Goodbye Sourav Ganguly.
It hurts me to say this. You still had it in you—I would not have said this a few months ago with such certainty. But you showed heart and fight in the Pakistan series despite all odds. You refused to make inflammatory press statements at a time your opponents were trying their best to rub your nose in the ground—instead choosing to let your performances speak. You, the quintessential arrogant man, even pleaded to be allowed to play.
Yes, that’s how much the game meant to you. And your two fighting innings in the last Test amply demonstrated that your cricketing abilities have also not atrophied away.
And while those arrayed against you (a middle-finger-swollen coach who demands absolute authority, tolerates nothing but the presence of only yes-men in his presence and begrudges your wallet and a pathetic ex-wicketkeeper whose shriveling existence on this earth is only justified by how many careers he can destroy and how much of his weight he can throw about as a man of authority), have taken to spreading canards about how much money you made as a captain (not proven) , how you browbeat the last coach into submission (denied by John Wright), and how you faked injury (again disproved)—-you have maintained a dignified silence. Which has raised your stock– a stock that had so spectacularly fallen in the last few years.
Yes we have to accept. It had fallen.
For that however you were to blame. You let your game stagnate. While you were once a more valuable player than Dravid, things slowly turned around. Dravid worked ceaselessly to improve his game (playing with soft hands, rotating the strike, hardening his technique) and in the process scaled new heights of batsmanship.
You however just turned your back on your problems. With the result that bowlers all over were able to consistently “pattern” you out—so much so that it became positively embarrassing for fans like us to justify your presence on the basis of performance.
But then you fought back. Just like the time you first came into international cricket. You were too raw then. You deserved to be dropped. And then when the time came at Lords 1996, you were ready. Just like you are now. However your enemies (and you have a huge number of them) are not going to let you come back—simply because they cannot afford you embarrassing them with a performance; like you did to those naysayers (Ravi Shastri et al) who called you a “regional selection” in 1996.
A word of advice. Be wary of your friends/supporters. When a Bengal minister calls your dropping a slap against the state of Bengal, do not endorse that. Because by doing so, you play right into the hands of people like Pawar, More and Cricinfo whose spin works on showing that Sourav Ganguly is a has-been noone wants except Bengalis.
While I have argued before that anti-Gangulyism is often a surrogate for anti-Bengalism in a mixed company of Indians watching cricket, the current situation has got little to do with that. Chappell only sees an insolent Indian who has got far more money than he deserves —and not the fact that Sourav Ganguly loves rosogolla. Sharad Pawar wants Ganguly’s career finished only because he is beholden to certain boards who want their player in a position of power. Simple as that.
Instead of needlessly beating the Bengali angle, it is worth making the point that the way you have been treated is a slap on the face of all cricketers who have contributed significantly to the Indian cricket ethos—and let me add that a few people in the team who may be smiling at the dissolution of a possible power center, should do well to remember: this might very well happen to them, given a different political configuration at the board.
No matter what the future brings, I can say that you have left as the moral victor, keeping intact your legacy –something a hundred Chappells, a hundred disgruntled reporters and their hundreds of unsubstantiated allegations cannot diminish.
You brought in a new age of competitiveness in the team, rescued it from the morass of match-fixing and mined true diamonds from the rough—a Bhajji, a Sehwag, a Dhoni, a Yuvraj.
People remember that. And so at your time of peril, Bhajji comes out in your support (getting a reprimand from the board) and so does Yuvraj—speaking out for you selflessly despite knowing that he works in a team where the coach has a visceral hatred for you and the present captain is glad to see you leave.
You leave behind a team much stronger than what it was when you arrived. Your place as a player will be taken by Yuvraj Singh, whose offside play and swagger makes him temperamentally your ideal successor with the potential to be another legendary leader.
Your place as a captain will be taken by Rahul Dravid, a great batsman and going by his recent record, hard-as-nails and as crafty as they come. Which is heartening because I always mistakenly thought that Dravid was too much of a nice guy to be a captain.
As for us fans, we shall always have fond memories of your sublime off-side glides, your towering sixes, your pedestrian running-between-the-wickets, your embarrassing fielding, your never-say-die attitude, your totally unparochial approach to man-management and your bare torso on the Lords balcony as you waved your shirt over your head like a helicopter showing the world that we Indians, from now on, shall give as good as we receive.
In conclusion, I sincerely wish that you will be back for a last hurray but my mind tells me otherwise. And somehow your departure like this is much more poetic– the most apposite way for a person like you to exit the battle is feet first— solitary in your glory.
As for the others—they can gallop into the sunset when their time comes.
But that is not for you.