Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Laying to Rest the Ghosts of Dada

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.

11 comments:

silverine said...

Cannot comment on the topic much, not my forte! But what I did not like about Ganguly was the violence in Kolkata every time he was dropped. He could have stepped out and told his followers to stop acting like hooligans. He never did. I lost all respect for him as a sportsman after that!

Rada said...

I know the feeling. Maybe to a great extent, I share it too...

Love him or hate him, but cannot ignore him, eh?

mathew said...

hmm..i have more less mixed opinion on this..For me he never would instill the same feelings as when the day comes Sachin retires...Maybe Ganguly was reponsible for a huge change in indian cricket..he definitely was a postive influence for cricket in the larger context..but he failed to make an emotional connect unlike Sachin ..just my opinion..

Cris said...

When he used to partner with Sachin, and we heard a wicket when our heads were turned away, we used to say "Oh please it be Ganguly please please". It was nothing against the man, but just like the rest of India wanting Sachin to stay longer.

Hmm its still sad to see him go. Somehow feel a little guilty now, just the way I feel Kumble never got the attention he deserved, Ganguly too if he didnt call for a limelight attraction, certainly didnt deserve all the hatred. Prejudice I guess. And its not just you Philip.

George said...

You set the balance right, not what we call a champion player, but definitely as a captain he brought some refreshing change. That bare chested celebration at the end of Natwest trophy symbolizes the spirit that he brought. He would also be remembered for getting out in the first ball in a match bowled by Chaminda Vas and padded to near suffocation while face Shoaib Akhtar.

Philip said...

silverine: True. Instances like those are reasons why many people don't like him.

rada: Definitely can't ignore Ganguly.

mathew: That's exactly my opinion too. He never made that connect unlike players like Dravid and Sachin.

cris: When he was playing, he certainly deserved some the criticism directed at him.

george: Yeah, especially against Akhtar, it was obvious he didn't have to confidence to play him well.

ursjina said...

Sometimes the inferences dont matter at all....
Some people are at the right place the right time...Maybe it was not all fluke..But I share your sentiments on Dada...But also respect him as a great team player not a great cricketer...

SidtheKid said...

Havnt read such a nice writeup for ages. After reading it I am confused if I agree with you because I used to have the exact same thoughts about Dada or is it your writing that bowled me over to your side.
Whatever it is, its one hell of a writeup and such a joy to read. Keep writing ma man.

Philip said...

ursjina: I have my doubts on whether he was a great team player. But yeah, he contributed something to the team.
And thanks for dropping in :)

sid: Thanks man. Means a lot.

hammy said...

I really enjoyed reading this post. And that's a big deal cos I rarely ever ead about sports in general and cricket in particular. I am not the typical sports fan, and I'm among the four or five Indians who don't follow Cricket like it's gospel. But your writings are quite refreshing.

Anand Chakrapani said...

I didn't like his attitude and his arrogance. But I loved him when he kept Steve Waugh waiting for the toss. Loved him even more when he came early for the next toss!

Dearly loved him when he showed his torso at Lords.

We have to credit him with building the much needed spine in the batting line-up; and infusing the belief that we could beat the best in the business even from a hopeless position.

For that, I will always remain indebted to him.