What do you write about someone whose life has been reported, analysed, dissected, shot down, appraised, applauded, questioned, ridiculed, and spoken about in both public and in Hushed silences depending on the time and situation. The Scion of Indian Cricket. The Maharaja of Modern Indian 11.Today Cricket in India is not just an obsession .It’s a Media Carousel and an industry in itself. Today the world’s eyes are on India and the Cricket Craze it has become. However it all started with the 1983 World Cup.
Ask any Cricket Enthusiast to remember a moment in Indian Cricket History and you will find KAPIL DEV raising the World Cup, in 1983 to MS Dhoni raising the T20 World cup .What will, and now as a part of Modern Cricket Legend, will be the story remembered and narrated, often with pride and glee, of how a Lanky Bengali Cricketer who defied the gentleman’s norms of Cricket, took off his team Jersey in the stands and waved it in a mad wave of Victory like a Flag. That Lanky Cricketer, otherwise usually be-spectacled, bemused, demure and Gentleman off the field, created Cricket notoriety that day at the Mecca of Cricket, The Lords. Some say it was a Victory Dance, some say it was in retaliation to Andrew Flintoff celebrating by taking off his jersey in a match against India in Mumbai earlier the same year. He was none other than the God of the Off Side or DADA (Elder Brother, as he still is referred to) of Indian Cricket, Sourav Chandidas Ganguly.
Life is very beautifully inferred in cricketing terms at the beginning of the Book. We tend to often skip the Preface while reading a BIO PIC However, in this Book; it’s this section that sets the tone for the whirlwind journey of Jersey No 99.It also equates the game of Cricket with the Journey of Ganguly’s Life. Somehow both are still so intertwined, that for Ganguly, it often becomes difficult on hindsight to separate and narrate.
The book is broken into 3 Major Parts, Part One: Climbing to The Top, Part two: Becoming a Leader and Final Act, Part Three: Giving Up is Not an Option.
Perhaps like his Life, in this Book Too, Ganguly decides to not conclude but share his claim to fame and struggles. There is a Closure in terms of the ending of the book, but it’s not a Closure on the madness of the fandom for The Prince of Calcutta.
It is interesting the way the book starts with the First chapter being titled “Announcing the End”. While we thought an Autobiography would start off with the central character’s life story as a teenage cricketer, Ganguly surprises us by describing his life in Calcutta on the last day of the Bengali festival of Durga Puja instead. He speaks with excitement, emotion and intent of participating in the festivities. His Stardom has made it difficult to be in Public without being mobbed but there’s no chance that he would forego celebrating this annual festival known to be the life and blood of every Bengali around the world. He describes the final Journey of Goddess Durga, the tradition of "bishorjon” where the deity is immersed in the water of the River Ganges. He describes how he dresses up as “Harbhajan’s Clan” meaning donning up the guise of a Sardarji. We even get to see that getup in the Pictures included in the Book. However he gets identified easily. He narrates how the Policeman recognises, smiles and allows Ganguly to carry on. Ganguly was grateful that the Cop kept his secret. However, he was not allowed on the Truck carrying the deity to Immersion. Ganguly reminisces how he had to be satisfied being a part of the procession from the car itself alongside his Daughter. He describes “The escapade was worth it .The Immersion scene around the river is just indescribable. You have to see it to understand it. Durga Ma after all comes only once a year.”
What followed in the chapter was a very personal confession of what progressed leading to the Prince calling it a day from the world of Cricket. He focuses more on the integral inner struggle, the emotions, the frustrations and the shocked unbelieving reactions of people around him. He takes time to justify the reasoning and what was going on his mind. He shared a very personal moment when he lost his father and equated the retirement from Cricket to be equally emotional as that tragic loss. But he didn’t cry .he didn’t shed tears “We are a minority who tend to think tears are the easy way out of sadness. But don’t let our masks fool you. Maybe it’s because we hold our emotions in check that they remain within us even more. We look tough on the outside, but inside we bleed.”
The Chapter ends with a solemn “and so it was all over. From 11 November 2008 Sourav Ganguly was a retired Test Cricketer. I was also not a part of the one-day team”. However the madness of his journey to Nov 11th 2008 had just started .It was the just the Beginning to the end.
No one perhaps has been able to outline, define and portray Australia and the Australian Team better than Ganguly does in the pages of this book. He lay out is measure words he ferocity with which the formidable forces of Cricket called Australia was made up of. Be it Marshall, Ambrose, Patterson or Walsh, all found their mention in this Biopic. Ganguly outlined categorically with matches places and dates the way the Australian team shaped up his Cricketing career and the way they destroyed so many others. In the same perspective , he also outlined how playing against the generations of Australians have in many way desecrated the older generation of Indian Players and educated , moulded and broken the present line up of the Indian Team. He speaks of gratitude on hindsight of the irreplaceable role Australia played in creating one of the best Captains, India had witnessed in their Cricketing Line-up. He also spoke of the beuaracracy, Rumours and lost chances that could have been avoided in his opinion. He sighs “But I have no idea where they originated from.”
