Silence engulfed the newly-built Subrata Roy Sahara Stadium Saturday April 14 when Pune Warriors India lost its guide/mentor/captain in the ninth over. The home team had got off to a positive start in its chase of 156 against defending champions Chennai Super Kings when the avoidable happened — Sourav Ganguly was run out for 16 off 16.
The all too brief knock included a cover drive played the way only Ganguly can — the sort of stroke that prompted Rahul Dravid to once say, "On the offside, first there is God, then there is Sourav Ganguly." It is the kind of stroke you can't describe — but if you have seen it once, you never forget it.
The former Indian skipper walked back to the dugout and confined himself to a seat, moving only to stand and applaud when Steven Smith hit the winning runs. Till then, while his mates were out in the middle chasing down a good target, there was no boisterousness, no exuberant cheering of every stroke, no triumphalism, till the work was complete. And his reaction, after it was all over, was pragmatic: "It was an exciting contest on a great pitch. It is a new stadium and it was a fantastic win," Ganguly said.
The former Indian captain had taken the first round in his battle against the incumbent — and Dhoni must surely be aware that others are slowly but surely turning the screws on his team. In five outings so far, the defending champions have returned empty handed three times - against Mumbai Indians, Delhi Daredevils and Pune Warriors India. "It was even-stevens right till the end. But I think our execution was not really great. We failed to do well in the first six and the last six overs," Dhoni explained.
The ultimate team man
The game underlined the essential difference between the two leaders, past and present. Dhoni is hailed as an instinctive leader, but in cricketing annals, no one has yet equalled 'Dada' in his ability to turn average sides into winning units; he turns indifferent players into fighters who will give their lives for him. And nothing so illustrates why, as his reaction when the on-field umpires in Saturday's game reported his team-mate and Jamaican all-rounder Marlon Samuels for a questionable action.
The average captain, faced with such a potentially contentious issue, would have contented himself with statements. 'No comment, the ICC is looking into it, I have not received any formal complaint'… We all know the sort of thing.
His reaction was different — and totally in keeping with the character of the man. In full combative mode, he told a press conference: 'I am surprised he has been called, because if you go around the IPL you will see worse actions,' Ganguly, never one to mince his words, told the media.
And he was only warming up to his theme. 'You've got to be very, very careful when you warn someone and let someone else go,' he said, his words almost a portent of things to come. Pointing out that Samuels has bowled for the West Indies without collecting a warning, and that no one had said anything in the first three games of this season of IPL, Ganguly said, his words ice, 'Whoever did it (triggered the warning) has got to be very, very careful.'
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Samuels reported for suspected bowling action
Time and again, he brought up the point that there were far worse actions in international cricket, and even in the IPL; time and again, he seemed to be visibly holding himself in check, restraining himself from naming names. But 'Dada' was by no means done. Underlining popular perception that the Chennai team, part-owned by BCCI president N Srinivasan, was behind the warning, Ganguly said, 'The problem is they haven't been able to hit him into the stands, that is the real problem.'
Who else in Indian — or international cricket, for that matter — would lay it on the line in defense of his team-mate to such an extent?
But the quintessentially combative Ganguly was seen to best effect when he was asked what advice he had given his team-mate Samuels. 'I told him to keep bowling those yorkers, and we'll see what happens.'
'We'll see.' Nowhere in what was a combative press conference was Ganguly seen to such good effect as in that ominous conclusion. In one shot, he was telling his team-mates that he would go to the mat for them, and he was telling the opposition — teams, umpires, it really doesn't matter; Ganguly has a very George Bush mindset, with him it is 'you are either my team, or you are against me — that any more of such 'dirty tricks' would bring repercussions.
Is it any wonder his team, no matter whether it is the national team or a scratch team in an IPL season, will walk through brick walls if he asks them to? With the kind of support Dada gave him, you can almost see Samuels walking onto the field for the next game, determined that he will leave blood behind on the pitch but he will not let down his captain.
