A total of 52,624 runs; 846 wickets and 1,152 dismissals. That's what Harbhajan Singh, MS Dhoni, Sourav Ganguly and Sunil Gavaskar have combinedly given international cricket along with countless memories. Yes, it's that time of the year. The first ten days of July marks the birthdays of four Indian cricket legends who would walk into several all-time sides.
The building up is usually arguments on who among these men was the greatest, but eventually, it ends up celebrating these figures.
July 8 marks the birth anniversary of Ganguly. A lot of essays have captured his leadership, his batting, the controversies, his legacy, etc. Great athletes get you hooked to a sport, making you follow it but some characters stand out, the ones who make you fall for it.
To me, Ganguly was that figure.
More than Ganguly and his greatness in the field of cricket, this is primarily about me, a guy immersed in cricket stats since boyhood, ending up investing emotions on someone who wouldn't really fall in my ideal template of the greatest. Yet, cricket would just be a sport for me without him.
Rewind to Brabourne Stadium, Mumbai - November 1995.
For those who cared for Bengal cricket like my dad, they were up for a disappointment. Bengal needed 300 in 50 overs to lift the Wills Trophy against a star-studded Wills' XI led by Sachin Tendulkar.
Bengal were reduced to 125 for 6. A lanky middle-order batsman braved Javagal Srinath and co. to stroke an attractive century. Forgetting about the game, Baba discussed the strokes, educated me on the importance of 'timing' in the art of batting.
"Will he play the World Cup?" I asked him.
"He has played for India in 1992. If right calls are made, he and Rahul Dravid should make the cut," he replied.
An Indian. A left-hander. A right-arm bowler. I would always think that my breed was extremely rare. There were none in my colony. This got injected into my brain.
As much as I loved to watch it, viewing the Brian Lara-mastery was limited. School students couldn't afford to stay awake until three or wake up at four. That Indian hero for me was Vinod Kambli for a while. I was always an admirer of aesthetics and hoped to see that young boy of Brabourne in the national side soon. I related more to him.
Till then, I watched the sport for amusement. The Australian duo of Merv Hughes and David Boon amused me, so did a perceived four-year-old playing against them. Till 1996 World Cup, I believed that Tendulkar debuted as a four-year-old, was ten during the tournament and remained in awe. It was one of the pranks played by my dad. I went on to believe because everything that he uttered was a gospel for me. Anyway, moving away from my IQ as a child.
That was perhaps a reason that I could never relate to Tendulkar. I wondered how would a child like me tackle the pace of Donald or a Waqar? Even without the illusion of the prank, Tendulkar would create magic, much higher than the capacities of mortals.
Donald reminds me another favourite cricket time of mine. I enjoyed watching Allan Donald bat, hoping he would get a duck. The duck animation would accompany him to the dressing room, and I would have my moment, screaming: "Donald Duck!!!". Thanks to his batting skills, those moments came aplenty. As I relive that excitement, I realise I continue discussing a stupid child.
Cricket was a sport for me. A sport that I had to tolerate because of my father. A cricket match meant no Tom and Jerry, and sometimes it would make me miss Jungle Book too. It soon became an amusement due to the characters. Tendulkar, Lara, Crowe, Warne would provide with the occasional delights. That was it. Not sure if it happens with all kids, but I would just slip into a character and make it my own. One day I would imitate Warne in our colony game, and the next day, I would try and bat like a Chanderpaul.
The 1996 World Cup semis had a deep impact on me. Kambli, my Indian hero, wept his way back to the dressing room. I could be the Raphael of Ninja Turtles, Bagheera of Jungle Book, He-Man of Masters of the Universe, Bubba of Duck Tales or Bret Hart of WWF (now WWE), but not Kambli of Indian cricket. For all his talent, I couldn't relate with him despite admiring him.
My wait was short-lived.
