Sourav Ganguly will forever rank as one of Indian cricket’s best leaders.
Sourav Ganguly will forever rank as one of Indian cricket’s best leaders. Even more a leader of men than just a player, he is rightly credited for having changed the mindset of the Indian cricket team at the turn of the century, having taken over the captaincy from Sachin Tendulkar in 2000. Ganguly injected positivity and taught the art of competing and even winning, his single-biggest contribution to Indian cricket. At the root of this transformation was his mindset. Not to give up in the face of adversity, he took calls that may have evoked the critics’ ire at the time, but benefitted Indian cricket in the long term. In his first book, A Century is not Enough: My Roller-coaster Ride to Success, co-written with Gautam Bhattacharya, he gives us a detailed insight into this never-say-die mindset. More a leadership and corporate manual, and a ‘mind book’, as Ganguly likes to call it, than a cricketing memoir, it is expected to go beyond the sporting domain and appeal to thought and business leaders alike.
Ganguly’s success mantra, which is what A Century is not Enough is mostly about, is tried and tested, all-pervasive and definitely the book’s core strength. While it isn’t a literary classic, it certainly does the job of trying to get into Ganguly’s thought process when facing Steve Waugh’s Australia in 2001 or the barbs thrown at him by Greg Chappell in 2005-06. The section on franchise cricket, which documents the ebbs and flows of how an IPL team is run, and how it is different from international cricket, is equally interesting. In franchise cricket, it is always the owner who has the final call and however good a leader of men you might be, you end up playing supporting cast to the owner. Even India’s best ever captain had to accept this truth as Ganguly documents candidly.
A recluse by nature, Ganguly consciously changed his persona on the cricket field to suit Indian cricket. It was, like he says, essential to deal with the mighty Australians, who had come to India having won 15 Test matches on the trot and made it 16 with a three-and-a-half-day mauling of India at the Wankhede stadium in the first of a three-Test series in 2001. “I always thought we were a collection of quality individuals but in high pressure moments we fell apart. I wanted to build a new team culture quickly…I was inspired by the way the Aussies played their cricket. I wanted to inculcate the same spirit in my team. I was very clear in my mind that I would only play to win. And while attempting to win if I lost I didn’t mind. I wanted to create a culture of winning and absolutely detested draws.”
From making Steve Waugh wait at the toss to allowing his men to have a go at the Australians, Ganguly was consciously trying to usher in a new era in Indian cricket. In doing so, he was successful in getting under the skin of Waugh’s men, something no Indian captain had done or even thought of doing before. With supremely talented youngsters like Virender Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan and Yuvraj Singh in his team, his task had become easier. Seeing a captain who was aggressive and unafraid to give it back, each of these men had started to express themselves on the field. It was a new Indian team and Ganguly was at the centre of it. “Off the field I was docile, introverted, a little withdrawn. Now I became aggressive on the field. I learned this tactic in the famous Eden Gardens Test in 2001. It was a tense game and I noticed that quite a few of our players were reacting aggressively to the pressure tactics of the Australians. They were giving it back. This was not planned. It happened spontaneously.”
In fact, this is one aspect of Indian cricket that Virat Kohli has now taken well ahead, making his team one of the most passionate and aggressive in the world. In Ganguly’s case, success may have turned into overconfidence, prompting him to recommend Greg Chappell’s name as India coach. Going against the advice of Sunil Gavaskar, as he reveals in the book, this is one decision he will forever regret. Ganguly, who had trained with and benefitted from Chappell ahead of the India tour of Australia in December 2003, made a wrong call in choosing him as head coach at the end of John Wright’s tenure in 2005. In no time did the captain-coach synergy turn horribly wrong, with Ganguly finding himself out of the team. An all-powerful captain, Ganguly, within weeks, was reduced to a domestic cricketer, trying his best to make a comeback. Sensing discrimination, his mind was mired with contradictions, but at no point did he throw in the towel. Playing domestic cricket for Bengal was hard, but Ganguly did so with a single-minded purpose of making a comeback into the Indian team. Self-belief, he keeps saying in the book, is what kept him going. Forced by a cola company to do an advert that he did not want to, one that was aimed at making him an object of public sympathy, it was a period that makes the Sourav Ganguly narrative what it is. A century, as he rightly says, was not enough for a period to get things back on track.
“Runs? The scoreboard said it all. Centuries? Only Sachin had scored more one-day hundreds. Fitness? Had they read the physio’s report? Age? I was only thirty three. The selection criteria had to be something other than my batting and runs.” But he did come out of this period of adversity and made a fairytale comeback. And that too against the mighty South African bowling attack in South Africa. His comeback innings at Johannesburg in 2005-06 may not have been a century, as Ganguly wanted it to be, but his 51 not-out, it must be said in hindsight, was the stuff of cricket lore. It was good enough to script his legacy, and this makes A Century is not Enough a highly acceptable leadership manual from a hugely successful sporting legend.
Boria Majumdar is a sports historian and commentator. His forthcoming book, Eleven Gods and a Billion Indians, will be published soon