I remember staying up to watch Ganguly get a century at Lord's on debut - the summer of 1996, I'd been in Kolkata for four years, and yet with all my 'non-Bengali' friends at school, reading Hindi, and still being a bit of a Delhi-wallah (where I grew up and went to school for almost a decade) I did not carry the burden of the entire 'Bengali nation' on my shoulders.
I cheered for India - and remember feeling terrible as Rahul Dravid got out at 95. Sourav Ganguly, the first Bengali cricketer of note after perhaps Pankaj Roy, meanwhile, got his century - 131 he made before being bowled by Alan Mullaly, an English left-arm seamer who'd played much of his cricket in Australia.
India drew the match - and the next one at Nottingham, where Dada got another century. Good going, I thought... but that was about all. Dada wasn't still to die for. So the guy had a good outing in England!
I sat up next year - Sahara Cup... Sourav was the only player playing the tournament it seemed, with bat, with ball, he could do nothing wrong... Match-fixing and Sachin's poor run as a captain meant Sourav was in the driver's seat by 2000. He'd played many a memorable innings, started opening in the shorter format - forming a successful partnership with Sachin, helped India chase a 300-plus score against Pakistan...
One innings that stood out was a 183 in the 1999 World Cup.
I was part of the audience at a TV show hosted by Dr Prannoy Roy at the Science City in Kolkata. Before the show, the large monitor was switched on to the match being broadcast live from Taunton, Dravid and Ganguly were smashing the Lankans all over the ball park. Everyone was hooked on. Dr Roy walked in, saw how things stood, and joined us in watching the match - the recording for the show started over 2 hours behind schedule, after India finished their innings (having worked in TV for many years now, I know just how big a decision it is the postpone a shoot, or better still hold it up).
I appreciated but still did not see. It was as if Ganguly had a job to do and he was doing it well. Captaincy, batting, whatever...
All that changed on a Sunday morning in 2003. I'd woken up to see if the Indian openers would survive the chin music in Gabba - and I wasn't exactly disappointed. Sehwag got a breezy 40-odd and Akash Chopra survived well over a 100 balls for some 30-odd... And then an Indian collapse... In a space of 2-3 overs Sehwag, Tendulkar and Dravid back in the hut...
I'd seen this often - in the 1990s India won at home but not abroad. This was Australia...India was going down under... And then I saw Ganguly.
In was one of the finest counter-attacks by an Indian team (ranks right up there with Laxman's 281 in Kolkata). In cavalier fashion, Dada got 144 - ably supported by Laxman, India's often unsung hero in away-Tests and Parthiv Patel, who hasn't been finding favour with the selectors ever since Dhoni arrived. Dada ensured India overtook Australia's 1st innings total - it was the 1st Test of the series, and that set the tone for the Tests to follow. Granted that both Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath were both missing - but that Sunday at the Gabba, it was as if Gillespie, Braken and Co. has challenged Sourav Ganguly's manhood - he was a man possessed, riding his luck - and with him rode the nation - and I.
That's the day I saw Sourav Ganguly - that's perhaps the day the probashi in in me turned madly Bengali... But is Sourav just a Bengali obsession? Is cricket a Bengali sport? Can Sourav Ganguly's contribution to Indian cricket be so overlooked?
We aren't a nation which respects its heroes- Dada'ism' is the philosophy by which the Dhonis of the world live... Is it fair to judge him because no one thought it fit to pick him for an IPL squad?