Vantage point

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The End of an Era?

I have just learnt that Saurav Ganguly has been suspended for six matches by the ICC for repeated slow over rate.

Could this be the end of an era? Has Chris Broad in fact ended Saurav Ganguly's international career?

Consider this. The public outrage over Ganguly's form is currently the worst since he became captain. The next test match India play is almost six months later, so the only action happening until then is ODI. Even in ODI action, the India-Sri Lanka series which was planned for later this month has presumably been cancelled. So the next bit of cricket is in August, in Sri Lanka, where we play the hosts and West Indies in a triangular.

So Ganguly will not be in the team for the remaining two deciding one-dayers of this Pakistan series, and the first four crucial one-dayers of the tri-series in Sri Lanka.

Suppose India win the two remaining matches in the series, everyone will hail Dravid's captaincy. If we do well in the tri-series, the praise will go sky-high. Ganguly's utility as a captain will be questioned. People, and selectors, might ask "We are winning without Ganguly, we have a good captain in Dravid, why do we need him?". And they may dump him.

Suppose India lose the remaining matches, or even lose one of them, squaring the series. Then we go on to play badly in Sri Lanka. There will be a clamour for sweeping changes, and heads will roll.Since the rot will be perceived as having started in ganguly's reign, compounded by his bad form, his will be the first head to roll, maybe even before his 6-match ban is fully implemented.

So either way, Ganguly is, if you pardon my french, screwed!

Which is quite unfortunate really. I have always been a fan and supporter of Ganguly. I have always said that the media, and the cricket-loving public have been too harsh on Ganguly through the years, and the man deserves better.

So it is sad to see that Ganguly himself seems to have fallen into the vortex of self-doubt. There seems to be no fight left in him. There have been occasions earlier when people have asked for his head. But every time, either he, or his team have silenced the critics, most memorably in the 2003-04 season, when buoyed by his sparring century in Brisbane, India came back from Australia riding a wave of triumph.

This time though, lady luck and self belief have both deserted him. Now the opposition doesn't even have to target his weak points. He seems to be vulnerable in areas where he was a master. At one point of time, his dominance of spinners was second only to Brian Lara, and if Saurav Ganguly came down the track, 99 times out of 100, it would be a six. So it is pathetic to see him make half a dozen futile attempts os similar nature.

A Ganguly who charges a spinner, and is made to look stupid? That's not the Ganguly we know.

In 2001, when the Aussies targetted Ganguly, he faced a similar rough patch which there seemed to be no way out of. But then, that was the best bowling line-up in the world. This Pakistani attack, is at best mediocre, and losing your leg-stump first ball to someone like rana Naved-Ul Hassan, when you had dominated the Pakistan bowling in the 90s, is an indication of a problem between the ears.

I believed Ganguly would still work it out, come back strong, silence his critics, etc. I believed he would go back to the nets, talk to some wise men, and sort out his game. But this 6-match ban may well spell curtains for the greatest captain India has ever seen.

All those who will applaud his exit, please pause and think. Do we have a batsman who can walk into his slot easily? Do we really think that Ganguly, with almost 15,000 runs, has degraded so much that he needs to be dropped? And do you think the degradation has been that consistent?

Secondly, do we have a captain who can walk into his slot easily? Is Rahul Dravid really the answer? Can he handle the twin responsibilities of being a captain and Mr. Reliance in tests? And can Rahul Dravid really command a place in the one-day side all over the world? He is in sublime form right now, so this question might seem churlish. But think what happens when he is not in good form.

Dravid in poor form, is a liability to the one-day team. No matter how much he has improved, he still is not as adept at rotating the strike as Sehwag, Tendulkar, Yuvraj and Kaif, neither is he as adept at switching gears at all times.

Think about it.