Happy Birthday Sourav Ganguly: The sportsman's journey to become the Maharaja of Indian Cricket
"Dada, Dada, Dada." For any cricketing fan who has been to the Eden Gardens in Kolkata and has watched a cricket match in the early 2000s, such cheers should be reminiscent with the game. The atmosphere of Eden Gardens used to be electrifying each time Sourav Chandidas Ganguly walked into the field.
Once, Sourav was asked by Ravi Shastri, former Indian captain, why was there no stand named after him in Eden Gardens. Sourav had quite candidly responded that the entire ground belongs to him. Such a magnanimous statement could have only come from none other than the "Maharaja of Indian Cricket". Few people remember that Sourav scored just a meagre 3 runs in his international debut in Australia in 1992. His journey beyond that is for the history books -- emerging as one of the finest Indian players ever to have played the game along with over 18,000 international runs. Quite a remarkable feat!
Hailing from Sourav's city, Kolkata, I too looked at him as a hero during my school days, and I still do. There often used to be debates about whether Sourav's form is declining in local addas and tea outlets across the city. He enjoys a cult status among all Kolkatans and in many ways cricket and Sourav Ganguly are synonymous to each other. While there might have been opinions on both sides of the argument, it was quite clear in the end of it that Sourav was special for any and every Kolkatan. He is the hero of the city and not just Eden Gardens. Kolkata loves the Maharaja.
India also loves him and he's truly an Indian hero. My first memory of Sourav dates back to his 1996 debut Test match at Lord's where he became one of the few Indian players to have scored a century on debut. This was no mean achievement considering that Kolkata was primarily known as a football city and had not produced many cricketers who had done well at the international level. The strokeplay that was on display in seaming English conditions was a model to behold. If one looks at the command with which Sourav mastered the conditions, it was clear that he belonged in the Indian dressing room for years to come.
However, as fate would have it, Sourav was meant to change the past and create a new history of Indian cricket which will remain a legacy for generations of cricket lovers to come. I did have the good fortune of watching him bat live few years after his debut at the Eden Gardens against Pakistan. Hardly anyone would have believed that the person who was unceremoniously dropped after just one ODI in 1992, along with questions over his attitude, would one day go on to emerge as one of the finest cricket captains of the modern era.
Perhaps, it was this incident that was the backbone on which Sourav's mercurial rise and career would be defined in years to come. Sourav Ganguly, apart from being one of the best lefthanded Indian batsman India has ever produced, is also arguably one of the best captains who built the concept of Team India. Sourav ushered in the era where talented players were given a fair number of opportunities to prove their mettle in the dressing room.
It is said that the true test of leadership is in the face of adversity. As a leader, Sourav grew out of adversity and led the team from strength to strength. He built the team from scratch with the help of young, talented players such as Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh, Virender Sehwag, Zaheer Khan and Mohammad Kaif. His ascent to captaincy was in the midst of the match-fixing controversy and yet, in a couple of years, he had rebuilt the team into a formidable opposition.
The one thing that exemplifies him is his belief and desire to answer his critics with his performance. He belonged to the era of Indian cricket marked by the greats like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, V.V.S. Laxman, Virender Sehwag and Anil Kumble, and it is no mean feat to lead such legends. Sourav, as an individual, signifies several qualities which include his aggressiveness and leadership skills apart from speaking his mind without mincing words. He believed that as a captain, it was his firm duty to back the youngsters like Yuvraj and Harbhajan and was quite clear in taking a stand on such issues.
It is quite similar to a manager who ensures that his reporters are given the best opportunities depending on their skill sets. In his last international series against Australia in Border Gavaskar Trophy 2008, he scored 102 valuable runs (his 16th Test century) in Mohali, implying that there was still lot of cricket left in him. The 'Bengal tiger' was retiring on his own terms from international cricket. Normally, every successful professional and individual writes their own fate through their actions and performances. As individuals, we encounter similar challenges in our work life which has its own peaks and troughs. The leadership lessons that Sourav provides can help in guiding any aspiring professional.
There are valuable lessons that we can draw from his life in building a successful personal and professional career for us. His conduct has been exemplary and has always led by example. There is hardly any doubt that all
of us would naturally accept and learn a lot if we have a leader like him in our lives.
(Abhirup Bhattacharya has previously authored "Winning Like Virat: Think and Succeed Like Kohli". Extracted from "Winning Like Sourav: Think and Succeed Like Ganguly", with permission from Rupa Publications)