Vantage point

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Farewell Dada

It is somewhat ironic and yet fitting that India's best captain so far bowed out gracefully in a series, and specifically a test match, in which the contender to his throne is making his mark as a captain and a batsman. It is also tragicomic, yet somehow appropriate that Ganguly's test career, which began with an against-the-odds century, and was periodically resuscitated by more against-the-odds centuries, ended with an innings in which he missed a well-deserved hundred, and another which was a first-ball duck. And finally, it is poignant yet perfect that Ganguly ended his career on a high note in the very city that featured the nadir of his cricketing days against the same opposition - sitting out in a fit of pique (or cowardice) after encountering a greentop in 2004. It will be a cherry on the top if tomorrow, India bowls out Australia, and comprehensively regains with a win that had a significant contribution by Ganguly, the Border-Gavaskar trophy that was surrendered at this very venue by Ganguly

Being a Ganguly fan has been the closest I have come to experiencing what it must feel like to be a religious person. I have often wondered how religious people keep their faith in the face of overwhelming evidence about the imperfections of their gods. Ganguly's feet were as clay-ful as can get. And yet, I found it difficult to leave the fold and walk away.

Today, as I saw him walk away from the crease for the last time, I realized that the idea of a Ganguly-less Indian team still hasn't fully sunk in for me yet. No more gushing at his exquisite threading of the offside. No more crossing my fingers that when the inevitable short deliveries come, he doesn't lob one down the throat of square leg. No more gleeful anticipation when a spinner comes on that Ganguly will sashay down the track and deposit him on the stadium roof. No more crossing my fingers and toes when he gets a start, that he reaches three figures and adds to his underachieving tally of hundreds. And finally, no more protracted debates with other cricket fans defending his place in the team as well as his legacy.

Tomorrow's newspapers will be full of recollections of some of Ganguly's most famous achievements - his Brisbane hundred, his consecutive centuries on debut, his lone double century against Pakistan, his Sahara Cup triumph, and his countless ODI hundreds. But there have been other lesser applauded innings of his that I will also cherish. His assured and fluent 48 while chasing 200 in the 4th innings against Pakistan at Delhi last year, even as Tendulkar was battling imaginary demons in the pitch at the other end. His gutsy half-century in the Sreesanth-owned Johannesburg test His unbeaten 98 at Kandy to level the series in 2001. And undoubtedly his most unheralded innings - a counter-attacking 48 while following on in Kolkata in 2001, prior to the historic Laxman-Dravid partnership.

Ganguly's career can be looked at in two ways - that of a gifted cricketer who never quite fully delivered on his full potential as a batsman. Or that of a deeply flawed cricketer who hung in and achieved more than he should have thanks to his self-belief. Whichever way you look at it, one thing is for sure - it was a career that brought rivetting drama to all and guilty pleasure to some.