When Dada announced his retirement under obvious pressure from the selectors, my first reaction, as a long-time fan, was a sense of disappointment. Once again in his life, Sourav Ganguly was being given a raw deal more so as he has been playing some of his best cricket over the last few years and so should not have been the first in the firing line. (A small numbers argument here) Once the inevitability of the retirement sunk in, there were a wistful reminiscence about the defining moments of his career and a grudging acceptance of what was to happen. His retirement was only a matter of time, if not this series then the one down the road. Given that reality, he deserved the chance to leave with his head held high and if indeed his neck was forever going to be on the chopping block, no matter what he scored, then at his age there was no need to let himself be subject to humiliation.
“There is no reason to get overtly sentimental”, I told myself. This attachment to our old heroes is like our attachment to a broken bat or an old greetings card and once we realize that their time is up, it should be logical to let them go.
And so why should we feel bad at Ganguly’s retirement? Sourav as a person had made millions from the game and is sure to have a very fulfilling post-cricket life whether it be as a businessman, or as a cricket administrator or a media personality or as is speculated the CPM candidate against Didi. Dada vs Didi—now that is one contest I would love to see and readers on this blog would know which side I will be rooting for. And it’s not as if I would never see him again, he would be in the black-and-gold uniform in the three-ring-circus of IPL very soon even though I knew that for Dada IPL would be like “exchanging a walk-on part in the war for a lead role in a cage”.
Most importantly, at the age of 32, mature people should live by the wisdom of Govinda’s immortal words “Control yaar” when dealing with non-critical life issues like a favorite sportsman retiring. Only 22 year olds, who empathize with filmstars and cricketers as if they were their own flesh and blood, ought to lose sleep over such trivialities. Right?
For all these reasons , my sadness at Sourav’s retirement was muted to a large extent. Instead there was a prayer than his last series does not overwhelm him, that his performances do not dip alarmingly and that another opportunity is not presented to his haters (and there are many of them) to give him a kick in his teeth with a “We told you. He has been finished a long time ago”.
But that did not happen. Sourav had his best series ever against Australia, showing solidity in the middle order never letting his impending retirement cast a shadow over his performances, which was crowned with a century at Mohali and a throwing-back-the-years partnership with partner-in-crime Sachin Tendulkar.
Till we came to Nagpur. The end of the road. The place where his legacy was sought to be finished by lesser mortals many years ago.Would he emulate Guru Greg by scoring a century in his last and first match? Alas that was not to be as h fell for 85 in the first innings. No matter I thought; the six off Jason Krejza in his style of old was compensation enough for staying awake late at night. I smiled to myself when I heard people from Ganguly’s locality, Behala tell a Bengali channel that they would appeal to ICC to credit Ganguly with a century if he scored fifteen runs in the second innings. Really !
Not that Sourav gave his fans that chance. As the Australian fielders ran toward Jason Krejza as he came up with a caught and bowled, there was a fleeting moment of disbelief—surely this is not the way we thought it would end. That feeling was gone however as reality sunk in and as Sourav looked longingly at the sky for a brief second as a sign of thanksgiving or heavenly reproach and then walked off, rapidly, without any show of emotion and with not even a bat raised to the sky, still visibly cross with himself, all I thought was “Oh no India is going to lose this one”.
The next day of course my fears were proven to be unfounded. The series was wrapped up. Ganguly was raised onto the shoulders. He was mercifully not asked to speak (at least I did not catch it) and was “left alone with his glory”. The best moment of the night for me was to see the Fab Four together, side by side, wreathed in smiles, all together in the team for one last time, —-like all great bands, they had their moments of discord but what music had they given us, what memories !
Of course the last most poignant moment was Ganguly, trying desperately to remain stoic, coming out to acknowledge his cheering fans and then on public request, in the manner of an old conjurer performing his favorite act at the curtain call, repeating his iconic gesture at Lords of taking his shirt off. There was no anger now. No rage. Or even if there was, he did not show it.
There was a wave to the crowd. And then he was gone. For ever.
And at that moment, I felt happy. Really happy for Ganguly, for all that he had achieved and how he was leaving, not with a whimper but with all his guns blazing, a privilege he sorely deserved.
It was almost morning when I came to bed. The next day was Monday and I needed to be at work. As I tucked myself into bed and settled down into the comfortable cusp of dreamy wakefullness that precedes sleep, I remembered something about the day’s play.
At a time when Hayden was going hammer and tongs, there were a few voices, hoarse from shouting, which kept on tirelessly with a “Dada Dada” chant oblivious to the state of the game. Dada was not batting. Nor was he bowling. Nor were there many people at the ground. No this was not a thunderous crescendo of thousands repeating a name. Just a few passionate fans, sitting in a nearly empty stadium, cracking their vocal chords in honor of one man.
Immediately, out of the fuzzy continuum of faded disembodied memories, came back an image—-of a group of sweaty engineering students, a group that included a familiar face with a slimmer body, in front of a broken-down old TV in a college canteen, thumping tables with their hands shouting together “Dada dada” till they too grew hoarse.
And it was then, just before I drifted off to sleep that, for the first time in many weeks, I truly realized what had just been lost.
[Picture courtesy: Sky Sports]