Dada and the art of man-management
They call him 'Prince' — some out of affection, others with a sneer. But there is no doubting that no one understands the common cricketer's mind, heart, soul, and yes, insecurities, as well as the Prince of Kolkata.
When you consider all the issues the Pune Warriors had to go through in the run up to the IPL — the late entry, the fact that influential teams such as Mumbai and Chennai had been able to corral all the players they wanted, the unfortunate loss of Yuvraj Singh, the threatened Sahara pull out of sponsorship of the national team and with it, uncertainty over the fate of the Warriors — it is remarkable what he has achieved. Within a short period of time, he has managed to instill confidence and combativeness into his unit, and that is fundamental to success.
In the adrenalin-charged world of the IPL, which bestows riches to a select few and puts all its players on an endless treadmill of practice, play, attend parties, fly to the next venue and do it all over again, bringing a side together is not easy. And the Warriors, after a horrendous debut in the IPL last year, need a unifying force more than most teams.
There is little doubt that Jesse Ryder - if properly managed - has all the potential to be one of the current generation's best. He is no less dangerous than Chris Gayle or Virender Sehwag at the top; what he needed, when he returned from a self-imposed exile, was someone to believe in him and to back him, and in Ganguly he has found just that.
After failing against Kings XI Punjab back-to-back, the troubled New Zealand cricketer could have been benched, but that is not Ganguly's way. He backed the player, gave him another chance — and Ryder delivered against Chennai, batting through the innings to take his side home by seven wickets. "I didn't want to throw my wicket away after getting off to a flier. And this was the first time in my career that I played the entire 20 overs. So, it was a little bit of bonus for me," said Ryder while accepting the man of the match.
With that knock, he erased memories of the many alcohol-related incidents that have plagued his career and led him to announce an indefinite break from the game after being handed a one-match ban for drinking following an ODI against South Africa last month.
This is the part about Sourav Ganguly that his critics, who evaluate him purely on the basis of the runs he scores, don't get: the fact that he is the ultimate team man. If you are in his team, he will back you to the limit and beyond -- and if in backing you he has to take on the world, he will, without blinking.
And any way you look at it, that ability — in a cricketing world increasingly populated by plastic leaders who act as if they were cut from the same tedious mould — is worth pure gold.
A time to build, by Kunal Diwan
Kieron Pollard and Chris Gayle can wreak havoc upon the opposition in 20 balls. Sunil Narine is fast turning out to be the next ‘with it’ spinner. Darren Bravo’s class is obvious and his half-brother Dwayne is a genuine, albeit unfulfilling, all-rounder. The fact remains — the West Indies, freed of internal conflict, have enough fire-power to build a more than capable team, at least in ODIs and T20s.
Life Lived Pinsize, by Prem Panicker
Sadananad Vishwanath's life story resembles the trajectory of a kite without a controlling string — a continuous free-fall punctuated by the occasional unlooked-for draft that brings a momentary lift of hope before the next precipitous plunge. And yet, that is not how he wants to present himself — or be written about.
The old man's game, by AR Hemant
In the days gone by, we had exhibition tournaments and veteran leagues. These would bring together players in a way international cricket couldn’t... These games provided entertainment, and also raised financial aid for veterans. Now, they are passé. But the IPL can perform both functions. Now only if it would do something about its misplaced sense of self-importance.
Is cricket still a gentleman's game?, by Jharna Kukreja Chauhan
What about when ‘being a gentleman’ clashes with the correct decision being made? Were Mumbai Indians Harbhajan Singh and Munaf Patel wrong in doing whatever they could to win?
After all, some would say playing to win is one of the most important aspects of playing in the spirit of the game. Something that match-fixers and spot-fixers have been penalised and condoned for disgracing.
The magical Steyn, by Akshay Iyer
Steyn mixed up each of his deliveries to give rise to questions aplenty in Levi's mind...It is an over that can be watched over and over for its sheer brilliance in setting up a batsman for his dismissal, and should be made a must-watch not only for all aspiring fast bowlers, but also for opposition batsmen.