Sportstar archives: A fitting reply by Sourav Ganguly

Sourav Ganguly hit his critics, his detractors and his doubters for six by scoring a century on debut at Lord's.

Soaking it in: Sourav Ganguly celebrates his debut century at Lord's. - V. V. KRISHNAN

How wrong we were!

Sourav Ganguly hit his critics, his detractors and his doubters for six. What a start to his Test career which many believed was beginning again only because he belonged to Bengal, the influential State when it comes to selection. He had Lord’s standing up to him as he walked through to tea on the Saturday - the ultimate proof of achievement.

And what a day to charm the game’s HQ! The Saturday is the big day of the Lord’s Test, the day on which just about everyone connected with the game likes to turn up. In front of such a distinguished audience, Ganguly became the first Indian batsman to make a century on Test appearance at Lord’s. This was no ordinary century, made on some placid pitch against a listless attack.

The situation was loaded against India when Ganguly went in to bat. One false move from him and the result of the Test may have been entirely different. He did not simply make a century. He made a statement. That statement had to do with the young talent that is available in the country and which has not had fair enough a run yet. He struck the biggest possible blow for the young while also making false many an argument over whether Vinod Kambli should have been in this team.

In the first place, Ganguly is a far sounder player. Second, he is elegant without being flashy. Third, he has shown an overwhelming sense of responsibility. Fourth, he has handled the moving ball very well. All that adds up to one thing and that is that India has found a No. 3 who is solid without being stolid, who has the shots with the ability and the confidence to play them when the time and the opportunity are right and whose off-field behaviour has been impeccable.

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Apart from the historical perspective of the achievement which is somewhat enhanced by the special place Lord’s holds in cricket minds, what Ganguly really did was to turn the whole outlook to the series for his team.

Playing for a set of tourists who were befuddled as much by the conditions as by their own internal unease, Ganguly helped the Indians rediscover themselves.

A Calcuttan hero

They would have celebrated his success with particular relish in Calcutta. If there is one thing to the city apart from its lively and vibrant soul in a rotting body, it is its love for sport. Such a love has invariably been showered on heroes from far beyond the borders of the State. To have a home-grown product who is such a hero now should take the Bengalis’ love for the game further.

The joke in cricket circles was that the Bengalis could only talk cricket and also, of course, express their love for it by filling up the Eden Gardens about once a year. The more cruel one was that the passport to the Indian team was Bengal. A stream of players did get into the national team by going east and as recently as last season we had Utpal Chatterjee and Prashant Vaidya in the national team.

And so when Ganguly’s name made its way into the national squad for the England tour, it was assumed that the Bengal card had been played again. To be fair to Ganguly, he always had the talent and what he did not show on his maiden tour, to Australia, was guts. He did not have it in him to make it to the highest grade was the verdict passed not by critics as much as by the management on that tour. This may be apocryphal, or even just a rumour, but the story was that Ganguly refused to ply the twelfth man’s drinks trade on the tour down under. Maybe, his approach to the game was flawed when he was a young man. Since then much has changed in him, most of all in the matter of attitude. He was hungry for success and it showed in the early tour games on which he did enough to be first choice in the XI for the one-day Texaco series.

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He did not have a great run there and was only first reserve for the first Test. Perhaps, this is where the tour committee made its biggest blunder. You would have thought it would have been better to stretch the batting with an orthodox batsman in the Ganguly mould who could bowl medium-paced seamers rather than take in a bits-and-pieces all-rounder in Sunil Joshi who bowls spin.

Boon in disguise

The pitch at Edgbaston may have been screaming for the inclusion of anyone who could bowl seam-up but they misread it because of the barren patches at one end. So Ganguly missed the Test and, perhaps, he was lucky. Batting in the first Test would have been far more difficult in either innings than it was on a Lord’s pitch fast shedding its moisture and somewhat more easy on the second afternoon than it had been on the first day.

It was destined then that Ganguly should make his debut at Lord’s and that he should join the long forgotten Harry Graham of Australia and John Hampshire of Yorkshire who is a Test umpire now and who was coach of Zimbabwe during the country’s Test baptism. All Hampshire remembers of his debut against the West Indies in 1969 is he kept playing and missing the ball and that he considered himself distinctly lucky to get to the landmark.

Nothing is known of Graham’s century. We are free then to assume that Ganguly’s hundred was the best of the three. There was little that was flawed about it. He played each ball on its merits and while doing so displayed a maturity beyond his years. Not since Tendulkar made runs for India has anyone so young looked so assured in the theatre of Test match cricket.

There was little that was flawed in Ganguly's century. He played each ball on its merits and while doing so displayed a maturity beyond his years. - GETTY IMAGES

 

The baby-faced innocence to him was not reflected in his batting. He may have been late on a couple of hook shots and could so easily have been cut down by poor umpiring had the official not been Dickie Bird who ruled firmly, and correctly, that the ball with which Chris Lewis opened him up had gone off his shoulder rather than glove or shoulder of the bat. Nine umpires out of ten may have missed the exact point of contact and given the batsman out in the excitement of the situation and the concerted appeal.

Dearth of batsmen

It is a fair technical point that batsmen from Calcutta should be better qualified to play the moving ball because the ball actually moves more in that part of the country for much of the year. The grounds are also not dissimilar. They can be lush green and as slow and can allow the ball to seam a bit. It is just that the State has not had quality batsmen for a long time, at least since Pankaj Roy was a regular in the Indian side in the ’50s though Arun Lal did a lot to prepare young players for the first-class game by personal example.

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Taking a leaf out of the Indian media, the British had also been cruel on Ganguly. They said he was in the team only because his father, Chandi, is a high official of the Cricket Association of Bengal. They have had to eat their words, too, though in this case it is a pleasurable task because Sourav is the first Indian batsman to make a century at Lord’s in his very first Test.

He has shown such application on this tour, particularly in the match in Derby which was a terrible sort of dress rehearsal for the Lord’s Test, that it is unlikely that the jinx to debut century makers for India will apply to him. Already, there is reason to believe he will be the next batsman after Azharuddin to defy the jinx and add more hundreds to the one on Test appearance.

Before Azhar, there was Gundappa Viswanath, who may or may not have been instrumental in picking Ganguly but who can still be a role model for the youngster in not only having been the first Indian to break the jinx about debut centuries for India. The chairman may not be in the seat for long but he will certainly enjoy the batting of a stylish left-hander who has all the grace of batsmen of his tribe and who has made the Lord’s Test his own.

It was a pity then that Rahul Dravid should fall at virtually the last hurdle. What a story that would have been had the number of debutant century makers at Lord’s doubled in two days after having thrown forth only two for 112 years. An Indian summer at Lord’s it could have been had India gone on to win the match which it would have if not for its self doubts and its tactical vagueness. If there is one man who gave them the winning chance, it was Sourav Ganguly. And hats off to him.

(This article was first published in the Sportstar issue dated July 6, 1996.)

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