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March 21, 2000

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Something special about Sourav

Harsha Bhogle

Indian skipper Sourav Ganguly There is something about Sourav Ganguly that I find most endearing. I donít know if it is the glasses that sometimes give him the look of a small-town simpleton. I donít know if it is the thin moustache, the kind that actors in the black and white movies had. I donít know if it is the smile, not one of those that drop off the lower lip but one that grows to include his face. I donít know if it is the slightly gawky young man in the commercials who doesnít quite know the right angles.

I actually think it is the manner in which he speaks. There is a warmth to it, he makes you feel welcome and I have often been taken aback by the candour and openness with which he states his opinions. And in the two weeks since he became captain of India, this openness has shone through. Followers of Indian cricket now know what the captain of the national team thinks about important issues.

Already, we know that he holds pretty firm views; that a cricketerís age is not a factor in his mind; that he believes a young player should do two years in domestic cricket before making the next step up; that once a player is identified, he should be given five games. And he can be scathing, he doesnít hide behind polite words that mean nothing. He is quite happy to call Ranbir Singh Mahendra, his manager on his traumatic first tour a "shame to Indian cricket". I have never seen a serving cricketer talk about a serving administrator in such terms and funnily, for calling a spade a spade, he rose in my esteem.

He has come a very long way from the lost child in Australia in 1991-92, even from the lost young man in England in 1996. In every sense of the word. And he has done so because he has tried very hard. There is more to Sourav Ganguly than the man who drives through the off side like he was born to do so.

I remember meeting an extremely shy young man at Lord's the day after he had scored his first Test century. He was very apprehensive, cobbled together a few words and the interview ran only because that was the only thing he had said. Then in 1999, at the start of the World Cup, we chatted about his expectations, his form... the kind of interview that goes into a topical magazine show. "Was it okay?" he said after we had finished. "Yes," I said "but just remember to look either at me or at the camera."

A few days later, we were doing another interview. He walked up, stood before the camera and said "I look there, right!"

For all that he has achieved the eager little child in him hasnít gone away. I was very amused to read an interview in which he spoke of how he called up newspaper offices in the period between 1992 and 1996 to enquire if he had made the national team. And I am sure he wonít mind if I tell people, now that he has signed with Lancashire, of how eager he was to play county cricket there.

He had been approached by Bob Simpson, who had accepted an offer to coach Lancashire, in Australia and thereafter by the county committee. He had said yes but there was also word that Stuart MacGill might be asked as might another cricketer. "I think they will go for a batsman because Atherton might play Test cricket," he said and a couple of days later, he called to ask if he could surf the net to look for information on Lancashire. Between us, we scanned everything there was on offer on the web page for some news on who the next signing would be. A couple of days later, we repeated the exercise and needless to say, he was delighted when the final offer came through.

"Why are you so keen?" I asked him, a bit perplexed. "Just a fancy," he said. "I always wanted to do it."

I also think he has matured enormously as an individual and it has been a wonderful experience to see it happen. And I must confess there was one occasion when I wondered if he would emerge as his own, worst enemy.

During the Calcutta Test of 1996, one of the Calcutta newspapers had quoted the late Ambar Roy as having said that he should have waited for an injury to heal before playing the Test match. The next day, the Ananda Bazar Patrika carried a very strong rebuttal from Ganguly. I remember mentioning casually to Gautam Bhattacharya, who has worked there with distinction for years, that Gangulyís interests might have been better served through not carrying the news story. Apparently that is what the newspaper had decided until there was a call from Ganguly late at night insisting that his version be aired. I would be very surprised if that happened today for in the last three years, his increased stature has made him more down-to-earth.

I think it stems out of belonging to a very close knit family. He firmly believes that a happy family is the key to a cricketerís success and I couldnít agree more. I have seen a few cricketers go astray through being possessed by a troubled mind and that is why it is such a wonderful sight to see him and Dona together on most cricket tours. They make a very happy couple and for a purely selfish reason, because I have long been an admirer of the way he plays his cricket, I hope they stay that way !!

As captain, I think he will show greater sympathy towards the marginal players. For four years, and in the life of a young man that is an eternity, he lived with failure and rejection and I know he hated every moment of it. That is why I think he will understand other cricketers going through a similar phase and that is why I see him being more understanding and generous. I am not suggesting that Sachin Tendulkar wasnít. But for him to understand insecurity, never having needed to embrace it, was always going to be impossible.

Now the time has come for Sourav Ganguly to take another couple of steps on the ladder of evolution. As India increasingly looks like becoming an irrelevant Test cricket nation he must be the catalyst for change. And he must be its symbol. He must demand fitness levels and he must set the pace himself. A team that sees the captain transform physically has no option but to follow. Conversely, a slow-moving leader can never demand that another be fleet of foot and sure of arm. At crucial moments in his career, Ganguly has surprised people by the strength within him. Now, he must summon that strength again.

And he has to become a bigger influence in Test cricket. In the one-day game he is an undoubted match winner with enormous confidence in his own ability. Now he must coerce that confidence into influencing more Test matches. He has a very healthy batting average but for all that, there arenít enough commanding, match winning innings there.

Finally though, I think the key to his success will lie in the strength of the relationships he can forge with key people within his team; with Javagal Srinath and Anil Kumble; with Ajay Jadeja and Mohammad Azharuddin; and more than anyone else, with Sachin Tendulkar. Can he put Tendulkar on a pedestal and yet be the leader? Or will those be conflicting interests?

But I am hopeful; because there is more to him than we know. And because there is something endearing in him.

Harsha Bhogle

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