Playing for India-Sourav Ganguly

1. Climbing Mount Everest

The Indian dailies today are full of Sourav Ganguly. Most of them have screaming headlines on the Maharaj, the Dada, the Prince of Kolkata -take your pick – having joined the elite club of those having scored 10,000 runs. We have found another ‘achievement’ to bask in the glory of.

Wow! Can you imagine? A batsman climbs the last few meters of the Mount Everest without in the most turbulent stormy weather and without oxygen. Double wow!!

Excuse me Sir. Did you say Mount Everest? Hasn’t this Mount Everest shifted over 3000 ‘meters’ further upwards? Don’t you think Maharaja AKA Dada AKA Prince of Kolkata was just a pedestrian 27 meters away anyway from the camp at 10,000 meters and was destined to sleep walk his way there as soon as he was allowed by the authorities to resume his trek ?

And elite club did you say? Aren’t their a dozen or so others waiting between the last camp and various other levels along the way that appear so inevitable to join this camp which Dada has reached? For that’s what it is, right? It’s soon going to be crowded, no?

And what turbulent weather and lack of oxygen are you hinting at? He wasn’t batting in Mumbai was he? I thought it was scenic Dambulla and a path so well laid that it might be the express highway to Pune. Even pedestrians like Kaif and Irfan seemed to be enjoying the lovely outdoors more than he was.

One thought the toxic carbon monoxide of the dark but grinning countenance which made it difficult to tell whether to turn to take the track to the left or the ‘doosra’ had been removed from the atmosphere altogether to make the Prince’s journey after a well deserved rest more comfortable.

Oh you were just giving expression to your sense of joy at his having achieved this signal landmark.

No Sir, I am not even dreaming of being disrespectful let alone commit blasphemy by suggesting that the Maharaj’s achievement is anything less than to-be-written-in-gilt-trimmed-letters worthy. May the wrath of Allah be upon me or anyone else who dares to harbour such thoughts of infidelity in his mind. I am just wondering whether we should not be talking of having lost yet again.

Of losing only one wicket by the 25th over and still having only 174 on the board at the end of the 46th?

Of leaving the problem of fifth bowler behind because it’s not so much a problem of a fifth bowler as one of having no all rounder. Sir, are there any sides who play five bowlers in world cricket and is this something new to Indian cricket. Isn’t the failure of the Indian batting yet again the major cause of concern?

Sir, did you not get the feeling in Yuvraj’s batting in the first game, Laxman’s yesterday, Kaif’s in almost all of them as if they were trying to get on the right side of the scorebook? While Sehwag was making desperate efforts to get to the wrong side of it?

Sir, did you not get the feeling that Ganguly’s joy on getting that 27th step towards the next camp and the standing ovation the team gave him at that point seemed a bit out of place?

One remembers a certain Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar batting in the deserts of the UAE (excuse me for romanticizing but those days did seem so exotic) and battling to get the runs required to get India the extra point to get into the final against Australia. I don’t seem to remember Sachin doing much more than stealing a quick glance at the sky above (if that) on getting his 50 and then 100 before buckling down manfully to the job. Maybe he strolled down the track to his partner to tell him to keep focus – can’t remember. What I do remember is that the punching in the air or whatever else that model of a cricketer does did not come till that one run had been scored and he had ensured India’s entry into the finals which just two games earlier had seemed like a fool’s paradise.

Having scored that one run, he got back to trying to now defeat Australia outright in that particular game. He couldn’t bear the defeat although it didn’t seem to matter anymore in the context of the tournament nor that it seemed so unlikely that even he could achieve it. But boy did he give it a try. Finally when he failed in his valiant effort, it seemed to weigh on him and showed so clearly on his face as he made his way back amongst easily the most deafening applause that has ever reverberated in the desert venue of Abdullah Bukhari. Do I have the name right? Does it really matter?

Don’t you think this is the stuff climbing sporting mountains is all about? I don’t know Sir; maybe I am an old doddering romantic who doesn’t realize that the milestones along the way are any day more valuable than the journey and the destination one is supposed to be setting out for? I suppose times have changed and I haven’t.

My fault totally.

2. The difference between making sacrifices and taking decisions

Many have suggested, including most Indian dailies this morning, that Ganguly sacrificed his opening slot for Sehwag when he gave up that position for the Butcher of Najafgarh – I somehow always thought he was the milkman. The fact that this statement is coming at a time when the whole country, so it looks from the papers, is celebrating Ganguly’s monumental feat and not mourning India’s further decline in the ODI game, is less significant to me than the fact that this is not true and even if it were, it is something a leader could be pilloried for and not championed.

Jumping on my back once again? Okay, stay there while I labour to explain.

To start with, getting Sehwag to open was Ganguly’s own decision. Sehwag first got to open in fortuitous circumstances when regular openers were not available and when he did well there was a talk of letting him stay there and breaking the most successful opening pair in the history of the limited overs game. The decision to finally do so was a team-management decision pushed very aggressively by the most important person in that decision making process – the skipper. Ganguly was convinced that this was the right thing to do. He was within his rights to think so.

