Friday, November 14, 2008

Ganguly Series II: As a Test Batsman

Ganguly as a Batsman: I really thought he would break Azzu Bhai's 3 centuries-in-a-trot on debut and go on to be someone like Lara. At a time when India was a 1-man team, anybody to support Sachin was a blessing. A heavy scoring player like Ganguly was what India needed. He did not break Azhar's record and got out for 69 in the first ever Border-Gavaskar trophy (do any of you remember the ugly trophy they put out then?). After his sensational debut a couple of tests later, he started to fail with the bat. Especially, the games he played after coming back from injury (Laxman made his debut during Saurav's absence). Donald & Co got to him in Kolkata and then he was exposed by pace & bounce in South Africa. When Dravid & Ganguly scored again in Johannesburg - a rare abroad victory was in sight (Kumble's poor bowling on 5th day screwed that one out). Just when I thought he'd score heavily in WI - he showed us how not to bat there and played one of the slowest innings ever. My illusion of a 'super' Ganguly was gone and I was thinking "drop this dude already" (which thankfully Sachin did in Guyana).

After that point I began to view Ganguly as a undependable test batsman who 'may' click once in a while. Australia had uncovered his leg-side weakness (in a Singer Cup series in SL) and for a few years he struggled to rectify that chink. Until the end of his career he did not blossom into a consistent super batsman. He kept getting out while in fantastic form (1999 Aus tour and 2007 Aus tour) or he was in horrendous form (2001 Aus tour). He just never went to that next level. Over time - people viewed Ganguly either an average batsman who maximized his potential or as a super talented dude who underperformed. I went with the former view. When he scored, India always had a good result but that (obviously) does not mean he scored during all crucial times. Of the fab four, he was least likely to turn up and score big when India was tottering on 67/3 or 37/5 etc. Doesn't mean he never did. He did it less frequently.

Additionally, I thought of him as a lazy sportsman resembling the 80s cricketer. His running between the wickets, his general focus while at the crease, grounding the bat etc were fundamentals he either partially or completely ignored. Getting really good at these could have made him a better batter but I guess he wasn't a sort of a guy who liked details. His off-side play was much talked about. It was truly exceptional. It was however diminished by his lesser-than average all-round strokes. Maybe the fact that he was a natural rightie playing left-hand bat was the reason (cricketers are usually other way around) - he was literally zero on the leg side for a while (people bowled to him on the pads and he appeared to swat the air blindly). As a result, I thought, he went for really low percentage shots on the off-side and kept getting caught behind (or at slips). He might've exited earlier if he had not developed his leg side play to average levels.

My favorite Ganguly Test Innings: 1. 98 Against Sri Lanka in Kandy 2. A nice 60 in Adelaide (1999) 3. The 144 in Brisbane 4. The 2 half centuries he scored in Johannesburg (97) 5. 75* in POS WI (2002)

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