It was a moment for me to savour as I had the privilege to meet India cricket great Sourav Ganguly at my home for dinner recently. I had a plate full of questions and my appetiser was to ask him was about his greatest moments. As a player, he had many in his career, such as his debut Test hundred at Lord’s, and winning the NatWest Finals. He mentioned a lot that were special but to win the Test series against Australia, coming from behind as a captain is most special to him. He stressed that was an all-conquering Aussie team led by Steve Waugh with the likes of Matthew Hayden, Adam Gilchrist and Glenn McGrath — and his young team could beat them all.
The second anecdote was how he backed youngsters such as Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan and Mohammed Kaif as well as Virendra Sehwag and MS Dhoni and got the best out of every player. He said he gave the players the belief and the backing which gave them confidence to perform. Also when he asked Sehwag to open, he assured him that, even if he failed as an opener, he would be in ‘Dada’s’ team and rest is history as Sehwag was India’s most successful opener. Ganguly’s biggest masterstroke was to upgrade Dhoni to No. 3 from No. 7 in only his third ODI, where Dhoni scored a match-winning 149 and then never looked back and became an all-time legend.
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Also I could not resist about asking him about removing his T-shirt and celebrating at Lord’s balcony in the 2002 NatWest Finals against England. He said that he had lost quite a few finals and this win was coming after a long time and, moreover, Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff earlier doing the same thing in Mumbai had inspired him to return the favour in sheer happiness.
Sourav was graceful enough in admitting when I asked him about the World Cup finals loss in 2003 finals in South Africa to Australia by saying that Australia team during that era were the best and to get past them was not that easy. Eventually Australia won three consecutive World Cup titles in 1999, 2003 and 2007.
When I asked him was there any other sport he loved, he claimed he played football better than cricket and wanted to continue his soccer career but his father convinced him to take up the bat and ball as in India, cricket had a better following and future. In fact his father had built for him a turf ground when he was a young child so that Sourav and his brother could practise there.
When I asked him about the halting of the Indian Premier League at home this year due to COVID-1, he said he was sad and wished they had held all the games in Mumbai so that the players could avoid the air travel which he felt was the main cause for the cases to spread and the IPL could have been completed in India itself. He added that when they took the decision to play IPL in India it was January and here were hardly any cases and that’s why they took the decision to go ahead. But suddenly things took a turn for the worse and there was a huge spike in the number of cases in India.
Finally, when I asked him about his health after his heart issues in January, he said he has been keeping well and taking all the right precautions, going for walks and exercising regularly and making sure he has the right food such as salad and fish and avoiding red meat and fried food.
I had the honour of presenting him our signature jacket with ‘Dada’ written on the back, as he is fondly called, not only in Kolkata but all around India. He was one skipper who indeed turned around the way India played cricket and backed his players to the core, changing the face of Indian cricket with his aggressive and shrewd captaincy.