Unravelling the Ganguly enigma: aloof, arrogant, gentle and gracious

India's captain may have upset Greg Chappell and Andrew Flintoff but he has many redeeming features, writes Angus Fraser
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The Independent Online

Away from the cameras, the microphones and the responsibility of captaining the most cricket-mad country on the planet he is delightful company, and it is these qualities that have enabled him to turn a talented yet directionless group of individuals into a winning team. During his five years in charge he has put steel into a side that had previously been pushed around and bullied, and unsurprisingly this approach has upset a few people along the way.

It started in 2001 when Steve Waugh's all- conquering Australian team played a three-Test series in India. At the time Waugh was considered to be the toughest and most ruthless captain in Test cricket. Ganguly had been in charge for only three games. Legend has it that Ganguly was accidentally late for the toss on the morning of the first Test in Bombay, and kept Waugh waiting in his blazer and the heat for five to 10 minutes.

Waugh did not appreciate Ganguly's tardy time-keeping and was livid when the shy, angelic-looking young India captain arrived for the toss. Australia won the Test but Ganguly saw that he had got under Waugh's skin and in the next two Test matches he deliberately kept his opposite number waiting at each toss. Ganguly's behaviour before the start of the game, and his confrontational approach on the field took the Australians by surprise. Ganguly had got the better of the "iceman" and India won the series 2-1.

Ganguly has used different tactics against other teams with equal success, and India have won 21 and lost just 13 of the 49 games they have played while he has been in charge. And it is this, along with the relationship he has with his players, that will prevent him from losing any sleep over the recent comments made by a former Lancashire team-mate and the current national coach of India.

Ganguly has heard it all before. Since taking over from Sachin Tendulkar in November 2000 he has become accustomed to receiving criticism, whether it be about his style of leadership or batting. In India it comes with the territory. They do not hold back in expressing their views, as can be seen after embarrassing defeats when effigies of players are burnt in the streets.

Flintoff's remarks that Ganguly was not a team player during the year the India captain spent at Old Trafford come as no surprise. His relationship with Lancashire did not get off to the best of starts when, in his first game for the club, he gave his sleeveless sweater to Michael Atherton, his opening partner, and asked him to take it off the field for him. Atherton trotted to the boundary but the former England captain was not pleased.

The players' relationship with Ganguly degenerated to such an extent that once, when he had scored 50 in a televised one-day game at Old Trafford, none of his team-mates came on to the balcony to applaud. What failed to come out of Ganguly's unhappy summer in Manchester was his disappointment at the levels of professionalism shown by the players.

Flintoff, in his recently released autobiography Being Freddie, suggested that playing cricket with Ganguly was like having Prince Charles in your side. And it probably was. Ganguly comes from a very privileged background, a background where money was never going to be an issue. Yet in many ways it has been one of his biggest assets.

Indian cricket generates more income than the rest of the world combined and, as a result, is full of politics and agendas. The selection of teams used to be clouded in controversy and accusations of money changing hands were rife. But Ganguly and Chappell's predecessor, John Wright, helped turn India into a well drilled, highly regarded side.

It was the departure of Wright, an unconfrontational New Zealander who had issues with Ganguly but kept them out of the headlines, and the arrival of Chappell, an uncompromising Australian, that has caused a rift that could undermine everything that has been achieved in recent times.

Chappell replaced Wright during the summer and has already formed views on the direction the team should be taking. And, as was seen in Chappell's leaked confidential e-mail to the Indian board, Ganguly does not fit into his plans.

It is not the first time Chappell has attacked Ganguly. In 2003, before becoming the India coach, the former Australian captain stated that the left-hander was "mentally lazy" and that he "continues to squander a wonderful talent".

Ganguly's batting also attracts a lot of attention. He may not look comfortable against the best fast bowlers but it would be wrong to write him off as a player only capable of flogging indifferent attacks. He may average only 32.5 against Australia, but Atherton and Alec Stewart, two of England's recent greats, averaged 29.5 and 30.5 respectively against Warne, McGrath, Gillespie and Co.

Ganguly is a fine player who, on his day, is capable of taking apart the best bowling attacks in the world. He scored a hundred on his Test debut against England at Lord's and in nine matches against them he averages 61.

In the one-day game he has had even greater success. Ganguly is the sixth highest run scorer in the history of limited-overs cricket, and only Tendulkar has posted more than the 22 hundreds he has hit.

In Bombay, in February 2002, Flintoff took the wicket that tied a one-day series and proceeded to take his shirt off and swing it around in front of 60,000 shocked Indian supporters. Ganguly returned the favour on the visitors balcony at Lord's when India pulled off an unforgettable victory in the 2002 NatWest Series final.

It is hard to believe Ganguly is not preparing something special for England's tour to India in March next year. Whether Chappell is still the India coach is, however, questionable.

Sourav Ganguly: Life and times

* Born: July 8, 1972, Calcutta, Bengal.

* Major teams: India, ACC Asian XI, Bengal, Glamorgan, Lancashire.

* Bats: Left-hand.

* Bowls: Right-arm medium.

* Test batting: Runs: 5,066 at average of 41.18. Highest score: 173. 50s: 25. 100s: 12.

* Test bowling: Wickets: 25 at 52.47. Best figures: 3-28.

* ODI batting: Runs: 10,123 at 40.65. Highest score: 183. 50s: 60. 100s: 22.

* ODI bowling: Wickets: 93 at 37.31. Best figures: 5-16.

* Test debut: v England, Lord's, 20-24 June, 1996 (Second Test). First innings: Bowling: 2-49.

Batting: 131.

Second innings: Bowling: 1-5.

* ODI debut: v West Indies, Brisbane, 11 January, 1992. Batting: 3.

* Record as Test captain: Played 49, won 21, lost 13, drawn 15 .