No sacrifices so far.

Then came the next hurdle, which of the old firms two partners would be asked to make way for Virender. Both were reluctant. Ganguly and Tendulkar both wanted to stay as the opening partner with young Sehwag. The fact that Ganguly was captain and got to decide the final batting order, perhaps again tilted the scales and Tendulkar was asked to drop out of the opening partnership. No sacrifices here too – surely not by the skipper.

Then after many months of trying Tendulkar at various positions and finding him not getting into any kind of rhythm, the pressure started building for giving India’s best ODI opener the place he had made his very own. Everyone in cricketing circles around the world (not just in Sachin-enamoured India) agreed. Ganguly agreed finally, albeit reluctantly and Sachin joined Sehwag.

No sacrifices here too.

The firm of Ms Sachin & Sehwag blossomed totally beyond everyone’s expectations. The young milk lover from Najafgarh seemed to be licking his lips at the prospect of matching the Maestro. Whisperings started on how Sehwag seemed to be copying Tendulkar’s shots. His short but stocky built highlighted the two Sachems for one effect that these two created at the crease. People brought up on a diet of Sachin and his glorious stroke play, just couldn’t get enough of this ‘double role’. It was the best decision taken in India’s ODI history since Sachin was asked to open many a season ago. Not because they were such a devastating pair for so were Tendulkar and Ganguly but because India discovered the potential of Virender Sehwag. The cricketing world got a new icon. Most importantly, Sehwag himself discovered his own true potential.

However, skipper Ganguly lost out. Not because he could not have settled down in another position but because he was not mentally reconciled to doing so. On top of that, he was losing heavily on the popularity stakes and the public and media support that Sachin got during his nomadic days in the middle order was conspicuous by its absence in the case of the poor Indian skipper. The skipper did not try to find himself a spot that he would make his own and still bring the best results to team-India and him. Not to say that Ganguly did not play some very fine innings but he was clearly uncomfortable.

Unfortunately even Mr. Dalmia couldn’t get ICC to change the rules to accommodate three openers.

But we digress.

Where is the sacrifice?

Ganguly was a reluctant mover from the openers slot and, in fact, he moved Sachin first, which was always his intention when he started promoting Sehwag as opener. Nothing wrong in that. If he felt this is what was in the best interests of the team. Nothing wrong whatsoever. He was only doing his duty as the skipper.

If Ganguly felt, Sehwag and himself as openers and Sachin three-to-five were better for India then this is what he should have stuck to his guns and refused to let Tendulkar back to open. One would have admired him for doing what he thought was best for the team. Surely a skipper is not expected to do what the public wants him to do?

However, if he felt that his original decision was wrong and it should have been Sehwag and Sachin to open with himself coming lower, fine again. The best skippers are not just those who always make correct decisions but those who, when they happen to make wrong decisions, correct them in the interests of the team.

But where is the place in this tale for a sacrifice??

Many years ago, my company was going through a bad financial patch and we were cutting costs wherever possible. There was an international plastic fair that came around once in three years. Every time I and the head of my Technical team visited the fair. This time we wanted to cut costs. I had a choice. Either both of us go, or none of us goes (both choices not available to the Indian skipper), or either one of us goes. If I chose my Technical manager, I would do it with no sense of sacrifice or of setting an example. I would be a poor CEO if I did that. I would unhesitatingly go myself if I felt that was in the better interests of the company which is what I eventually did.

But where is the place for sacrifice??

Being a leader of men is not about being in a Bollywood blockbuster. Anyone who prefers to make a sacrifice rather than take what he thinks is the best decision in the interest of his team is as bad as someone who takes a decision in his own interest rather than in the team’s.

3. And finally – what about the game?

In the middle of climbing the Everest and statistics of the weather conditions and the animals that were overcome on the way to doing so (there are tables informing of these grand details in the papers), in the middle of sacrifices and a new found love for The Prince who deserves it no more and no less than the muck that was habitually thrown his way all these years for anything that he said or didn’t – did or didn’t, we have totally lost an objective assessment of what happened yesterday. India lost yet another one day game.

No Sir, not just yet another one day game, much more than that.

  • India lost a game which they had no business to lose.
  • India scored 176 for 6 in 46 overs after being 67 for no loss after 15 and 107 for 1 after 27.
  • India scored at the miserable rate 3.3 runs per over in the middle overs without losing a wicket(50 in 15 overs after Sehwag fell) against a Sri Lankan side with no Vaas, no Zoysa and no Murali !! Not to say the highly under-rated left arm spin of Jayasuriya. The tail added nearly as many runs in the last 4 overs!
  • India allowed Sri Lanka to win by 4 wickets after being 96 for 6 in 27 overs.

    And what do we talk about other than joining elite clubs and making sacrifices.

