It was a packed press conference in Bangalore the other day. Journalists were expecting to get some bytes from Indian and Australian cricket teams about the forthcoming series. Instead, they got the shock of their lives. Sourav Ganguly, the former and arguably the greatest India captain ever, announced his retirement from international arena. Although it was widely expected but still shock was the overriding sentiment. The question, however, arises whether there were any conspiracy theories culminating in this event or whether Ganguly’s retirement was part of a ‘golden handshake’ agreement with the BCCI? Let us explore these possibilities and also pay tributes to one of the best cricketing brains India had ever produced.

Since the 1991-92 series against West Indies where he was forced out of the team after just one bad ODI, to his stirring test debut 5 years later against England; Sourav has always been a fighter. Whenever he was given only one chance to prove himself, he did so and with great pride. His century on his test debut against England in the ’96 English summer tour was a testimony of things to follow. His 4 consecutive man of the match awards against Pakistan in ’97 Sahara Cup when India won the ODI series 4-1 were the signs of things to come. When he was handed captaincy in 2001-02 season, people were skeptical about his abilities. Before him at the helm, Indian teams used to be rather less aggressive against their opponents. We didn’t believe in fighting back aggressively. Ganguly changed all that. He brought about the aggression and passion missing from the Indian team.

Away victories against Pakistan & Australia highlighted his captaincy. His getting under the skin of the great Steve Waugh during 2001-02 series, his ‘bare-chested’ celebrating style (after India won NatWest trophy in England) prove his no-holds-barred passion for the game. Few captains would have dared celebrating in that style at Lords, Mecca of cricket and home to the legendary Marylebone Cricket Club, which still likes to uphold elite cricketing traditions and insists on poise and decorum. But for Ganguly; who always believed in an aggressive approach to winning.

It was only after the entry of Greg Chappell that Ganguly’s downslide began. All the controversies in his career started in this phase. He was dropped from the side for a year before making a giant comeback in 2007. His comeback year was also his most successful; his 239 against Pakistan and his test average of 62 in 2007 proves the point. But despite all this, he was always living on borrowed time. He was always under scrutiny. While the protests that followed his exclusion from the squad prior to his comeback saw some of the worst histrionics from Indian supporters (like the crowd supporting Australians at the Eden Gardens test match), few would deny that he was being treated rather harshly by the BCCI.

Things are quite different this time around, however. He has been given a chance to go out with glory. But, many conspiracy theories are floating in air. One viewpoint argues that Ganguly requested the selectors to give him time till the December England series. He was instead given time till Australian series and that too, conditionally that his inclusion in the last two tests will depend on his performance in the first two. Another critical theory links his retirement to the threats his family has been receiving for sometime now. His retirement may be the result of the threats to kidnap his daughter. Although this only seems to be just that: a theory.

The most plausible cause of his retirement stems from the unspoken ‘golden handshake’ agreement between him and the BCCI. Giving his untenable position, Ganguly couldn’t have denied the offer to go out with his head held high. A ‘golden handshake’, in corporate world, signifies an agreement which companies, when they acquire or merge with other entities, invoke to let the incumbent management leave with dignity. Ganguly was definitely not in a position to let go off this opportunity. Some may call this an unfair VRS for Ganguly but at present, this was perhaps the best for him. He not only goes out with glory but joins the elite club of cricketing greats like Adam Gilchrist, Brian Lara, Steve Waugh etc. who called it quits just at the right time. This also shifts the focus on other seniors in our team and few would argue that they are dreading the day when Sachin and Dravid follow suit.

Sourav Ganguly has been one of India’s greatest batsmen. He is considered the God of offside. The trilogy of Sachin, Saurav and Dravid has been India’s backbone for many years. And although he is leaving the international arena and will only for play first-class cricket like county cricket and of course, IPL (as part of Knight riders franchise), its not time to get sad or emotional. It’s time to pay tributes to a man who has been a fighter, India’s greatest captain ever and one of the best players in the world. He may have had problems with his temper and fitness and may have been an average fielder throughout but that doesn’t come in the way of his glorious achievements. What he has achieved is matched only by a few greats like Sachin, Ponting and Lara.

And although, I will really miss the sight of Sourav walking out with Sachin to open India’s ODI inning (these two have the record of most successful opening partnership in ODIs) and ready to take on the opponents; I will just sit back and watch the God of offside, in action against the Aussies: one last time. This last time would of course be followed by his spirit to win to be seen in IPL matches.

Mayank Sharma

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