“A great pleasure in life is in doing what people think you cannot do.” – Walter Bagehot.
If his past performance is anything to go by, Sourav Ganguly, too, enjoys doing what people think he cannot do. How else can one explain his extreme reluctance to call it a day despite the whole world telling him it’s time for him to go? In fact, the folks in their ivory towers have been urging him to do it for over three years now.
Sourav’s team in the ongoing edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) has ended its campaign losing 9 games in a row. This is a new record for losing streaks in IPL games. Cruelly, the old one (8 losses in a row in IPL 2009) was held by Sourav’s previous side, the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR), albeit when it was captained by Brendon McCullum.
Back then, too, Sourav’s team pocketed the wooden spoon. Naturally, anyone with an opinion insisted he should give up playing in the IPL. Of course, he didn’t. The next year, Sourav was back as captain of KKR and the boys performed a lot better, but not well enough for the owners of the Knight Riders to retain him in the squad at the end of his three year contract. From the looks of it, this was the end of the road, as a player, for India’s most loved and successful captain.
Once again, well-wishers advised him to hang up his boots and not sully his impressive body of work any further. True to form, Sourav didn’t. What’s more, after being unceremoniously jettisoned from a team that was created around him, for him, and with him as its icon player, he subjected himself to another IPL auction. He had something to prove, you see. Then, he stoically suffered the ignominy of not being picked up by any team. Eventually, one of India’s greatest ever cricketers had to orchestrate a ‘back-door’ entry to find a place for himself in the 2011 edition of the IPL. That done, the cricket world and his fans, in particular, waited with bated breath.
Unfortunately for his backers, Sourav’s new team, Pune Warriors India (PWI), performed poorly and so did their beloved ‘Dada.’ And even though PWI finished second-last (ahead of Delhi Daredevils only on account of a better net run rate), in Sourav’s defence, his devotees insisted he should have been captain of the side because the young franchise needed an inspirational skipper. Others rolled their eyes and maintained he simply wasn’t good enough to deserve a place in the eleven, let alone lead it. Sourav, on the other hand, didn’t say much and preferred to bide his time. Something was brewing. Sure enough, Sourav’s captain in the 2010 edition, Yuvraj Singh, announced he wasn’t enjoying the job and, in a sense, paved the way for Sourav to take over as skipper. Sourav prepared for his big chance to show the naysayers how wrong they were to call for his head. Happily, he now had a team owner who was firmly behind him and a devoted enforcer in Yuvraj to win him games in the 2012 edition of IPL. Sadly for the Sourav brigade, it was not to be.
As if on cue, the knives are out in even greater numbers. Even his team owner, who backed him to the hilt at the start of the ongoing edition of the IPL, isn’t too sure about Sourav’s usefulness and has said so in not so many words that it’s time for the old guy to retire as a player. When Sourav was asked about PWI owner Subrata Roy’s comments , in which he was quoted as saying “This is Ganguly’s last IPL season as a player,” the good old Sourav (who loves to do things people say he cannot) surfaced. He bridled at the suggestion and responded, “I don’t know what Mr. Roy has said, what he has been quoted as saying and whether they had shown the full interview or just part of it. Don’t forget, the IPL contract is for three years.”
Obviously, now that pretty much everyone says he just must leave, Sourav’s not ready to go quietly into the night. Well, will he be allowed one more bite at the cherry? More pertinently, is he still good enough to lead the team?
By no stretch of imagination is Sourav the best batsman in the PWI side. He’s definitely not much more than an average fielder. And his bowling is innocuous. But the most disturbing thing about Sourav’s slide during this IPL is that his strongest suit – his ability to lead and inspire youngsters to perform out of their skins – has let him down… badly.
Oddly enough, if one thinks back to the first half of the tournament, Sourav was being universally hailed for his leadership qualities, after his team beat two sides that have qualified for the semi-finals quite handily. Back then, PWI looked a fair bet to make it to the last four. And then, Michael Clarke happened.
Shockingly, things went south for Sourav and his team after the arrival of the current Australian skipper, an addition that most thought would strengthen PWI. Which makes this writer wonders if Sourav’s authority was somewhat undermined by Clarke? (Clarke is a strong character who likes to get his way, not very different from another Australian we will touch upon a little later in this piece.)
Another power centre in the dressing room will surely have hurt the team ethos, made Sourav feel less than secure in the scheme of things, and adversely affected his ability to get the side to respond to him. We have seen this happen to Sourav before, under Greg Chappell. If this was indeed the case, a semi-retired Sourav (without his trusted protégée Yuvraj to back him) might have felt very unsure of his core competency, i.e., a leader of men. And it showed. Well, then why bother to continue if one’s authority is being questioned? Surely, Sourav has the equity, skills, and contacts to do something less enervating than work for an unappreciative boss and audience. If you ask this writer, it’s the Bagehot-effect at work again.
Bagehot apart, perhaps Sourav hopes the team owner will back him to lead the side one more time and, more crucially, that a rejuvenated Yuvraj will return. A fit and firing Yuvraj is the sort of player who can make Sourav look very good. Put together, Sourav and Yuvraj can certainly make sure nobody else calls the shots in PWI. When that happens, there’s a distinct possibility the team will be a force to reckon with. And so, like the good general he is, Sourav is waiting, watching and plotting his next move.
Sure, Sourav’s skills as a player have waned, but truly speaking one does not have to be at the top of one’s game to command a place in a Twenty20 side. We’ve seen how poorly big, big names like Sachin Tendulkar, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Brendon McCullum and Mahendra Singh Dhoni have performed in this edition of the IPL without anyone stridently calling for their heads. Pray, why the clamour for Sourav’s?
Few expected Sourav to stage a successful comeback after Greg Chappell sent him packing from the captaincy and the Test side. But, boy, did he do a ‘Bagehot’ on us, and how! That’s why this writer believes it time to give the old guy a break. We all saw (in England, Australia and even Bangladesh) how useless a half-baked team can make even the luckiest of Indian skippers look. For all the exhilarating moments Sourav has provided the people of India with, the least he deserves is a chance to quit on his terms.
Still, if you positively can’t bear to watch him play anymore, maybe you can try this stratagem. Get firmly behind Sourav. Tell him how much you want him to stay. Urge him to keep at it till Sachin calls it a day. Maybe that will prompt Sourav to go. After all, to rephrase Bagehot, there’s a great pleasure in not doing what people want you to do; especially when you happen to be as obstinate as Sourav.