So many times, it happens too fast
You change your passion for glory
Don’t lose your grip on the dreams of the past
You must fight just to keep them alive
—The Eye of the Tiger (OST: Rocky)
As Sourav Ganguly packed one rifle shot after another through the packed off side against the seamers and sashayed down the pitch to loft the spinners into the high heavens turning back the clock many a year, I am sure I was not the only one who had a lump in the throat.
Written off, humiliated, accused of being a mercenary and an injury-faker and haunted by the demon of low scores and by his obvious technical shortcomings, who would have thought he would be back in full cry, playing some of the best cricket of his life in South Africa and now in India?
I for one did not. Yes Mohinder Amarnath scripted a stunning comeback once upon a time. Widely pilloried for his terrible technique against pace bowling (he missed a hook against Rodney Hogg, got hit on the head and lost his place in the team), he came back a transformed man standing tall against the two best pace attacks of the world then, Pakistan and West Indies to become universally acknowledged as the best player of raw pace in the world.
But Amarnath plotted his comeback away from the media spotlight, without hordes of experts waiting for him to trip up so that they can thump their chests with their “told you so”s. He did it without being told by the powers-that-be that they were “looking forward” beyond him and that he would not get back into the team as long as the chief selector was in power.
Sourav was not so lucky. With his every move being watched by the media and an antagonistic team management, from his parachute training and kickboxing sessions to every innings at the Ranji level, Sourav ran the risk of turning himself into the cricketing equivalent of Dev Anand: a legend whose time had passed him by and yet who is unable to accept his obsolescence, clinging instead to the echoes of past glory.
Yes the risk was always there. But the way Sourav overcame this fear of failure, the fear of being laughed at and the fear of proving his critics correct is nothing short of inspirational.
In an interview given before the first One Day International against West Indies, Sourav Ganguly articulates the self-doubt that he was often racked with during this year of exile.
Q: Surely, there must have been occasions when you felt like taking the easy optionâ€¦
A: (Pauses) I didnâ€™t give up mentally, but there definitely were times when it dawned that a comeback could become very difficultâ€¦ The thought that it may not happen at all did crop up, but the next morning Iâ€™d wake up thinking differentlyâ€¦ Woke up with positive thoughts, thoughts which kept me goingâ€¦
So what drove Sourav on through those dark times? As he says subsequently in the interview, it was the desire to prove to himself that he had given it the best shot, so that when his career ended he would know that it was not for the want of effort.
Call me a sentimental boy’s scout but it is this attitude that defines a champion. In sport and in daily life.
Q. What kept you going? After all, you werenâ€™t in the Test team either for ten monthsâ€¦ Was it just self-belief?
A: Had a lot to do with self-belief, yesâ€¦ I knew I was still good enough to play for Indiaâ€¦ Itâ€™s easy to give up, very easy to hang up oneâ€™s bootsâ€¦ I didnâ€™t want to do thatâ€¦ I gave myself a year (from after the Test series in Pakistan)â€¦ I wouldnâ€™t have hung around endlessly, but I didnâ€™t want to leave without convincing myself that Iâ€™d given my best shot towards a comebackâ€¦ I wasnâ€™t emotional and accepted that sports is different from fairy tales.
True. However, this fairy tale has come true.
And really, how could it not?
It had a prince in it.