As an 11th grader I once wrote an essay on Sourav Ganguly which fetched me the highest marks in the class and made my teacher keep a copy of it. He had just won his first ODI series as the captain of the Indian cricket team versus the West Indies at Toronto. He was of course then only a stop gap arrangement and no one could have thought that he would go on to become India's most successful captain. It's pertinent, I think that I mention here that I am a Bengali born in Kolkata, although apart from frequenting my maternal grandparents' home in the first two years of my existence (they shifted base to Silchar after that), and occasionaly visiting the city to buy old books while on the way to someplace else, I have few memories of the city. So I am a Bengali but not a Kolkatan, two terms which are commonly mistaken to mean the same thing. Coming back to the essay, yes I wrote it because I was proud that Ganguly is a Bengali but mostly because no one had given him a chance to begin with. From the disastrous tour of Australia where he was accused of refusing to carry the drinks because he was the Maharaja which was followed by four years of exile, to the fairytale comeback with back to back centuries at the Mecca of cricket, Lords and Edgbaston to leading India, Ganguly's life had almost come full circle. I loved him for his silken cover drives, I loved him for his piercing square cuts but mostly I admired the fact that he had been able to prove his detractors wrong. Six years down the line as the most successful captain and the most hated man in Indian cricket finds himself sidelined partly due to his own flaws and partly due to the power play of the Board, it's time to ponder, is it goodbye for Dada.
To start discussing about Ganguly's career stats would be simply a waste to time because 15,000 runs later if a man still needs to prove that he is good enough for international cricket, then there's something seriously wrong with the system. I ain't contending the fact that his run of form has been woeful almost for the past 2 years and sooner rather than later he has to perform to justify his place. Both on and off the field, his greatest strength has always also been his greatest weakness. So you had the "In the off-side, first there's GOD and then there is Sourav Ganguly" compliments walking side by side with scenes of catching practice to the slips and the wicketkeepers. Here we had a captain who was not afraid to speak his mind out, who was not afraid of playing mind games with a certain Steve Waugh hell bent on conquering the final frontier, who got the team he wanted and backed the players he believed in. So whereas Indian cricket continued to thrive, lead by a captain who wore his passion on his sleeve (remember Lords, Natwest Finals), the same attitude got people questioning his methods of backing a few players to the hilt and ignoring others. He made many enemies in the media by his I-dont-give-a-damn attitude and reluctance to stick to the good boy image of a Sachin Tendulkar. He removed regionalism from the team by backing players on merit and so you now have Yuvraj, Harbhajan, Pathan, Zaheer and Sehwag forming the future of Indian cricket. He dropped himself down the batting order in ODIs to accommodate Sehwag, a huge selfless act considering the fact that he along with Sachin formed the best opening combination in ODI history ever. Meanwhile India scaled new heights, winning Test matches abroad and reaching the World Cup Finals. People said that he's got a very good team, it's nothing to do with him but the fact remained that on paper India always had a very good batting line up and so what couldn't be done by Sachin, Dravid, Ganguly, Azhar and Laxman in 2000 was done by the same team with a few changes in 2003 in Australia.
The point I am trying to question is why do so many people hate Ganguly so much even after all he has given to Indian cricket. Agreed he has his flaws, and over the past two years he has been out of sorts but I am surprised to see people actually booing him. What's amazing is nobody wants him to succeed, most want him to fail and rub his nose in the dust. So even at a comeback Ranji match he gets a green top to bat on! People just love making a fun of Ganguly. I also do at times jeer at him for the awkward way he fends at the short pitched delivery, for the way he gets out and his running between the wickets but I want him to do well which very few people do. If a Sachin or a Viru goes out of form we pray for him but I haven't seen anything of the sort happening for Dada except in Kolkata. I am yet to fathom the reason for this collective hatred that he is subjected to. Surely he's not the worst cricketer to have played for India but he is by far the most hated one. One very interesting viewpoint on anti-Gangulyism is this.
So is this the end of the road for Dada? Does he still have the stomach for a fight? Is this the last we have seen of Sourav Ganguly the batsman or will he make another comeback? For all those who miss his cover drives and lofty sixes, I just hope he has one last hurrah.