Not a six this time

Not a six this time

Sourav Ganguly’s career was full of dramatics. His cricketing journey from the hallowed turf of Lord’s in 1996 to its conclusion in Nagpur in 2009 was marked by dizzying highs and depressing lows. There was as much ecstasy as agony. From being the undisputed leader of the Indian team to playing domestic cricket to regain his lost place in the national team and from finishing his career with a flourish to becoming one of the game’s prominent administrators in the country, Ganguly’s story has everything in it to make it a potboiler. Given his frankness, his memoir, A Century Is Not Enough: My Rollercoaster Ride to Success — had raised hopes of an explosive tell-all account of one of the most decorated cricketers in the world. Sadly, it turns out to be the longest complaint book ever written with a preachy tone.

After Sachin Tendulkar’s immensely disappointing autobiography, Ganguly’s book, co-authored by senior Bengali sports writer Gautam Bhattacharya, fares marginally better. And that’s the only consolation. Ganguly’s era was one of the finest in Indian cricket. With legends like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble, VVS Laxman and Javagal Srinath at his disposal during his five-year captaincy, he moulded an Indian team that was respected, even feared, by opponents. He is largely credited with shaping the careers of Yuvraj Singh, Virender Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh, Irfan Pathan to name a few. It was during his captaincy that India came close to winning a Test series in Australia in 2004, beat Pakistan in Pakistan, reached the final of the 2003 World Cup, and then there was that epic Test series against Steve Waugh’s “invincibles”. The Kolkata Test, one of the greatest matches ever played in the history of the game, was made immortal by VVS Laxman’s 281 after India were forced to follow-on.

These are memorable chapters in Indian cricket, but unfortunately, the book gives these instants no more than a cursory glance. The 2003 World Cup was epochal, considering how they had begun, losing to Australia and struggling to beat Zimbabwe and the Netherlands. Fans back home were restive, and players’ houses were stoned. The team would have been under immense pressure, and to turn around the fortunes from there on was an excellent achievement. What was the mood in the team, how did he motivate the team as a captain, how did he keep the flock together, what was the team talk? There are so many questions, but few are answered. It’s the same case with the Kolkata Test as well. All that Ganguly reveals about the greatest Test ever played on Indian soil is everything that we already know.

Understandably, a major chunk of the book is devoted to describe his frosty relationship with Greg Chappell, who was appointed the coach of the Indian team on Ganguly’s insistence, and spends a lot of time talking about those who wronged him, including the chief of selectors, Kiran More, through the course of his career. Several players have openly voiced their opinion on how Chappell’s style of functioning became detrimental to the team’s interests, and Ganguly, who not only lost his captaincy but his place in the team as well during Chappell’s regime, tears into former Australia captain for victimising him.

You also get a drift that Ganguly’s relationship with his one-time deputy and then captain, Rahul Dravid, wasn’t exactly rosy. While he doesn’t say anything negative about the Bengalurean, the impression you get is that Ganguly feels Dravid, as the captain, didn’t do enough to protect him from Chappell’s actions. He could have perhaps come out clean on this as he could have on his public spat with Ravi Shastri while appointing the coach for the Indian team in 2016.

 His take on the Indian Premier League that he played for five seasons before retiring – for some strange reason, he calls IPL an international tournament – somewhat salvages the book. The dynamics of an IPL team where owners with little cricketing acumen call the shots and you are forced to obey those orders. For someone who led the national team on his own terms, it must have been a frustrating, even humiliating, experience. “...I was asked to drop (Ashish) Nehra from the playing XI. But I resisted. I tried to reason that the very nature of T20 cricket was such you will have six good games and one terrible one. But the bosses were impatient, unrelenting. They simply didn’t want to listen” - he recalls the incident when he led the Pune franchise.

He also reveals some interesting anecdotes from the early days of his career, like Sanjay Manjrekar’s admonishment of him for his attitude and a “legendary” Indian cricketer’s discouraging words during his first tour of Australia in 1991-92, when Ganguly was also accused of refusing to carry drinks.

Ganguly’s era, with all its flaws, was a remarkable one, and it deserved to be captured in a more detailed way. Most of it appears rushed, and not much lingers on, unlike his career.

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