Saturday, 8 November 2008

Adios, Maharaj

It probably was in the year 1990. We were playing an inter college cricket tournament and on a day off for us we trooped in to watch St. Xavier’s ,Kolkata take on Hooghly Mohsin College. We had walked in to gauge the strength of probable opponents but we ended up seeing a young guy scorch the turf with impeccable timing and balance and make the game a rather one-sided farce.

At that time, he was unknown to the world.

In 1991, he was in the India team and he returned in disgrace unable to cope with the cut throat competition of the game at the highest levels. In 1996, under allegations of being a Quota selection, he returned with a test debut hundred on the hallowed turf of Lords. The Indian cricket scenario changed forever!

Sourav Ganguly – Sourav Chandidas Ganguly to the media, Maharaj to friends and fans, Dada to team mates had had a second coming. This time it was for real, though what followed is stuff that mere mortals just dream off.

The back to back test centuries on debut, the 5 match ODI series against Pakistan in Toronto, the fighting 144 against Australia under terrible assault with the ball and words, the chasing of 300 plus against Pakistan in Bangladesh, the first series win at Pakistan and the tremendous showing in the 2003 World Cup. One could also mention his 22 ODI and 16 Test Centuries , 19000 international runs and the world record holding , now legendary, opening partnerships with Sachin Tendulkar. But these are mere statistics.

But what really sets him apart is his character. His grit, his mental strength, his ability to lead from scratch, identify and back potential match winners to the hilt, his ability to rise over petty regionalism, and give it back to the opposition in the same coin without batting an eyelid. Steve Waugh and a whole generation of Aussie cricketers know it, Greg Chappel knows it , Andrew Flintoff knows it and even a lot of retired/ forced to retire Indian cricketers know it. Yuvraj, Kaif, Harbhajan , Nehra, Zaheer, Sehwag know it too.

Unfortunately, that is what brought his early exit from the world cricket scenario. No one likes to be proven wrong or exposed in public. The ‘know-it-all’ Shastris, Roebucks, Srikanths, Vengsarkars, Mores and Chappels were under pressure. Each time they picked up and highlighted the fallacies and shortcomings of him, Sourav shut them up with his bat or at times even the ball.

And what audacity? He never subscribed to any lobby and the traditional region controlled politics was under severe strain. People got worried. How would they hide their in- competencies if there was no ‘divide and rule’ policy. So drastic measures were required. A captain was dropped from the team after having scored a test century. Rumour mongering and character assassination was started in right earnest. The powers to be heaved a sigh of relief that their fiefdom was safe.

But again, this guy (what audacity ? ) worked his way back into the team and created a third fairytale comeback. It was a dream two years which showed that he still was miles ahead of his detractors. But insecure incompetents would always be the same. He was dropped from the ODI team on the pretext of creating a team for the future, even after him being the highest run getter in the previous year. One debacle in a test series and knives were out again.

Maharaj had had enough. He decided to call it a day in style. And what style!! A century and an average of well over 60 in the last series against the world champs. (No doubt the Aussies hate him).

Fare you well DADA. We will miss those flowing ethereal drives through the covers, the lofted sixers over long-on , the lofted drives over the point boundary, the innocuous outswinger befuddling the batsmen into edging to the wicketkeeper , the jaw set in fierce determination, the tensed chewing of the nails, the swagger to the middle of the pitch and above all, the clenched fist raised to the sky in victory.

And before I end, Indian cricket needs you even today – may be in a different avatar. We shall keep our hopes alive for a new innings on a different pitch which may take Indian cricket to new heights – the ‘know-it-all’s be damned.

1 comment:

Sucharita Sarkar said...

Not just partisan Bengalis, even my students here in Mumbai are big fans of Sourav, which, needless to say, makes me feel very very proud and happy.

nice personal touch to your reminiscences, I also had a friend called Navoneel from St Xavier's who used to laugh at the fact that while Sourav used to captain the college's cricket team, he used to captain the football team ("o kothaye aar aami kothaye").

Perhaps Sourav's greatest off-the-field achievement was to break the Uttamkumar-stereotype and show the aggressive face of the Bengali Bhadralok.