Sourav Ganguly has for long been one of India’s most intriguing celebrities. The fact that he embodies so many contrasts perhaps explains his popularity.
A player born into a measure of privilege but nonetheless driven by ambition, he developed his own reputation and identity as a cricketer while playing alongside great talents like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman.
A feisty, confrontational captain who paved the way for a character like MS Dhoni to lead India, Ganguly is also the quintessential bhadralok, who handles the furious, unflinching affection of Bengal with a level-headedness that is perhaps matched only by Tendulkar. You only have to watch the fawning, ecstatic following in West Bengal for the popular quiz show he anchors to sense that he walked away from a political career that could have been his.
Ganguly has instead chosen to stick to cricket, quickly developing a reputation as an astute commentator and getting inducted into the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB). And with the passing of Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) president Jagmohan Dalmiya and the intervention of West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, Ganguly has suddenly been elevated to the formidable post of president of the CAB — with potentially a say in the choice of Dalmiya’s successor as it is the east zone’s turn to pick the cricket body’s head.
His accession, however, prompts larger questions about the role players can play in the current set-up. At first glance, the segue of cricketers to administration is good for the game as they were aware of the need to develop grassroots structures, enhance the reach of the game, improve the quality of the pitches — and their eye for picking talent helps greatly too.
But many will be cynical that cricketers can make a difference as the BCCI has been rocked by accusations of conflicts of interest and spot-fixing scandals, a situation where the concerns of those who run its affairs appear more about managing the lucrative business than nurturing the game.
Cricket continues to draw television audiences but there’s little doubt that the game’s reputation has been severely dented by scandals.
The leaders at the BCCI would do well to use figures of public standing such as Ganguly as vehicles for building consensus on reform rather than draw them into factional contests that stifle and harm the game. And as for Ganguly, historian Mukul Kesavan once noted that the former’s great intuition as a captain “was to know that Indians needed to purge themselves of the deference that inhibited their play”.
Ganguly will need to deploy both tact and that lack of deference at the BCCI to genuinely give back to the game.