The image that flashes in the mind when one thinks of Sourav Ganguly is that of a bare-chested young man with shirt in hand being twirled around more in celebration than anger at the sanitised Lord’s balcony, an act which the Brits would consider blasphemous. You don’t conquer the masters in their own home ground and then flaunt your achievement in such “uncouth” manner, that too at Lord’s, which to most is the Mecca of world cricket.
The former Indian captain deservingly credited with molding a team of meek temperament and docile outlook into an aggressive bunch of world-beaters is known for his volatile temper on the field of play. He would appeal vociferously, gesticulate menacingly and pump his fist like a “ruffian” on the lose, acts which gave a new steely edge to the Indian team, known otherwise for surrendering at the slightest hint of trouble. The “New India” not burdened with the baggage of its colonised past, neither insecure nor lacking in confidence, were the terms used for the team once Ganguly took charge and chiseled India into a force to reckon with.
The man, the cricketer
Those who know the man will tell you that the public image of this in-your-face man is in sharp contrast to his behaviour in private. He has a typical public school persona: Well-behaved, well-mannered, articulate and very respectful to people around him. None would have believed this “real” side of his to be true had they not seen and heard him now on live television where he is expressing his opinions in free and frank manner.
What provides weight to his views is the fact that he was part of this Indian team till as recent as 2008. He has not only seen it before but has gone through all the trials and tribulations of a top-notch player. Importantly, he has been the master strategist, who has plotted many a moves, to outsmart the opponents, a quality which comes in handy when you are describing action in the middle.
His moment of triumph on television came when at the stroke of tea India ran out Ian Bell in controversial circumstances in the second Test of the on-going series at Trent Bridge in Nottingham.
To the utter surprise of everyone, Ganguly in the tea-break differed completely with his two better known commentators – Shastri and Gavaskar – and said that India have done the wrong thing and “this is not the way you play cricket.” He was calm, not raising his voice, yet made it clear that had he been the captain, he would have withdrawn the appeal.
His strong sense of fair-play and his understanding of the team came across well when he said that “I am sure at the tea break the team will watch the replays and realise that Bell was not attempting a run and they will withdraw their appeal.” It happened exactly the way he had predicted.
Did he not get influenced by what his co-commentators had to say on this controversial issue? “In the first place, I was already in the studio getting ready for the tea-break analysis when this event took place, hence I was not aware of what opinion others had on it. Even if I had heard them, my views would have remained the same, exactly as I aired them.”
The strength of Sourav as an articulate, insightful commentator of the game who is not infected by the disease called bias — the bane of most who comment on the game — has already endeared him to his new base of fans. He is not their to mouth cliche, nor exploit hyper nationalism and as he says, “I am there to give an honest opinion, to communicate to my viewers the game exactly as I have seen it, without taking sides,” he told HT.
Behind the microphone
Ganguly will not be seen too often commentating live on television for the simple reason that he hates to be away from home for too long. In fact, he was offered a five-year contract by ESPN immediately after his retirement but “I refused it as I wanted to spend as much time at home as possible, especially after having been on the road as a cricketer for years together,” he says, in Kolkata at the moment to attend his cousin’s marriage.
What he has decided to do is to be part of the ESPN-Star team only for marquee series. After this series is over he will be seen only in December, when India takes on Australia in the Tests, which is sure to generate a lot of eye-balls.
Live commentary provides him an opportunity to be “present and watching important matches live, something I would not want to miss, as I love the game as much as I have ever done.”
For cricket fans, he brings in a refreshing candour and adds meaningful insights to the action in the middle. He hopefully is the first of a new breed of Indian commentators, who would not, unlike the others, fall into the lucrative temptations on offer from the cricket Board to toe their line while pretending to be independent voices of Indian cricket.