March 7, 2006
In the weeks following intense speculation, that became a commonplace before each selection meeting, whether he would or he would not, the Cheif of selectors finally pulled the curtain down a few days ago (or up, depending on whichever way one wants to look at it) and pronounced it end of discussions. Ganguly - you go no further from here, this is where the road ends for you. Ever since his controversial statement in the post-match conference following his century in Zimbabwe, Ganguly himself set into motion the preparations for his own funeral. Come to think of it, Ganguly would still have been the captain, Dravid would still have been his deputy backing up the team every which way he can, Sachin would still have been there for the advice and Chappell would still have been continuing the role that Wright left behind an year ago - if only, if only he would have just kept quiet at that fateful press conference and left the Pandora's box alone. Instead he chose to make a statement and prove a point, that minnows or not, he still could make centuries contrary to experts' opinions and that he still had a lot of cricket left in him, vulnerabilities and weaknesses against quality pace notwithstanding. As the Sanskrit saying goes - buddhi karmaanusaariNi - wisdom follows the fate!
In the annals of contemporary Indian cricket, there was only one star player who chose his own exit and ended the affair on his own terms. Sunil Gavaskar called it right. He could see that age was catching up on him and the instincts, which are very important for an opening batsman, were slowing down. He called the time, he called the place, he bade his farewell and rode into the sunset. Never before and never since has been an exit that graceful. Kapil Dev, despite all his records and the invaluable service to the team through all the years of toil, was dragged out of the team kicking and screaming. And the less said about Azhar's exit, the better. Thanks for his dealings with the murkier side of the game, every record of his, however hard-earned and however genuine, became an (un)witting prey to suspicion and doubt. Amarnath, Siddhu, Srikkanth, Vengsarkar, Manjrekar - history is replete with examples whose careers were cut short either by the whims of the selectors or their own undoings. More than anybody before, Ganguly's forceful departure from the game could be attributed to his own actions and his own character. The man had everything going for him - a team willing to listen, a board dancing to his tunes and a legion of loyal followers ready to die for his cause.
It is nothing but pure, unadulterated irony when one compares his entry into the team to his exit. Considered as a 'recommendation' candidate from the start, his presence in the team was attributed to a strong Bengal lobby in the selection committee. And the rise of Dalmiya as a chief kingmaker at both the national and international levels, cemented his place in the team. That Ganguly was shrewd enough to capitalize on this windfall of events, coupled with the great form with the bat, saw him ascend the throne and capture the crown finally when Azhar faded into ignominy and oblivion. As the saying goes, nothing succeeds like success. Credited as one instrumental for the transformation of a team, or more team's mindset, an entire nation witnessed a man, who was quite unlike any other captain it saw before. The bare-chest victory dance at Lord's, the never-ending clashes with the match referees, the constant backing up of his team mates, the lip service that was repaid in kind to the opposing teams - here was the new face of the Indian team. A virile, potent, bitter, caustic, and yet, result-producing Indian team. Securing a berth in the world cup final followed by great performances in Australia and Pakistan, made it seem as though Ganguly would go on to beat that other Bengali who held a record for the longest tenure at the highest position - Jyoti Basu.
...until things started to unravel. There wasn't just one incident that triggered his downfall. During the years he championed the side, there wasn't as much competition to each slot in the side, as it is now. With every position, right from the opening combination down to the 11th man, being contested by at least 3 players, who are equally interchangeable, Ganguly's technique (or the lack of it against rising deliveries) came into sharp focus. Added to that his strong denial at even acknowledging the issue exacerbated the situation even more. History had it that when Azhar faced the same predicament, when a rather innocuous anomaly that crept into his technique was getting him out to nothing deliveries, he worked with Zaheer Abbas diligently and was able to come out on the top again. And here was Ganguly, not even willing to admit the issue, being picked by everybody from local club players to their international counterparts. The issue snow-balled from a non-issue to becoming the elephant in the room. The same attitude that worked wonders for him before - the defiance, the arrogance and the hot temper - now played against him. Reduced to a non-playing captain, everything bottled up till the evening of the press conference in Bulawayo.
History, inspite of all these blips, would still remember Sourav as the new face of the Indian team. Just as there would be a 'Before Sachin' and 'After Sachin' demarcation after Tendulkar hangs up his boots, cricket fans all over the country would definitely bestow the man the credit that he so greatly and richly deserves - the dividing line - 'Before Sourav' and 'After Sourav'. Though there isn't going to be a radical transformation in the way the team is going to be captained after Sourav, the 'After Sourav' tag accounts for all of the ways the team remains aggressive, focussed and result-oriented. If not anything, at least aggression would remain as Ganguly's legacy - a new way the game is fought, not just on the 22 yards in the middle, but up in the mind. Farewell to thee, O Captain, My Captain... You truly earned the two minute silence and the twenty two gun salute at your exit. And thanks to More, the matter had finally been laid to rest, once and for all.
Srinivas Kanchibhotla how you liked the article
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