Thursday, 9 October 2008

Goodnight Sweet Prince...

In 1996, cable TV was not the easy to use affair it is today. There was no Tata Sky, Dish TV et al – just a local cable-wallah on whose whims and fancies one got one’s daily fix of channels. I don’t remember on which sports channel India’s tour of England that year was being broadcast, but I do remember that we did not get that channel at home.

Not that there would have been too much to see – India was getting walloped as usual away from home. Until the 22nd of June, that is.

By default, the newspaper became the only way to follow cricket action then, and I can still remember the screaming headlines the next day – “A Star is Born at Lords” wrote R Mohan in The Hindu.

I read about the silken off-drives before I actually saw them, imagined the exquisite timing before experiencing it. Only briefly – by way of making an effort at waking up early, then pleading and cajoling to be allowed to watch the early morning news to catch the sports update – did I manage to catch my first glimpse of the young man for whom I had an unreasonable fondness when he was picked, simply because he shared his first name with me.

The Sourav Ganguly who walked out to bat at the fall of yet another early Indian wicket was a boy in his early twenties. There was pressure on him – the normal nerves of a debutant, the ‘quota’ tag attached to his selection, the knowledge that he was only in the team because of an injury to a more established player – but I doubt if he has ever felt as free of care while batting, as he would have done on that June morning.

Until now.

The Sourav Ganguly who will walk out against Australia this October will, I suspect, be the most non-encumbered man we have seen in a long time. For the first time in a long time, there is no axe hanging on his head, there is nothing left to prove to anyone, there will be no agonizing wait, with every series, every match, every innings being a trial by fire.

Over the years he has weathered storms, faced inquisitions, polarized the country and been hung out to dry. Yet through all of this, he has retained his ability to fight back, and always, always he has made naysayers and doomsday predictors eat their words.

But now he has decided that there is not going to be another chapter in the Ganguly saga. The last comeback story has been scripted; the last of the mud that was flung has been wiped off with dignity.

Perhaps the hurt of being dropped for the Irani Cup was the last straw, perhaps it just took a moment’s vision of clarity as Adam Gilchrist had, that this was the right time to go, but to say that this was part of a ‘deal’ struck with the selectors and the board, whereby he gets to play one last time before he goes, is to belittle the man and belittle Indian cricket. Sourav Ganguly has lived his life as an Indian cricketer on his own terms; he does not need a golden handshake or a voluntary retirement scheme.

His numbers alone – and they make very respectable reading – cannot quantify his contribution to Indian cricket. He was the most successful Indian captain, one of the all-time great one-day players, and a very good test cricketer (the only one among the current team whose average has never slipped below 40) and probably the best left-hander to ever wear Indian colours – yet his greatest legacy will be as a leader of men. It was a legacy that was forged in THAT series in 2001, where he crossed 40 in an innings only once and 50 never, and yet managed to be one of the primary thorns in the all conquering Australian side. It was he who fought for the inclusion of a young Harbhajan Singh (who had been kicked out of the National Cricket Academy for disciplinary reasons) in the squad. Treating the board with anything other than servile reverence was unheard of then. Those who fought were consigned to oblivion. Even Tendulkar could not do it when he was captain – and Ganguly for all his accomplishments, was still no Tendulkar. He was not invulnerable as a cricketer. Yet he fought, he won, and most impressively was proved spectacularly right when Harbhajan twisted the Aussies in knots.

He inherited a team torn asunder by match-fixing and that did not know how to win if its passports were stamped. From the ashes of that team he forged one that frequently rose to be second best in the world, and often challenged the best one in a way no one else has in the past decade.

Now he is going. And there appears to be no one waiting in the wings that can adequately fill his boots.

But before he goes, I hope to watch him bat, to watch him drive sublimely piercing a six man off-side cordon, to see him exhibit once more the raw emotion that gave a generation of Indians an iconic symbol of a shirtless Indian captain on the hallowed Lord’s balcony giving a damn to the world in a style only he can, and to script yet another Brisbane ’04.

But most of all I hope to find a way to avoid the dreaded marching of the funeral drums that beat in my ear, to fight the feeling that this truly is the beginning of the end of an era in Indian cricket, that Dada’s departure will hasten those of my other heroes – the men who have given India its finest years in cricket.

Hope, so they say, springs eternal. I don’t know if it does, but if it did, it would have the legacy of Sourav Ganguly to Indian cricket for company.


Arpit said...

Nice! Didn't really care too much about Ganguly's retirement but after reading this you feel the Prince deserves more than an It-doesn't-matter reaction. Not melodramatic, the article evokes just the right mix of emotions of sadness, respect and appreciation. Good you did it before the series begun...

Sridip said...

good writing Sourav. Though I am not much of a cricket fan.....this was the only sport Indian can feel proud about... other than Australia, and India, no other team is worth watching.


Saurabh said...

@ arpit: thanks!

@ sridip: thanks. well, i don't mind watching a lot of teams, especially when they have exciting players... but then i am a cricket fan!

shubhrangshu said...

the begining is nothing special
usual stuff sports writer would belt out but the end is lyrical and sublime it just makes you weep and you just want that man to bat like there is no tomorrow.
the end part is simply beautiful

Anish said...

Good post. Inspirational leader and Ganguly will be missed but I do think his time was up. His century here was a pretty labored affair on a belter of a wicket. His bowling has fallen away and he never really could field.

I think he'd make a wonderful manager or selector though and he should be in the administrative scheme of things in the future.

Saurabh said...

@ anish: agree with most of what you say, but i don't think his century was laboured. initially he was outscoring tendulkar, but when tendulkar started playing his shots, he dropped anchor. but though slow, he never looked scratchy or troubled at the crease.
as to his time being up, well i don't know. obviously he would not have been around for too long, but right now from amongst those waiting in the wings, i see no one to replace him. so i guess he cud have continued for a couple more series at least.

and yes, i think he would make a damn good selector/manager/administrator.

ravichandran said...

damn right man. we all will miss him.
God knows how long we'll have to wait for another captain who'll "strip in the balcony" or have the balls to make the opponent, known to play mind games, wait on the field.

Anonymous said...

Nice, Saurabh!

My own goodbye to Ganguly is a bit more equivocal; but you make a strong case for his greatness.



Arpan said...

Saurabh to Sourav...good writing bro...did you know a small episode that took place that summer of 69..oops I am dyslectic..96 I mean. It was dickie bird's farewell test and he had been known for being a miser against LBWs. Ganguly's 2nd or 3rd ball by Mullaly was a ripper...and plumbed him naked. The deaf could hear the appeal the blind could see the LBW. Dickie Bird was stubbord and shook his head saying "NOT OUT" was was nice reading your article :-)

Saurabh Somani said...

@ arpan: interesting! did not know that, since there was no cricinfo, and didn't have the channel showing the series. ah, what the hell, we've copped it so many times while touring, we deserved that bit of luck! :)

Arnab said...

I am mesmerised by your capacity as a story teller. Your words literally makes people see those in front of their eyes.
Today you have a new

And about ur post .... dude the phoenix never dies..legends never die..they just become murmurs but they still live will our Dada on the fields where he won wars or lost fighting.