Memories Of A Prince That Was
“Sourav Ganguly Retired Hurt”, or so the papers had to say a week earlier, with Ganguly apparently having announced his retirement from all forms of the game. All that rush for reaching office on time, complete with a foaming toothbrush in one hand and stained jeans in the other, just took a backseat as I slowly grasped the meaning of those four words. “This is the way the world ends, not with a bang, but with a whimper” – those immortal words by T.S. Eliot had never made more sense to me. After fifteen whole years of having occupied that special corner in many a heart, the eternal fighter of Indian cricket had finally said goodbye, and it somehow wasn’t the goodbye that I had hoped for.
My love for Ganguly probably started with his Test debut itself, when he burst upon the international scene with a century to his name. I remember my family gathering round the dinner table, with the television beaming pictures of this young lad standing tall in his all whites against a typically British grey sky. Though subject to initial cynicism and typical dinner table jokes all through his twenties, thirties, and even forties, his century led to a radical transformation in my family’s attitude towards him and relations were formed then and there itself. My father instantaneously mustered up a wistful look and recounted tales when he had played alongside Sourav’s father in the Ranji, my uncle acted as the family clairvoyant and solemnly predicted that this boy would soon become the star of the Indian team, and I merely stood there, enthralled by the sheer beauty of his batting. The next day newspapers were expectedly awash with articles praising this prodigious talent, and when I found out that he was from my own school, a bond was cemented for life.
Since that day, Ganguly became more than a mere cricketer to me; he almost became a part and parcel of my own life. A tiny Ganguly flipbook I had received as a present became my inseparable companion, and while my math teachers hopelessly droned away on the beauty of simple interest, I was transported to a different land altogether while rapidly flipping through those pages and watching Ganguly tonk Saqlain Mushtaq over long off for a six. When my book would be impudently seized by my harrowed instructors, I would promptly break off into acts of rebellion and play book cricket with my mathematical tomes instead. Even there, Ganguly scoring below ten would be unacceptable, and developing partial blindness to that zero staring me in the face, I would continue playing till he had reached a fifty at least. It helped matters that Ganguly strode forward with intent in real life too, with ‘Sachin and Sourav’ becoming the bane of bowlers the world over and the delight of millions at home. He had his weaknesses, yes, and it was particularly disturbing to see him get out repeatedly to the short ball aimed at his ribs. However, having said that, all was forgiven and forgotten when he managed to connect his bat with the ball, and I dare say that there hasn’t been a sweeter sound in cricket than when he managed to stroke the ball right through a particularly crowded cover area. There was a certain element of grace and beauty about his batting which made me feel like I was watching a ballet rather than a cricket match, and if the phrase ‘float like a butterfly, sting like a bee’ had not been coined for Muhammad Ali earlier, I am certain that it would have come into existence with Ganguly at the crease.
Come the new millennium, and the Indian team found itself under a captain who seemed to infuse a sense of urgency and aggressiveness in the game. I used to cackle with delight at reports of Ganguly getting under the skin of Steve Waugh and making him wait for the toss, and my joy knew no bounds when I chanced across reports of the Indian team giving it back to the Aussies when playing Down Under. That oft repeated visual of a bare-chested Ganguly in the Lord’s balcony brandishing his shirt in an act of raw aggression and pure joy may have been done to death, but it acts as a reminder of who the man is, and what he managed to do with the Indian team. Dhoni’s men may well be favourites to win this edition of the World Cup, but it was under Ganguly that the seed was sown and the belief in the team was born.
It is probably this spirit of the man that led to his eventual downfall, with both form and support deserting him midway, leaving him and his grit to face the obstacles. And it is probably this grit that refused to allow him to retire in his heyday, and kept urging him to try and make comeback after comeback. But, all said and done, this is but expected from a man who, on a wintry evening of 98, refused to leave the pitch and abandon the game, even when the Pakistani players and the umpires had left the field citing bad light. He stood there on the pitch, waiting in the dark, hoping for play to resume, and resume it did, resulting in one of the most thrilling victories for India in the day. And given that the very next day after having read about Ganguly’s retirement, I came across an article where Ganguly denied such rumours and said that he was willing to play in the IPL, one can only hope that he too gets such a perfectly scripted goodbye.