Sourav Ganguly has had his share of ups and downs, typical of the life of any cricketer, but what has separated him and his now 43 years from that of others is the sheer belief in himself to perform beyond human capabilities.
A natural stroke player who dedicated every bit of himself in gathering a team out of the bits and pieces that he was provided with, turned out to be India's guiding light in arguably their toughest spell.
Here is a look at one of the greatest journeys in world cricket.
As a child, Sourav showed keen interest in football; his cricketing skills were always considered second to his brother Snehasish. While at a very young age, cricket for Ganguly just used to be a reason of staying away from his home and studies. Though he was never a bad student, his interest in sports always overwhelmed all other activities.
Sourav Ganguly's career started out of his ability to question himself. After seeing his brother attain great local appreciation, Sourav asked himself the question that why could he not play cricket. The answer unfolded in the coming years which saw him making an appearance in the Ranji Trophy final at the Eden Gardens against Delhi, at the expense of his very own brother.
In an era where the memory of the 1983 World Cup lit an otherwise gleam Indian cricket, Sourav made his debut against the Windies in 1992. His innings was shortlived and so was his stay in the national side; Ganguly was dropped for four very long years.
The exclusion of Ganguly immediately provoked the thought of Team India's inability to gamble on another youngster in a side which already had Sachin in it. His exclusion was soon forgotten, but the man instead was staging first of his the many comebacks he made in almost a two-decade long career.
The Eden Gardens have always embraced the Prince of Kolkata and coincidently it was the legendry stadium that triggered an opening in the national side. In the World Cup semi final in 1996, the Indian side crumbled in front of a powerful Sri Lankan bowling line-up, the Indian team needed a breath of fresh air; something that Dada brought along with him.
India was scheduled to tour England and the selectors were hunting for a seamer-all rounder due to the heavy conditions. The selectors realised that getting someone to match the caliber of Kapil Dev was a far-fetched dream and chose to pick up Ganguly.
Dada was an instant success in the first Test against England; while chasing a first innings score of 344, Ganguly scored a 131 run-innings which put England on the back foot. His flamboyance pleased even more than his score, proving to be an indication of things to come. Ganguly himself claims that the mindset that he had during that innings is unmatched even after 16 years.
Team India's Toronto tour was a career-defining moment for Ganguly. Performing exceedingly well with the bat and the ball, Ganguly won four consecutive man of the match awards. He soon became the spine of India's middle order and more than just a part-timer while bowling.
In 1999, Sourav Ganguly played his first World Cup match and scored 97 against South Africa, 3 runs short of a World Cup debut century.
Sourav went on to score over 400 runs in the tournament, with the most significant of innings coming against Sri Lanka. He scored a mammoth 183 runs to put the islanders out of contention for the Super Six stage. The match also ended the career of the 1996 World Cup winning skipper Arjuna Ranatunga.
Post World Cup, the most shameful of controversies then hit Indian cricket, several senior players were named in the alleged match-fixing scandal. This started a tough spell for Team India, whose reputation as a whole had gone down the drain.
Sourav was handed the captaincy of the Indian cricket team. He claimed that he was rather unprepared for speaking at team meetings but his mindset and his experience shone to earn him the tag of being a 'Born Leader'.
Bogging down was never a part of Sourav's personality and he proved it in the upcoming tours. He led India to some of the most amazing victories in India and overseas.
Ganguly married his childhood sweetheart Dona and the two had a daughter; Sana. But with success mounting, Ganguly was guilty on several occasions of having no time for his family.
Sourav's showcase as a captain includes the incredible series win against the Aussies in 2001, the draw in their own courtyard Down Under, the NatWest series win and an ODI and Test series win in Pakistan. It seemed like Sourav had imparted his Never-Say-Die spirit on to Team India.
In Australia's 2001 Indian tour, Sourav Ganguly tainted his image to some extent. In one instance, while the scheduled toss was supposed to take place, Ganguly made opposition captain Steve Waugh wait for him in the middle. Ganguly however, later justified that the delay was not intended and said that he was late because his coat was not ready.
The only thing that would hurt Sourav would be missing out on a possible World Cup triumph. In 2003, Team India, led by Sourav, won 9 out of their 10 matches to reach the final where they met the mighty Australians. Ricky Ponting and Damien Martin scored scintillating centuries knocking out all chances that India had. Some believed that the decision to bowl was wrong, Ganguly stands by it till date.
Ganguly also won some of the most prestigious awards in the country. The Arjuna award and the Padam Shri were among the greatest accolades for him.
Though India lost the chance to claim the World Cup, it seemed a different outfit altogether in Ganguly's leadership. A side that put up shallow performances now seemed like a force to reckon giving birth to an array of stars in the process which included Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan singh, Yuvraj Singh and Virender Sehwag.
Ganguly's association with controversies was as frequent as his success stories. He was fined several times, most significant of which was the four match suspension for persistence in slow over rates.
The suspension allowed Rahul Dravid to lead the side; little did Ganguly know that the future could not only snatch away his captaincy but also deny him a position in the side.
It is also speculated that Ganguly had a rift with the groundsmen in Nagpur in 2004, who vented their anger by leaving grass on the pitch. The match went in Australia's favour earning them a series win in India after 35 years.
Ganguly's fall came as a shocking turn of events. While coming down to the ground in Zimbabwe, he had a rift with coach Greg Chappell, who told him that he was not fit to lead the side. Ganguly was dropped from the side in the coming days and Rahul Dravid was made India's captain.
But Ganguly's conscience would simply never give up on his ability to come back into the Indian side.
Ganguly was picked again in a tough South African tour, where he scored a couple of battling half-centuries to regain his pride.
But the scar that Greg Chappell had left on Ganguly's international career was simply too much; he felt that despite performing exceedingly well, he was being analysed on each tour separately which wasn't the case with others.
Ganguly eventually retired in the home series against Australia in 2008. He was such a great personality that even his duck in the final innings earned him laurels comparing him to the great Sir Donald Bradman who had fallen on nought in his final innings as well.
The aura of Ganguly can be realised from the fact that even the great Sachin Tendulkar broke down into tears when he retired. Ganguly was given a lap of honour at the Nagpur stadium and received a dream farewell from the crowd.
Sourav Ganguly then joined the IPL as captain of the Kolkata Knight Riders. He performed fairly well in the format but the Kolkata Knight Riders could never really kick on.
After 3 seasons with his birthplace-side, he went unsold in the auction for the IPL 4, much to the disgust of the Kolkata crowd which was gutted to see their favourite son out of their beloved side.
The left-hander then found his place in the Pune Warriors franchise. He has since chosen to be a mentor and is currently involved with Cricket Association of Bengal and is also one of three advisors to Indian cricket.
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