Seeing Sourav Ganguly on the field, likely for the last time, at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore, I was just one of about 10,000 cricket fans watching with a sense of relief, satisfaction and pride.
I idolize Ganguly – I love his grit and I’m a huge fan of his leadership skills. He was a fine batsman in his prime, lofting left arm spinners over mid-wicket with aplomb. Many argued he was a relatively ordinary batsman and only made the Indian team because they needed an effective leader. Well, I’d argue no “ordinary” player can score over 18,000 international runs and perform so well despite the enormous pressure he was under almost every time he walked onto the field.
But what stands out about “Dada,” as he is fondly known as, is that every time people wrote him off, he came back with a bang to silence his critics. Who can forget his famous comeback after being unceremoniously dropped from the Indian team and being sacked as captain by Greg Chappell? He never looked back, and retired on an international high after having an excellent series against Australia. During that period, he scored a ton on his home ground in front of a packed Eden in Kolkata. I was also lucky enough to see his only double ton.
Ganguly staged another comeback in the Indian Premier League after remaining “unsold” in the auctions. It was shocking to see him passed over like this, and it was even more shocking to see his treatment at the hands of his team, the Kolkata Knight Riders. He was reportedly not told by them that he wouldn’t be considered for the fourth season.
But Ganguly didn’t give up, even though most cricket fans thought that this was the end of his cricketing career. He played domestic matches for West Bengal, keeping himself closely associated with the game. Critics dismissed his self-belief, but he was given another shot at the Indian Premier League by the Pune Warriors.
Dada joined the Warriors late in the fourth season, and he was appointed captain for the fifth edition as Yuvraj Singh was unavailable. The team has had a decent start to the tournament, winning three of its five matches so far. And all of these wins showed some flashes of leadership brilliance. Pune may not have many big names, but Ganguly is still making them feel like champions. Indeed, he has been quick to praise Ashok Dinda, a young fast bowler, as “India’s best pace bowler right now.”
It’s true that Ganguly hasn’t so far shone with the bat, and the notoriously tough Indian media is bound to have its knives out again soon. But despite the dearth of runs so far, surely critics recognize that transforming a team that struggled last season into one that believes it can win almost any match it plays is as much a measure of success as runs scored.
Watching Ganguly lead his young brigade in Bangalore was like watching the Ganguly of old: Marshaling his troops with youthful passion, setting fields and changing up the bowling like a genius. Pune Warriors may or may not qualify for the semi-finals, but Dada has ensured that his team plays fearless cricket and fans will still be able to enjoy all 16 games they are scheduled to play.
He is, despite the knocks he has taken, one of the finest captains the country has ever seen.
Rutvick Mehta is a trainee journalist at the Indian Institute of Journalism and New Media in Bangalore and a regular contributor to the Soft Copy, where this originally appeared.