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Different Strokes for Cup Cricket Odd Couple

23 March 2003.

Ricky Ponting and Sourav Ganguly have been the captains of this competition. As men they are as different as meat pies and dhal. Ganguly is a sophisticate from Calcutta, a city of intellect from which have emerged Nobel Prize winners as well as great artists like Tagore and Satyajit Ray, the famous filmmaker.

His counterpart is a typical Australian from a blue-collar suburb who enjoys punting on horses, hooking fast bowlers and the company of comrades. Neither man has any pretence. Ganguly has no airs and graces. He was born this way, in a style and comfort, and could lead the life of his choice.

Sourav Ganguly

Sourav Ganguly waving as he declared his retirement after the Nagpur Test Match, during the 3rd Cricket Test match between India & Australia at Ferozeshah Kotla Stadium in New Delhi on November 2, 2008.
Photo ©: / Public.Resource.Org

Background does not matter in Australia and Ponting has been able to emerge from Mowbray and build the career he has wanted. In their own ways they have fought against supposed limitations. Both have emerged triumphant.

Both leaders have fought in their country’s cause. Ganguly has batted at first wicket down and sent down some serviceable medium pacers. Once he even considered diving after a ball, only to decide the time was not yet ripe for this final concession to contemporary thought.

Ponting comes from a smaller, less ambitious community with fewer pretensions but he has realised the need to enter a wider world and has done so with distinction.

Ganguly has been misunderstood, especially in Australia where his apparent haughtiness upset a nation that travels in the front seat of taxis.

Not that Ganguly has minded ruffling Antipodean feathers. To the contrary, he has made a point of it.

Busy in the rooms and losing track of time, he was late for the toss for the first Test against Australia in Mumbai. Such an uproar ensued among opponents that Ganguly decided to continue the habit.

To the great amusement of his players, he kept wandering out five minutes late and in apparent confusion. Of course he was also defying the Western powers, and the mighty Australians to boot. It worked. His opponents became furious and India won the series.

In many respects Ganguly is a product of his birthplace. Calcutta is a proud and independent city that has produced many great thinkers. It is the Paris of the subcontinent.

The rest of India tolerates the Calcuttans with some bemusement. Somehow these fellows put themselves above the struggle yet they have courage and cannot be crushed.

Neither Ganguly or his hometown have changed much over the years. When he toured as a junior player in the Indian team he was not so much offended as nonplussed to discover that he was expected to carry the bags of the senior men.

Rather than lowering himself, he remained disdainful and paid the price. Calcuttans must win their arguments, especially those against the colonialists. Ganguly and chums would rather lose than give ground. It is ideal preparation for meeting the Australians on the field of play.

Nothing in Ponting’s early career indicted that before his 30th birthday he might be leading Australia in a World Cup final. Although his cricketing abilities could not be missed, he seemed to be too raw and rough for the requirements of the contemporary game. In those days he led the life of Reilly, drinking and fighting and gambling in a manner not exactly unique among youngsters from his country, particularly those with spirit and the resources required to put into practice the requirements of their imagination.

Ponting lived and played hard, and commanded a regular place in the Australian team without ever suggesting he was about to take over as captain.

Not for the first time the low point in the career of a young sportsman was also a turning point. Caught in a fight outside a nightclub in the early hours of the morning by a professional photographer, Ponting found his picture spread across the papers.

Rather than attempt to deny his colourful lifestyle, Ponting admitted everything, said he had a problem with drink and set about putting his house in order.

Ever since he has impressed as a man capable of taking charge of himself and his teammates.

He has arrived not as a saint but as a reformed drunkard, a man who has lived, grown and understood.

Now the paths of this contrasting couple have crossed in this World Cup and respect has grown. At the opening ceremony Ponting spent a long time talking to his Indian counterpart, and said he was a fine fellow.

Ganguly, too, has an open mind for he was only playing games before and the insults were not meant. The aristocrat and the worker led their teams with equal distinction.

From the start it seemed almost inevitable that one would lift the trophy. Perhaps this will be the start of a rivalry founded upon mutual understanding between men from different backgrounds, the superstitious Hindu with his relations and his gods, and the practical Tasmanian with his dogs and jeans.

The pair will cross swords again when the Indians tour in October.

This article was written for The Sydney Morning Herald.
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