November 9, 2008

Allan Llewellyn on Australia in India 2008-09

Farewell Ganguly

Allan Llewellyn
Sourav Ganguly plays the ball behind square, India v Australia, 4th Test, Nagpur, 2nd day, November 7, 2008
 © AFP
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Unlike most Australians, I like Sourav Ganguly. If he was Australian he’d have been my favourite player at stages over the past decade. Even though I preferred Steve Waugh, I was still amused by Ganguly’s ability to irritate Australia’s on-field Mr Unflustered. Ganguly could melt The Iceman just by turning up late for the toss.

Ganguly is a great tease. If he was Australian he’d be celebrated as a rascal and a larrikin, but as an opponent he’s rude, elitist, prickly, a time waster and serial pest who couldn’t play the short ball. I don’t know why, but I admire him for these weaknesses.

To have appeared in 113 Tests while dealing with short balls as uncomfortably as if he was being shot at by arrows is astounding. The game is hard enough without having to cope with a serious deficiency as well, but Ganguly did it. I didn’t really like his replacing of gloves or protective gear every couple of overs, or his calls for socks, blister pads, face wipes and grapes. Bowling 90 in a day is hard enough without the batsmen joining the turtles with the ball, although it added to Ganguly's character and ate at his opponents.

In Australia and England, Ganguly is seen as a man of privilege, someone who clicks his fingers and an army of servants arrives to clip his nails or fan his face. Maybe his life is like that, but after being dropped as captain and batsman by Greg Chappell, I liked him even more when he had to sweat to come back. Not everything in life was laid out for him.

At a presentation during the week to celebrate his playing achievements, Ganguly spoke about the need to make enemies for the good of India. He talked gently and softly, but with purpose. Of the players I’ve seen, only Shane Warne and Graeme Smith have been as magnetic. When Ganguly enters a room I’m drawn to him and even when he’s said nothing of real interest, I’ve been entertained. During the times when he’s sniped and picked and teased it’s been even better.

Before the start of this series he was defending his form and was reported by a Bengali newspaper to have complained “every Tom, Dick and Harry is playing for India”. For two days he let the story run before issuing a denial. Off the field he was equally good at playing games and scoring points. I will miss Ganguly for his entertainment and his spice. With each year more characters leave the game and as public life becomes increasingly sanitised, I wonder if they can be replaced by the next generation of media-managed clones.

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