It’s something I have observed whenever I am in a mixed group of Indians watching a cricket match involving India. As soon as Ganguly gets out cheaply wafting at one outside the off stump or fending one off his ribs (regrettably both becoming a recurrent feature) people from different parts of the country seem to hold me responsible . Some will say “Aare Arnab , Dada has failed yet again” , some will abuse Ganguly while looking at me. Somehow I am anointed as the Ganguly surrogate on whom to vent their collective spleen. The reason is obvious–I being the only Bengali most of the time (the graduate student population I have always interacted with at Stonybrook have always been South Indians—Gults and Tams predominantly and Marathis) in the group makes me responsible/answerable for Ganguly’s batting woes in the eyes of non-Bongs. However Sachin Tendulkar’s boo-boos (and I can reel off several) and Rahul Dravid’s inability to get the ball past 15 yards may bring forth a passing remark or two (never on the scale of the vitriol reserved for Dada)— however Marathis and Bangaloreans are never never pulled up for the follies of these two heroes.
And that brings me to a question I have never found a satisfying answer for:
Why is Saurav Ganguly intrinsicly associated with Bengal to an extent no other Indian cricketer is associated with his origins?
I dont really understand it. In my opinion Ganguly’s greatest contribution to Indian cricket is that he has never been guided by parochial feelings——-among all India captains in the past ten years, he has never let his judgment be affected by his roots. Look at the people he has supported —–Harbhajan and Yuvraj from Punjab, Sehwag from Delhi, Zaheer Khan from Gujarat. Many of the people he has backed despite media/selectorial opposition have vindicated their faith in him—-some like Agarkar and Parthiv Patel have not. But the point to note is that unlike Sachin or Azharuddin the people he stuck his neck out for were people he believed in only because of their ability and not because they played for the same Ranji team or spoke the same language.
In contrast Sachin, for all his greatness as a batsman, could never look beyond Mumbai. Under him, old pals like Vinod Kambli (to be fair Kambli had talent that was ultimately ruined by his own indiscipline) and Sanjay Manjrekar (his early promise mysteriously disappeared) had an extended run in the national team even when they were past their sell-by-date. At least it could be said that Kambli and Manjrekar had showed promise at some point of their careers——–what of Abey Kuruvilla, Nilesh Kulkarni and Sairaj Bahutule ? The only thing that connected them was their singular lack of talent and performance and oh yes they all played for Mumbai. Before that was Azharuddin who single-handedly destroyed the career of Subroto Banerjee to further Srinath’s in the 92 tour to South Africa. Venkatapathy Raju, Azhar’s Ranji teammate, used to come up with sporadic performances throughout the 90s, get dropped and keep on coming back like a bad penny thanks to the support he got from our “boys didn’t play well” Azhar
Yet it’s always Ganguly who has been the “Prince of Calcutta” and not Sachin “Mumbai Mawali” .
A non-Bengali friend of mine who had a few issues with Bengalis once told me that Bengalis are known to be lazy, arrogant and bossy and that Saurav Ganguly embodies that stereotype. He argued that Ganguly does not deserve to be in the team based on his batting and that his reputation as a captain is built on the performances of Dravid and Sachin. Ganguly does nothing except to simply supply sound bytes to the press and shamelessly appropriate the labours of others as achievements of his captaincy. In addition, Ganguly is a selfish batsman who cares only for his personal achievements, is a lazy sportsman who does not like to run singles or work on his fitness (his abysmal fielding is proof of that) and who captains the team like an arrogant autocratic Maharaj shouting orders at others while his own performance leaves much to be desired.
I don’t want to bring a whole lot of statistics into it but I think we all know who in the world has the greatest ODI record after Sachin. Sure that does not make Ganguly the greatest in Test matches but since World Cup 2003 Ganguly has been averaging more than 50 in both forms of the game which shows, that at the very least, he deserves to be in the team as a batsman. There is no room for doubt–Sachin and Dravid are far better batsmen that Dada but that does not make Ganguly any less valuable to the team as a batsman.
