The wolves have tasted blood. Finally.
After lurking around in the wild baying for the Bengal Tiger's blood, a pack of wolves has finally made him retreat to his den. Every time they kept hunting, Sourav Ganguly emerged from the woods unharmed. But whenever he was hurt, they rubbed salt and found pleasure. Every time Dada's towering sixes hit the sky, they dug up to unearth chaff. Yet, Sourav scripted a fairytale comeback -- what has been called one of the best comebacks in world sport.
On the course, he took everything in his stride. Not once did he show that it was taking its toll. Every time, he said that there was enough cricket left in him. His bat replied, but it did affect him. His fans and admirers gave up, but he did not. He played some of his best knocks -- and shots, including some imperious pulls off bowlers like Nitini -- in Test cricket after his comeback. But the body took its toll. His hair turned grey.
Finally, on October 8, he proved that he is after all a man in blood and flesh. He decided to quit. At a press conference, in a choking voice, he said the most painful word a sportsperson can utter: quit.
Dramatic you may call, that was over in fleeting seconds. India was shocked. Even my wife, a Rahul Dravid devotee, had tears in her eyes as we stood in front of the TV set. Channel after channel. Call after call. The news started sinking in. There will be life, cricket, and TV without my dearest Dada at the crease.
My mind went blank. I wondered what Rakesh, my friend and a loyal Dada fan, did when he heard the news. I did not call him. I could not take his grief. Nor did he give a missed call. He was the one who performed some special pujas in our village Ayyappa temple for Ganguly. I know he would have shed a tear or two. It does not matter.
But the pack of wolves must be savouring the blood. Though he did not limp out the way they would have loved, they will sure cherish this long-awaited moment forever. Let their unbridled happiness flows forever till they find another Dada-like human being. There will be no one like Sourav. Here are some who will rub their hands in glee.
Greg Chappell: The happiest man on earth now. The man who entered India on Dada's recommendation was the first to challenge him. Could not stand up to Dada's authority and charisma. Chappell thought cricket is football, where coach runs the show. This was cricket, man. The worst allegation Sourav ever faced was by Greg Guru himself: 'Ganguly is playing for endorsements' (read money). That was a hit below the belt. For Chappell's information, Ganguly's family (one of the richest in Kolkata) can buy him and his grandfather.
Chappell went and came back in new avatar. When Dada finally hangs up his boots, he will be there on Indian soil -- this time helping out Aussies on ideas on manipulation.
Kiran More: As selection panel chief, he acted vindictively again and again. Said he, "As long as his selection committee is in office, there is no future for Ganguly." There was not. Even when Ganguly was scripting a fairy-tale comeback, More was there on Times Now television channel, cribbing and lamenting. More is less, boss.
Rahul Dravid: Don't get surprised by this name. The unkindest cut of all came from this old roommate, who once described Ganguly as the God of the off-side. No doubt, The Wall was his best pal in the Indian dressing room and outside. But when captaincy was thrust upon his frail shoulders, the wicked mind started playing. Insecurity crept in. Journos in the know say the Rahul-Chappel-More trio tried its best to keep Dada away from the India crease. Finally, Dada scored his way into the team, but the relationship was never the same again. Rahul's brooding shoulders and body language bore testimony when Dada walked into a practice match in Chepauk before his grand comeback.
M S Dhoni: The 'globalised' New India's favourite cheerleader was plucked and nurtured from Jharkhand. Sensing his talent, Ganguly promoted him to the No 3 slot and Dhoni never looked back. Not even at Dada. For the 20-20 folks, it was Ganguly who spotted him at the nets in Jharkhand and took him to the Indian team. As things turned around, Dhoni became the captain, and he never wanted the Fab Four -- including the mighty Sachin Tendulkar -- to be in his team.
'Insecure' was the word, again. How much ever the new India may hail him, a parvenu will find an enemy sooner or later. Age was Dhoni's problem. Dhoni's was thanklessness at its best. Had it not been for Dada, Dhoni may never have achieved what he got now. We never know. Not many know the fact that Dhoni is yet to play a great Test knock. Does the 20-20 generation know that?
Rajan Bala: The fiercest critic of Ganguly, even at his best of times. Not sure why. One of India's senior-most sports journalists, Rajan Bala spewed venom every time he wrote about Dada. Was a cheerleader of Rahul's captaincy. Even after Ganguly was out of the race and the team, his campaign continued through his columns in Asian Age and Deccan Chronicle. Maybe, there is a story underneath.
R Mohan & Vedam Jaishankar: Two South-side journalists hell-bent on destroying Dada. Article after Article. It was like a campaign to dethrone Ganguly and anoint Rahul Dravid the captain. Maybe the South connection, or the proximity to Rahul. The latter wrote a biography on The Wall.
John Cheeran: The man who led the anti-Ganguly campaign in the blogosphere. A Dravid fan, he did on the web what Rajan Bala did in newsprint. I never understood what the real reason was. Posted comments on his blog, but never got a reply. It is long time since I checked his barrages.
K Srikkanth: It may again surprise you. Because he selected him for the Australia series amid contradicting reports. It was no doubt a great gesture, but before that there is a long story of hatred while he was a commentator. Let us not scout through the old files. Picking him now was touching. All sins have been washed away in the Hooghly, Chikka.
Bishen Singh Bedi: Was ferocious. What made him different was that he never made the articles look biased. Because he always stood out in his criticism -- be it of Harbhajan or Murali. Yet, Dada was his favourite whipping boy.
Shiv and Salil: My old roommate and colleague. They had their own stories and arguments. What puzzled me was their refusal to even acknowledge Sourav's captaincy. He is the best ever we had.
Some who stood by Sourav all through the turmoil - Arjuna Ranatunga. Sanjay Manjarekar. Ajay Jadeja. Kunal Pradhan, sports journalist.
Most of West Bengal (other states should learn to respect its heroes). Loyal fans, not just from West Bengal, like this blogger.
Tailpiece: When the match-fixing row surfaced, the needle of suspicion fell on every player. When a top bookie was asked if Ganguly had any role in the scandal, he said, 'Sir, we wanted him. But nobody had the guts to ask Ganguly whether he could fix matches for INDIA.'
The bookie said it all. Need I say more?