In the years to come, cricket lovers of the world will remember there was a man who achieved greatness. Well, almost. Away from the muck that IPL is generating off the field, the final touches are being given to the story of an extraordinary life, that of an artist whose canvas has one recurring stroke - 'almostness'. Every time he's been dumped in the bin he has hit back, in style, and with vengeance; but has never quite been the champion that he has always aspired to be.
At the onset of his career, he, like the epic poet Milton, was crystal clear on intention: 'No middle path, I intend to soar'. But his epic has been left bereft of the final heroic triumph. The man, Saurav Ganguly, first appeared on the cricket scene in the '92 Australia World Cup. Buoyed by a great domestic season, he was the one big hope of a team of ageing wonders. He 'almost' lived up to the expectation with fine performances in the practice games. But contrary to everyone's belief, he failed miserably on the field, earning himself a bad score and a worse reputation. The prince, they said, found it beneath his dignity to serve water.
And yet when the spotlight shifted elsewhere, Dada struck back. No one thought he would get a game in the English summer of '96, but chance got him in for that second test and he did not need another chance. ( though the jury is still out on why he got the chance; whether Sidhu revolted against Azhar or that he had a bad fight in the London tube) Scoring two centuries and lifting the Man of the Series trophy was not enough for Ganguly. The fire in him wanted to smash his captain's record, or as some would say, also his bete noire, Md Azharuddin. Again, he 'almost' scored a third century to equal as some would say, his bete noire Azhar, but the chance that got him in the squad took away the debut, which would have been just perfect. Batting at 64 in that Delhi test, he was given out, even as the ball hit his arm and not the gloves.
Fast forward to 2003 -- disaster strikes Team India. The team, by now, has completely evolved from the shadows of match fixing. The team under Ganguly's leadership has turned into quite a force; then comes the New Zealand tour. No team, especially from the subcontinent, was able to tame the Kiwis in their home ground in those early summer matches. The team was frozen not only by the chill in the air, but also the swing and pace of the Kiwi bowlers. In spite of Sehwag's bravado, Team India had little to cheer about in that long dreary tour before the South African World Cup. The team failed badly; so did the captain. And after a loss in the early part of the World Cup campaign, the knives were out. The venerable current chairman of the selection committee, Krish Srikanth, wasn't quite at his selecting best then. He said given a choice he would not send Ganguly to bat even 14th down. Thankfully, he wasn't given the option to decide the batting order, and Dada created history again...well 'almost'. He brought in that famous team huddle and went on to take the team to the final. The stage was set for the showdown, to avenge the round robin loss to the Aussies.
But then it was time again for the 'almostness' to strike. He chose to field against the mighty Aussie batting line-up and they monstrously batted India out of the game. Ganguly remained the second most successful captain at the World Cup; he could not match Kapil's greatness.
Fast forward again, this time to 2007. After the Greg Chappell saga when Ganguly was unceremoniously dumped from the team both as a captain and as a player, he rose again. This time, backed by sheer performance at the domestic level, he played and the world watched. He finished the calendar year as one of the most successful batsmen in both forms of the game. And then came the grand finale of Nagpur. He'd already declared before the series that he would retire from International cricket. A century would have been a perfect finish to the fairy tale. As he was batting at 83, anticipation rose to pinnacle, but greatness was never his. Someone with over 17,000 international runs, fell just 17 short.
If it was Chappell in 2006, it was Buchanan in IPL 2009, being played out of home in South Africa; KKR has the audacity to sack Saurav as the captain of the team. The coach, with a 'Kipplingesque' notion of the white man's burden makes the Kiwi vice-captain, Brendon McCullum, the captain. The team finishes at the bottom of the pool and creates more news off the field than on it. All that mysteriously chronicled by one 'fakeiplplayer', whose blogs got more eyeballs than probably the matches themselves.
So, now all Ganguly fans looked at IPL 2010 as his final chance to attain that perfect symmetry that has always eluded him. Back at the helm again and with a coach of his choice, the King, many said, was back. He kicked it off in style too, winning three Man of the Matches. He was instrumental in most of the KKR wins. He was among the top five run getters of the tournament. But poor performance by the Indian players and absence of consistent match-winning knocks did the team in. He came back and showed the world that the fire in him is far from extinguished, but could not take his team to the semis and lost out in the game of net run rates. He made an 'almost' successful comeback once again.
Thus is the story of the man who aspired to be the best but fell just short of it.
Probably, his story was never supposed to have a heroic end. He is a phoenix who rose from the ashes again, and again... But the phoenix is no eagle and Maharaj could not, and will not, be the king of kings. His end, like always, will have tragic dignity and not heroic fortitude.
Or will he prove us all wrong, once again. Hoping, but not really against hope!