Thursday, October 9, 2008

Great people have to go too. Sometime.

And when the time comes, we mortals indulge ourselves by undertaking an exercise of looking back at the legacy the person has left. Some difference that they have made - if not for the world at large - at least for the limited little world that they walked in.

Mahatma Gandhi left his stamp on this country, and possibly, even the world, with his vision of peaceful non-cooperation. Amitabh Bachchan will have altered Indian cinema forever with his baritone histrionics when he finally calls it a day. And Dhirubhai Ambani would have almost single-handedly ushered in the words ‘stock-market’ into the vocabulary of millions of ordinary middle class homes across the country.

Saurav Ganguly.

What difference did he make? And to whom?

Sure he evoked joy, anger, abuse, love, and countless other (unmentionable) emotions in the hearts of millions, for he was the typical – love him or hate him, you couldn’t ignore him – kind of man. So maybe we could consider that the world that the made a difference in, was just the Indian cricket team and the way it plays?

What difference did he make? Maybe we can step back a minute and look at Indian cricket from a bird’s eye view.

Indian Cricket has generally speaking, always been about individuals. I, me, myself. About brilliant performances on a given day. When two or three inspired individuals overcame the collective will of the opposing eleven. While this need not necessarily be a bad thing in itself, for a brilliant century can do no harm at all for a team's cause, quite a few times, the bigger picture of the team cause tended to be overlooked. Needless to say, in the long term, methods and processes prevail more often than individual brilliances, and so it was no surprise that India won lesser than it lost.

Indian cricket was also about the players being regarded by the opposition as ‘nice guys’, who could be sledged/ pressurized into playing badly. The perennial nice kid in the neighborhood, who on seeing the street bully roll up his sleeves, will meekly hand over his red shiny bicycle.

Ganguly was, sorry, is a fine batsman. But I believe that his most significant contribution came not with the bat, but with his shirt! (and his angry waving of it at on the Lords balcony).

If there are two things one had to mention as Ganguly’s contribution to Indian cricket – at least during his captaincy - the first would be getting the Indian team to play as a team. No other Indian captain in recent memory, I believe, evoked the kind of ‘I’ll follow you to the grave skipper’ emotion that Ganguly evoked among his teammates, especially the younger lot.

The second would be - at the risk of accusations by school teachers of encouraging bad behaviour - a healthy disrespect for the opposition. Steve Waugh would vouch for that, when he remembers Ganguly keeping him waiting (assumed intentional) for the toss during an earlier India tour.

While this isn’t to say that Ganguly was washed of milk (the closest I could translate the hindi phrase ‘doodh ka dhula’ – a perfect man), when the curtain finally comes down for the last time, I have no doubt in my mind that it would be the end of one chapter for one of the finest leaders of men, possibly in all of India.

Go on Saurav, take off your shirt and wave it. For one final time.