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Sourav Ganguly - What 41 years of 'Dadagiri' taught us

Ritwik Mallik
Sourav Ganguly of India during his debut century

Sourav Ganguly of India during his debut century during the second test match between England and India at Lords, London.

Sourav Ganguly is a quintessential Bengali in many ways. He lives in a tightly knit joint family, has a religious inclination, loves biriyani, travels to New Alipore to enjoy his favourite phuchka and prefers never to miss the annual Durga Puja celebrations.

So much so, like most Bengalis, he too believes in the sanctity of the mahashtami and chose to announce his retirement on that very day in 2008.

He comes from the land of Ray and Tagore. And like Harsha Bhogle once said, there is poetry in his batting.

But there’s something about Ganguly that is so not Bengal. The spunk, the aggression, the never-say-die-spirit – these traits were never an embodiment of the spirit of Bengal. Despite his leftist leanings, Dada, as he is fondly called never took the cholche cholbe saying seriously.

He grew up in a time of economic stagnation in Bengal. There were power shortages, strikes and frequent political clashes. But, Ganguly thought otherwise. His rebellious streak often got him into trouble – whether it was taking revenge on the gardener by prescribing him wrong medicines or offering to drink, a crazy (later, life threatening) concoction of different alcoholic beverages to a demanding teacher, Sourav was never the one who would take things lying down.

And much of this could be seen later on, when Sourav grew up to become one of the most successful cricketers to ever play for the country. Here was a Bengali who could give it back.

A family member, who has had the chance of extensively covering cricket, once told me of an interaction of his with former Australian fast-bowler Geoff Lawson. In that interaction, Lawson goes on to describe Sourav’s series-defining hundred at Brisbane in 2003-04. Lawson said that each time Sourav hit a boundary, the sound of the ball hitting the bat – a clean, meaty noise, rattled the then-Australian captain, Steve Waugh.

It’s interesting to know that before that series started, there was a lot of talk about providing Ganguly with ‘chin-music’ (short-pitch bowling). With a tightly packed off-side field, three slips and a gully waiting to latch onto anything that came their way, Ganguly was peppered with short-stuff, around the off-stump. They cramped him for room, expected him to duck or nudge one behind but he went on playing his cut shots.

While the opposition expected him to chicken out or get his head knocked off, they were treated to some sweetly timed shots. With every cut and every drive, a message was sent out clear, the Indians were here to play.

“He (Ganguly) needed his life to be full of disasters and rescues, and comebacks and mistakes and memorable moments. To hell with the prosaic. At heart he is a cavalier, albeit of mischievous persuasion,” Peter Roebuck had written one about the southpaw.

Ganguly was a master of mind games and unpredictability. During the press conference where he announced his retirement, he kept the journalists waiting for a good forty minutes before he made the announcement. They raised questions about the supposed ‘voluntary retirement scheme’ being offered to senior cricketers and, he duly rubbished each one of the theories. Just before leaving, he put in a word about his retirement, giving journalists no time to rake up conspiracy theories and deflecting all kind of questioning that could follow.

Indian Nets Session

File photo: Sourav Ganguly

Ganguly and timing, often went hand-in-hand. It’s worth knowing that Ganguly was included in the squad for that Test series with an axe hanging over his head. It was for the first two Test matches and failure in them could mean curtains for the former India captain.

However, with the impeccable sense of timing of his retirement, he not only ensured that he could play all the four games of the series but also made sure that he left on his own terms. This kind of bull-headedness has been displayed all throughout his life, he has never allowed others to make the decisions for him.

When it came to his marriage in the mid-90s, there was a lot of drama surrounding it. He got married to his childhood sweetheart amidst the tensions of the two warring families and the events included going against the wishes of his parents and secretly getting married with the help of his friends.

Like the great Peter Roebuck once wrote: “Something in him rebelled against the mundane and the sensible.”

Ganguly had a penchant for theatricality when it came to living life, something that all great leaders had in common.

A person who has had the chance of following Ganguly’s career will notice how often Ganguly the captain overshadowed Ganguly the player. Considering how people have always criticized his weakness towards the short-ball, it is rather amusing to know that despite that critical limitation, a cricketer has survived 113 Tests and 311 ODIs, scored 38 centuries and nearly twenty-thousand runs.

He has opened in ODIs and faced the likes McGrath, Lee, Waqar, Shoaib, Akram, Pollock, Bond and Streak. Surely, it takes exceptional talent to survive despite not having the most important weapon in your armory of shots – the hook and the pull. Another interesting facet comes to light when we learn that nearly eighty percent of his centuries (and some of his best) have come on foreign soil, places where traditionally, Indian batsmen used to be sitting ducks.

All his playing career, he has had to play under the shadow of his rather illustrious batting colleagues, Tendulkar and Dravid. And if you follow the game, you’ll know how difficult it is to come in to bat at number six or seven and score runs with the tail. Had Ganguly been given a consistent run at number four or five, he would’ve notched up ten more centuries and at least three thousand more runs.

Sourav Ganguly comes from a rather affluent business family in Bengal. The Gangulys own a large business and can afford almost every luxury possible. This, in fact, made Dilip Vengsarker once wonder how rich were they, when the young Sourav used to get calls from home every night while touring Australia in his debut series in 1992.

Access to this kind of wealth could well have been antithetical to Ganguly’s growth as a hard-working cricketer. He could very well have had his own car and meaty bank balance at a young age, followed by a comfortable job and an easy life. But the fact that he chose to follow his passion of playing for the country goes a long way in establishing the true nature of his character.

And even when he was dropped from the Indian setup in 2005, he could’ve quit. He had enough sedans decorating his parking space, but there he was, a parachute strapped to his back (a military technique known as ‘Resistance Training’) running laps around the Eden Gardens, toiling hard just to prove a point. A cricketer tagged ‘lazy & laidback’ was out to prove a point not to others but to himself.

On his 41st birthday, it wouldn’t be too bad to flip through the pages of Sourav Ganguly’s life. He in fact, has taught a lot of life lessons to Bengalis and Indians, world over. They say that when the going gets tough, the tough get going and that’s what Ganguly has symbolized over the years – a fighter, a leader.

His life has been defined by comebacks, every time people have written him off, he has risen from the ashes just like a phoenix.

Maybe towards the end, the reflexes were dying, the feet getting stuck and the hand-eye coordination deteriorating, but let’s acknowledge the fact that he gave the younger generation a chance to cheer for him one last time in the coloured clothing of an IPL franchise. The dance down the track, the mauling of left-arm spinners and the free-flowing cover drives are still missed.

Wherever he goes, there are still chants of ‘Dada, dada…’, there is still crowd frenzy and there still remains utmost respect towards his commentary. Just like in his playing days, Ganguly isn’t afraid to call a spade, a spade. He is forthright and honest with his opinions and in the era of ‘paid voices’, at least one voice remains that can still be trusted.

I would like to wish him the best on his birthday and pray for his well-being. Thank you Dada, for the entertainment and for all that you have taught us. The lessons in dadagiri will always be remembered!

Edited by Staff Editor

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