No, it wasn't Lord's. It was the long England tour itself. Ganguly and Dravid were selected for their maiden Test tour after the World Cup. ESPN would telecast the Indians vs English County matches. I found two new heroes – both similarly built and introvertish. And in one of them, I began seeing myself. My dad's words resonated that if right selections were to be made for the 1996 World Cup, Ganguly and Dravid would be playing the World Cup.
The Cup was gone, but a hope lingered – maybe these two would replicate their English magic in the same land in 1999.
My 1996 summer vacation was spent watching India's County games. I began studying the game and by-hearted all the shires of England, scanning the pages of my World Book Encyclopaedia, learning more on them.
After May-June 1996, I found myself in Indian cricket. It no longer was just a sport. My journey to devotion had begun. I had fat dairies with scores written, calculated averages and did the same for colony games.
I was probably the only left-handed batsman among the colony kids and bowled with right arm. If anyone uttered that 'ulta' word for my cricketing abilities again, I would ask them to watch ESPN at 3.
Ganguly's hundreds at Lord's and Trent Bridge made him a national sensation. It didn't come as a surprise as that was what I expected.
Ganguly was an instant hit in Bengal for the obvious reasons. For me, it had absolutely nothing to do with the same mother-tongue or same caste. Growing up in Mumbai, at that point, I had never lived in Bengal to feel the strong connection, and at that age, I wasn't that smart to even analyse it.
At times, my resistance is as stubborn as the Wall's defence. I avoided cricket coaching for long. Then woke the desire to play drives like those. Ganguly pushed me to towards my first cricket kit and then coaching sessions.
The journey went parallel. Was Ganguly perfect, the ideal? Neither am I. I tried and emulated him in every sphere. I switched to medium-pace from spin by 1997 Toronto – the series he floored Pakistan with exemplary seam bowling.
Trivia: Ganguly's heroics against Pakistan in Toronto in 1997 won India their first Sahara Cup. He remains the only cricketer to win four consecutive Man of the Match awards in ODIs.
By 1998, I was captaining my team with only one member being five-foot. Well, I ended up being a poor fielder too. Not that I am proud, but my deep dive into the sport happened because of Ganguly, and over the years, I found other heroes too. Thanks to a certain Adam Gilchrist, I would keep decently in smaller matches.
I idolised Ganguly. At the same time, I rejected a lot of things he said. I did so with my parents too. Another attribute I learned from the man himself and that of having a mind of own and taking decisions for yourself backed with the right intent.
It's about respect and not blind bhakti. I put my faith in his beliefs and seldom got disappointed. I combined his leadership approach and fearlessness to my rational thinking, and more often, things worked well.
Professionally or even in little opportunities of leadership during college days, I would often think what would a Ganguly do at this point. I would adopt the leadership style professionally, letting team members express, valuing their hard work and backing them wholeheartedly. Nowadays, I also add the Dhoni-dash of instinct to it.
It's quite apt that the man is the BCCI President, running the cricket board that runs the game at large across the world.
Keeping the numbers and his on-field achievements aside, another admirable quality is his work ethics. Someone who earned the monikers - Prince and Lord Snooty - it was fascinating to see him during the 2016 T20 World Cup as an administrator running around in a suit and folded trousers as heavy rains lashed Eden Gardens ahead of the India-Pakistan game. He ensured the groundstaff had the entire playing area covered and the match soon commenced!
He's busier than ever in his mid-40s. From cricket administration to endorsements to hosting TV shows to managing his business and whatnot… The energy level can only inspire. And even now, when he talks, the world listens and there's a lot of weightage in the words he speaks.
He remains an integral part. Fan is as small a word as it literally is.
Cricket has fed me for over a decade, remains my oxygen today. I needed a bridge for making the journey to where I am via admiration to fandom to devotion to being a moderately successful professional. The bridge is called 'Sourav Ganguly'. And I shall remain indebted forever.
Critics will debate on his success, measure his greatness with scales of convenience, but if I can manage to have the above lasting impact on one single life in my lifetime, I leave the world contently considering my life as a great success.
Ganguly is an emotion, a habit, a hobby, a template. Thank you, Dada! Stay blessed for another 48 and more...