The present India-Australia series has really turned out to be a career-defining one for our childhood heroes. Sporting heroes are a little complicated – they are easy to admire, they give us moments to rejoice, enthrall us most of the times, but then, there are so many of them and new ones emerge every few years. If you put all the sports together, its hard to even keep track. I follow cricket and tennis closely – but I also am in awe of Vishy Anand, Maradona, Lance Amstrong, Schumacher etc, and many many more. Cricket is probably not king, but coming from a cricket-crazy country, thats the one closest to the heart and the one that we identify with most closely – the successes, failures, personal milestones – everything.
Dada announcing his retirement even before the series started is quite typical of how he has been – turning the focus on himself and showing the determination to put on a stellar performance, for himself, as well as for the team. I have always loved Ganguly. I have seen how my father and many many other bengalis adored him. He was in fact the local boy, a brat – when he played well, we were all proud and when he did not, we criticised him bitterly. I could never have the heat to criticise him too harshly. When he was in trouble, I stood by him: I believed Chapell was a villain; and nodded to conspiracy theories about Dravid and Dhoni trying to push him out. Did he feign injuries? I dont know. But then, I dont care. I have faked before to wriggle out of tight spots.
Dada’s achievements were my own and his controversies were personal, and quite characteristic of my own flawed inner self. A lot has been written about the beauty of Ganguly’s game. More has been written about his reluctance to run singles/twos/threes and even more about his ego. I never doubted in my mind that he was a leader of his men – from 2000 to 2004 – he was at his peak, showing us what a captain could do to his team. But what has been most inspirational is the comeback. In the last 18 months or so, he has shown what determination can do! I am sure there were times when complacency overtook his game. But not these days. And the SL test series was another jolt when he was beginning to rest again. And I am happy he is retiring now. Nothing like a fairytale farewell that these 18 months have been. In fact, to use a done-to-death analogy, it was like the last gasp high flicker of a lamp thats about to die. But it had to be – and I am happy this has finally happened. No Dada without Drama. And for me, no life without Drama. And at the end, Dada is also about unrealised talent. He was brilliant, but never the best. He was loved passionately and hated vehemently. Familiar feelings, really!
Kumble has been a different creature. Respected grudgingly. I remember too many occasions when I had roundly criticised Kumble as an ineffective bowler. The person himself was no-nonsense and spectuacularly effective at most times. The number of wickets he has should put his critics to shame. But I couldnt see this most of the time. Is plain vanila boring? It sells the most, though. i dont even have much to write about him. I dont know enough. What I remember Kumble most for was the Australia tour earlier this year. No one else, possibly not even Dada, could have handled it with the tact that he did. And for that alone, he remains a hero. It would be hard to emulate him though. Keep working hard, cut out the flamboyance and persevere. Sounds incredibly hard to aspire for and even harder to achieve. I am not sure I could even try. And when he retired, I find myself emotional – not sure why!
I am not sure I will miss either of them. They have done their bit and its time to go. Sporting heroes are complicated! What they do in the arena is a simulation of life – and we find parallels to our own lives in theirs that are played out in front of millions of hearts and minds.