Many years ago, I had written that Ganguly had the potential to become the finest left handed batsman ever produced by India. He was young then, just starting out, and thanked me for saying so. Now he holds that title as if by right.
In the early 1990s, two left handers vied for a place in the Indian middle order. One of them grew up in a Mumbai slum, had to work hard at getting to the top, but once there made two double centuries in successive Tests, a record till then that had been the exclusive preserve of two of the greatest batsmen of all time, Don Bradman and Wally Hammond.
The other was born in the lap of luxury. He lived in a palatial house surrounded by the trappings of the wealthy, servants without number and 24 cars. Things came easily to him, he didnt have to work particularly hard.
The verdict then was: the former would have a long career, the hard work leading to continued success while the latter would be a flash in the pan, all puff but no stuff. The spoilt brat would fall by the wayside.
Yet a decade and a half later, we are singing hosannas to Sourav Ganguly, the rich boy from Kolkata while Vinod Kambli, the poor boy from Mumbai is virtually forgotten. Ganguly will play his 100th Test match in Melbourne later this month, while Kambli ended his career with 17 Tests. Few things in Indian cricket have been this ironic.
Watching Ganguly play his 99th Test has been particularly charming. His double century against Pakistan showed that at 35, he had lost nothing; not the delicate touch that sends the ball singing past cover point, not the lofted drive that sends the spinner into the stands. Only God, teammate Rahul Dravid had once said, played better on the off side, but sometimes it was difficult to see how even he could do better.
I was among those who wrote him off last year when he converted his best qualities into their opposite. The lightness was replaced by a lumbering heaviness, the self-confidence had become desperation, the large-heartedness he had once shown as captain had been replaced by an embarrassing selfishness. Perhaps Indias officialdom had forced the worst out of him. He didnt mind being dropped, he said recently in an interview, he merely objected to the manner it was done. The episode of the text messages he first leaked to the press, and then Greg Chappell did left a bad taste in the mouth. The whole story has not been told yet, but that can wait.
Ganguly is playing some of the best cricket of his life. In 2002, his best year numerically, he made 945 runs. He already has 932 this year and could extend that beyond 1000. After batting for five sessions in the third Test, he surprised everyone by returning to field, and then bowled too. The suspicion is that he is enjoying his cricket.
Many years ago, I had written that Ganguly had the potential to become the finest left handed batsman ever produced by India. He was young then, just starting out, and thanked me for saying so. Now he holds that title as if by right. There is no competition; no left hander even approaches him for the number of Tests played.
Occasionally in a professional life, it is a pleasure to be wrong. Ganguly might not play beyond another year or two. But signing finis to his career last year would have deprived us of the joys of innings like the one he played in Bangalore. Let us make the most of him while we can.