This part of the book talks about the journey of Ganguly as a cricketer. He pays homage to people who were responsible for his start. As a Legend, we might eulogise the beginning as stellar one. But Ganguly doesn’t pull stops to confess that it wasn’t as twinkling or stellar. There were moments of almost missed chances and frustrating long waits. He speaks from hereon of endless waits, of a cricketer who was not given chance to bat, of failed opportunities to bat to senior decisions to sit him out. He also takes this opportunity to speak about his family, his daughter his brother, his father, his uncle and about Sambram Banerjee who was his selector from the Zone. Mr.Arun Lal, His coach Debu Mitra also gets their Homage. This chapter also outlines the strong relationship Ganguly shares with his Daughter and the interesting way he always manages till date to escape difficult questions.
Speaking of his daughter he narrates a question she asked him “Baba do you love the sports more? Or Me?” “I looked at her and grinned.”
The chapter starts with “How could I have known that everything would Change at Breakfast.” setting pace of the book here on, giving the readers a taste of the whirlwind race to the closure of the book. Ganguly made sure he spoke of his present, his parents, family and others and got it out of the way. A seasoned cricketer that he is, he knows that the game will now have to pick up the pace; After all it is a viewers sport as well.
Psychological Conditional is as important in a game of cricket as is it to be in top physical form. Cricket is as much a sports as much as it’s a mind game. Fielders, Bowlers, coaches, umpires and batsmen have also been seen known and rumoured to have played or have fallen victim to psychological oppression or aggression or mind games. Ganguly narrates the golden nuggets of cricketing wisdom he leveraged out of batting maestro Desmond Haynes who was coaching Sussex.
He outlines Haynes wisdom, “Seven times out of ten, cricketing success are born out of visualising positively. Eight times out of ten, failures happen because of surrendering mentally. A negative Mindset will only bring in negative Results.”
He also outlines Michael Craig, who was a psychologist assisting Worcester. Craig wisdoms, “you may not get 200 Balls in an Inning and get only 20.If you manage to impress the management with that 20 ball innings, next time they will invite you for bigger opportunity. Remember, in life small successes open up the door for bigger ones.”
This gives a rare glimpse in the way Ganguly had always never shied away from approaching people and learn from them, even if they were from the opposition camp. There was a reason for it. And he outlines this as “However elated I was in, an inner voice also warned me that I couldn’t afford to relax. It kept on saying; your test papers are only going to get tougher from here. How Right the inner voice was I realised only later. After all I was busy fighting my own war.”
Outline the concept of Match Sledging, the reverence with which he still remembers members of the Pakistani Team and the respect he has for Saaed Anwar and a few other Pakistani Cricketers in spite of their indulgence in this sordid practice of distraction and abuse, speak volumes of the Cultural Integrity Ganguly showed both on field and off it. He cautions young cricketers reading the book that most of the game in played in the mind.”No doors will open for you until you have sorted the issues in your head and can deal with pressure. Do not run away from the tough stuff.”
Many of the Sub Chapters and narratives have reference to phrases spoken in Bengali which became Synonymous with Ganguly’s tryst with Cricket. One such is a term “Baapi Bari Ja” which translated from Bengali, the native Language of Ganguly, unceremoniously means “Buddy, Go Home”. Now this particular statement became almost a challenge, a provocation, a war cry and a threat, that was used and popularised by fans, especially in West Bengal, who loved to use the same against his opposition in reference and non-reverence.
As Witness to the Prowess of the Cricketer Ganguly on Field. “Baapi Baari Ja “made to rival Batsmen, telling them not to be on the pitch too long .For Fielders, it would translate to “Buddy , you better get ready to wrap this game up fast and go home.”
Who would have known such an innocuous colloquial catch phrase in Bengali would end up portraying the ferocity and prowess of the Maharaja of Indian Cricket on field and many times off Field so well.
This part of the book speaks of his rise and fall as a Cricketer and his journey to becoming the iconic Cricket Captain.
Here Ganguly gets candid with his success and failures but doesn’t seem to give in too much justification, unless it was a bigger play at hand. From Complacency to fitness, to the Indian team management’s lackadaisical attitude, of bureaucracy, of Ego Trips, of Scapegoats, to mood swings to straight up Deceit. It all finds its way and place in the overall narrative .There’s not too much finger pointing unless it’s something which has already been public knowledge and even then, there’s a boring decency of silence .It’s almost as it Ganguly wants to inform but not Gossip.
