Thursday, November 13, 2008

Indian cricket has gone through a lot in the last two decades. It started with the retirement of Sunil Gavaskar, gained steam when Jagmohan Dalmiya rose to rule the cricketing world and established India as world cricket’s super power, reached a crescendo with the rise of Sachin Tendulkar as arguably the World’s best batsman of his times and went through a low when match fixing hit the cricketing world. In the intervening period rose the five superstars whose names became synonymous with Indian cricket. It would be sad but befitting to bring curtains to the era by bidding adieu to these five sportspersons who have their names etched in the annals of world cricket history. It is time the veterans - Sachin, Kumble, Dravid, Ganguly and Laxman decided in their minds when they would call it quits. Quite rightfully, the process has begun. It is now the turn of their fans to give them a warm send off.

Before the start of the series against Australia, there was a talk of some of the seniors being offered a golden handshake. People might argue that the decision taken by Kumble and Ganguly was a part of a deal with the selectors because in India people don’t retire willingly. There is no concept of bowing out while you are still in demand. We cling on until we are discarded as vestigial organs. Kumble and Ganguly probably knew that it was coming. Each of their performances was being scrutinized and a failure now would have called for an end to their illustrious careers. Now that the two have decided to retire, it is time we looked back and ponder over what made these guys compete successfully for so many years at the top level. I am sure you will agree with me when I say that both these guys were not as gifted as their contemporaries – Sachin, Laxman and Dravid. They possessed limited talent but were still able to stand out as champions. Kumble started out as a spinner who couldn’t turn the ball half as much as anyone from the famous spin quartet of yesteryears. Yet he finished with a haul that was almost equal to what all of them managed together. Ganguly, on the other hand, started as a hot headed south paw who was not considered competition to Vinod Kambli who burst into the scene with two back to back double hundreds. Ganguly managed a place only after Kambli was left out of the squad. He responded with a century on debut.
Sachin was a born genius; Laxman a master craftsman while Dravid was astute and as solid as a rock in his defense. Kumble and Ganguly on the other hand suffered from weaknesses known to everyone. Kumble was rendered harmless on most of the pitches abroad while Ganguly awkwardly fended off balls aimed at his rib cage throughout his career. What is it then what made them successful?

Grit and determination - they possessed it in abundance. Both of them have made solid comebacks in their respective careers. They both were asked to sit out after playing one match each at the start of their careers. They waited for their chance and then made a strong statement when given a second opportunity. Kumble responded with a 6 wicket haul while Ganguly slammed back to back hundreds in England. Later in their careers, they again had to make a comeback of sorts. Kumble came back from an injury to make a resounding impact even on overseas pitches while Ganguly silenced everyone with loads of runs after coming back.

Kumble has always been criticized for the lack of spin. He is still the third highest wicket taker in the history of test cricket. Compare him to the other two in the top three. Warne and Murali were considered magicians in their art. Kumble was only a practitioner. Yet he will see his name figuring with these two whenever someone talks about spin bowling. That says a lot about the focus and determination of this 6 feet tall bespectacled engineer from Karnataka who was a silent assassin. Ganguly never defined the way one should ideally bat. He really had a tough time fending those bouncers aimed at him. The rumors that he purposely kept himself out of the Nagpur test never die down. Despite that, he is credited with passing on an attitude that has seen Team India transform from a group of meek looking gentleman to fiery and brash outfit that believes in taking the fight to the opposition. In the process he became India’s most successful captain.

I too was one of those who wanted them to retire. Not because I didn’t like their play but because I wished that the image of these heroes remained intact in the minds of people. They will be remembered as champions who wore their hearts on their sleeves. They will stand out as people who rose to greatness despite their evident weaknesses. I felt all pumped up when Dada removed his shirt at the Lords’ balcony. I was inspired watching Kumble bowl 14 overs with a broken jaw to get Lara out and even though it shouldn’t have really mattered, I still felt a personal loss watching them retire to the dressing room the last time. Jumbo and Dada – Thank you for giving us some of the most unforgettable moments on the ground. You will be missed!


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