Kolkata foolishly spoiled Sourav Ganguly. The city treats him like a king and still calls the 50-year-old by his pet name Maharaja. He always prevailed there.
His father was an influential Eden Gardens regular when Little Ganguly was among the top juniors in cricket. The most powerful cricket administrator from his early Team India days, Jagmohan Dalmiya, was a ‘father figure’. Bengali politicians – first the Communists and later those who ended Red rule – constantly courted the frighteningly popular cricketer. They would help him make the transition from player to admin seamless.
Even the majority of local journalists were anything but objective. A handful were practically his entourage. They would run errands for him on tour, play fools at his nightly durbar, and be quick as nails, finding a silver lining even after the worst of defeats.
In the early 90’s, when Ganguly became the Next Big India, most of the big Bengali stars were exported from other states. Arun Lal, Ashok Malhotra, Saba Karim, Narendra Hirwani – they had benefited from the lack of local talent in the sports-mad city. In soccer, too, the Africans had begun to dominate the Maidans.
Ganguly happened at just the right time. Not only was he that rare world-class cricketer in the state, he also proved to be the country’s most charismatic skipper of all time. Bengal did not see, say or hear anything wrong about Ganguly. First as captain of India and later as chief of the Cricket Association of Bengal he remained the favorite of the crowds and the mandarins. Both Dalmiya and Didi spoiled Dada.
It was only when the effeminate superstar left the state, became president of cricket’s wealthiest body and continued on his very provincial ways, that Ganguly faced a serious test.
Sometimes you felt with him, you understood where he came from. In Calcutta the Maharaj was not supposed to follow the rule book, what he did was the law. He enjoyed unprecedented immunity. When confronted with questions about apparent conflicts of interest or criticized for his actions, which do not belong to the BCCI President, he made strong rebuttals.
As India’s chief executive, he would attend selection committee meetings and even promise Wriddhiman Saha a place in the national team – the wicket-keeper himself claimed. It was not kosher.
At Eden Gardens, his followers expected him to have a hand in everything and to have the final say in everything. Perhaps out of habit he would do the same as the BCCI president. When pointed out that he was undermining the other selectors, Ganguly turned and said: “But I’ve had 424 caps for India.”
He made it sound like he was going above and beyond his call of duty, working unpaid extra shifts for Indian cricket. History has shown that Ganguly – the notoriously bipartisan skipper credited with sorting out regionality in Indian cricket – has always picked a team on pure merit. That was his legacy.
But as BCCI President, he should have known his limitations. By being a selector, he clearly shook institutional norms and set a false precedent.
Ganguly’s definition of “conflicts of interest” was very loose, comfortably flexible, and very naive.
He saw nothing wrong with being BCCI President and also Director of ATK Mohun Bagan even when the owners of Kolkata’s legendary soccer franchise were awarded the contract to own the IPL Lucknow team. He continued to be a brand ambassador for a fantasy gaming app when a rival company was the official sponsor of the Indian team.
He didn’t delete the Instagram picture of him in the JSW Cement t-shirt that read “at work,” even when it was pointed out that JSW Sports, the sports arm of corporate conglomerate JSW Group, also co-owned the IPL franchise Capitals Of Delhi.
Ganguly insisted his new role as JSW Cement’s brand ambassador did not conflict with his duties as BCCI president. “How do I influence? … I see no conflict in that. I have nothing to do with her cricket; if it had been me, it would have been a conflict,” he would say.
Ganguly is not alone in this interpretation. The entire Fab Five – including Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Anil Kumble – are said to have at some point conflicted over their multiple interests. Most all reacted similarly to the allegations. They were hurt to be judged and even questioned.
These are men who throughout their careers have had to contend with the pressure of expectation, demands from their agents, and responsibilities to their families. But when they were on the pitch they would turn down the noise to help Indian cricket shine. They were masters at dividing up their lives. Unfortunately, they are naïve to think the same principle works when it comes to their overlapping cricket administration roles.
But then even they cannot be fully faulted. At first we treat them like gods and later expect them to behave like mortals.
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National Sports Editor
The Indian Express