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Return of the imperfect hero

The story of Gail Devers is, like fellow sports legend Lance Armstrong, a triumphant tale of how an athlete beat serious illness, reports Kadambari Murali.

india Updated: Jan 27, 2007 01:49 IST

“You can never give up or get down on yourself. A true champion keeps his or her chin up and always takes life one race at a time. This is how I keep focused on my goals and racing toward my dreams.”

— Gail Devers, double Olympic gold medallist

The story of Gail Devers is, like fellow sports legend Lance Armstrong, a triumphant tale of how an athlete beat serious illness (she had Graves’ Disease) with faith and hope, spirit and grit to emerge a champion.

But often the greatest comebacks in sport — as in any other field — have not been about beating physical handicap alone. They tell tales of amazing mental courage, of sheer bloody-minded self-belief that have kept the people in question going when no one else has believed they can; past the fear of failure, past the hurt of betrayal and past the pain that comes with trying.

Man of steel and will

In the year gone by, Sourav Ganguly has undoubtedly shown more courage than anyone thought he had. Except,perhaps, himself. As a result of that, a year after being practically ostracised by a fickle cricketing fraternity and an even more capricious cricketing public, he is back — bigger than he ever was, an intriguing combination of Superman and Socrates (witness the new, steely-willed, philosopher cricketer).

As intriguingly, it hasn’t been because he decided that cricket was his life and devoted every possible minute to it. It was because he took a step back and decided there was more to life than the game. That is what opened up new vistas of discovery for him.

In the process of rediscovering himself, Ganguly the man rediscovered Ganguly the cricketer — a talented player who had perhaps got lost somewhere in the morass of politicking that comes with being a successful Indian cricketer and, more important, being a successful Indian captain.

In the celebration of an undoubtedly astonishing story of a remarkable man, let it not be forgotten that Ganguly was far from perfect. He was a complex man who ultimately fell because he let his many insecurities get in the way of his judgment, common sense and sense of fairplay.

Even as skipper, while he backed his instincts (and they were right more often than not), his arrogance at the top was well-known. Buoyed by the fact that the man in power at that time was Jagmohan Dalmiya — the man who was instrumental in bringing Ganguly in the first time around — the ‘Maharaj’ was quite capable of running roughshod over others — and he often did.

He should have been dropped long before he actually was if the best XI had to play and, if he had been, he would perhaps have come back a more complete player that much faster. The unfortunately ugly part here was more because of the grotty circumstances of his axing than anything else. But it could help him in more than one way. At the more obvious level, it has already helped him come to terms with cricket’s place in his life and given him time off from the intense scrutiny and pressures of international cricket to work on his own game and fitness.

Fruits of labour

It must be mentioned that while the return of Sourav Ganguly has long been attributed to the politics of Indian cricket, and while there might be an element of truth in that, it takes away from the fact that Ganguly has worked very hard on every aspect of sport — physical, technical and mental — to make his comeback possible. There was no magic wand. He worked crazy hours at the nets and spent long hours at club games, in Ranji games and everywhere else he could get a look in, to make himself ready when the moment came. And he believed it would, even if nobody else did. Muhammad Ali once said it was a lack of faith that made people afraid of meeting challenges, and, “I believed in myself”. Ganguly did too and when the call came, he was ready.

Everyone who has seen Ganguly play in the recent past has been somewhat startled by the changes — in the tighter technique, in the patience on and off the field, in the leaner, more athletic body. At another level, the time off and his new-found attitude (he describes himself as calmer and more philosophical about cricket and life) could perhaps also have taught him to be more open to other views and more sensitive to other players, irrespective of what he thought of them personally (as opposed to the past, when he made his likes and dislikes sometimes callously apparent).

Shakespearean edge

When Ganguly takes his final bow — and no one in their right mind would now attempt to say when that will be or how, except that it will almost certainly be a time of his choosing — it will bring the curtain down on one of the most dramatic careers that India has seen.

The story of Ganguly is the stuff legends are made of. It has all the elements of human drama that Shakespeare would have loved. An imperfect hero who is in turn loved and betrayed by his people before he triumphs again, against the odds. A friendship undone because the protagonists were competing for the same thing: romance and the perils of fame, pathos and pain, even perhaps, the return of a king. For who knows what comes next in this delightful tale that is yet unfinished? Perhaps not even Ganguly himself.

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First Published: Jan 27, 2007 01:49 IST