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Saturday, October 18, 2008

'Lord Snooty' Ganguly divided and conquered

MICHAEL KASPROWICZ was reading the Ahmedabad Mirror when he answered his phone. With a trigger-finger photographer in his face to capture unforgettable images of him eating breakfast, Kasprowicz turned his back on the intruder and cast his eye over the newspaper story entitled, Sourav Ganguly - tragic hero or devious villain?Fair and timely question. Ganguly is about to retire. Some will miss him. Others will tell him to scram. Cricketing historians are hurriedly trying to find the right pigeonhole for the most successful, divisive, annoying, agitating, brave, cowardly, noble, cheating - and downright confusing - Indian cricketer of modern times.

"He did have the knack of irritating you, grating you," Kasprowicz, who locked horns with "the Raj" on countless occasions, told The Sun-Herald between matches for the Mumbai Champs in the Indian Cricket League.

"There was the third Test at Nagpur in 2004. He requested a spinning wicket. The groundsman went against Sourav and made a good cricket wicket, hard with a bit of bounce, which suited our bowling attack more than theirs.

Ganguly was captain but Rahul Dravid walks out to do the toss. Adam Gilchrist was our captain. Ricky Ponting was injured. Gilly asked, 'What's happened here? Where's Ganguly?' Dravid says: 'Oh, who knows'?"

Ganguly not only skipped the toss. He threw the toys out of the cot, withdrawing from the game altogether. The hosts fell apart, losing by 342 runs to hand Australia their first series win in India since 1969.

"Sourav liked to play by his own rules," Kasprowicz said.

"Sourav's record, and what he did for his country as captain, is highly commendable. But he has alienated a few people. That's not just the Australian perspective. The Indians think the same thing."

Ganguly infuriated Steve Waugh by arriving late for the toss on four occasions in 2001. Waugh knew Ganguly was trying to annoy him. Annoyingly, he had to admit it worked. Former Australian coach John Buchanan said: "Sourav is … almost contradictory in everything he does.

"He is so skilful with his batting and bowling, yet so lacking in basic skills when it comes to fitness, running between wickets or ground fielding.

"He is a great tactician, yet makes many tactical errors. He is so courteous, yet so ignorant of basic human courtesies at times.

"He can be an inspiring leader, yet can be the wrong person to lead. He is a deep thinker of the game and issues but can be quite mystical and live in his own world." Ganguly's actions, as much as his aloof attitude, anger Australia. He once claimed a victory at a toss despite the coin falling Waugh's way. And celebrated a half-century by wiping his face with a red handkerchief, mocking Waugh's fondness of his own red piece of cloth.

But Waugh also admitted to a kind of begrudging respect: "I saw in Sourav a committed individual who wanted to inject some toughness and combativeness into a side that had often tended in the past to roll over and expose a soft underbelly," Waugh wrote in his biography.

Ganguly was dubbed "Lord Snooty" while playing county cricket. Once, upon reaching his 50, he raised his bat to the home balcony at Glamorgan. It was empty.

Ganguly can have his Kolkata mansion, billions of rupees, 111 Tests and 7000-odd runs and counting, and the record as India's most successful Test captain … his biggest accomplishment has been getting up the noses of a team that succeeded in getting up the noses of everyone else - Australia.

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