Mohammed Ali said that the test of a true champion was always finding that extra something in the tank regardless of how beat up you were, to rise for one last time to deliver the knockout punch. Sourav Ganguly had fulfilled Ali's condition of greatness since his return to the test arena in the post Chappell era. He had been dropped from a team he had helped shape, returned on the sheer weight of domestic runs, and delivered the sucker punch by being one of its most consistent batsmen since his return. His saga had therefore seen a fulfilling end. Or so we thought. But with Ganguly there are always epilogues. When fans and opinion makers insisted he hang up his boots, he tossed his (rather expensive) hat into the IPL ring. Strangely he didn't get picked. Among the reasons bandied about regarding his exclusion was the one about him being viewed as a 'difficult' one to deal with in the dressing-room. But one suspects an inability or unwillingness on the part of the franchises to risk harnessing his multiple utilities as leader, destroyer of spin bowlers and useful dibbly-dobbly bowler. Somewhere, one reckons, the snub rankled and the need arose to rise up again to KO the naysayers.
Being a Ganguly fan is like being on a roller coaster ride of raw emotion. He ensures he takes you through every high and low and perhaps through everything in between. Just as you wipe the sweat off your brow and say phew, having reached a level of emotional equilibrium, he's back to disturb the pulse meter. One hoped for a couple of vintage 'dada' performances, destined to shame SRK and KKR into regret. But there was no last hurrah to Ganguly's IPL return. Drafted into a beleaguered and already eliminated Pune outfit, those contributions never came. A scratchy unbeaten 30-odd in a winning cause and a naught in the next game are nothing to write home about. There were no dance-downs to the spinners and no trademark off-side drives. Only a string of match winning turns could have redeemed him. And now he risks never being picked again on the basis of performance. The gamble had been taken and it hadn't paid off.
Does this take anything away from the man's aura? Does it reduce him to league of desperate sportsmen, hanging on to the arc-lights ignorant that both skill and drive have long since been missing? No. While this is certainly not the finale neither he nor his fans were hoping for, there were some valuable reinforcements of all that has made him a man who commanded admiration and respect even from his worst detractors. Foremost of these were his inherent ability to take risks and his enormous self belief, both essential leadership traits. In his playing days, he regularly gambled with fresh talent instead of investing in the tried and tested. Just ask Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh or Zaheer Khan. He then entered the glitzy world of the fickle arclight with a successful Bengali TV game show. He believed he could still make a difference on the field and that prodded him on to stand by his decision to play even after his auction snub. He believed he belonged in the arena and in the first innings he played in the IPL, he showed he did, carrying his side home to victory. Taking a risk and believing in oneself can sometimes be the same thing, any difference being only an issue of perspective. The franchises seemed to shy away, but Ganguly had gumption to forget about the consequences. His one failure in the tournament will not take anything away from his legend. While Ganguly's return may seem to many as ill-advised, there is no other way that he knows to conduct himself. And that needs to be respected and admired. There is no doubt that risk taking is scary. Success in the IPL would have enhanced Ganguly's standing as the ultimate comeback man, a true champion and a fighter who could never be put down. Failure, he knew, would lead to heaps of 'I said he wasn't good enoughs' and a diminished reputation. It is important to note how he seemed to effortlessly move through it all, energized by the challenge, glaring at self-doubt, risking it all, once again. And there lies the true worth of a champion. We can quibble with the end result, but sometimes there is so much in the journey that we can all learn from.