The Ganguly effect: Virat Kohli is to this team what Dada was to his

Ashish Magotra

Ashish Magotra

It feels strangely satisfying to watch the cricket these days. Rather, it all feels very familiar. Like we’ve all seen this before… a sense of déjà vu.

The extravagant celebrations after every wicket, the banter, the sledging, the in-your-face attitude, the inspired teammates, the cocky grin, the twinkle in the eye, the ruffled opponents – it all takes one back.

You might be tempted to think that the person in focus is Virat Kohli. But close your eyes and say the words once more and the familiar figure of Sourav Ganguly will manifest itself.

Cricket fans, in particular, are a nostalgic bunch – which is why every moment seems to have a hook in the past. He bowls like Kapil, fields like Jonty, straight-drives like Sachin, the front-foot defence is straight out of Gavaskar’s book, the late cut was pure Vishy. The references are always on a first-name basis (you have to know them!). The list is long and endless. The comparison are fun.

Kohli is Ganguly 2.0


But when one watches Kohli go about his captaincy, one can’t help but think of anyone but Ganguly. The styles are similarly inspiring and abrasive yet they also take you by the scruff of your shirt and pull you along for the ride.

The comparisons seem inevitable. Of course, some might say Kohli the captain is Ganguly 2.0 (he is a better batsman, fielder and fitter) but few can disagree that the original template belongs to the man many fondly refer to as Dada.

In the post-match press conference after the Bengaluru Test, Virat Kohli said a lot of things but in hindsight, one thing seemed to stand out the most. Nope, it was not what he had to say about Steve Smith and the DRS controversy. It wasn’t even about the way India came back into the game. Rather, it was a simple statement about how he doesn’t mind being Australia’s sole point of the focus – “the head of the snake” – if it means that his team can win.

The question was to the point. Virat, the batsman, has had a poor series. In the two Tests, the Indian skipper has 40 runs at an average of 10. So is the plan against him succeeding?

Kohli’s answer was straight out of the Ganguly handbook.

“We [the Indian team] spoke about this earlier as well. They kept talking about targeting me and I told the others in the team that this would be an opportunity for you. I can deal with the pressure. If I perform or not makes no difference… I try to learn from failure… If I perform and the team wins great. But at the end of the day, you want the team to win.”

‘The head of the snake’

“And we spoke about how it is okay for them to keep focusing on me. They will get carried away and not focus on others. That is exactly what happened. And that is when they will start losing their momentum.”

This was a classic Ganguly tactic. When things got tough, he would often try to get under the skin of the opposition. So much so, that they would often lose sight of the others.

For example, remember the incident where Ganguly kept Australian skipper Steve Waugh waiting at the toss?

It irritated the Australian skipper no end but Ganguly later revealed that he did that only to get back at the Aussies after an incident between Australia coach John Buchanan and Indian fast bowler Javagal Srinath.

Whenever Waugh would bring up the incident, Ganguly would feign ignorance. The glove was now firmly on the other hand. In his autobiography Out of My Comfort Zone, Waugh wrote later that he was “wound up” by Ganguly’s “continued petulance” in being late for the toss, and alleged that the Indian skipper was late for the toss “seven times” during the historic series.

The other aspect of Kohli’s captaincy that seems to bear a huge resemblance to Ganguly is the manner is which team-mates speak about them. Ganguly was all about allowing his players to express themselves and so is Kohli.

In an interview on Star Sports 3, just after winning the second Test in Bengaluru, Ishant Sharma spoke about how Kohli never asks them to hold back.

“He says go and do whatever you want as long as you can handle it yourself and it won’t affect your game,” Ishant said.

A captain who keeps his flock together

Of course, that generally means not making the kind of faces that Ishant did but basically the players are clearly enjoying themselves. The statement isn’t a one-off either. This again brings back memories of a group of young players who were nurtured by Ganguly – Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh, Yuvraj Singh, Mohammad Kaif, players who would put everything on the line for him.

Once he got the upper hand in the mental battle, Ganguly would never let go. Kohli is cut from the same cloth. And that isn’t good news for the Australians.

Kohli also chose the press conference to make one thing very clear: “We are a unit. We win together. We lose together. It was an emotional game. Quite draining. Everyone got along together and showed the team spirit. A lot of people were talking about the head of the snake but I think the snake did pretty well on it’s own. So it’s not about one individual here. I am pretty happy if they keep focusing on the head of the snake here and they’ll find out that the snake can sting from a lot of directions here.”

Ganguly was once asked about why he was the way he was… about why he pushed the boundaries the way he did and his answer warmed the heart of every Indian cricket fans.

“Actually, it is not a competition to see who can make the most friends. It is about winning cricket matches,” Ganguly had said.

Before Ganguly, that edge had always been missing. Since then, we have had Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble and Mahendra Singh Dhoni serve as captain and they all had their strong points but let’s be clear, no one was remotely like Dada.

But Virat seems to be essentially chasing the same dream, rekindling the same emotions along the way and as long as it starts getting us the same kind of results, no one is going to be complaining. And if he doesn’t succeed, you can be sure he will die trying. (