01 December 2006

Dada's Back !!

Regular readers of this blog are quite aware of my partisan support for Saurav Ganguly.
While there has been a lot of coverage in both electronic and print media about the "Return of the King" (I am talking about Saurav "Dada" Ganguly ;-) ), as usual, my favorite newspaper Indian Express has come out with a neatly written piece about his return. Check it out Here.
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Sourav’s back, what about cricket?
Friday December 1 2006 08:08 IST

Mini Kapoor

Till winter rains come and take the chalk away, the high hills of Landour above Mussoorie will remain emblazoned with cricket graffiti. ‘Indian pride one and only Ganguly. If Chappell goes, Ganguly comes,’ they have written in the shade of lush deodar forests. And many such sentiments later comes this emphatic statement, ‘Still, Ganguly is the best captain’. Today, as Sourav Ganguly is recalled to the Test side, this nook of the Himalayas will certainly celebrate.

Of course, Ganguly’s is not a routine selection. It could have been — he’s been a key member of the Test squad for the past decade, and men dropped do earn themselves the right to be back in the squad. But don’t bother scanning through Ganguly’s first class record in the months that he’s been away from Greg Chappell’s care. That’s not why Ganguly is back in the side.

The chalk-armed little boys of Landour know exactly what’s happening. Their pithy little demands gather the dominant narrative that is being articulated on the streets of our cities and in Parliament, and clearly in the selectors’ compulsions too. They understand that Ganguly’s return has not much to do with his batting skills per se. Ganguly’s presence instead offers the spectre of a return to the world Indian cricket inhabited when he led the side. This is how the story goes. There were India, in the Wright old days, winning us matches in England, Australia and Pakistan. Then came Chappell. Soon out went Ganguly, all of it gruesomely documented for us in leaked e-mails. After an initial splutter, India went on to win a Test series in the West Indies, and won ever so many one-days on the trot, that the air was rife with expectations that a World Cup win was now a mere formality.

Today all that exists is the debris of those hopes. Ganguly’s post-Zimbabwe expulsion and his return to the squad this week bookend Indian cricket’s strangest year. Rummaging through this period obtains an opportunity to know why this manner of rehabilitation will neither give India’s most successful skipper the honourable exit we so want for him, nor hand India a formula to regain the winning habit.

This does, do recall, overlap with the months of aggressive marketing of the team. The most telling detail: in the offshoring of Indian cricket commenced by the BCCI with the one-day tournament in Malaysia, other competing teams earned a higher match fee if their opponents on the day were India. The monetary structure of global cricket was being democratised, in a sense: the team that brought in the highest viewership — and thus the ad-spend — would be worth more.

In the context of the ICC’s antiquated scheduling parameters, BCCI’s challenge made sense. Why should the series be, for instance, timed only to other’s summertime conveniences? But in so wholesomely placing the match-watching television spectator at the heart of its hardsell, the BCCI has ceded much of its decision-making to the street: a shrill minority acutely confident that to watch a match is to enhance its marketability. Thence it’s just a leap of perception away to assert that to enhance its marketability is to gain a role in how the match is organised.

But what is this team we are willing into being? There was, remember, the team made on Ganguly’s watch. In the early days of his captaincy, the team emerged from dark matchfixing allegations, and sought to cast itself as a professional forward-looking unit. Fitness and all kinds of expertise were actively hunted. India had a plan for improvement and it began to be reflected in achievements.

In this, Ganguly became his team’s mascot. He met Australian captains in the eye, and he threw off his shirt at cricket’s most sacred site to show that his team meant business and they were no longer going to be awed into self-effacement. In the first instance, Calcutta 2001, a demoralised side — with its eventual series winning spinner still contemplating emigration as a guarantee for regular employment — pulled off a spectacular feat and arrested the defeatist momentum.

In the second, Ganguly cheered on the players’ balcony at Lord’s in the summer when it all came together so well. In England 2002, first two youngsters turned around the one-day final and won it for India. Then after Rahul Dravid gave India such a wonderful platform at Headingley, Ganguly took on the English attack and fading light to pick up the runrate and leave nothing to chance.

As the wins kept coming, it was overlooked that these victories came with a careful mix of pure talent and inventiveness. In the one-day team, Dravid put on the gloves so that India could afford even four bowlers. Even in Tests, the world’s best middle order required the luxury of the innings being opened by men who’d be more comfortable at least one down — even Virender Sehwag would say after his Multan triple century that he’d rather occupy a slot lower down.

It was smart planning by the Ganguly-Wright think tank. And the feeling was that once victory became a habit, fresh inductions in the side would take India to the next, and necessary, level: a team balanced on more purist lines. Did India this past year rush into experimentation without putting together a plan B? Could be. Ganguly will now have an opportunity to show whether this recall is deserved or not. Perhaps, more meaningfully for his fans, he will have the chance to get himself the graceful exit that his services to Indian cricket warrant. But the manner of his return — with its shrill anti-Chappell undertone — shows that irrespective of his physical presence in the team, India still have not picked up enough courage to chart a post-Ganguly future.

Posted by Shyam Krishnaswamy at 10:11 AM


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