Sachin’s tenure as captain was a disaster both for his personal form as well as for the team. Dravid averages 17 in Tests when he is the captain. Both Sachin and Rahul Dravid are known to be self-absorbed cricketers——–Sachin’s failure as a captain was acknowledged to be the fact that he expected superhuman performances from everyone which led to team mates being alienated. Dravid looks outwards only when he is satisfied with his own game—the moment he gets a little bit out of form he withdraws totally within himself. Ganguly on the other hand never loses the intensity needed from a captain even when his personal form goes to pieces. He has shown time and time again——Dada does not mentally disintegrate. He sticks up for the people he believes in and in the process earns the respect of his colleagues——the mark of a true leader.
Ganguly is selfish. Well I have seen him slowing down before personal landmarks but which Indian batsman does not do so? Ok Sehwag does not but who else ?Sachin, Dravid , Laxman….everyone has done so. We Indians are intensely conscious of personal achievements and we as a nation worship statistics——–so let’s not make Saurav an example.
All this is quite beside the point. Which if you remember was why Ganguly is linked to his linguistic heritage like no other player? Lets look at an article about Laloo Yadav published in the Rediff (and titled as a “must read) and read the gross generalizations made about Bengalis.
The zamindars began to exploit the farmers for more and more and also, they themselves did nothing to develop the land’s productivity. In fact, zamindari lifestyle meant doing nothing. Any kind of physical activity was looked down upon, and this can still be seen in Bengal.
Bihar was created because of the supercilious superiority attitude of the Bengalis and because some of the Kayasthas (one of Bihar’s smallest forward castes) resented the Bengalis domination of the British Raj administration.
Can you imagine such gross generalizations being made against any other linguistic, social or religious group in mainstream Indian media ? I cannot.
Such a negative mindset against Bengalis can be seen all throughout India and nowhere more so than in the cricketing fraternity. Zonal selection boards and the Mumbai lobby kept out many deserving Bengali players throughout the 50s to 80s. When Ganguly was first selected in 91, he was the victim of a vicious conspiracy by the then-manager of the India team Ranbir Singh (the BCCI president). In his report about Ganguly, Mr Singh did the easiest thing to do to a Bong—paint him as a lazy work-shirking individual who asked Kapil Dev to carry his bag (a version denied by Kapil but something that found its way into Ganguly’s assessment by the manager).
This damning report about Dada combined with selectorial myopia kept him out for another 6 years till the tour to England where his selection was dubbed as a “case of blatant selectorial regional bias”. This charge was put to rest when Ganguly whacked back-to-back centuries against England in Lords and Leeds. Yet soon Wadekar had him dropped for the Toronto cup in order to make way for state-mate Hiphop Kambli………again a tour de force performance from Ganguly with bat and ball enabled him to make his spot permanent. In short, contrary to the image painted by his detractors of Ganguly being born with a golden spoon who has had it easy all through his life, the real situation is that fewer cricketers in the Indian team has had it as tough as him.
Which brings me to the point……finally. I am proud when people associate me with Ganguly because of my being a Bengali. That is because , ironically, Ganguly is the antithesis of the Bengali stereotype. He is a fighter and a trier. Despite being not as naturally talented as Sachin or Dravid and having well-documented weaknesses, his ODI record is the second best in the world. He has relentlessly battled prejudices coming up through India’s cricketing structure. He has witnessed , first hand, the way administrators destroy careers and in turn has worked to ensure that what almost happened to him does not happen to the new generation of cricketers ———–regardless of which state they are from.
On paper he is the most successful Indian captain ever and that is reason enough to guarantee him his place in history. But his greatest legacy will remain the fact that he has taught Indian cricketers to look the opposition in the eye and to “act with confidence”———an attitude that symbolizes not only the cricket team but also the new resurgent India.
I am not a parochial person. I do not think that linguistic/social/religious groups have defining characteristics nor do I subscribe to the jingoistic exclusivism predominant among much of the Bengali elite. However once I am painted with the “Bengali brush” I fight back. Just like Dada. I proclaim loudly for all to hear——-
Listen all ye haters, I am proud to be a Dada-fan and to come from the same state as him. He is the true “Bengal Tiger”…. and if you think thats a manifestation of the “supercilious superiority attitude of the Bengalis” I hope that you stand in silly mid off the next time Ganguly launches into his off-side glide.