New Delhi: Saurav Ganguly has sprung so many surprises both as a batsman and captain that few are willing to bet on how he will perform during the World Cup in South Africa. The elegant left-hander may return to his big-scoring ways after having failed to score a half-century in four Test innings and seven One-dayers on the recent tour of New Zealand. Or he may promote a tail-ender to the top as pinch-hitter, like he did with Ajit Agarkar against the West Indies during the home series in November.
Ganguly is, without doubt, the most burdened captain among the 14 teams, carrying the expectations of millions of fans on his shoulders, fully aware that failure is not an option. Yet, he is unruffled and loves to surprise even himself. Ganguly wanted to be a footballer, but took up a lucrative career in cricket instead. His ambition was to become a fast bowler but settled for a batting all-rounder. He started his career as a middle-order batsman, but achieved fame as an opener in One- dayers.
The Indian captain is the eighth-highest scorer in One-day cricket with 8,255 runs in 218 matches with 19 centuries. When he opened for the first time, against South Africa in the Titan Cup in 1997, India instantly found a durable partner for Sachin Tendulkar because they shared a century-plus stand. India discovered in him an effective seamer during the Sahara Cup at Toronto the same year as he grabbed 13 wickets in five matches against Pakistan, more with deception than pace.
India has been relying more on his batting than bowling in recent years, but still not complaining because the elegant southpaw has been delivering. Ganguly is one of the three aces along with Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid in a strong Indian batting line-up. His opening combination with Virender Sehwag presents a fascinating study in contrast. While Sehwag is pure aggression, Ganguly can blend attack with defence to dominate the rival bowling. India will look to Ganguly and Sehwag for making the most of field restrictions in the initial 15 overs, for they are as devastating as the Australian opening pair of Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden.
Ganguly is called the Prince of Calcutta off the field. He is the undisputed king of the off-side on it, for few can match his drives square off the wicket and through the covers. So exquisite is his timing that he always finds gaps rather than fielders even if the off-side is packed. He appears not to strike the ball, but only caress it with the softest of hands. Yet, he remains an enigma at the crease with a blend of elegance and raw power.
Ganguly never ceases to surprise. His inclusion in the Indian squad for the 1996 tour of England raised a storm. If ever a batsman had buried critics under the weight of runs, it was Ganguly who has never looked back since slamming a century on his Test debut at Lord's.