Sourav Ganguly is a man who never ceases to amaze and even surprise. Destiny’s child, if ever there was one, Ganguly means different things to different people. To his admirers, and there is a never ending stream of them and is growing by the day, despite having retired from the field long back, he is an epitome of guts and glory. A cricketer, who fought all odds and selectorial biases to emerge as India’s finest batsman and captain, he became an even bigger folklore hero at the end of his career. Dumped by the man he himself had anointed as Indian coach – Greg Chappell – Ganguly made a fairytale comeback to prove to his detractors that he has a steely will and fierce resolve.
Post retirement, he is a much admired commentator not afflicted with the parochialism and biases which are the bane of most Indian broadcasters. Fluent in the English language and well-versed with all the nuances of the game, he communicates the happenings on the field without losing sight of the fact that the contest is being enriched by two rival teams and not just by his own Indian players.
His detractors, and there are many of them, think he is a man who has the knack of being at the right place at the right time. He was a surprise selection to the Indian team in 1996, after having been discarded in 1990 when he was picked at the callow age of just 19. His return to the Indian team for the England tour was greeted with cynical derision in the media. His connections to the Indian cricket establishment (read Jagmohan Dalmiya) was touted as the main reason for his selection and not any merit as a cricketer.
Ganguly, unmindful of the criticism, went on to score a century on his debut at the Lord’s and accomplished many batting feats that have earned him the rightful place as one of India’s greats.
A similar story repeated itself when he was catapulted to Indian captaincy after Sachin Tendulkar surprisingly quit as captain in 2000. Again, the criticism was widespread, as he was seen as a self-centred, selfish cricketer, incapable of guiding a bunch of disparate players belonging to different regions, religions and languages.
Again, his detractors were to be proved wrong. Not only did Ganguly lead with success, he gave the Indian team a new sharp edge, that began to bite and challenge the best of teams in the world. The laid-back Bengali, who loved his food and feasted on a dose of harmless gossip in spare time, is today respected as a captain who gave the Indian team a new respect in the world.
It speaks of his exalted status in a state starved of sporting heroes, that the chief minister had to intervene and announce his taking over from the late Dalmiya as Bengal’s president. Left to his own devices, he would have obviously not found it easy to win over the majority of the 117 clubs that make up the Bengal Cricket Association and become its leader in the aftermath of Dalmiya’s death.
His supporters would like to believe that it is his stature and charisma that have all of a sudden transported him into such an important administrative position. His critics will remind you that he has a wide range of “manipulative” skills which will now come handy and could possibly pave the way for his one day taking over the reins of Indian cricket as well.
If that eventually happens, Ganguly will become the first player, that too of outstanding caliber, to helm India’s cricketing destiny. And that will be a welcome change.