runs, it seems the curator’s intentions might backfire on the hosts. It takes monumental patience from Ganguly to deliver what he later calls one of his finest knocks. He rotates the strike, builds partnerships with the lower order and contributes 87 of the 166 runs that come during his time at the crease.
India win the match and level the series and Ganguly is declared Player of the Match in MS Dhoni’s first game as India’s Test captain.
128 VS ENGLAND AT HEADINGLY (LEEDS), 2002
After deciding to bat, Sanjay Bangar and Rahul Dravid put India in command. When Dravid departs for 148, India are 335-3 and well poised for a burst from its most iconic ODI opening pair – Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly.
The duo deliver in some style, adding 249 runs for the fourth wicket and the runs coming at a rate of over four per over.
Ganguly is the aggressor in the partnership, scoring 128 from 167 deliveries in an innings containing 14 fours and three sixes. His preference for left-arm orthodox spinners is well shown in his handling of Ashley Giles. The southpaw scores a run-a-ball 55 off Giles’ bowling and hits the spinner for four boundaries and three sixes.
Half of Ganguly’s runs come from shots over mid-wicket and point in an innings that doesn’t see him play a single signature cover drive. India thump England in that match by an innings and 46 runs.