Cricket's age of Dadaism

Before he became BCCI president, Sourav Ganguly was a pretty useful cricketer Getty Images

This week on What We're Watching, a deep dive into the long, occasionally polarising, and always entertaining career of Sourav Ganguly.

Two beginnings
Ganguly was six months short of his 20th birthday when he made his international debut at the Gabba in 1992. He was immediately thrown into the deep end, facing Malcolm Marshall with India on a dicey 35 for 4. He failed to make any contact off his first ball, a wicked awayswinger, and 12 balls later he was out, lbw to Anderson Cummins. His reaction to the umpire's decision gave us our first glimpse of a man who always felt he was right, even when he might not have been. This was Ganguly's only opportunity on a four-month tour of Australia, and he wouldn't play another game for India for the next four years.

Then came Lord's. You know all about it, but you still want to watch it all over again, beginning with a cover drive off Peter Martin that ushered in an era of Ganguly dominating the off side. He peppers that part of the field gloriously through this innings, particularly off the back foot either side of point, and it's apt that a cover drive brings up his debut hundred, welcomed by a full balcony of applauding team-mates.

Unstoppable in Toronto
Within a year, Ganguly was a well established member of India's team, proving particularly effective in ODIs. His value came to the fore in a five-match series against Pakistan in Toronto in 1997, with bat and ball: he scored more runs than anyone else on either side, as India romped to a 4-1 win, and more wickets than anyone else too, on green pitches that made his gentle medium pace a potent force. There were four back-to-back Man-of-the-Match awards, and you can find the highlights of his performances here and here.

The years of plenty
The turn of the millennium was Ganguly's peak as a batsman, particularly in ODIs; in that format, in 1999 and 2000, he scored 3346 runs at 50.69, including 11 hundreds - half his career total. Some of those hundreds were the most memorable knocks of his career.

In Taunton, during the 1999 World Cup, he tore into Sri Lanka during a then world-record stand of 318 with Rahul Dravid, and at one stage seemed destined to break Saeed Anwar's ODI record score of 194, but he was eventually out for 183 off the penultimate ball of India's innings. The shots in this video are breathtaking, and there's even a rare glimpse of a young Mahela Jayawardene bowling his dibbly-dobblies.

Later that year, Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar broke the Ganguly-Dravid partnership record, against New Zealand in Hyderabad, but Ganguly roared back into the limelight in the very next match, smashing 153 in Gwalior. Feast your eyes on some old-timey ODI cricket in whites, and have a look at how Ganguly dominates this scorecard.

The 1999-2000 tour of Australia was an unhappy one for India, but runs continued to flow for Ganguly during the ODI tri-series, where he scored two hundreds, 100 against Australia at the MCG, and 141 against Pakistan in Adelaide. It was this sort of authoritative run-getting, against some of the best attacks in the world, that led the BCCI to appoint Ganguly India's captain after Tendulkar stepped down soon after this tour.

Captaincy only seemed to lift Ganguly's batting initially, and he produced one of his finest ODI performances towards the end of 2000, in the semi-final of the ICC Knockout in Nairobi, against South Africa. These highlights capture all the trademarks of a big Ganguly hundred: the poise, the crisp timing, the gleeful feasting on an unfortunate left-arm spinner (sorry, Nicky Boje)…

Iconic captaincy moments
Captaincy turned Ganguly into a fascinatingly combative on-field personality. He was often involved in feisty exchanges with opposition players - Russel Arnold, Andrew Symonds, Mohammad Yousuf and countless others - and his send-offs (Paul Collingwood is at the receiving end here) made for a prototype that Virat Kohli has since built on. And, of course, there was the shirt-waving on the Lord's balcony.

Earlier that day, though, Ganguly had played an innings filled with just as much in-yer-face aggression, clattering 60 off 43 balls to perfectly set up India's mammoth chase.

The batting returns declined as Ganguly's captaincy tenure wore on, but when he did fire, it was usually inspirational, as in that Lord's final, or at the Gabba in the first Test of the 2003-04 tour of Australia, when his 144 set the tone for an enthralling series that eventually ended 1-1.

A triumphant comeback, a fitting goodbye
Stripped of the captaincy, and then left out entirely, Ganguly could very well have faded away. But it was a measure of the man's character that he didn't just come back, but came back stronger. So assured was his batting during the Test tour of South Africa in 2006-07 that Tendulkar even told him it was the best he'd seen Ganguly bat. There was a gritty first-day half-century in Johannesburg, which helped set up a rare overseas win, and a quickfire 66 in Cape Town, which featured some brilliant strokeplay after Dale Steyn dealt him an early blow to the helmet.

Against Pakistan a year later, Ganguly made his first Test hundred at his home ground, and this short clip will tell you all you need to know about what Ganguly meant to Kolkata and what Kolkata meant to him. Later that same series, he cracked 239 in Bengaluru, counterattacking expertly after joining forces with Yuvraj Singh at 61 for 4.

Ganguly announced that he would retire after the 2008-09 home Tests against Australia, and enjoyed a memorable farewell series: a century in the second Test, an 85 in his penultimate innings, and a first-ball duck in his final innings. There was a guard of honour from his team-mates, and finally, for old times' sake, MS Dhoni stepped aside to let Ganguly lead the side as India closed in on a series win. For Dada fans, it was a moment for goosebumps and tears in equal measure.

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