Things go a Bit different with a certain Mr. Chappell, who is brought up, exemplified and at times downright treated with indifference. It’s almost as if he doesn’t matter anymore. This might be the Maharaja’s way of making the person be exemplified publicly and without a plight of Trial in his biography, arbitrated and then thrown away and cast aside in a banishment of notorious anonymity. The way this indifference was subjected to this prospect of a Subject, once the purpose of narrative has been served, is truly brutal and maybe from the narrator’s perspective, rightly so. “He doesn’t matter ...” was one just instance quoted, which the readers may be interested to find and debate on.
His tryst as a member of Indian Cricket team with Pakistan, West Indies, South Africa and especially Australia find a very interesting approach here. The narrative is again layered where these mentioned Countries are not only referenced from their match point or players and Playing and Bowling Styles. Each Country also is referenced as a Character in itself in terms of the Physical location or the playing conditions therein. The scandals of sledging, provocations and assaults may be personally labelled. Each of these places and opponents are also reference as a team, an Entity in itself too. Australia has been referenced as a Place (Weather, pitch, playing conditions, Audiences, Press, Affiliated People). It has also been referenced as Team Australia as well as Individual Cricketer who made up the Cricket team of Australia and their relationship with Ganguly and the Indian Team. Lords have both been revered as a Bucket List as well as a Summit that victory was claimed on. Such Finer nuances of the Game can only be brought out by a player who has seen it and probably done it all.
Statements like “Demoted from Vice Captaincy, Promoted to Captaincy”, Waving the Shirt at Lords.” To “seven Days with Greg Chappell “ to “ Handling Pakistan” are interesting ways in which Ganguly firmly places the element of “Been There , Done That “ which paves way for the last chapter of the book , the finale, the climax
This part of the book gives us a glimpse into the commercial game of Cricket .Ganguly’s tryst with Bollywod, with T20, with the madness called Indian Premiere League,
He narrates “Do remember Champions are never born or created under Normal Circumstances. Calamities create winners. The Best take up challenges which seem impossible. The Weak never do. That ultimately makes the difference.”
He even mocks the excruciating pressure of the game in a chapter interestingly titled, “out of Jail at Wanderers” where he chronicles his match against South Africa. What brings this book up is the veiled humour in even terse situations which is so signature of Ganguly.
His Trysts with Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) and the immersive Star and Team Owner SHAH RUKH KHAN referred as SRK. The time he played with KKR and the controversy to his ultimate exit from KKR formed the part of the Part 3 and is a reminder to the reader that Ganguly is closing the loop of the book’s narrative to the Present, where he started the journey on the narrative 17 Chapters and 3 Parts ago. He speaks of his comeback in IPL after being left out in the auctions. Going by Ganguly’s Impressive Records of Performance, it is indeed a brutal reminder of the games Life often plays, even on the best of us. He confesses that when facing the One Ball Sport, he had almost no practice and almost zero preparation. On top of it, he had to battle the fastest Bowler then. Dale, Dale Steyn, as he mentioned in a typical James Bond Style.”That’s the Magic of Sport at the Top Lelvel. No Freebies as, they say”
He talks about Yuvraj Singh AKA Yuvi’s replacement in PUNE Warriors and the offer of captaincy by Subrata Roy who was the new Owner as well as the last match of him against the former team of KKR. The mental turmoil of Business and against personal relationships forged was handled well in few lines which didn’t become over dramatic and stayed to point.
He chronicles Rahul Dravid's retirement from Cricket. He chronicled the journey n matches with Chappell and uses this one last line in one of the chapters to finally hit the last nail in the coffin of his association with the once notorious Indian Cricket Team Coach
“I found particularly pleasing was that the All-powerful Coach didn’t ask Laxman to handle this pressure situation. Instead he turned to his old enemy. Perhaps I had finally won our Battle”
What is most heart warming is his confession about his exit from IPL
“I realised that I had very little chance of paying the IPL in the future as I wasn’t getting any younger. What was the point in pursuing domestic cricket then in front of half-empty galleries? I decided to end my career with Bengal.”
He continued,” Dear Reader, you must understand that in life nothing is guaranteed. You will never know what awaits you at the next crossing. When faced with rejection at work, our first reaction is invariably disappointment. But if there’s anything you should take away from this book, it is that you should not give up. Be Patient. You have to wait for your turn and when it comes, you must be prepared.”
The Book finally ends with an interesting quote which I felt was also apt to bring this review to a closure. It simply says:
“Even the greatest of athletes have to embrace retirement .Only Cricket Has Finished. Life was calling me for a much longer and more challenging second innings. Umpire. Middle Stump, Please.”
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