As Sachin Tendulkar geared up to play his penultimate Test in Kolkata in 2013, his former teammate Sourav Ganguly was asked whether Sachin is more popular than him in Kolkata.
The former Indian skipper smiled and said: "Yes, but only for these five days."
Ganguly, who took over the reins of Indian cricket team as captain in 2000, was credited with having ushered in many things. From bringing about a paradigm shift in the way the team played and expressed itself on the ground to instilling aggression into the squad to fully backing his favourite players — who later became legends in their own right — and abolishing regionalism, yes, he did pioneer quite a few things.
His infamous skirmish with the then Indian cricket team coach and former Australia captain, Greg Chappell, hogged the headlines at the end of his reign, but that's for later.
During his captaincy, Ganguly had an almost vice-like stranglehold over the team. The youngsters he backed — Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj SIngh, Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan — swore by him. Yuvraj once famously remarked, "One can die on the field for a captain like him."
Sourav also adroitly kept senior cricketers — Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Anil Kumble — in good humour. On the field, the team appeared like a united force and it did reasonably well during his tenure.
As the Indian cricket team saw an upward trajectory, the personal aura and brand of Sourav Ganguly also expanded significantly. In his state, West Bengal, he acquired an almost God-like adulation, which persists to date.
As a batsman, while his One-Day International record was stellar when he was the captain, his Test record was well below par. In 49 Tests as captain, he averaged just 37 with the bat. But that never became a talking point and lay hidden in the shimmering glory of his captaincy.
Be it team selection or issues related to the cricket board, his word invariably prevailed. The reason Ganguly managed to have his untrammelled way lies in his knack for realpolitik. As a captain, he aligned himself firmly with Jagmohan Dalmiya, a powerful cricket administrator, who became the BCCI president in 2001.
Ganguly enjoyed equal and unstinted support from the group of players he backed and from the board.
Unlike his predecessors, who were either too meek to have their say or were at loggerheads with either their players or the board, Ganguly walked the thin line with skillful precision.
It was evident to everyone that he thoroughly relished the captaincy and all the clout that came with it.
In 2005, when the redoubtable Sharad Pawar (chief of Nationalist Congress Party) ousted Dalmiya's coterie in the internal elections of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), Ganguly's clout came unstuck. He lost his captaincy owing to his flaming row with the coach Chappell, who he had handpicked, but by then he had ruled the Indian cricket for five years with an iron grip.
Ambition, however, is not a degenerative commodity. Even after his retirement, Ganguly didn't lose any of his swagger and fierce ambition. He became president of the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) and served two terms. Then, in October 2019, he was elected as the president of the BCCI.
Before him, former cricketers used to be a part of selection panels but the post of the BCCI president was the preserve of politicians or business magnets as it requires 'skills' and manoeuvring other than just cricketing pedigree. He is the first Indian cricketer to head the BCCI in 65 years and that underscores his knack for realpolitik and penchant for power.
Since then there has been huge buzz that Ganguly, as is his wont, has aligned himself with the ruling dispensation at the Centre — the Bharatiya Janata Party. He is often seen fraternising with BCCI secretary Jay Shah, son of the Home Minister Amit Shah, who is considered to be the second most powerful man in India.
Ganguly has never denied his proximity with the ruling dispensation publicly, but he has not openly admitted to his affiliation either.
With Bengal elections just round the corner and the BJP leaving no stone unturned to topple the Trinamool Congress and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, it is speculated that Ganguly might soon be inducted into the saffron party fold.
Amit Shah has already made it clear that if the BJP comes to power, the chief minister would be a 'dhartiputra' (son of the soil). Given the fact that Ganguly is still celebrated as the brightest 'Bengal icon', the arrangement could well suit both the parties. Combative, ambitious, shrewd and no-holds-barred - Ganguly's persona sits well with the current avatar of the BJP.
The BJP, which has gained tremendous foothold in the state, would benefit immensely from Ganguly's popularity, credibility and stature. Also, his induction could well deliver the coup de grace to the uptight TMC and Mamata.
As for Ganguly, he is never content to be an appendage. Always hankering to be the top man at the job, the chief minister’s post might just be the sinecure that could lure him to take the plunge into electoral politics.