April 15, 2005

Got two minutes? Just to refresh your memory…

H Natarajan

A quick GK test. Name the person who took over as CEO of a troubled MNC to not only turn around its fortunes but also made the corporate world take notice of his company for its refreshingly new pizzazz, attitude and approach? Clue: There was a clamour for the CEO’s head after his company announced slumps in a few quarters. Wonder who this CEO is? And who these guys are, with short sight and shorter memory, who wanted his head? Well, there is no way you could have got the answers because the target and those targeting are purely imaginary. But if you had felt very strongly about the plight of the CEO in the above fiction, then spare a thought for Sourav Ganguly. His position today is no different. And those gunning for him, much like the guillotiners in the above example, are amnesic about his role as a general in making this Indian team what it is today.

The best of batsmen in the game have experienced slumps and Ganguly is no exception. If we can’t help his cause, the least that we can do is to steer clear of comments that will only drag him further down in the cricketing quicksand that he finds himself in. The trenchant criticism of Ganguly, liberally laced with ridicule, is only abetting Pakistan’s cause. And if it’s not arrested, the damages would be more severe and long term.

Agreed, nobody can claim permanent occupancy rights by virtue of past glories. But why kick a man – someone who has given us so many moments of joy as a batsman and captain – when he is down and needs the helping hand of his countrymen? While jokes are to be taken lightly and in sporting spirit, some of the so-called funnies are in very poor taste.Even if one is opposed to Ganguly’s continuing presence in the side, why blame him? If anybody needs to be questioned, it’s the selection committee. But there’s hardly a murmur against the selectors.

Ganguly’s predicament is reminiscent of a few notable players in the recent past. In 1993, Mohammad Azharuddin saved his career amid calls for his sacking with a knock of 182 against England at Eden Gardens. Mark Taylor was being pilloried by the likes of Ian Chappell, Greg Chappell and Dennis Lillee when he was going through the horrors in an 18-month period between 1995-97 when he failed to get even a half-century in 20 innings. But an innings of 129 in the first Ashes Test at Edgbaston sealed all lips and sewed his place on the team.

The Maggi virus that’s raging the country is not new. In the ’90s, the “Ravi Shastri hai, hai” epidemic raged on every cricket ground in India. Shastri, another tough bloke like Ganguly, told me: “All that I require is one good innings to shut this up.” It’s another matter that innings never came and Indian cricket lost a gutsy, cerebral player well before his playing days were over. Let’s not allow that to happen to Ganguly. He is far too precious player in the abridged version and India needs him as a leader.

It’s a team that he has fashioned with his vision. He has stood by the side and the players have given him their full co-operation and support. It will be to India’s and the players’ advantage to ensure that it does not have to go through the pangs of adjustment at the top before the 2007 World Cup. Moreso, with the team set to lose the services of the existing coach, John Wright.

Ganguly himself is no stranger to coming out of batting dips nor is he stranger to public animosity and outrage. His body language remains positive; his chin remains up and he still looks in control rather than weighed down by personal problems.

Ganguly’s public show of faith in Wright is what ensured the Indian coach’s tenure lasting this long. Wright’s sacking was almost certain when Mohinder Amarnath was seen during the 2001-02 Mohali and Ahmedabad against England in what was widely believed to be pre-takeover reckees. But Ganguly overcame his differences with the Wright and stood by his coach against the might of Jagmohan Dalmiya and the BCCI’s political calisthenics.

Ganguly has remained an unrepentant rebel like no other Indian player, past or present, in espousing team causes and stuck his neck out against the establishment – be it the BCCI administrators, the selectors or the ICC reps. And he has often spoken his mind openly to the media, much to the embarrassment of the powers, unused to such candidness.
He has been like a mother hen to players wearing the ‘L’ board on them. He rallied around them, eschewed from parochialism and gave them the confidence that he probably did not get when he entered the international arena as a teenager.

Ganguly was dubbed as brash and consigned to a five-year exile. Then he came back in England – in style with 131 on his Test debut at Lord’s in 1996 followed by 136 in the following Test at Nottingham. It was the first of his many wins against odds.

He emerged as a tough captain and was willing to pay the opposition by the same coin. He gave Steve Waugh gave a fitting riposte of his “mental disintegration” ploy by making him wait for the toss. He won the admiration of the Aussies because they finally came across an Indian who combative and tough.

Sadly, Ganguly does not now look the player he once was – especially in Test matches, where the short, rising ball aimed at his throat leaves him very vulnerable. Many believe he should have done a Mike Denness by dropping himself to give himself space and time to reflect on his batting before making a comeback. But match ref Chris Broad may have done Ganguly and his career a favour by slapping a six-match ban.

Ganguly can now get back to the drawing board and iron out the wrinkles in his game. Hopefully, we will see the Tiger roaring back to his old glory.