Many wish they could be transported back to the time when Sourav Ganguly was captain of India. For many, Virat Kohli’s elevation to skipper might just grant that wish. Kohli, in essence, is Ganguly 2.0. Unlike Ganguly, he has no visible flaw in his batting technique (he has 499 runs in the series already), he is ready to take on the opposition and he wants to win while playing aggressive, attractive cricket… Change was clearly the need of the hour and Kohli is that change…
Sourav Chandidas Ganguly: three Tests, six innings, 106 runs at an average 17.67, a highest score of 48. In sheer numbers, that was his contribution to India’s cause in the 2001 series against Australia. As a batsman, he was struggled badly… the Aussies were at him constantly… ex-cricketers were criticising him… but do we remember any of that? Instead we remember Dravid-Laxman, Harbhajan and Kolkata; we remember Ganguly not crumbling as Australia put their mental disintegration tactics into play; we remember his unbridled agression; we remember the all-conquering Aussies failing at the final frontier once again. That series was the making of Ganguly as a leader of men… as a leader we still fondly remember and as one his team respected, stood by, and fought like hell for.
It is also the reason why many wish they could be transported back to the time when Ganguly was captain of India. For many, Virat Kohli’s elevation to skipper might just grant that wish. Kohli, in essence, is Ganguly 2.0. Unlike Ganguly, he has no visible flaw in his batting technique (he has 499 runs in the series already), he is ready to take on the opposition and he wants to win while playing aggressive, attractive cricket. It may or may not work. But we certainly know that under Kohli, as with Ganguly, there will be no holding back or seeking of safety. India will play to win every time they step out on to the field.
The wake-up call
“Stop whingeing, cricket is a hard game. If you can’t stand the heat you have no business being in the kitchen.” Those words were spoken by Steve Waugh, during India’s tour Down Under in 1999. Ganguly paid him back in his own coin and it made all of India proud. For too long, India held on to the idea that cricket was a gentleman’s game — Ganguly shattered that belief and shook India out of it’s collective stupor. Most of all, he made winning outside India a priority. Winning at home was fine. India did that under Mohd. Azharuddin, they even did that under Sachin Tendulkar. But winning abroad was the challenge and that was Ganguly’s sole focus. It was also how it should have always been. The best teams win at home but seal the title with their performances ‘away’ from home. That is the difference between mid-table units and the ones that win the title.
Ganguly and John Wright, together, managed to drill that into the Indian team. He wanted to take on the best and win while doing it. It was the kind of obsession that the current India under Dhoni sorely lacked. It is also the kind of obsession that Virat Kohli will bring to the table. We have already seen that spirit on display in Australia. While Dhoni chose to make a silent exit, Kohli has been upfront with the Aussies — he has called them out and mentally, he has come out on top. Dhoni had his own ways and before 2011, those ways were very successful too. But Dhoni was never like Ganguly, while Kohli clearly seems to have gone to the same school.
System of beliefs
Ganguly took over in the aftermath of match-fixing. India needed someone to hold the team together and make the nation believe. Not only in the team but in cricket itself. The left-hander not only did that, but he made them believe they could beat anyone, anywhere. More so, he made us all want to watch the sport again. For Virat too, the shadow of the Mudgal commission will be ever present and we still aren’t even through the worst of it. Some of his team-mates might be in the trouble, the ex-BCCI president certainly is. If cricket was at its lowest after the match-fixing scandal in 2000, it isn’t much higher now. Interest — despite what the TRP ratings tell you — simply doesn’t match the passion of yesteryear. Virat’s challenges too, are very similar to those faced by Ganguly. If anything, it’s even tougher for Virat. Ganguly had the experience of Srinath, Kumble, Tendulkar to fall back on. Similarly, Dhoni had Zaheer, Sachin, Dravid, Laxman and Sehwag. Virat’s most experienced player, in stark contrast, is Ishant Sharma. The Indian team’s average age is 26 and not many have tasted any sort of success in overseas conditions. So at first, Virat’s tactics might even be baffling. But as long as his attitude remains what it is at the moment, his tactics will get better as will India’s results. The unwavering belief in himself as well as his team will be paramount.
Change is the need of the hour
The last few years of Dhoni’s captaincy in Test cricket have been an unhealthy blur. The same mistakes, the same results and the same excuse — ‘these things happen and you do lose matches away.’ Ganguly would not have said that. Kohli will not say that either. That said, Dhoni won two World Cups and also took the team to world number 1 in Tests. But by the end, he seemed disinterested. He heart just wasn’t in it. India’s most successful captain had reached a point where he was defeating himself. Australia didn’t need to take him on any more. The reasons, the real ones at least, remain a mystery despite all the speculation.
Change was clearly the need of the hour and Kohli is that change. Where Dhoni stood behind, Kohli willingly steps up and draws enemy fire even as his team-mates (Murali Vijay and Ajinkya Rahane) make the most of it. Dhoni is probably a better one-day captain than Ganguly was, and Kohli should utilise the opportunity to learn from him in that format. But in Tests, he must be his own man and if he needs inspiration, he must look towards Ganguly. He must be willing to back his instinct much as the ‘Prince of Kolkata’ did. There will be defeats along the way but glory should be the driver and it probably will be. And more than anything else, he must not fall back in the trap of blaming the ‘process’ for everything. Building a team is fine but as Vince Lombardi once said, ‘If winning isn’t everything, why do they keep score?’