I hope you had a good Sunday and slept late, maybe taking your daughter for lunch after weeks of working overtime. She deserves your attention, and you deserve the break. What Kolkata achieved on March 19 made all of us proud – and I speak as a fellow Bengali, a fellow Kolkata resident and a fellow Xaverian.
I knew of you well before you become the national icon that you are. I knew of you as a boy from my old school, many years my junior but, like me, a football fanatic. When I used to go back to St Xavier’s on Park Street to meet old teachers, some of whom were to teach you well after I graduated, they would speak about your sporting ability and how you were in the school football team. So was I many years earlier, but that’s where the comparison ends. You soon outgrew football. Cricket was your calling and what you ended up doing – a century on Test debut at Lord’s, captaining India to a World Cup final and numerous victories in various countries – was incredible.
The Bengali sportsperson has this image of being a talented but soft person, lacking the killer instinct. You tore up that template and introduced the idea of a tough-talking, hard-knuckle cricketer and captain. In this, you were a first from Bengal, and actually, from India. I still remember that century in Brisbane in 2003. You were not in very good form before that match. It was the first Test of the series and the Aussies were targeting you as the visiting captain, sledging you from the first ball, attempting what they called mental disintegration. Many Indian captains had been felled by such tactics. You hit back with a gutsy century, giving it back with your bat and, I understand, with your lips. It was a proud moment. You had come through a test by fire.
On March 19, you had a test by water. As the torrential showers poured down, there was the fear that the Twenty20 game between the India and Pakistan, the show-stopper match for which spectators and fans and celebrities had flown down from across the country and across the subcontinent, would be rained off. Some were already planning early parties that evening. The pitch was covered and safe, but what could be done about the wet outfield? Sourav had promised a first-rate drainage system but would he deliver?
He did. You did. And what won my heart was that you, as President of the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB), kept yourself to the background, staying away from the big stage, playing the perfect host. When Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee walked out to the middle to begin the pre-match ceremony, she found herself with Amitabh Bachchan, Imran Khan, Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar, Wasim Akram, Virendra Sehwag… Those last five names would walk into an All-Time India-Pakistan XI.
Where was Sourav, many asked? You were busy with last-minute arrangements, close to the stage but still far away from the cameras. Your humility established your greatness. At that moment, as the first ball was about to be bowled and the rain had been vanquished, I realised you had truly stepped into Jagmohan Dalmiya’s fielding boots.
He was perhaps the greatest sports administrator in our history, and this tournament, the T20 World Cup, was the first that come to the Eden Gardens after his passing. There was trepidation about whether his reputation and legacy would be maintained. You ensured it was done. Playing cricket, you moved from state to country to the international arena. As a cricket administrator, I have no doubt higher positions await you – nationally and internationally. Consider this a friend’s prediction or a school senior’s blessing.
You were born to an accomplished father, Chandi Ganguly was a cricket administrator and a man of reasonable means. Yet, you did not rest on his laurels. You carved out your own identity and taken your father’s heritage to greater glory. I wish some others would learn from you. There are a few people we both know in our city, fellow Xaverians at that, who inherited impeccable legacies and media empires but have ended up as self-important shysters. I’m glad you’ve moved on and have not allowed such cynics to bother you. They’re not worth it, believe me. They’re like those unknown, unremembered fielders in Brisbane who sledged you while you marched to your century. History’s dregs…
Your second innings in cricket, as CAB president, places a huge responsibility and obligation on you. This game is a passion and a business enterprise. You are the repository of public trust. You live in a fish bowl, your every move watched. There is enormous pressure, but I know you revel in it. I know one other person who has the same qualities, and does an even more important job, Mamata di. In a sense, the two of you form a great partnership for Bengal. May it prosper.
I began by saying March 19 was your big test. Perhaps big tests come in double-headers, even for cricket administrators! On April 3, the Eden Gardens sees the T20 World Cup final. I know Didi and you will do your best here too. For as the old school motto goes, Nihil Ultra – Nothing Beyond. It’s the St Xavier’s School motto. And your badge of honour.
Derek O’Brien is leader, Parliamentary party Trinamool Congress (RS), and Chief National spokesperson of the party.