Not too long ago, Kapil Dev broke down yet again on a live news channel only moments after Team India lifted the 2011 Cricket World Cup. It had been 28 years, he said, and there was no greater joy. A weight had been lifted off his shoulders. Kris Srikkanth, on the panel, looked on- wondering why his old captain wasn’t so soft on the field back in the day.
In the flurry of emotions, though, Dev managed to- in his inimitable mastery over the English language- convey a message, almost through sign language. He looked at that third person on the panel, who was demurely seated in Kolkata- watching this outbreak of melancholy with a straight poker-face. Kapil Dev, through his sobs, thanked this man with all his heart. He managed to say what many Indian fans may have forgotten in the heat of the moment, and may have forgotten because of times gone by: ‘Thank you, Dada, this wouldn’t have been possible without you. You are the man who changed Indian Cricket and made this possible. Thank you.’
Sourav Ganguly, the third man on the panel, nodded his head twice- with not so much as a smile on his face. He had no intention of betraying the bursting pride that he felt- not on national television atleast. In any case, he was still easing into his job as a suave professional commentator, and wearing his heart on his sleeve- however naturally it came to him on the field- would be limited to the field. Those nods, though, did not signify just mere acknowledgement. It seemed as if he wanted to say something, but refrained- out of respect to his senior colleagues on screen. It was almost as if he was nodding, thinking, ‘Thanks, but I’m not done yet. Indian Cricket will need change again’
And right he was. 365 days later, on the eve of IPL-2012, Indian Cricket had well and truly reached its lowest point in 50 years. A massive plunge, by any standards, and Dada could do nothing but comment about it on air. He was paid to do it, but one suspects he would pay to do it anyway. In 2006, when Ganguly was unceremoniously dumped by then-coach Greg Chappell, he had to resort to sympathy-seeking ways with the ‘Apne Dada ko toh nahi bhooley, na?’ advertisement. Blatant stuff, really. He wasn’t sure if he would be back again, but he would do anything that was needed to get his career back on track. And come back, he did. He came back twice more, into the Test and ODI teams, when Indian Cricket needed a calming, reassuring figure of a quiet authoritative figure in the room. Dravid and Sachin weren’t those guys, and Ganguly was always the one willing to rustle the haysacks. He even went out on his own terms- a possibility not even worth considering after his exit a few years ago.
There was a time when he couldn’t lift a bat without edging Chaminda Vaas to second slip, but he improved as a batsman- and he did it the hard way. A gloom of loneliness surrounded him every moment a camera would catch him practicing forlornly in the Eden Garden Nets. He came back and easily looked the most comfortable batsman in the Test Team- abroad, something that he hadn’t done his entire career. You just couldn’t take him down, captain or no captain. You’d think he’d waltz away into the sunset, satisfied with ability to consistently beat a system. But a storm was coming.
The Indian Premier League- 2008. His beloved Kolkata Team- formed by a reputable Superstar- was begging for some ‘Dadagiri’. He gave in. What was the worst that could happen? It was only a little league after all. England has one, Australia has one, why even West Indies has one. After three laughably ordinary seasons in 2008, 2009 and 2010, not entirely due to Dada’s distinct lack of batting form- the Knight Riders did what Greg Chappell had done years ago. They revealed an Axe. This was despite the team owner’s insistence on using the ridiculous ‘rotational policy’- amongst captains. The owner can’t be dropped, can he? By the end of it, there were no less than 4 captains playing in the same team- wondering who would helm the next game.
