Sourav Ganguly will no longer step on to a cricket field donning the whites of a player of the Indian cricket team. Flowery tributes have been written and even his most fervent critics have given their spleen a rest and applauded his lasting contributions to Indian cricket. This is not an attempt to pay tribute, nor is it a fault-finding mission. This is an attempt to reconcile and put to rest the conflicting and enigmatic feelings that Ganguly evoked in me over the 12 years that he played active test cricket.
To be sure, I'm no fan of Ganguly. Never been, in fact. Even as he was making a majestic hundred on debut and showing the Englishmen gaps in the offside that they never knew existed , I sensed something amiss. As a 12 year old unaware of the controversy surrounding his selection at that point, I could only go by his cricket in forming that judgement and the feeling I had then hasn't changed appreciably in the last 12 years. During these years, Ganguly did what no other Test captain had done for India - redeem a side hovering around the brink, rebuild it with fresh talent and give it a killer spirit that has remained with it ever since. He also went about amassing runs in the most beautiful ways possible - caressing the ball through the covers and using nimble feet to step down the track against spinners and hitting handsome sixes over long-on.
All along, I used to wonder how a player who I had a bad feeling about could be so successful. Having yourself proved wrong is painful at the best of times. During the worst of times it got so bad that I almost wanted him to fail when he stepped out on to the field. It could have been the fact that Ganguly was no great athlete; or his awkward prod at balls that bounced to waist height; or his tardy fielding and running between wickets. Yes, it should be these reasons, for I greatly admire cricketers who are good all-round sportsmen - Tendulkar, Symonds, Yuvraj Singh, Rohit Sharma and I have an instant distrust of cricketers who don't show such abilities. I fear now that I equated athleticism and skill alone with cricketing success.
Maybe the fact that I didn't like Ganguly owes itself to the fact that he proved my presumptions wrong every single time. I used to think that his poor technique and over-reliance on the off-side for scoring runs would make him a disaster as a batsman in the long run. But he went on to make many thousand runs and formed a legendary partnership with Tendulkar at the top of the ODI batting line-up. Somehow, bowlers never 'figured him out' the way I thought they would. Was Ganguly too smart to be figured out that way? I used to think that his attitude and personality would not make him suitable for captaincy. He went on to break every captaincy record in Indian cricket. Could it be true that the very thing I didn't like about his personality was what enabled him to become a good captain? I used to think what I construed as his arrogance would inhibit the youngsters in the team. I couldn't have been more wrong on that front.
My dad used to tell me that he could never understand what I had against Ganguly. "Look at the way he's playing now. I can't believe you can hate a guy who plays like this," he used to say. I used to respond by cyincally saying that this would be his only good innings for another 20-30 innings. Many a times the batsman obliged, giving me more fuel for dislike.
Ganguly may not have been a great batsmen and he many not have lived up to my standards of what a good cricketer should be. But now, it doesn't matter. He's done with his game and his complete works are in front of us, to revere or hate. For every person like me who didn't like him, there are two more people who will vouch for his greatness. I've based my judgement on hunches and inferences which have been proved wrong many times. The near-unanimous opinion now is that he has left a legacy which India will do well to follow. No cricketer could ask for more.
Sourav Ganguly left Test cricket a happy man. I'm happy that things have transpired in such a manner. My observations were right, but my inferences were wrong. Looking back now, I'm glad that my predictions about Ganguly never came true fully. All of us go through our lives hoping that what we do will make a postive contribution to something big. From where Indian cricket was in 1996 to where it has now reached, Ganguly definitely has had a part to play in the progress. Ultimately, in the balance sheet of life, that's all that matters.
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