It is not easy to reach out to Sourav Ganguly.
On usual days, the former India cricket captain has a packed schedule. He starts his day early and often packs up well past midnight. There’s too much on his plate – business work, cricket commitments, brand endorsements, television shoots. And with him heading the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) for the past 10 months, his work has increased manifold.
Just like his cricketing days, the stint as an administrator too has come with its own share of setbacks – uncertainty over the Indian Premier League (IPL) due to the coronavirus pandemic, no clarity over the domestic structure of the game, among others – but even then, the cricketing fraternity has always backed Ganguly the leader!
The boy next door
And even 12 years after quitting international cricket, Ganguly’s popularity is soaring. It is no wonder then that even in times of a pandemic, a hundred-odd fans gathered at his Behala residence in Kolkata just to catch a glimpse of their beloved ‘Dada’ on his 48th birthday. For his fans, colleagues and friends, Ganguly remains a pasher barir chhele – boy next door.
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But what makes Ganguly so relevant even now?
Deep Dasgupta, the former India wicketkeeper-batsman and one of Ganguly’s close friends, believes it is his leadership quality that makes the former India captain stand out. “We need a good leader. His leadership skills make him relevant at every point in time. Be it as a cricketer, politician, industrialist, teacher – a leader is a leader and he won’t be irrelevant ever,” Dasgupta says.
Having known Ganguly for decades – as a team-mate, as a friend and as a senior administrator – Dasgupta feels that the ability to handle matters smoothly in a crisis situation has been his forte. “Especially in times like these when you need good and strong leaders, you will be looking at someone like him even more.”
Ganguly’s elder brother Snehasish, a former first-class cricketer who is now secretary of the Cricket Association of Bengal, echoes Dasgupta’s views. “As a cricketer, he was always special. He had that talent from the early days and with time he has shown maturity and has grown up to be a better batsman,” Snehasish says. “A lot of players show promise when they are young, but gradually they don’t deliver. There are only a few who maintained the momentum. He has always been very focused – as a cricketer, as an administrator. We played together for seven-eight years, and I have seen him very closely. He is very cool-headed, even though he is aggressive on the ground,” Snehasish says.
Another thing that has gone Ganguly’s way is the fact that he can take the toughest of decisions while maintaining a cool and calm demeanour. “Once he takes a decision, he is firm on that. That is very important…” Snehasish points out.
A close-knit unit
Despite being a superstar, Ganguly has always remained grounded. You would find him playing the dhak at local Durga Puja pandals or helping out local clubs as and when required. “The biggest plus is that we have been raised in a joint family. We live in a small para (locality) where everyone is close, so we have grown up together and have always been with people. A leader moves ahead with his team. Similarly, Sourav has his own friends and [has always been] quite popular,” Snehasish says.
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As a leader, Ganguly’s colleagues in the national team rate him highly for giving direction to Indian cricket. “I have enjoyed playing under all the captains. He (Ganguly) was outstanding, he was very special. Everyone appreciated his captaincy and no fan will disagree that he managed the team well even in the toughest of times. He gave Indian cricket a direction and now we are benefiting from that,” Irfan Pathan, who made his debut in 2004 when Ganguly was captain, says.
Sourav Ganguly with the NatWest Trophy in July, 2002. – N. SRIDHARAN
And it’s this leadership role that has made Brand Ganguly stronger.
“For Sourav, it is all about the spirit. Why I am calling it the #SpiritOfSourav is fundamentally because it emerges from one key piece. Whenever I have searched out cricketers, in terms of cover, pull and dominant history for brand endorsements, there is one typical thing that comes out about Sourav Ganguly and that’s not his cricket, but his spirit,” Harish Bijoor, a seasoned brand thinker, says.
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“The spirit is embodied in one image that still lives among Indian masses of him taking off his shirt at Lord’s. That is the first imagery that comes to mind. I can’t think of any similar imagery for other cricketers, except for Kapil Dev’s 1983 World Cup win…”
If Kapil’s imagery was first, Ganguly’s daredevilry at Lord’s remains the second. “Unfortunately, I don’t see any other cricketer with such imagery. The hashtag #SpiritOfSourav distinguishes him. He does not have to play cricket, he doesn’t need to be an administrator, but still this image will remain… That’s passion, that’s leadership. That’s basically everything,” Bijoor says.
Ganguly, however, doesn’t think too much about all these factors. For him, it’s about keeping things simple and going about his business on his own terms.
That’s the real Sourav Ganguly for you – blunt but never pointless.