Sourav Ganguly: The prince returns
- Former Indian captain Sourav Ganguly is back, this time as president of the BCCI
- Cricket fans will be hoping to see Ganguly demonstrate the same fearlessness and proactive leadership as an administrator
A mark of a good leader is the number of heroes who emerge during his watch. Tuck School of Business professor Sidney Finkelstein calls them “Superbosses" in his best-seller with that title. They stand head and shoulders over their peers in “growing a tree of talent", he writes.
American football coach Bill Walsh is an example—in the 2008 season, 26 of the 32 teams in the US’ National Football League (NFL) had coaches who earlier served under Walsh.
Former Indian cricket team captain Sourav Ganguly measures up well on the Finkelstein yardstick. An example of his leadership was the way he dropped himself down in the batting order, even after building one of the most successful opening partnerships with Sachin Tendulkar. This unleashed the full potential of his replacement as One Day International opener, Virender Sehwag, who went on to become one of the icons of the game with his swashbuckling style of batting.
MENTOR TO YOUNG TURKS
Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Yuvraj Singh, M.S. Dhoni—the list of stars that brightened in Ganguly’s time is long. There were instances when he had to insist on their selection. One of them was Harbhajan Singh, whose raw talent Ganguly backed when match-winner Anil Kumble was unavailable for a vital home series in 2001 because of shoulder surgery.
After India lost the first Test in Mumbai against Australia, the selectors wanted to replace the young Harbhajan with the more experienced off-spinner Sarandeep Singh. But Ganguly put his foot down. Harbhajan proved instrumental in turning that series around for India to win 2-1. India’s triumph in the Kolkata Test, after being made to follow on, is one of the greatest comebacks in the game’s history.
FEARLESS AND PROACTIVE
It is this brand of fearless and proactive leadership that cricket fans will be hoping to see from Ganguly when he officially becomes president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) at its annual general meeting on 23 October. His nomination is unopposed.
It comes at a time when the BCCI has been roiled by scandal. Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals were slapped with two-year bans in 2015 after a probe into betting and fixing in the Indian Premier League (IPL). The Supreme Court later appointed a four-member committee to administer the BCCI, which was dragging its feet on implementing the recommendations of the Justice Lodha committee instituted in January 2015 in the wake of the IPL scandal.
The appointment of a former India captain with a clean image, who doesn’t shy away from taking the bull by the horns, can be seen as an attempt to restore the credibility of the BCCI and get the court-appointed administrators off its back. It remains to be seen if Ganguly will be content as a facade, with business as usual behind the scenes, or bring real change. His track record gives reason to hope he will live up to the credo he articulates in his autobiography, A Century Is Not Enough.
Well-wishers gifted him Mike Brearley’s book, The Art Of Captaincy, when Ganguly became captain of the Indian team in 2000. “I mean no disrespect to the book or Mr Brearley, whom I admire a great deal, but books or team meetings don’t make you good captains," writes Ganguly in his autobiography. “For me, the art of captaincy was not theory but practice. I wanted to chart my own way."
Ganguly took charge of the Indian team at a difficult time, when match-fixing allegations had embroiled former captain Mohammad Azharuddin and several others. The “God" of Indian cricket, Tendulkar, had relinquished the captaincy after taking over from Azharuddin, saying it was affecting his batting.
IN YOUR FACE
Ganguly gave the team a new spine whose effects we are seeing to this day. The turnaround came in the triumph over Steve Waugh’s Australian team, who had come to India with 15 Test wins in a row under their belt in 2001.
Waugh had mastered the art of sledging, to which he gave the euphemism “mental disintegration". The opposition captain bore the brunt of it, and Ganguly was determined to plot a comeback after losing the first Test in Mumbai. He managed to get under Waugh’s skin in the next Test in Kolkata by keeping his counterpart waiting in the field for the toss.
Ganguly went on to level a Test series in Australia in 2003-04, after more than a decade of being tigers at home and pussies abroad. He had made a secret trip to Australia before that series to study Australian Test grounds and take tips from former Aussie captain Greg Chappell to figure out batting on bouncy wickets and field placements on large grounds. He also got his mentor and board president Jagmohan Dalmiya to arm-twist the Australian cricket board into letting the Indian team arrive earlier and play more practice games than originally scheduled.
Ganguly’s astuteness is sometimes overlooked in the popular perception where a triumphant waving of his shirt on the Lord’s balcony is imprinted. He admitted in an interview that he felt sheepish recently when his daughter Sana asked him why he had behaved like that. It suggests that he can be pragmatic in choosing to be diplomatic or in-your-face as the situation demands.
Apart from keeping a lid on shenanigans off the field, the new board president will have to lock horns with the International Cricket Council (ICC), whose interests don’t always align with those of India. He has already fired the first salvo: “We haven’t received the money we deserve from the ICC, in the last few years.... India generates 75-80% of the revenue."
Most of all, fans will wish that Ganguly can create conditions for them to enjoy the abundant cricketing talent in the country. But it is a tall order even for Ganguly, with such a motley bunch heading the state associations, including Azharuddin, who is at the helm of the Hyderabad Cricket Association after a court order lifted the BCCI’s ban on him.
Sumit Chakraberty is a contributing editor, Mint.