For most, Sourav Ganguly is only a great cricketer who is currently captaining Pune Warriors; for some, he is their favourite cricketer who has redefined ‘comeback’; but for me, he is my inspiration, my idol and my teacher, who – through his performances – taught me how to get through - what seemed like – one of the toughest phases of life.
|I am on the right, holding (sort of) a banner at Wankhede Stadium :)|
And yes, I traveled miles to watch him play :)
An year after ‘Dada’ was presented the Padma Shri - one of India's highest awards – by the then President of India, Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, he was kicked out of the national team following a run of poor performances in 2005. To some, the words ‘kicked out’ may read too strong to describe the situation of his drop, but seeing how he was ill-treated by the BCCI, to me, they are just an understatement. A few months later, the Indian coach then, Greg Chappell (seen as the main reason for the Warrior Prince’s departure) decided to rub it in by publicly making a statement that ‘Ganguly deserved a good farewell’.
These events not only made my blood boil, but got me against supporting the Indian cricket team. Then, in 2006, he did that Pepsi advertisement 'Apne Dada Di Baat Sunenge', and as he was mocked by both – audiences and media, I had eyes full of tears even contemplating what lied ahead for the man whom I have idolized ever since I was nine. His career really seemed to had hit a dead-end but he always had something extra, and you could see that every single time he walked on the field, whether it was playing for India or any other team that he has ever played for. He refusing to carry drinks on the field for Bengal in the early part of his career is an example of that.
And so, I expected him to be back, but he superseded my expectations by roaring like the royal Bengal tiger and making a comeback second to none, going on to not only drill his name in the hearts of the fans that had always saluted him, but also, regaining respect from those glory hunters who had cut off all the connections with him since the time his form had worsened. He also carved an impression in the hearts of all his doubters and critics by proving his mettle.
He went back to playing Ranji Trophy and featured in every match for Bengal, playing under Rohan Gavaskar captaincy, underlining his desire. With time, slowly and gradually, he was discovering ‘his touch’ and as the runs started to flow, it only seemed like a matter of time before he would make that all-awaited comeback. I remember, this was early 2006, when he was in Pune playing for Bengal at the Nehru Stadium and I couldn’t go for the game because I had an Engineering Graphics exam to appear for in a day’s time; that was just painful in its own right.
With Greg Chappell still in charge, the ‘god of offside’ was picked for the tour of South Africa in December 2006. With Ganguly having the history of not being the greatest against the bouncing ball (at least since the time when he was hit on the ribs by Pakistan’s Shoaib Akhtar), the critics were chuckling quietly, "Ah ... He's going to get buried on the bouncy South African track" and more or less, it was all set up for a fall. But it seemed like as though all these remarks fired the warrior in him even more as he made his critics look silly with a gutsy 87 against Rest of South Africa in a four day tour match.
Soon, he was playing his first test match in over an year. In the match that was played in Johannesburg against South Africa, which was remarked as ‘Ganguly’s comeback game’, saw Dada score an invaluable 51 to help India to victory.
Now, on one hand, Ganguly was piling up runs, whereas on the other, Greg Chappell was getting more and more scrutinized by the media for some of his decisions. After India’s poor showing in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2007, Chappell resigned as the Indian coach and Ganguly went on to become the highest run getter for India in both Test and ODI cricket in 2007 scoring 1106 Test runs at an average of 61.44 and 1240 One-day runs at an average of 44.28. Ganguly’s comeback and Chappell’s omission clearly underlined one of Darwin’s theories – Survival of the Fittest. Now, Sourav Ganguly had nothing left to prove to anyone. He could proudly say that he had not only been there and done it, but he also came back to do it. The comeback was indeed complete!
Although in different fields, in the first half of 2007, Sourav and I were scoring on the absolute opposite ends. As he was winning over one fan after another, with my poor grades in engineering, I was losing people’s faith time and time over.
It was August 2007 and I knew I wasn’t passing my second year engineering exams, and so, I had pre-decided to go to try out for the auditions of the ESPNSTAR show ‘Dream Job’, which assured the winner a job of becoming a ‘Sports Commentator’ - which certainly was my dream job. To cut it short, I didn’t make it through the auditions, because – on the base of what I was told - ‘I still was in college’. Failing exams and being rejected by ESPNSTAR, those were one of the hardest times for times for me as I neither wanted to go back and do engineering, nor did I have a plan as to what I am going to do in the future; and that’s where the ‘Gangulian attitude’ helped me.
As I was on the bus, on my way back from Mumbai, I couldn’t help but think of Dada – his spirit, his ability to fight, his will to be recognized and his strength in standing up and being counted. He was a champion, and in that three hour bus journey, I somehow learned from the Prince.
He inspired me so much that I came back, worked hard on my backlog exams and cleared all my subjects. It was phenomenal seeing the change the Gangulian attitude had brought in me; it literally carried me at times when I felt I couldn’t progress and injected a spirit within me that made me stand up for myself and realize what’s like to be counted.
In 2008, he announced that the series against Australia would be his final in International cricket. The Maharaja played in every game of the four-Test series and amassed 324 runs at an average of 54.00, retiring when his form was at its absolute pinnacle. He fought like a warrior, played like a prince and retired as a King, with grace and with unmatched respect, showcasing every little boy that has ever dreamed of playing for India, what sort of fight must be put forward to play for the nation and what it exactly means to walk out on to the cricket field wearing the Indian chakra on your head.
As for me, YES!+ and Art Of Living followed, and that did change my life as I rose from poor/very-average engineering grades to rediscovering myself. Maybe it just polished the Gangulian attitude by a million folds. After writing for media giants such as the Indian Express and Goal.com, I am presently pursuing my Masters’ degree in Sport Management from one of the best Sports universities in the United States - Florida State University (FSU). I know it’s God’s grace, but its magical how that attitude so Gangulian has helped me move forward.
Now that he is playing for my home team, Pune Warriors India, it makes the situation only sweeter. As I watched him captain Warriors to victory over Mumbai Indians in the first game of this season’s IPL, it was another occasion when I felt deeply emotional. In fact, after the final bowl of the match was bowled, I jumped, danced, celebrated and sang 'he is back!’
Looking at his attributes, leadership quality, connection and contribution to the Indian cricket, he needs to be put into the national fold straight away; if not as a player, definitely as a coach/manager. This is for BCCI: Sack Duncan Fletcher and appoint ‘Sir Sourav’ as the Indian coach. Home or away, he will guide us to glory.
Right from 1996, I don't even know if I have ever even missed an inning of his. Whether it was him playing for Bengal, Lancashire, Glamorgan, Northamptonshire, Kolkata Knight Rider, PWI or India, I was there to see how he was doing. If I wasn't watching it live, I was following the game over the internet. To me, he is a legend in his own league and it’s just magical what affect a cricketer can have on you. Just following and idolizing Sourav Ganguly, who played with his heart on his sleeve, made me get through a patch that looked like a dead-end and since then, a Ganguly in me has lived on.
Sourav Ganguly…Champion? For sure.
Sourav Ganguly…Legend? Definitely.
Sourav Ganguly…Superhero? Without a doubt.
Sourav Ganguly… Life-changer? What do you say? J
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