In Feb 2005, an email with the following text landed in my inbox.
Instructions on the back of Maggi 2 minutes noodles pack:
Step 1: Boil one cup of water
Step 2: As soon as Ganguly goes out to bat, put the noodles in the boiled water and add the tastemaker.
Step 3: Stir till Ganguly is on the field.
Step 4: As soon as Ganguly is back in pavilion, your noodles are ready to eat.
What followed was a year long barrage of Sourav Ganguly bashing. His batting form went from bad to worse and there were people out there who made a living out of creating jokes about him. Bulletin boards were filled with cries of his removal from the team, there were those who made bets on whether he’d reach double figures.
I admit it, I made a few bucks myself doing that. Stats like 48 runs in 5 matches did the rounds over and over. And when we went to see the 2nd India-Pak test match in Bangalore, we were sure Ganguly won’t last more than 10 balls. He obliged us, handing the ball to first slip.
The end had to come, and it did. Many didn’t like the way it came, many didn’t like the way he was treated, but through heated exchanges televised on the national television to emails which were leaked and gobbled up with glee by our sensation-loving media, in December 2005, Sourav Ganguly was shown the door out of the Indian Test team.
I sometimes wonder how he would have felt at that point. The team management dead against him, the public not really that supportive either.. and his batting form had all but left him. He had been dumped in a coffin, nailed all around and buried six feet under. A cricinfo article talked about how he didn’t go without a fight. Oh boy, the author had no idea.
This was the most successful Indian team captain, one who had twirled his shirt around at Lord’s. And then, as fickle as public memory is, he all but disappeared. Youth was the order of the day now and except the abuses Greg Chappel got when he reached West Bengal, there wasn’t much else to remind us of him. And then, six months later, he was back. Dressed in a formal shirt, he sat on the steps of a cricket pavilion and talked to the camera in a Pepsi ad.
He referred to the Indian team as “mine”, he talked about how he had been practising real hard. The timing couldn’t have been better, the cricket team wasn’t doing too well and the stage was set for the comeback of a lifetime. Sure enough, as the team got thumped in South Africa, Sourav Ganguly was recalled to bolster the middle order. It can be said that wouldn’t have gotten a reprieve if the collective Indian team form hadn’t slumped. But that thought is nothing more than a sideline, fortune has always favoured the brave.
He must have walked to the pitch in that 4-day match with Atlas’ weight on his shoulders. He returned with the highest individual Indian score in the match. Not many expected it, hardly anyone predicted it. But there was no looking back and in the middle of the 3rd test, the Times of India headline read, “Ganguly leads India’s fightback.” A few days later, he was selected for the one-day squad, the comeback was complete.
The Prince of Calcutta was back on the throne.
The Indian squad for the World Cup was announced this weekend. I drove to my office listening to RJs discussing names like Sehwag, Yuvraj, Raina, Karthik and Kaif. In absolutely no one’s mind was Ganguly’s place in the squad in doubt. He is back and all of us know it.
A sport is supposed to be an extension of life. It throws at individuals similar challenges and gives us, those sitting on the sidelines, an opportunity to see how our heroes face them. We, in India, are often accused of putting our cricketers on the high pedestal, not realizing that it is after all “just a game.” For once, seeing this drama play out in front of us, I’m proud of our fanaticism. I’m proud that the youngsters in our country look up to someone who has it in him to be a real role model.
He didn’t swing on a spider web and rescue Mary Jane, he didn’t smash up Lex Luthor after being pounded with Kryptonite, and he didn’t vow to “smoke out” the Taliban. Sourav Ganguly did something different. He took all the hits, didn’t buckle, believed in himself, found strength deep within and came back the way not many can. He showed us that perseverance counts, that it’s not what others think or say that matters, and that with self-belief, it is always possible to bounce back.
A true champion has the ability to get up when others would stay down. He has that seemingly impossible iota of strength still left when all hope seems lost. By digging into that reserve, Ganguly showed us that he deserves to be remembered as one of the greatest. The Adidas executives should kick themselves in the backside, for more than any other brand ambassador they’ve got on this country, it is Sourav Ganguly who has earned his stripes in the World Cup squad and truly personifies the slogan – “Impossible is Nothing.”