|| Monday, February 19, 2007
Some felt he couldn't play the bouncer, others swore that he was God on the off-side; some laughed at his lack of athleticism, others took immense pride in his ability to galvanise a side. Sourav Ganguly's ability to polarise opinion led to one of the most fascinating dramas in Indian cricket. Yet, nobody can dispute that he was India's most successful Test captain - forging a winning unit from a bunch of talented, but directionless, individuals - and nobody can argue about him being one of the greatest one-day batsmen of all time. Despite being a batsman who combined grace with surgical precision in his strokeplay, his career had spluttered to a standstill before being resurrected by a scintillating hundred on debut at Lord's in 1996. Later that year, he was promoted to the top of the order in ODIs and, along with Sachin Tendulkar, formed one of the most destructive opening pairs in history.
When he took over the captaincy after the match-fixing exposes in 2000, he quickly proved to be a tough, intuitive and uncompromising leader. Under his stewardship India started winning Test matches away, and put together a splendid streak that took them all the way to the World Cup final in 2003. Later that year, in Australia, an unexpected and incandescent hundred at Brisbane set the tone for the series - Steve Waugh's last - where India fought the world's best team to a standstill. Victory in Pakistan turned him into a cult figure but instead of being a springboard for greater things, it was the peak of a slippery slope.
The beginning of the end came in 2004 at Nagpur - when his last-minute withdrawal played a part in Australia clinching the series - and things went pear shaped when his loss of personal form coincided with India's insipid ODI performances. Breaking point was reached when his differences with Greg Chappell leaked into public domain and his career was in jeopardy when India began their remarkable revival under Rahul Dravid. His gritty 30s at Karachi, when India succumbed to a humiliating defeat in early 2006, weren't enough for him to retain his spot and some felt he would never get another chance. Others, as always, thought otherwise and they were proved right when he was included in the Test squad for the away series in South Africa in 2006-2007. He ended as the highest Indian run-scorer in that series and capped his fairytale comeback with a four fifties on his return to ODIs.
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