"Please play this year, and retire after stamping your authority..." read a comment on the NDTV website within minutes when the news was flashed that Sourav Ganguly may not play this year's IPL. And no, this was not some Banerjee or Sengupta pleading his icon to carry on, but a certain ravi.ramanujam!
Time and again, it's been a common habit to say that when it comes to Ganguly, it's only the Bengalis who get all stirred up emotionally. Even when he joined the Pune Warriors team last year after being ignored by his erstwhile employers, Kolkata Knight Riders, one heard many say it was again the Bangla-connect that supposedly got him a slot in the Sahara stable.
Well, one has thought of debating in whose account has his nearly 20,000 international runs gone - India or Bengal's. But one big reason for refraining from doing so has been the luck to travel to different cricketing venues across the country and witness the hysteria that his presence still generate. And so, it wasn't a surprise when the Ganguly-stay-on message popped up from a Ramanujam and not a Roy.
Worth the buck?
'Jab tak balla chal raha hai, tab tak thaat hai (Till the time you can wield your willow, you are of any worth),' says Yuvraj Singh in a tele-ad. True. People hardly care for someone out of the limelight and that too in the age of 20-20 when every evening can give you a new hero.
And then, I'm served with a market statistic from the IPL season 5 - that of the most bankable cricket star to pull people to the stadium.
No.1: Sachin Tendulkar . (That's a copy- paste for the last 20 years)
No.2: MS Dhoni. (No surprises, and no one's arguing)
No. 3: Sourav Ganguly.Â (Hello!!??... ?)
Well, hadn't that man played his last in India-colours around four years ago? Do we remember seeing him any television ad? Oh yes, a couple of them in Bengal. Even then, wasn't that spot supposed to have a Gautam Gambhir or a Virender Sehwag... or for that matter Virat Kohli? Well, numbers have little love with 'supposed to'.
The Pune-Delhi match at the Ferozeshah Kotla this season had the highest turnout it had witnessed in a real long time as every corner was taken up on a rainy evening. And the scenes were pretty much the same wherever the team travelled.
As for Kolkata, Ganguly played only one game there this season. And what the Eden Gardens looked that evening, was for everyone to see. Shah Rukh Khan must have thanked God that the man was still playing IPL, even though as a rival, while going through the day's collection from ticket sales.
Breaking to create
Gentleman's game; putting up a brave face; dignities even in despair... are the many virtues cricket teaches. And since, for us, it's a legacy game passed on by our rulers, Indians always were contented to give world cricket just a great name from time to time. That recognition was just about enough for us to be happy, happy to be a part of the fraternity. While other supposedly 'superior' teams went around as the big daddies, our's seemed to be circumspect. As if every match was a freedom-fight and we waited for that one hero to rise and motivate us. Every time.
Things needed to change. We had to grow up and become the big daddy ourselves. But who'll be the boy to lead us to manhood?
Breaking the fear: By early 1997, one lad was giving Indians hope that a match isn't over as soon as Sachin Tendulkar gets out. In fact, he was bringing out the best from the little genius while scripting opening stands that the cricket world was savouring in awe.
Breaking the helplessness: Year 2000 and Indian cricket is in doldrums over match-fixing allegations. Greatest of its icons are under the scanner and team literally has no one to look up to. Not even Sachin Tendulkar, who refuses to be at the helm at the fall of Mohammad Azharuddin. This is no ordinary situation of discussing a new team and captain after a series loss. It's much more. Leave aside what's going to happen in future, the present was standing on land mines.
But then, somebody had to wear the thorny crown. Again so, one man takes up the mantle to try and steady the rocking ship, as if there was nothing unusual about it.
Breaking the usual: By-passing all notions, India reached the World Cup final. A win against the mighty Aussies would have been too much of an anti-climax. But 'normalcy' prevailed as Australia 'rightfully' lifted the Cup.
Later that year, India went Down Under to face some chin music. Well, that was the norm then.
First Test, Brisbane. India tottering at 62/3. Usual, again. And then a counter-attacking 144 from the skipper baffles the Aussies, and suddenly the Indian team is looking unusual.
For rest of the series, and as long as India will play Test cricket, they will always be 'there to win', and not live with 'a win would be nice' mentality.
Yes, this is what Ganguly gave Indian cricket - the habit to break habits. And in the process, he too became a habit for millions, who just couldn't think cricket without him.
His body was failing, and shots that would fetch him sixes with ease were ending up being caught. The footwork that would see spinners being dispatched out of the ground was leaving him stranded and stumped. He knew it, cricket knew it, and so did the fans. But none wanted to leave each other. Habit, you see.
But now that his exit hits as a reality, millions would need to change that habit. And trust, it's not going to be easy. May be this time too, Dada himself will have to help again. The sixth greatest ODI batsman of all time by Wisden may not be able to wield the willow again, but he can definitely teach a few how it is done.
Sourav Ganguly may not have had the luxury to "decide when to retire", but he will always remain a habit for those who hate to lose -- Bengalis, or otherwise.