The turn of the century saw tumultuous times in Indian cricket. The match-fixing saga made the fans move away from the sport that they considered their life. Sourav Ganguly found himself in the middle of the puddle with a directionless but talented unit that he would soon transform into a unit – Team India.
Arguably the country’s greatest cricket captain, it’s tough to imagine the situation of Indian cricket had the captaincy cloak not fallen upon the Bengal cricketer. The very image of Ganguly that’s embedded in a fan’s memory is that of a fearless leader who changed the brand of Indian cricket by dismissing the zonal-based selections, backing talent and infusing a fearless attitude.
But during 1999-00, Ganguly was also one of the finest batters in the world. Sachin Tendulkar was appointed the captain after India’s dismal show in the 1999 World Cup, but a disastrous Australia tour, followed by the team’s home series loss against South Africa at home made the maestro resign from the high-pressure role.
Ganguly wasn’t the first choice for the new captain. He had been a regular for four years, and in 1999, in the absence of captain Tendulkar and vice-captain Ajay Jadeja, he had led an inexperienced India to a 2-1 win over Brian Lara’s West Indies in Toronto.
Recently, Indian Cricketers Association (ICA) chief Ashok Malhotra, who was part of the selection panel committee at that time, recalled how appointing Ganguly was appointed the vice-captain of the side.
“See, if I remember correctly, picking Sourav Ganguly as a vice-captain was a tougher job. I remember we picked him in Calcutta, and the coach had some things to say - drinks too much Coke, takes singles but not twos, etc. In the bargain, I said having a Thums Up does not disqualify him as a vice-captain,” Malhotra told Sportskeeda in a Facebook Live session.
“And then we had quite a big discussion. 3-2 was voted in favour of Sourav as vice-captain. But then, I won’t name the President, but he walked into the selection, which has never ever happened in the history of the BCCI. And he and the Chairman told us, ‘Gentlemen, let’s do some rethinking’.
“Two of us still stuck to our guns, but one selector said, ‘No, the President has said it, so I will go with him.’ So, we didn’t make him vice-captain then but later on, we managed to (make him). I know today he’s a legendary captain today, but a little bit of effort was there to make him captain, and even vice-captain,” Malhotra recalled.
“None of us knew Sourav Ganguly would become the captain because Sachin was the captain then. But once he resigned, we had to convince everyone to make him captain because Anil Kumble and Ajay Jadeja were in line. I had to work overtime,” he further said.
Ganguly was a certainty in both Tests, and ODIs, and was among the leading performers.
He was appointed the Indian captain in early 2000s, and he started with a 3-2 ODI series win against the strong South African side. With Ganguly at the helm, India went on to beat Steve Waugh’s Australia in 2001, won overseas Tests in West Indies, England, Australia and Pakistan. India also finished the runners-up in the 2003 World Cup. Cricketers like Harbhajan Singh, MS Dhoni, Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Mohammad Kaif among others were backed during this phase. As they say – the rest is history.