I watched on TV Sourav Ganguly's last Test at my - and his - hometown, Kolkata. The match was against Australia in Nagpur. The public discourse in the city was, at the time, dominated by Ganguly's decision to quit. Was he pushed? Did he leave? Should he have?
You saw a reflection of this when Kolkata's largest-selling Bengali daily put Ganguly in as part of its headline the day Sachin Tendulkar scored his 40th Test hundred. (Ganguly was 27 not out at stumps.) On his final day in Test cricket, after Ganguly had been dismissed without scoring (a truly Bradmanesque effort), the paper ran a banner headline on the front page, across the top of the page, making the feat seem heroic.
Kolkata and Dada
The intensity of Kolkata's relationship with Ganguly, its penchant for cosmic, comic hyperbole when it comes to the player, is unique. Kolkata has always had couch purists. It has always had people who would talk about the cricket. Why, you should watch them watch the cricket. It has a stadium in which, if Ravi Shastri were commentating, the atmosphere is always "electric". (The charge of that electricity is such that it stopped play in
a World Cup semifinal and forced a Test match against Pakistan to be played in front of empty stands after police evicted the spectators.)
But where were the players? And before you can say Pankaj Roy, let me say that there aren't that many people around any longer who saw Roy in his pomp.
Ganguly fired Kolkata's imagination because he was the talisman the city had been awaiting for decades. In him, came the answer to the prayer of a hometown boy who had made good. And how good he made. He forged on the anvil of his spectacular, tough leadership a side that went from being home track bullies to the team that beat Australia - indisputably the best side of the era - on more occasions than any other team in this century.
And now he is again a captain in the IPL. The trouble is that he is no longer the captain of the Kolkata Knight Riders. Ever resourceful, Kolkata has dealt with this problem. It now supports two teams in the IPL. And if you were to put a gun to the heads of certain Kolkatans and make them choose one team to root for, they would go for the Pune Warriors. That, now, is the real Kolkata team.
Local papers accord as much space to PW games as to KKR games. Ganguly, of course, gets prime billing. After he said in an interview that working with John Buchanan was a nightmare, people have fallen in love again with Shane Warne's line about Buchanan, a former Australia coach: "I am a big believer that the coach is something you travel in to get to and from the game."
I can't wait for May 5. That is when Ganguly will lead his team out at the Eden Gardens against KKR. For the first time in his life, he will use the visitors' dressing room at the Eden.
Only Mamata Banerjee can tell Kolkatans how to conduct themselves on that day.
(This is an occasional column that will appear during the IPL)