When Dada waved the shirt of defiance

Captains it is said are supposed to set the standards: discipline, decorum and adhere to protocol. They are meant as well to honour the laws and spirit of the game.

Well, that was the creed we were taught. Not that there is much difference about a captain's responsibilities in the laws between the 1947 and 1980 codes and the improved and revised version of 2000 designed to deal with the 21st century.

Yet, of all the defining moments in Sourav Ganguly's career it might be suggested, is the one that took place at a venue noted for discipline, decorum and places a high price as well on protocol. Lord's, in leafy north-west London, and where a walk along St John's Wood Road takes you past the Grace Gates, and a peek inside suggests fusty tradition and establishment.

Yet, when you think about it, that balcony scene at the NatWest final of July 13, 2002, where he stripped off his sky blue Indian team shirt is not all about West Bengal daring. It was bringing that extra touch of passion to the game as well as a moment of honesty.

There we sat in the Edrich Stand, five goras among an army of Indians, and when Dada bared his torso, flashed as it was on one of the giant screens, the expressions of our friends was one of giggles from the women and cheers from the guys. By then about half of our group had slipped away. The term 'a bunch of chokers' being offered as an excuse as the reason for leaving, and how they should have known better to support such losers and a dud as a captain.

Sachin Tendulkar had been bowled for fourteen last ball if the 24th over by Ashley Giles and the scoreboard was a sorry 146-5. Mostly they went off to nearby pubs and didn't get to see the drama unfold. It was fun.

There we watched two youngsters, Yuvraj and Kaif, treating a sunny Saturday afternoon crowd to style and character. It was great to watch.

What happened after the game was also an experience, helping parade a giant Indian tricolour behind the grandstand and later into St John's Wood Road. The party that followed went on until well into the next morning; moving from a nearby pub to a large Bayswater apartment. All the time there were men in the Indian shirt pulling it off and waving at neighbours.

Being in London at the time was a matter a visit to England for extra research relating to the planned second edition of South Africa's Cricket Captains. Initially co-authored with the late Jackie McGlew in 1994, this revised version was being published to coincide with the World Cup in South Africa the following year.

The visit to Lord's was by generous courtesy of Indians met during the 1999 World Cup in England and with whom looked after me during that month stay. It was a good opportunity as well, having been on the trail of the Indian side on three successive tours in 2001: Zimbabwe, onto Sri Lanka and later to South Africa.

Such touring rituals gives you a chance to exchange views with Indian journalists covering tours and forming opinions of the players, their characters and how they played the game. This was for a website no longer with us and occasionally for the Indian Express.

India on tour is a far different experience to India in India. Throughout, and despite the sniping of the critics, Ganguly was affable and not one to shy from questions. He would give them some thought though and answer by looking you in the eye; so unlike Hansie Cronje who would answer a question by looking at anyone but whoever it was asking the question.

It suggested he had something to hide, yet with Dada, he would front up. He appreciated honest criticism, when he addressed you by your name it was an indication he knew who you were and what you wrote and for whom.

What first drew me to Ganguly was his debut century at Lord's in June 1996. Having arrived in London a week or so early for the South African A tour of England and Wales, an old colleague in Sussex and an MCC member, suggested we go to the Lord's Test. For this he managed to get media tickets.

Having badly lost the first Test in Birmingham, India decided to give Ganguly and Rahul Dravid a chance and made their debuts in the second Test at Lord's. On the Saturday afternoon, Dada celebrated his arrival with an innings of 131 batting at three. Yet here was elegance and style and it annoyed me when one English writer suggested he looked like a clumsy fish out of the Hooghly River.

Whether there is fish in the Hooghly is not the point, such hyperbole was out of place as it was the way he took on the Poms, led by Mike Atherton, and gave India needed backbone to the batting. That century also earned his name inscribed on the honours board alongside any number of others who have scored centuries and taken five wickets at England's home of the game.

It was that century which drew attention to a batsman who would lead by performance as well as passion. An example was his inning of 60 at The Wanderers on the 1996/97 tour and where but for rain that last day, India could have so easily won that third match of the series. The way Ganguly stood up to Allan Donald was a model of good batsmanship.

Yet when he took over as captain, you could see the difference. He made it different.

As he explained, and the coach John Write corroborated, there were mitigating reasons for tugging off the shirt. Andy (Freddie the Eagle) Flintoff in Mumbai earlier in the year had tried to show off an England victory. Now it was Dada's turn.

Harbhajan had wanted others to follow Ganguly's act, but Dravid quickly acted against such a wilful act of indiscipline.

Ganguly will be rightly remembered as the captain who created a new Indian team culture and one which brought aggressiveness to their game plan. To win, you had to play hard and adopt the Australian approach. There is nothing wrong with that. Dada's attitude rubbed off on the others and that famed Lord's balcony scene showed just how different it would be under his brand of leadership.

all courtesy:cricketnext