By Sanjay Rajan
BANGALORE (Reuters) - Former captain Saurav Ganguly has had a streak of unpredictability throughout his playing career. His capacity to surprise has been seen as his biggest strength, both as captain and batsman.
On Tuesday, however, India's most successful test captain stumped the cricket-crazy nation by announcing that he would retire at the conclusion of a four-test home series against Australia.
The announcement, at the end of what was expected to be a routine media conference, came two days ahead of the first test of a highly anticipated series.
Ganguly, 36, had been retained in the squad for the first two tests, belying media predictions that he could be dropped following a poor test series in Sri Lanka in August.
"To be honest, I didn't expect to be picked for this series," Ganguly said. "Hopefully I'll go out on a winning note."
An Indian board official said last week that Ganguly was one of five senior players who had been given until December to plan their retirements, though the left-hander himself said he had not been approached.
Ganguly became known for his aggressive attitude and for engaging in mind games as captain.
He famously kept former Australian captain Steve Waugh waiting for the toss during the 2004 tour, a moment that made him universally unpopular for his 'win at all costs' approach.
When written off, he invariably bounced back. In 1996, he hit hundreds in his first two tests, almost five years after being banished after a single one-day game.
He led from the front, scoring a remarkable century in Brisbane that set the tone as India squared a test series in Australia in 2003-04.
He staged a remarkable comeback in 2006 after first losing his captaincy and then his spot in the team following poor form and a public spat with then coach Greg Chappell.
The man who turned India into one of the most combative outfits in world cricket in a five-year reign as captain from 2000 inexplicably faltered on important occasions, however.
Against Australia on a green-looking wicket in Nagpur in 2004, Ganguly declared himself injured half an hour before the start of the test.
The visitors won the match to record their first series victory in India in 35 years.
On a subsequent tour of Zimbabwe, Ganguly allowed his poor batting form to influence his judgement as captain, which led to Chappell suggesting that the Bengal player was no longer fit to lead the team.
Despite his impressive record as a batsman, Ganguly will be best remembered for his leadership abilities and the faith he showed in backing youngsters.
"He has taken the right decision. A guy like Saurav Ganguly deserves so much," chief selector Kris Srikkanth said.