Why a 'coup' when a ceremonious farewell could have done it?
Sourav Ganguly received instant martyrdom by a graceless decision. The selectors may have their reasons to replace him, but the timing and the manner in which it was executed saw a quantum shift in the groundswell against the man.
Fingers pointed even at Rahul Dravid in the emotional upheaval. Arjuna Ranatunga wrote in his syndicated column that his (Dravid’s) “silence borders on complicity.” Dravid, wrote Ranatunga, had the right to seek the team he wanted, but he “also owed it to his men to be seen standing right next to them.”
I have known Dravid for years and I can stick my neck out and say that his morals rank among the best I have encountered in any sport in anywhere in the world. He is still in his early days as India captain and he probably does not find it easy to be openly critical about the shortcomings of a man who gave up the captaincy in unpleasant circumstances. But as a leader he is expected to take tough decisions. And that is probably where Dravid’s inherent goodness is proving to be a hurdle. His syndicated column had nothing to say about the man and the topic that has polarised a nation like never before. One can understand being guarded in saying things in the press conference where one question can lead to another, but he should have used the medium of column to make his position unambiguously clear.
Clearly, justice was not seen to be done in dropping Ganguly. Was there some serious disconnect between the decision makers? Or should it be interpreted as something else? Dravid had words of praise for his predecessor’s efforts at the post-match media conference. And a day before he was dropped, coach Greg Chappell called the beleaguered Kolkatan a “mentor” - a status he had earlier accorded to Sachin Tendulkar.
So what changed so dramatically at the selection committee meeting to get rid of Ganguly? It’s all the more intriguing because Kiran More swore on his daughter that all of them were party to it. So who is telling the truth and who is not? We may never know the truth and yet again Indian cricket is seen in poor light.
The genesis of the present problem is not in dropping Ganguly for the Ahmedabad Test, nor in picking him for the first Test, but in selecting him under the pretext of an all-rounder!
Irfan Pathan has been scoring consistently and almost got a hundred as an opener at Delhi, yet both he Dravid have gone at length to say that he is not an all-rounder, yet. If that is a fair comment, how on earth can the selectors justify Ganguly an all-rounder when in 86 Tests he had taken just 25 wickets at 53-plus with a best of three wickets in an innings twice? The last of the three-wicket haul came over seven years ago when India went into a Test with just one specialist new ball bowler. Yes, he had the potential to be a decent all-rounder, but then he chose to remain a specialist batsman, and a relief bowler at best for emergency needs. There is subtle but important distinction between potential and performance. And what was Ganguly’s role as a bowler? Two overs in two Tests! This is what happens when inclusions and exclusions are justified with illogical explanations. The half-truths and lies convince nobody and lead to embarrassing situations as it has in Ganguly’s ouster.
It does make sense to have youngsters on the bench, but to say that it’s humiliation to ask a senior player to carry the drinks is a load of garbage. What are we talking about? That it’s job of a waiter (and they, too, have dignity) best done by some insignificant junior? Is that the way one fosters team spirit and oneness? Does it not then make Ganguly right when he was alleged to have refused to carrying drinks on his first tour 1991-92 because such jobs were done by servants in his aristocratic household? Didn’t the greatest of them all, Sir Don Bradman, carry drinks? Was not Venkataraghavan captain for one Test and 12th man in the next?
History bears testimony of batsmen sidelined after scoring heavily. Geoff Boycott was dropped after he got 246 not out in a Test because it served his personal than the team’s interests. Geoff Miller was dropped after getting 98 in a Test because he failed in his primary role as an off-spinner. If batsman is what the team wanted there were more meritorious claimants ahead of him. One thus needs to look beyond cold figures.
More recently, Ganguly convinced few while scratching around to a hundred in Zimbabwe. While one cannot go into lyrical ecstasies with his scores of 40 and 39 at Delhi, it had greater conviction and value than his last hundred and thus merited his retention for the 3rd Test.
But if the selectors are looking into the future and selections and omissions would have to be dictated by the long-term interests of Indian cricket, then they are fully justified. Dravid, Tendulkar, Ganguly and VVS Laxman are in the 31-33 age group. There is a potential situation of the four men exiting around the same time and leaving a huge hole in the middle-order. The selectors need to avert such a situation by inducting youngsters, which necessarily means Ganguly and Laxman are the prime candidates to bid goodbyes.
But these are men who have served Indian cricket for long and made our chests puff with pride. They deserve to be taken into confidence and make the difficult task of saying adieu as less painful as possible. The country needs to give these heroes the kind of farewell that they thoroughly deserve. There was no way any self-respecting Indian could have agreed to the manner in which Ganguly was booted out. Australia has phased out many of their top-notch performers while they were still in good nick. And that includes Steve Waugh, whose scores in his last fourteen innings read 115, 41, 45*, 100*, 156*, 78, 61, 0, 56*, 30, 42, 19, 40 and 80. The nation accorded him an emotional farewell, but one did not read reports of conspiracy theories against NSW simply because of the system’s transparency.
Vintage Ganguly was known for his imperious cover drives, for stepping out and hoicking sixes. That arrogance and authority is missing. Remember his dash in unbridled excitement and leaping into the arms of Mohammad Kaif after India’s sensational NatWest final win at Lord’s? Juxtapose that moment with his lukewarm embrace after a defining moment in Indian cricket history when Tendulkar got his 35th hundred to send the entire nation into orgasmic ecstasy? It may be a reflection of his present state of mind.
He looks a completely beaten man, unsure of his abilities and his allies as looks forlorn and isolated. The shirt-waving, obscenities shouting man on the Lord’s balcony, the mind games he played against Steve Waugh, the confidence with which he took on selectors, the manner in which he demanded and got what he wanted are all things of the past. He has made his share of mistakes and is probably paying for it now. But he has also done enough that India cricket should ever be grateful for. The man deserves to go like a hero and not like a man condemned to the gallows.