September 22, 2005

Ganguly - from rebel with a cause to rebel without pause

H Natarajan

What unfolded in Bulawayo was a national shame. Sourav Ganguly’s breach of confidentiality exposed the rot in the Indian team. One has to hold the BCCI culpable for the state of affairs. Reports of indiscipline within the team have been floating around for sometime now. It gained credence when Sunil Gavaskar said that coach John Wright’s sayonara might have been a consequence of the abuse he had to cop from some Indian players. That Wright, who helped escalate India’s stature in international cricket, may have had to leave in such circumstances was shockingly sad.

Failure to take corrective action sent the wrong signals. It emboldened the players to the extent that even team-mates weren’t spared. Case in point: Ashish Nehra’s cheap pot shots at Irfan Pathan.

Anil Kumble had said different yardsticks applied for different people in team selection and now VVS Laxman says he felt of not being wanted. The unhappiness is evident in the body language of the players and nothing more clear than the laboured huddle.

Jaise Raja, waisi praja (the subjects will do just what the king does), goes a Hindi saying. If Australia have been a professional team over the years it’s because their entire administrative machinery is professional. And if conspiratorial coterie and political pundits pervade the Indian team it’s because that’s exactly how Indian cricket administration functions. The power brokers consider their state domains as their personal fiefdoms and use that clout to worm into the apex body.

Cricket Australia’s professionalism was evident in the swift appointment of a high-powered review committee - among whom are two no-nonsense captains, Allan Border and Mark Taylor – to go into the team’s reversals in England. The review process began before the fifth and final Test and before the Ashes was decided. Even the hitherto hugely successful John Buchanan’s role came under the scanner. Australia does not believe in living in the past. If XYZ has to be sacked in larger national interest, irrespective of his current status, he will go. And no tears will be shed.

The BCCI is a polar opposite of Cricket Australia. The happenings in Zimbabwe have shown yet again that they live in cocooned comforts, oblivious to the country’s image being tarnished in a foreign land. Much like Ganguly’s self-preservation, their prime concern now is to protect their own territories ahead of the fast-approaching board’s AGM.

Had the BCCI appointed a media manager and shown greater transparency in dissemination of news, reporters may not have felt the need to tap people within the team or close to it to get a fix on what’s happening. Obviously, such disclosures come on assurance of anonymity. Reporters have a job to do and they are under tremendous pressure from their bosses to get the ‘real story’ or the ‘inside stuff’ on a topic that’s has the entire nation engaged in an animated and acrimonious debate. A quality media manager leaves little or no room for rumour mongering, but then he BCCI has shown little urgency in appointing such a person.

I am not a Sourav Ganguly basher. In fact, in these very columns I sympthaised with him when he was ridiculed and pilloried across the length and breadth of the nation in a manner no player has been subjected to since the days of “Ravi Shastri hai, hai.”

When he stripped his shirt on the Lord’s balcony, he was seen as a captain who was willing to give it, and when he kept Steve Waugh waiting for the toss, he came across as someone who was willing to indulge in mind games of his own. But when he kept his own coach waiting (before the Indian team’s departure to Zimbabwe), he found few takers. And by disclosing what happened in the privacy of the dressing room, he lost many friends.

National Cricket Academy Director Brijesh Patel slammed the Indian captain as “arrogant” and said it’s a conspiracy to get rid of Chappell. Conspiracy or not, Chappell is unlikely to buckle under pressure tactics. He has successfully overcome many crises in his career. He is cerebral enough to have realised and weighed all eventualities, including pulls, counter-pulls, politics and public excesses, before making his candidature available as a coach. He would also have read, heard and understood the litany of problems the Indian captain has had with authority, be it umpires, team management or the ICC. In fact, Chappell has come out smelling roses while shit is flung around. He has shown a statesman-like approach with his conduct and words. In fact, the Australian has shown greater national interest than the Indians themselves.

What is Chappell’s ‘sin’? He was asked to give his opinion by the captain. And the coach gave it in an honest manner, one that he thought was in the interest of the country than the individual. It was an answer that found an overwhelming majority of Indian cricket fans in agreement. Chappell’s policy of commitment to excellence could not agree that the out of form and out of sorts Ganguly warranted a place ahead of the tour’s most successful Indian batsman, Mohammad Kaif.

If reports are correct, Ganguly threatened to walkout on hearing the coach’s opinion. That’s desertion, a crime that would have invited court-martial in the army. And what we are talking about is not another foot solider but the General himself!

Insubordination and indiscipline has to be weeded out. You cannot have a captain and a coach in an unworkable relationship. It’s bound to create fissures and instability in the team - that is, if it has not already. Chappell can be uncompromising when it comes to non-negotiables. And I suspect he’s probably waiting for the opportune moment - after the team’s return home - to do the tough talking with the board. He is smart enough to know that if the combustible Ganguly gets away without even a private, verbal censure from the BCCI, others in the team with rebellious streak could use this as a tool to trample his authority.

The most prudent and face-saving option for Ganguly would have been to accept that his mistake was committed in a moment of weakness. But instead of being remorseful, he chose to be unrepentant. He lost the opportunity to rise in the eyes of the public as a man who is gracious to admit his lapse. And he dropped further in stature when it was Chappell and not he who read out the ‘peace treaty’!

Delusions of grandeur about his batting can be seen from the way he sought refuge in figures, but stats scan exposed his frailty and continuing misery against quality attack – both, in Tests and one-dayers. But what figures do not convey is the tragic-comic manner he has succumbed in recent years to the short, rising ball. Worse, the man who was imperious against the finest spin wizards in the world treated Gavin Ewing and Keith Dabengwa with inexplicable reverence on way to a pathetic hundred. If anything, more people now believe that his use-by-date has expired.

The board’s damage control exercise was akin to George Bush’s reaction to the Katrina catastrophe – too little, too late. The brokered peace looks as solid as bone china. The last chapter has not been written on the Bulawayo controversy.

It’s an open secret that Ganguly wields much of his power from the proximity he enjoys to Jagmohan Dalmiya. That most board members, too, have been unhappy with Ganguly’s latest transgression is also not much of a secret. Under the circumstances, Ganguly’s fortunes are inevitably inter-linked with Dalmiya’s fortunes in the AGM elections. A win for Sharad Pawar camp over the Dalmiya faction could impact Ganguly’s fortunes.

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