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A longish Ganguly innings with many sweetly-timed drives (and some snicks)

PRINCE AT TIGER TRIBUTE : Sourav Ganguly with Sharmila Tagore at the Third Annual Tiger Pataudi Memorial Lecture, a joint initiative by Bengal Club Library Events and The Telegraph, at the ballroom of
hospitality partner The Oberoi Grand on Wednesday evening. Pictures by Pradip Sanyal and Pabitra Das

For the Third Tiger Pataudi Memorial Lecture the crowd at The Oberoi Grand was a bit different from the one that had attended Imran Khan’s inaugural lecture two years ago. There were a few ladies from Calcutta’s upper crust but no three generations of women standing cheek by jowl waiting for Imran; none of that surging, heaving, breathlessness from a female mass most of whom couldn’t tell a gully from a googly and didn’t particularly care so long as it was ‘Himmraan’ who was bowling it, batting it, wearing it or running down it.

No, today’s crowd was mostly male and they seemed mostly to be followers of cricket. There was even one gent wearing a Gavaskar-style floppy hat that he might have worn when ‘amader-Shourov’ captained that great ‘follow-on’ Eden Test in 2001.

It’s not that Sourav Ganguly is a bad-looking man, not a bit of it, and I’m sure many women find him quite attractive, but think of the ratio between Imran’s Test batting aggregate and Ganguly’s and then flip it around to get the ratio of lustful female fan following between Khan and Prince. Besides, where Imran has this arrogant sex-stare he’s purloined from the ’60s circa Mick Jagger, Ganguly has that slight smile as he looks around.

This is an expression specifically to be found on many smooth-faced, clean-shaven West Bengali men under 56, all of them having acquired it by some osmosis or the other from one Uttam Kumar, a half-smile that says ‘Aami koto imagine-kora-jaay-na bhaalo-dekhte na? Aami jaani’.

The problem with 99.9% of the men is that they don’t manage the great nayak’s impishness and self-deprecation, which is what made that grin such a hit; instead, with most Calcutta men, it becomes a smile the outside edge of which a smirk has nicked on its way into the safe hands of an anti-hot slip.

Once the star speaker had finished smiling, Aveek Sarkar introduced him, SMG, Sourav ‘Maharaj’ Ganguly, by revealing that Bill Lawry had once shared a tip with Tiger Pataudi, that Pataudi had, in turn, shared with himself — that Ganguly’s great weakness was that he liked to chase wide balls outside off-stump.

This chink was kept a state secret but could be revealed now. A perceptive comment in the introduction was a comparison of how, decades apart, Pataudi and Ganguly had each had to deal with a perfidious Board.

Ganguly’s lecture resembled one of those longish innings from him that one remembers so well, some posturing and missing, passages of play where the man was ducking inelegantly to short-pitched bowling (in this case bowled by himself) and some absolute gems for which we remain ever grateful.

A nice shot at the beginning was when SG referred to Aveek Sarkar’s quip that it took a lot of courage to get Greg Chappell to come back to Calcutta for last year’s lecture. “I’m glad you’ve corrected that by inviting me this year.”

What followed is a mixture of unstinting self-praise, great anecdotes and some quite honest analysis.

There was great warmth and generosity towards Dravid and Tendulkar whereas in every truly negative story about a fellow cricketer, the other party was kept decently and strictly anonymous.

Throughout, the man kept the scoreboard of genuine admiration and praise ticking as far as Tiger Pataudi was concerned.

Despite many mishits and dot-ball shots, a picture emerged of an up and down career of a flawed but highly talented human being: a raw 17-year-old kid being taken along for an India tour of Australia in 1991, when a senior player takes him out for dinner and tells him he is too young to be on the tour. (One realises that Tendulkar, a bit younger, was on the same tour and already a fixture in the team.) The fantastic debut century at Lord’s in 1996 when SG and Dravid emerged on the scene. The taking over of the captaincy, the fights and happiness with John Wright, the undetailed but repeated mention of the great pain of the conflict with Chappell that led to what many consider a premature removal from the captaincy.

Ultimately, the theme of the evening was the connection between two cricket captains, Pataudi and Ganguly, who yanked the Indian team through two very different thresholds to startling growth. The argument went that what both had in common was that they backed excellence and fighting spirit over any petty regional loyalty, that cricketing talent and nous was what mattered. This, to a certain extent, is unexceptionable: despite being a Nawab, Pataudi was a kind of Nehru of Indian cricket; while Ganguly was a lot less crass and despotic than a Modi or even a Lalu, and from a different class altogether. An equivalent leader, prickly, egotistic but with some honest delivery, is yet to emerge from Indian politics.

However, what stuck out was the unselfconscious ease with which the Prince of Behala managed to praise himself in a lecture given in the context of the Nawab of Pataudi.

“…the glamour of a Pataudi, a Tendulkar, a Ganguly, a Dhoni”, “’96, when I played fantastically…”, “…1999, where I had a fantastic World Cup”, “In the modern day you hear about Dhoni, you hear about Ganguly, but Pataudi was the greatest Indian captain”, “It’s the strong and desired ones who can take the pressure”, and so on.

Whereas MAK would have had the self-deprecation hard-wired into him, Ganguly has grown up in an era of unstinting self-praise and one is tempted to imagine him as a long-legged woman tennis player, a Maharajikova, blonde bob, unbelievable groundstrokes, Florida upspeak and all: “I played a really awesome game? Till my shoulder came into play? But Serena was stronger today?”

In the end, it was a good lecture, one learned a lot about how Indian cricket works at the highest levels, some of it unsurprising, but in the end, I found myself fantasising about what would have happened had Ganguly been a rookie under Pataudi’s captaincy and vice-versa, but that is perhaps for another piece.