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Ganguly stands tall in the middle of a relatively non-sporting race - Boria Majumdar column
by Boria Majumdar
Oct 22, 2008
"When I was sick I didn't want to die. When I race I don't want to lose. Dying and losing, it's the same thing."

Lance Armstrong

With 'sport' central to national lives and emerging into sustained symbols of national unities across the world, players are some of the most written about and sought after men and women.

And among these special men and women there are some who defy laws of science, make a joke of modern techniques and infrastructure, reduce critics to silly novices and in the process prove that raw talent and determination, more than anything else, still reigns. These icons are special for they continue to inspire, to amaze, to startle, to enthrall and to top it all continue to win laurels for their nation. Sachin Tendulkar and Saurav Ganguly are such icons. And here, as in many other spheres, they are in real elite company with legends like Andre Agassi, Zinedine Zidane, Lance Armstrong and the like.

It is established that Saurav Ganguly is no Sachin Tendulkar. In fact, Sachin is unrivaled and chances are cricket will never see another Sachin within the next decade or more. Saurav, by contrast, wasn't born with greatness. For him India has never stood still. Unlike Sachin, he is dispensable on occasions and when he is indeed dispensed with only Bengal mourns for him. Andre Agassi, similarly, was never a Roger Federer or even a Pete Sampras. Yet when Agassi played Federer, entire stadiums were seen praying for a miracle. Agassi, unlike Federer, had the unique distinction of plummeting to 140 or so in the world rankings and then staging a miraculous comeback. It is the stories of these fairytale comebacks, full of romance and passion as they are, that make these men special. Zinedine Zidane is another such icon. He is no Pele and had to face serious flak when the French were knocked out in the preliminary stages of World Cup 2002. However, like Saurav and Agassi, he proved the entire soccer fraternity wrong when he guided France to the final of world cup 2006.

What is most significant in these stories of iconicity are the intriguing abilities of these men to uniquely combine talent and discipline, a mesh that inspire them to triumph over modern registers of science and technology considered central to modern sport. Ask anyone why India doesn't win more Olympic medals and prompt comes the answer, "We lack the infrastructure of the West." Yet when it comes to Saurav, who is 35+, is a rank bad fielder and has a weakness against the rising ball, top opposition like the Australians and the South Africans could exploit none of these between December 2006 and October 2008. Unparalleled determination coupled with grit and talent has seen him through, a rare combination that was once again on display at Mohali when he grafted his way to his 16th Test ton and in doing so led India to an unassailable position in the match.

The truth -- and sometimes statistics is not the ass we think it is -- will demonstrate that Saurav Ganguly had amassed 1000 runs in calendar year 2007. He was Man of the Series against the South Africans earlier this year and he is India's highest scorer thus far in this series. Yet, he has to retire for there isn't a soul in the BCCI who will step up to urge him to reconsider. The cardinal cricketing maxim that performance is the ultimate watchword has given way to a strange belief in India- it is age and not performance that matters. You need good fielders and fast runners. May well be Indian cricket will soon be a forum in which 100 m sprinters will take a real fancy.

As he waits his turn to play his last Test match, there's little doubt that he stands tall in the middle of a relatively non-sporting race. For icons like Agassi, Saurav and Zidane have proved time and again that infrastructure and cash rich facilities don't make champions. Rather, they make themselves.

And when Saurav finally retires, nothing, not even the frenzy associated with Sachin can take certain truths away from him. In fact, even at the cost of sounding a biased provincial, it can be suggested that he will continue to be one of the most awe inspiring Indian sporting icons of all time. Without being in the Sachin masterclass, he turned the tables on Australia in 2003-4 with that amazing 144 at Brisbane. Without being blessed with Rahul's technique, he saved India the blushes at Bangalore against Pakistan in November 2007 and once again against Australia at Mohali. A standout patriot in the Leander Paes league, he could confidently say before the 2003-4 tour of Australia, "Most people see an Australia tour as pressure. For me a tour down under lifts me up".

Finally, one of the accomplished of all cricketing comebacks in history helps mock the cardinal notion that modern sport is for the young and that the thirty plus generation are old discards. What it proves and proves once and for all is that part of modern gladiatorial sport continues to be played in the heart and in this real passionate sporting realm nothing is impossible. Not even an Indian series victory against Australia with men like Sachin, Saurav, Rahul, VVS and Kumble in the team. Here's wishing them all the best.
 
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