Sourav Ganguly, Andrew Flintoff, the 2000s and a tale of two blue jerseys
‘Sourav is the sole reason I am a cricket lover,” Bhaichung Bhutia once said.
Andrew Flintoff, the other part of the July 13 story, in many ways was similar. An exceptional talent and a man of moments.
The bare torso of Sourav Ganguly in the Lord’s balcony is one of the immortal images in the minds of billions of cricket fans. Yes, it’s that time of the year when we revisit this, but before we head to 2002, how can we not talk about the history between Ganguly and a certainFlintoff.
Ganguly and Flintoff are rare characters – skilful, controversial but original. In 2000, Ganguly was among the best batters in the world. The national captaincy cloak fell over him. In ODIs, he was often overshadowing Sachin Tendulkar. Flintoff, a Lancashire bloke, was a rising talent with a handful of international games, expected to be England’s next Botham.
The turn of the century saw cricket in doldrums courtesy the match-fixing saga. Ganguly had just taken charge of Indian cricket, and the negativity around wasn't helping. To his rescue came the prestigious Lancashire contract.
Champions like Wasim Akram and Muttiah Muralitharan in the previous seasons had graced the Old Trafford. So, when Ganguly arrived, the behavioural expectation was the same from the Asian. To the team's dismay, Ganguly turned out to be very different. They said that he behaved like a Prince.
Trivia: Born and brought up in an affluent household, Ganguly's nickname at home was Maharaja.
Flintoff, the budding English cricketer, was Ganguly's teammate and a few years down the line, he recalled his struggle with Ganguly in his book – Being Freddie.
“Ganguly just didn't work out at all,” he wrote. “You can accept a player not playing well, because we all have our ups and downs in our career, but he just didn't want to get involved.He wasn’t interested in the other players, and it became a situation where it was 10 players and Ganguly in the team. He turned up as if he was royalty - it was like having Prince Charles on your side. There were rumours he was asking people to carry his coffin for him, although he never asked me.”
According to the club traditions, on the first day of the Championship, the players are expected to turn up in the blazers, dressed in smart-casual. He turned up in his tracksuit. Flintoff recalled how Ganguly would get out on the first ball in a match against Kent. When the Kent wicketkeeper told him, ‘hard luck’. He replied, “I am not going to waste my runs on these games, I’ll save them for where it matters.”
Flintoff’s complaints didn’t end. He recalled another embarrassing incident.
“I’ve been out for dinner with him [Ganguly] since that season a couple of times on England duty, the most notable time being that winter in Kenya for the ICC Trophy,” Flintoff continued. “We went out to a little curry house he had found and saw the umpire Venkatraghavan sitting over the other side of the room. Straight away he got up and went over to talk to him for 20 minutes while I sat like a spare part eating my curry on my own. We say hello to each other now and we are pleasant to each other, but it doesn't go any further than that. I don’t dislike the bloke, but it’s a struggle with him.”
Trivia:Later in 2000, Ganguly did save some runs for the important tournament – ICC Champions Trophy (also called the mini World Cup). India led the team to the final and ended as the runners-up. Ganguly finished with 348 runs – the most in the tournament. He scored 348 runs, slamming two hundreds and one fifty. Flintoff’s England crashed out in the quarter-final.
Flintoff would visit India with the England side in 2001-02. Both Ganguly and Flintoff had a quiet Test series, though the former flaunted the winning the trophy as the captain. The ODI series was more competitive.
India were up 3-1 heading to the fifth ODI in the six-match series. This was Delhi. Nick Knight's century and Flintoff's 39-ball 52 helped England finish with 271. India were on course to pull off a series win. Ganguly looked in sublime touch. India needed 61 from the final ten overs with seven wickets in hand. Ganguly was on 74 and Mohammad Kaif 46. They both fell in the same over, and India lost the match by two runs. The series was 3-2.
The final ODI in Mumbai was a game that swung in extremes. With Marcus Trescothick and Nasser Hussain belting all the way, 350 looked a possibility. Harbhajan Singh spun the web and England 88 for one in the 13th over crumbled to 174 for seven in 30th. Flintoff’s 50 guided them to 255. Harbhajan’s 5 for 43 had made India the favourites.
“First there is God, then Sourav,” once Rahul Dravid said about Ganguly’s off-side play.
July 13 is remembered for Ganguly’s bare chest. But what should be remembered more about this story – and strictly for cricketing reasons is his off-side stroke-play.
As you watched in the above video, Ganguly absolutely looked sublime. The likes of Darren Gough and Andy Caddick were milked effortlessly. India required 65 runs off 79 balls with seven wickets in hand.Ganguly fell in the unluckiest fashion. Trying to sweep, the ball lobbed on to the stumps. Ganguly's handsome 80 went in vain. India suffered a remarkable collapse. They lost by five runs and who triggered that? Flintoff. He scalped the fifth, eighth and then, of course, the tenth wicket. Then began the shirtless run. The series ended, tied 3-3.
