Sourav Ganguly, one of the most courageous Indian captains had a stellar career for team India with more than 18,000 runs in international cricket and more than 130 scalps to his name. His contributions for Bengal and East Zone in the domestic cricket which ensured his place in the national side were equally incredible. But what most people do once, former India captain had to do it twice. The boy who impressed one and all at his first appearance, had to go through the same ordeal even after 15 years of exposure at the top level.
Very interestingly, Ganguly’s first ever First-class match was the Ranji Trophy final of the 1989-90 season when Bengal were battling Delhi for the title. To add to the drama a teen-age Ganguly was included in the team in the finale replacing his own brother Snehasish. The young boy did not disappoint and held his own with a stroke-filled 22 against the likes of Manoj Prabhakar and Atul Wassan. It looked like he was a lucky charm for Bengal as Bengal completed only their second Ranji Trophy win in a rain-affected match. Morning showed the day. The way Ganguly handled the pressure at the very first important match of his career, gave a glimpse of what was in store for future.
He had very short stay in the national team during 1991-92 Australia tour and was dropped after playing just one ODI. He was back to the domestic circuit and Bengal again reached the final of Ranji Trophy in the 1993-94 season with Ganguly as a regular member of the squad this time. He scored heavily throughout the season and recorded three hundred including an unbeaten 200. He finished with 722 runs in the season and also top-scored for Bengal in the final match although in a losing cause. An impressive 171 during the 1995 Duleep Trophy helped the East Zone selector and Ganguly’s first Bengal captain Sambaran Banerjee to make a strong case in favour of him to be included in the 1996 tour of England.
And once the twin centuries came at Lords and Trent Bridge there was no looking back for Ganguly. He reached new heights in his career and by 2000 he was also selected as Indian captain which was a game-changing moment for Indian cricket as he developed a strong unit with a great mix of experienced and young players.
However, by 2005 his form dipped and an ongoing feud with the coach Greg Chappell added to the woe. It was one of the controversial and disappointing phases of Indian cricket. Ganguly was removed from captaincy which was followed by axe from the national team. It was a difficult task for him to return this time as the selectors clearly mentioned that they did not want to look back. However, the ‘Prince of Bengal’ decided to not take a back seat and let others decide his fate. Instead he chose to go for rigorous physical training and also worked on the weakness in his game.
Ganguly decided to give it a fresh try and went back to the domestic cricket to represent Bengal and East Zone. A new generation of Bengal cricketers like Manoj Tiwari and Laxmi Ratan Shukla welcomed their beloved ‘Dada’. Ganguly did not only perform well but also guided the team towards greatness. Bengal reached the Ranji Trophy final consecutively in 2005-06 and 2006-07 season but unfortunately lost both the finals. However, Ganguly’s contribution was significant, not only with bat and ball but also with his strategic input for the captain Deep Dasgupta.
This phase helped Ganguly make an ‘unrealistic’ and ‘unexpected’ comeback to the national squad. He enjoyed one of the most successful phases of his career. However, he announced his retirement from international cricket in 2008 and retired after a successful series against Australia. For Bengal he kept playing till 2011 and his final First-class match came against Baroda when he signed off with a 60 in Bengal’s big win.
Ganguly is famously called Bengal Tiger for frames like 2002 Natwest Trophy moment at Lords or making Steve Waugh wait for the toss. But his moments at Bengal cricket were what made him a true courageous person from the core. It was not easy to represent a side in his very first match at a high-profile tournament’s final at a tender age. Ganguly passed with flying colours.
It was not easy to return to a national side after being dropped at 32. Ganguly did that, made everyone believe that only he could do such wonder. In 1989-90, Bengal cricket gave birth to a domestic giant who later went on to concur the world cricket. It was his love for Bengal cricket that he remained in touch and later also became Head of Cricket Association of Bengal before moving to the BCCI.