Comebacks are cakewalk for Sourav Ganguly. When the man, reckoned the most dynamic Indian skipper of modern times, was left unsold in the cash-rich Indian Premier League auction, many assumed the end of Ganguly, the player. But only to eat their own words, for Dada is no stranger to comeback. He did wage a comeback in Pune's stripes, and if the signifiers are any, he has made it worth retelling.
His stint with home-franchisee Kolkata Knight Riders was tumultuous. The three-year streak ended on a sour note when the management discarded him in the fourth season, after a spate of indifferent returns. Apparently, Shah Rukh Khan, the co-owner, wanted Ganguly's services as a mentor and not a player. But Ganguly being Ganguly, forthrightly honest, he desisted and eventually led to the now-infamous snub from KKR. The events, which unfolded after this, marked a spotlight in the short history of Indian Premier League. Fans of the ‘Bengal Tiger’ went berserk in protest on the streets, o
n social networking sites, and others campaigned through SMSs to boycott KKR matches.
Some even argued that Dada improved spectacularly KKR’s brand value even when the team wasn't a head-turner. Others attributed it to the hard work of the co-owner Shah Rukh Khan. Interestingly, KKR continue to be the top brand amongst all the IPL teams.
Soon, Ganguly moved on and donned on new roles – commentator, columnist and host for a Bengali channel. All this while, he kept up his shape and took care of his fitness, he played in the Ranji matches; he was desperate for an IPL comeback. And when Sahara’s Pune Warriors India worked out a deal to sign Ganguly late in the fourth edition, it was just another chapter in his ironically glorious career of comebacks. The late entry could hardly impact the team and they ended the season at the bottom. Pune Warriors management was looking for the experience and the impact he would have created among the youngsters, as the team lacked a figure of Ganguly’s stature. Under his captaincy, he is credited to have moulded the careers of many young players and transformed the Indian team into an aggressive fighting unit.
Not that Ganguly will continue to hit those towering sixes or take us back to the 2000s when he was in his prime, but as a leader he is still the best in the business. He was given the charge of a team that was unsure of their participation in the new season. On the day of the auctions for season 5, Warriors’ owners Sahara decided to snap ties with the country’s cricket board. But they were later pacified by the BCCI and the team was soon brought back to the league.
However, back-to-back victories in the first two games afforded Dada and Pune fans reasons to cheer. In the first game, they brought down to knees title contenders, Mumbai Indians, defending a low total. “Dada (Sourav) was a special captain for India and he showed once again, today, why he`s still the best captain ever. There are not many match-winners on his side, but his ability to identify talent, give responsibility to players and sense their usefulness is amazing,” acknowledged Mumbai Indians' skipper Harbhajan.
In their second match, they outplayed an unsettled Kings XI Punjab led by Aussie veteran Adam Gilchrist. Ganguly contributed little with the bat in both the matches but led from the front to give a winning start to their campaign. And it is not a small feat for a team like Pune. At this juncture, it is too early for any kind of analysis, but the fact that Ganguly infused a sense of self belief into his boys’ psyche is beyond doubt.
(The views expressed by the author are personal)