Five months later, in the NatWest Final, Trescothick and Hussain finished their unfinished Mumbai business at Lord’s, London. The duo was involved in a 185-run stand, both smashing hundreds. Chasing 326 in a tournament final overseas in that era was likely as North Korea upsetting Brazil in football. Only seven times, a score above 300 was successfully chased in ODI cricket's 31-year-long history till then. Three months prior, the world-class Australia had chased down 330, which remained a record. The next-best remained India's 316 at Independence Cup, Dhaka, in 1998.
Trivia: Ganguly was the hero, scoring a hundred in the Independence Cup Final in Dhaka.
If you think the above odds aren’t strong enough to determine the importance of this win, add another element to the equation – India had lost nine consecutive tournament finals (with results) since 1999.
The chase is well-remembered for the Yuvraj-Kaif partnership. But the base was set by the Ganguly-Sehwag opening stand. For once, Ganguly overshadowed Sehwag, batting like a man possessed. If Ganguly's Test debut at Lords six years prior was about silken touches through gaps, knock at the same venue was at its brutal best but again, on the off-side. The white ball went aerial mostly and at times rocketed through the gaps. Attempting a wild slog on the leg-side, the Indian captain lost his stumps. India were 106 for one after 14.3 overs. Another 220 was required off 213 balls.
There began the famous Indian collapse. In no time, India were 146 for five in 24 overs when Tendulkar was cleaned up by Ashley Giles.
Many TV sets were switched off in India. Two young men – Yuvraj (20) and Kaif (21) – were at the crease but the fans had seen the side lose from far better positions. This was going to be humiliating, they thought.
Yuvraj and Kaif ran their singles and twos well and ensured that the slightest lapse on the part of the bowlers was seized upon. The ones watching the game soon saw the target being reduced to double-figure.
Commentator Harsha Bhogle remarked, “Are we on to something here?”
Fans who had left the stadium were returning. Yuvraj fell when India needed 59 off 51 balls. Refer to the matches mentioned above, India had lost from easier positions. The tail supported Kaif.
The target was only twelve runs away when Harbhajan and Kumble fell in quick succession. Zaheer Khan kept his cool, and Kaif found himself facing Darren Gough, with six needed from seven balls. He went for a slog, got a top-edge and four it was.
Two runs were required off he last over. Two dots followed. Something was going to happen on the third. Zaheer tapped it to mid-off, and the fleet-footed Kaif responded. England targeted Kaif's striker's end, and the latter dived for this life. The fielder who was backing up gave India the opportunity to run off the overthrow. The match was sealed.
On the piousLord’s balcony, where 19 years prior, an Indian captain had lifted a World Cup, Ganguly, delirious, pulled off his jersey and twirled it over his shoulders – an image that would remain etched in Indian cricket and Ganguly’s legacy forever.
The NatWest Final
This riposte to Flintoff in Mumbai was criticised by many. Lord’s is the Mecca of cricket. Why would one stoop to that? The counterargument was if Lord’s the white man’s Mecca, Wankhede in Mumbai is ours.
The cricket world and pundits stay divided till date. The blue jersey remains at Lord’s, at the home of the gentleman’s game – at the MCC museum to be precise.
Ganguly would later open up on the incident in his book, A Century Is Not Enough, “After the match Nasser [who sledged Ganguly throughout the match] came into my room and was extremely cordial. I signed a shirt for him. While taking the shirt he said, I will never forget the time you took off your shirt at Lord’s. It gave me goosebumps to hear that the English captain had silently applauded his Indian counterpart for taking off his shirt at the hallowed Lord’s. Wow!
“I have never lived down taking off my shirt in Lord’s in 2002. It was my way of giving back to Andrew Flintoff. After the victory in Mumbai earlier that year,Flintoff had taken off his shirt to ridicule us. Our jousting continued through the Test series prior to NatWest. After winning the final in Lord's. I thought I needed to have my say, as well.
“In some interviews I was asked what I was telling Flintoff while taking off my shirt. Did I abuse him? Threaten him? I broke into a grin and said, oh no. I was only saying Mera Bharat Mahan.
On Flintoff's comments of him being aloof and difficult, Ganguly clarified to Guardian: “'See, Flintoff thought I was aloof because I didn't drink with them after the match. I never used to enjoy drinking. So I used to have my Coke and leave. Plus I had my wife at home. For a county game I had to leave at 8.30 in the morning and come back at 8 at night. Dona was alone the whole day - she knew nobody in Manchester. Girl alone at home - we've grown up in a different way.”
Right or wrong, Ganguly through his behaviour told a nation with his actions that the white-way doesn’t necessarily have to be right. Without uttering the words or hashtags like we say in today’s time, Ganguly made a statement bigger than ‘Brown Lives Matter’. Rather, in my life, it’s me who matters.
Among many other things that Ganguly taught the nation was also how to celebrate.