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Last Updated:  Thursday, 20 March, 2003, 20:48 GMT
India's captain fantastic
By Thrasy Petropoulos
BBC Sport in Durban

It was the gesture of an impassioned man. A characteristic short-arm pull over wide mid-wicket followed by an instinctive swivel towards his cheering team-mates.

Sourav Ganguly had just reached his third century of the World Cup - and 21st in all one-dayers - by striking Martin Suji for his fifth six in the semi-final against Kenya.

As a captain and a player he had been slated by Indian cricketers turned television pundits earlier in the tournament.

But this was not a moment for self-promotion.

Sourav Ganguly and Yuvraj Singh
Ganguly has scored 441 runs

His clenched right wrist and beaming smile were aimed at the players who stood to applaud.

Sachin Tendulkar and Mohammad Azharuddin may enjoy a status as batsmen that he will never attain but neither of his predecessors enjoyed the unquestioned loyalty of his men that Ganguly has earned.

And neither, for that matter, captained India to a World Cup final.

The Ganguly story is a fascinating one.

Born into Indian aristocracy, he still lives in his family home in Behala, in the old part of the city, along with an assortment of brothers, sisters and nearly 40 cousins, uncles and aunts.

His family had a wall built between their house and their neighbours when Sourav, the younger of two brothers, showed a little too much interest in Dona, the girl next door.

Ganguly and Tendulkar
Ganguly and Tendulkar have been in sparkling form in the World Cup
Ever his own man, Ganguly returned from England in 1996 with a boldness garnered from a successful maiden tour in which he scored a century on his Test debut and promptly eloped with his childhood sweetheart.

He once strayed into the arms of a Bollywood actress - a temptation which almost cost him his marriage before the same families that had tried to keep the couple apart fought to reunite them.

For his penance he was obliged to write a column which was published widely across India in which he professed his love for his wife.

His reward was the saviour of his marriage and eventually a daughter - named Sana, a combination of his and his wife's names.

Those same contradictory qualities of hot-headedness and touching humility are apparent in his cricket.

A naturally confrontational character, he is none the less instinctively protective of his players.

Where previous senior Indian cricketers have regarded youngsters as a threat, Ganguly has gone out of his way to nurture emerging talent.

The Indian team has been the most settled of the World Cup, with the only selection dilemma being between Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble - the hardest decision of his career, as Ganguly put it.

Tendulkar and Ganguly have clearly led the way, but three of their key batsmen (Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh and Mohammad Kaif) and three of their bowlers (Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra and Harbhajan) are under 25.

The average age of the squad is only 26. Australia's is 30.

Clearly, the credit for that goes beyond Ganguly but it is a team built in his self-confident image.

And if there is one thing he has learnt in his 30 years - it is how to pick a winner.

A lifelong football fan, he was one of the few to be celebrating in England last year when his other childhood passion, Brazil, knocked that country out of the World Cup.

Indian captain Sourav Ganguly
"We've played very well for the last one-and-a-half months"

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