Déjà vu, thought Dada, so be it. He was dropped for the 2011 season, in a sneaky manner that left him unsold at the auction. He was that ‘untouchable’ once again. This was only a domestic premier league, of course, but there has never been anything domestic and average about Ganguly. He is a proud man- he was the only player in the world who could speak without letting his bat do the talking. Been there, done that. He found a tiny opening, a disillusioned Pune Warriors team- newbies in the league- were desperate, 9 games into the league stages. They had won only two games, and Yuvraj Singh, their captain- was at a loss of ideas. He decided to call on the man who had called him into international cricket a decade ago- a man who had backed him throughout his choppy career. He decided to defy social barriers and touch the outcast. Gasps flew. Whispers took form. Ganguly was back, not so much as a ‘bowling all-rounder’, than a lasting influence on a young, inexperienced team. It was no coincidence, then, that despite his average of just 17 over their last 4 games, Pune won 3 of them and managed to avoid the dreaded ‘Wooden Spoon’. Sourav Ganguly didn’t need to contribute, really, he was just happy to be back. Again. And again. But desire often turns into burning ambition – and many great souls fall victim to this inexplicable human urge of wanting more. Yuvraj Singh could not return this year, due to reasons best known to every fan and well-wisher in this world…and the Warriors were left to wonder if they could hire another superstar. Having a new stadium was one thing, but they needed a leader- not a performer. Fortunately, the owners, for once, showed foresight that most cricket Pundits could be proud of. They have shown considerable faith in that unparalleled leader of Indian Cricket – a player that was already part of their franchise for a few games last year. They may not have needed ‘Dadagiri’, but what they are getting now is – keeping in line with the glamorous slambam topsy turvy world of IPL cricket- ‘Bhaigiri’.
For a team full of superstars, this decision could be termed as a risk- a massive gamble, even. But Pune were just looking for a chance to compete. Unlike their new captain.
He wants to compete, and win. He wants it all. There are few things more wondrous than watching a Cheetah prance through a barren field into the vast horizon, Lance Armstrong getting back on his bike after batting life, Roger Federer rolling his wrists to get a steeper angle or even Shane Warne pulling up his sleeves to run in once more. From the Indian perspective, only two sights could match and even outdo these once-in-a-lifetime spectacles: Sourav Ganguly positioning his field before the first ball is bowled, as captain. And Sourav Ganguly losing his cool at a needless overthrow.
There is nothing graceful about these sights- but any fan of Cricket will understand that there is so much more to it than a middle-aged man trying to cope with a sport beyond his athletic abilities. It is that rare instance in the sporting world, where the power of the mind consistently trumps talent and exceptional technique.
It last happened with Steve Waugh- and for all their lack of ability to run between the wickets or the way they amble across like princesses to save a single- any team in the world would be glad to make them Cricket’s version of a Davis Cup Captain. They could sit on the sidelines, and still win the match for you- with the sheer outrageousness of decision-making and ruthlessness. Or even with an uncanny ability of being so annoying, so spiteful- that you’re forced to hate them till you just can’t have enough of them. You begin to love what they stand for, because it is something no Indian prior to Ganguly was. Australians have a legacy of producing such leaders- and Waugh was a step up- but India had not an inkling of madness in their genes.
Nobody was ready enough to bare their generous mound of chest hair to the world when even a slit in a skirt was considered unholy. Even in cricket’s most diluted form, the man just doesn’t go away- not physically, but by his sheer ability to rile up a team and consistently defy traditional norms. You could attribute it to his unassuming totally-out-of-place-in-a-field outward appearance- suited more to look like a Bengali snob of cultural cinema willing to spew some poetry over fried fish. That is half the illusion, because anything he does after that will only surprise you further. Winning T20 games against decorated world-teams of higher quality is one of them. Scoring at an average of 10 and a strike-rate of 80 is not an issue- in fact, that’s what he must do, to ruin everything that cricket purists stand for. He could age 20 years if he wants, but one suspects that a team would still hire him as cricket’s first mentor-cum-non-playing-captain…and it isn’t hard to envision him rocking back on his chair, perspiring and screaming at his fielders, admonishing them with his stick- as they strive to impress his regal highness. IPL 2012 could be more than just another season of meaningless T20 giggles in the history of Indian Cricket.
IPL 2012 could be the beginning of a new chapter- where Ashok Dinda becomes the new Brett Lee, Uthappa scores more than 35 and Rahul Sharma takes over from Anil Kumble. Dada is just too mild and Bengali a term, especially after his sixth comeback to ‘International’ cricket. IPL 2012 could be the year of the Bhai.