Let's not gloat over Ganguly



SPORT waits for no man, it cares not for reputation, it is quick to ignore the past. It is a distressing lesson that Sourav Ganguly has learnt. The cricket has gone on, the playing has resumed, and Ganguly is a page rapidly turned over, for many he is a uncomfortable memory put away out of reach and sight on a top shelf. Much of the responsibility for his misfortune is his, yet it does not detract from his tragedy. Once he was the new India. Now he is its debris, a ghost forlornly walking the ruins of the past. He may return, but life will never be as he knew it.

He has gone in a heartbeat from acclaim to the sound of silence, and there is nothing more unkind for the athlete than the abrupt end of applause. How grand fame is, and how fleeting, how rewarding this game is and how cruel. Maybe he dreamed of a last heroic innings and being carried off on the shoulders of his men. Now, you wonder, do those men even call?

The field has only room for the hero, the performer, the able. He knows that, it's what he believed in once. Look at my record, he used to say proudly. Then we asked him to look at his record and he couldn't, somehow he could not see what we did, a struggling batsman, a defiant captain now dying. His stubbornness was selfish, yet it was also understandable, even human, for the once gifted athlete in decline becomes blind to his failures, goes deaf to his honest friends, cannot smell his own mortality.

That so many sided with the new coach, a stranger, a foreigner, must have shaken him; didn't his captaincy statistics mean anything? Yes, they did, but the past is another country and his grasp on the future was feeble. He should have gone by his own hand, just stepped down, given himself a chance to clear his head and clean his batting.

But delusion allows no place for tidy thinking, he could not believe he, who helped build this team, was damaging it, could not consider that this most successful captain of India was done. He left it to others and now cannot complain. Still, you think of him, at home, beside a phone that never stopped ringing now gone relatively silent, and it is disquieting. There is no more lonely life than the star forgotten.

For all the instructional stories and the cautionary tales that litter fields, no one learns in sport. Few athletes leave in triumph, with crowds tearful and nations grateful. It is mostly only in the books and cheesy Hollywood films. Skill dies slowly, bodies disintegrate gradually, but too often the athlete believes he has one more season left, he can still lead, he has earned it he insists, but there are no favours in sport, no indulgences, no gifts for services rendered, no room for anything but performance. In the end, so many athletes go full circle, unable to practice what they have for so long preached. Careers end limply, with no fond goodbyes and only grumbles.

No one dares construct an epitaph for Ganguly for we are warned he has returned from obscurity before, has defied prediction. He may return now, later, never. But at 33 can a man remake himself, cast off his old character and grow a new athletic skin, learn to field, learn to be fast, learn to subdue his ego, learn his craft of batsmanship again? As with any fallen man, we must root for his redemption.

Whatever, Ganguly deserves a better memory, a greater respect, a fuller appreciation. This gloating over his departure is unseemly, this rejoicing over his culling is revolting. There has been too much glee over a man's misfortune and it is unbecoming. He needed to step down but the jeering must stop. To be critical of him is one thing, to demean him another. He is a good man of grand deeds and that should not be erased.

Then again, perspective has been lost both ways. Ugly parochialism has come steaming out of some Kolkata newspapers, silly barbs have been aimed at the new captain as if it were somehow his fault, and occasionally it seems there is a disquiet that India is winning under someone else. The local selector is expected in some quarters to fight only for Ganguly, suggesting one man comes before an entire India. That is hateful, too. One side cannot see a virtue in Ganguly, one side cannot see a flaw.

Ganguly was always, even in his best days, a strangely, beautifully, vulnerable man, a mix of real defiance and some bombast, not bothered by critics yet easily slighted, never a truly great player (in one-dayers, yes) yet finding great performances from people, owner of an invisible steel yet unable to shake off the princely clich�s of his past.

Suddenly all talk is of youth in this team and forgotten are the young men he fought for, cajoled, believed in. His sins may be fresh in the memory but they should not obscure the virtues he owned. How we lauded him once, how we have amputated his legend now. A grand contribution has been glossed over in cheap hate mail in a blog.

He was a captain whose time has passed a year or more ago, but he was a captain for long that we needed. He was a complex, contradictory, refreshing, charming, easy to talk to, lazy, stylish, awkward, instinctive man who was thrilling to write about for always he was up to something. He moved us, confused us, excited us, frustrated us, compelled us, irritated us, but never bored us.

Sourav Ganguly is not gone maybe but he deserves a better memory. Maybe history will be kinder to him than we have been.