I've been twirling a particular cricket ball at home since Saturday night's Pune Warriors-Delhi Daredevils match at the Kotla. After Pune's emphatic victory against Virender Sehwag's well-oiled team, I'm seriously thinking of slicing the ball in two halves, sprinkling some salt and eating them no matter how leathery they taste.
The ball in question has Sourav Ganguly's signature embossed on it and was a gift from my father-in-law, who had won it at an in-flight Sahara Airlines 'auction' when he had visited us in Delhi from Kolkata years ago. (That the ball came courtesy an airline owned by the owners of the Warriors surely is a coincidence, no, swamijis?) This was a time when Ganguly was a key player in the Indian squad and his hair was more manageable than it was under the hot Kotla floodlights on Saturday evening. Since then I have followed Ganguly's fall and ouster, first from Team India and then from his 'home' IPL team, the Kolkata Knight Riders, with a relish that can be only explained by jealousy- he was a year junior to me in school - and by my fondness for being contrarian. (My resentment against Ganguly and Rabindrasangeet is a bit of a surprise to many who think it's easier to spot an anorexic Playboy bunny than a Bengali who doesn't care for the two aforementioned sub-national treasures.)
But after Saturday's match against the Daredevils, with hardly any crows to eat in east Delhi from where I watched the Kotla game, I am willing to eat the Ganguly ball.
The Pune Warriors captain was at his Douglas Jardine-esque best. He scored a 41 off 35 balls providing much-needed scaffolding on which Jesse Ryder, King Konging away at 86 off 58 deliveries, formed the bulk of the Warriors' impressive 192 runs innings. Ganguly's batting against the Daredevils wasn't pretty, but if the description didn't sound so stupid in a 20-over innings, I would have said he played the sheet anchor role for Pune.
But where Ganguly really showed me the finger on the seam was when he led his squad out of the Pune dressing room for the second innings of the match and, over the next hour or so, pushed the pillow down hard on the choking Daredevils' face. His extra blinking under the floodlights, I suspect, was Morse code gone wild that was sending out one message, and one message only, to his fielders and bowlers: 'BOYS. STOP. WE ARE GOING TO WIN THIS. REPEAT. WE ARE GOING TO WIN THIS.'
The team responded, especially Alfonso Thomas who scalped three wickets in his four overs for a remarkable 22 runs -- and who, in my book, is T20 cricket's finest bowler. It was this ferocity made flesh that Ganguly infused the team with that was not only palpable but astounding in a 39-year-old man that many, including myself, had branded even in this IPL tournament as a has-been.
And just to cover drive the point home, Ganguly took two wickets courtesy his gentle Hooghly breeze-like flat, medium-pace bowling. The first wicket of the dangerous Kevin Pietersen that he took off his first delivery - his first wicket since 2010 - was followed by a kind of unfettered celebratory war cry I can only describe as a one-man Maratha raid.
So, does this signal the re-re-turn of Ganguly? Well, certainly psychologically. I'm not going to bet on eating another Ganguly cricket ball, but the earlier wins in this season's IPL were more about the Warriors clicking and performing as a team with Ganguly's contributions rather invisible. Two losses on the trot may have got the demon out in the skipper. I won't expect him to tear into the opposition's battling line-up or smash the ball around the ground consistently throughout this IPL. And I certainly wouldn't like to see him doing a victory twirl with his shirt off in his current, well, sweating state. But bad hair day apart, on Saturday night in Delhi, Ganguly showed why it's wiser to bet against his fading into the cricketing lights than it is to bet on it.