    Oh yes and we also talk of how the lack of a fifth bowler is hurting India’s chances. Why? Because India has had a fifth bowler for all these last twenty years and this is a sudden problem occurred like a bolt by the God’s who seem to be so heavily biased in favour of the Sri Lankans? Really?

    Because at 6 runs per over our fifth-bowler-combo is dealing a death blow to our chance while the fifth-bowler-combo was doing such a remarkable job all these years? Really?

    (For the record, while Ganguly gave away 30 runs in his 5 overs and Sehwag 24 in his last 5, during the unbroken 7th wicket partnership of 126 in 22 overs, Harbhajan gave away 36 in 6 overs, Pathan 24 in 4 and Balaji 17 in 3. Only Nehra with 5 in 3 overs was more economical. So much for jumping on the stats wagon to find reasons for defeats which one couldn’t see if they were offered on a plate)

    Because our regular bowler in Harbhajan believes that good spin bowling means bowling a good length or short of it rather than good length and further up? Really?

    This tournament and India’s miserable performance in it thus far has not highlighted the poverty of India’s bowling resources poor though they undoubtedly are. Surely here is a tournament where even Nehra, Zaheer and Irfan have bowled reasonably well. When did the Indian medium pacers last do so? In the World Cup 2003? They had Srinath to help and yet it was good enough to take India to the very tip of the REAL Mount Everest.

    And why? Because the batsmen also performed as they have done for so many years without adequate support from bowlers.

    This tournament has seen the demise of the Indian batting line up. What happened to the likes of Kaif and Yuvraj who were being touted to replace Sachin, Sourav and Laxman not so long ago?

    What happened to the butcher (or milkman) from Najafgarh?

    What happened to the batting sensation from Jharkhand who was only the other day being sympathized with for not being allowed to open with Sehwag and jointly to send all new ball bowlers to the Indian Ocean so close by from anywhere in the Emerald Isle?

    What happened to Laxman after recovering from his stiff back and Ganguly after getting into the Indian team and being the one Indian batsman (if we don’t count Irfan) who wasn’t relaxing with wife and kids (or mom and dad) during the off season?

    What happened? Ganguly scored fifty in 107 deliveries! Really. Why? Was it to get back in touch not having touched the willow for months? Was it to show the Asian selectors what a bunch of jokers they were? Surely it wasn’t because he was there only to climb the Everest?

    Am I being too harsh on him? No. I fully understand Ganguly wanting a good start. Of not throwing away his wicket while Sehwag was desperately trying to throw away his. Of wanting to hang around till Dhoni realized they were not having nets in Ranchi. But even after Laxman came in? I am not talking of his having hit only three boundaries, not because it is not a relevant question. I am asking why he had so many dot balls. Why was there no attempt to place the ball for singles? Even with poor runners like Laxman and himself there was enough scope to do so. Ganguly failed to even make a non-serious attempt.

    Was he trying to stay the fifty overs to se the team through as Chappell’s newly discovered ‘leader’ and the fourth member in a newly constituted team, whatsoever it is called? If this is what he was trying, why the lazy turn to midwicket of a leg spinner on his off stump which ever so casually went on to its rendezvous with the stumps. Yes it was a good delivery and yes it turned (don’t most leg breaks) but had Ganguly been shaping to defend it or play it with a straighter bat offering the full face and yet the ball had crept into the gap between bat and pad, one would have understood but this was not a Ganguly playing as if he had any such team objectives in mind.

    And what was the skipper doing all this while. How come no hint of a fielder coming in with gloves or a bottle of water and asking the lazy Laxman and Ganguly duo to work the ball around for singles? Are the whiffs emanating from the dressing room that the former skipper and his former deputy are not so comfortable any more mere gossip or harbingers of trouble ahead? For the sake of this already struggling Indian team, one hopes not.

    But it would not be a surprise.

    Sachin under both Azhar and Ganguly was a very rare example in sub-continental cricket of a former skipper being totally committed and normal in his new role as one of the foot soldiers. One hopes we are not going to see a split in this Indian team. If Ganguly has to come back as the Indian skipper it should be because he is a better choice than anyone else and not because no one else is comfortable in that role with Ganguly in the team. A player who raves and rants at (can you beat it) the Asian selectors for not having him in the Asian team must have an exaggerated opinion of his place in the higher reaches of the games echelons. This from a player who, when he was banned by the ICC, for six games brought a sense of relief and many caustic but sincere remarks from all forms of opinion that the ICC Match referee had spared the Indian selectors the awkward task of dropping an incumbent captain.

    A player, whose last stint as an international player was when he was on the verge of being dropped, has the audacity to tell the world that he should be in the combined team of four countries, of whom his own team occupies the second from bottom slot!!

    But then this is the Maharaj, the Dada, the Prince of Kolkata.

    There is a picture on page 23 of today’s Times of India, which has a caption:

    Ganguly and Dravid celebrate a dismissal on Wednesday

    I am sure it means nothing but it sure leaves a sense of foreboding for the Indian cricket lover.

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