Sourav Ganguly was the most inspiring captain India has ever had. In spite of being born with a silver spoon in his mouth, this Behala boy had done his hard yards quite well. And he inspired his team to do the same. He made to the Indian team for the first time during the 1992 , had an indifferent tour, then returned home trimmed to size, scored runs by tons in the domestic matches, earned his place on the England tour of 1996, had a dream Lord’s debut, followed it up with another century in the very next test, and then he was unstoppable.
After Azhar’s infamous dismissal from captaincy, he was the chosen one to lead the Indian side. The 2002 Indian team was a formidable one. Sachin, Sourav and Dravid were already amongst the best batsmen in the world, the pace attack was well populated with quality seamers in Zaheer Khan, Ajit Agarkar and Ashish Nehra, and there was the ever-dependable Anil Kumble to bowl spin. The captain was in control of the team, and in spite of the occasionally abrasive nature of his, the team had supported him well. If there was a strong Indian side well balanced in all respects, all in good form, which went to England ever, this was the one. However, traditions die hard, as India were to prove at the Lord’s in the first test. Coming off a high after beating England in the Natwest “shirt- flinging” trophy final on the same ground, India were brought down immediately by England.
Nasser Hussain won the toss and elected to bat. England posted a healthy total of 487 in the first innings, riding on Hussain’s 155 and fifties from John Crawley, Craig White and the fiery Andrew Flintoff. Simon Jones made a useful 44 towards the end of the innings. India lost Wasim Jaffer early, but with Sehwag batting as if he was batting in the first 15 overs of an ODI, and Rahul Dravid refusing to give his wicket away, India were at a healthy position at 128/1. Sehwag fell for 84, Night-Watchman Nehra for 0, Sachin for 16, the skipper for 5, and India were in the familiar position of staring down the barrel at Lord’s.
Dravid made 46 in his characteristic fashion and the Stoic VVS Laxman remained unbeaten on 43. India folded up for 221. England didn’t impose the follow on and made a brisk 301/5 riding on a brace of even 100s by John Crawley and Michael Vaughan. Set 588 to win, India started positively with Sehwag and Jaffer putting on 61 for the first wicket, and Dravid and Laxman getting half centuries too. The skipper scored a first ball duck, wicketkeeper Ajay Ratra fell with the score on 170, and in walked Ajit Agarkar. Seldom would he have thought that by the end of the match he would gain a place which even Sachin Tendulkar could never occupy despite his unmatchable records- mention on the Lord’s Honours board. Batting Honours board !!! He and VVS Laxman added 126, but Laxman was removed by Simon Jones and the Indian hopes of saving the match took a blow. Kumble and Zaheer Khan didn’t last long, but surprisingly, Ashish Nehra helped Agarkar complete his century and take the Indian score to 397. Agarkar remained unbeaten on 109. India lost comprehensively by 170 runs.
In the second test at Nottingham, Ganguly won the toss and elected to bat. Sehwag made a swashbuckling start, and then batted sedately with wickets falling at regular intervals to score his maiden test hundred in England. Ganguly himself scored 68, but all the others got starts and couldn’t capitalize. India made 357 in their first innings. England replied with a mammoth 617. Riding on Michael Vaughan’s 197, Alec Stewart’s 87 and Craig White’s 94 not out. Starting badly in their second innings, India lost both their openers when their total had reached 11. But Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar steadied the ship by adding 163 runs when Sachin got out making a blistering 92 off just 113 balls off the benign off-spin of Michael Vaughan.
Saurav joined his deputy and added a further 135 to take the Indian total to 309, and slowly cruising towards saving the match when Dravid departed for a well made 115. Laxman didn’t last long, but Agarkar hung around with his captain, who looked well on the way for his third century in England. But when the score reached 378 Ganguly was removed 1 short of his hundred by debutante Steve Harmison, and it fell on another debutante Parthiv Patel to save the match for India. He and Zaheer Khan grimly hung on and the match ended in a draw with India making 424/8 in their second innings. First match lost, second drawn. Much like the previous two tours. But India were to turn the tables in the next test at Leeds.
India elected to bat first on a placid looking Leeds pitch, and lost Sehwag early. 584 runs thereafter were scored by three huge partnerships, and the scene which the Indian fans got used to, and later on started expecting every time India batted, was painted for the first time in England. The Great Indian Middle Order had fired! Though not all cylinders, (Laxman missed out) it put England out of the game by the end of day two of the match. Dravid made 148, Tendulkar 193, and the skipper made a stroke filled 128. What a treat to watch !!!
India declared their first innings closed on 628/8. Then the bowlers came to the party. Zaheer Khan and Agarkar took two wickets each and Kumble and Harbhajan took 3 each to dismiss England for 273. Only Vaughan (61) and Alec Stewart (78) showed some fight. Saurav promptly made England follow on. They made 309, Nasser Hussain made a fighting 110 and Butcher and Stewart made 40s. Anil kumble, claiming 4 wickets was the destroyer-in-chief. However their efforts came to no avail, and India beat England by an innings and 46 runs. India had levelled the series.
In the last test, England came back strongly, posting 515 in the first innings with Vaughan making a superb 195, and Trescothick, Butcher and Dominic Cork making half centuries. Harbhajan Singh bagged 5 for 115. India replied strongly with 508, with batsmen batting well around Rahul Dravid who made a mighty 217. Tendulkar and Ganguly made fifties and Laxman made 40. England had a slender lead of 7 runs, but too much time in the match had passed, and a result was not evident. England made 114 without losing a wicket in their second innings. The series was drawn at 1-1. And Ganguly was the second Indian captain not to lose a series in England, after Kapil Dev in 1986. In the very next year, he would go on to square a series in Australia in Australia, and lead India to the 2003 world cup final.
Saurav Ganguly went on to become one of the most successful Indian test match captain. His style of captaincy was a real passionate one, and he was not shy of getting under the skin of the opposition. His bare-chested display at Lord’s after the Natwest trophy win, defines him as a person. He always played to win and expected his players to do so. Some might have called him lucky, as he had Dravid, Tendulkar, Laxman and Sehwag in his team and the batting battery was capable of dominating any attack in the world. But yet, he was a captain who made things happen. He kept Steve Waugh waiting at the toss at Kolkata when India did the epic turnaround to win the test in 2001. He also used to give it back to the sledgers with vengeance, and was never afraid of criticism. Players like Sehwag, Dhoni, Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh owed their success to the confidence Ganguly instilled in them with from time to time, and his persistence with them even in their lean patches. It was unfortunate that he lost captaincy and even his place in the side due to the Greg Chappell interferences, but he was strong enough a player to make a great comeback and a great team-man to give his 100% to the team, even when dethroned from captaincy. Saurav Ganguly was a man with a lot of character and firepower. And of course, supreme artistry.
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