India v Pakistan, 3rd Test, Bangalore, 5th day

A palpable lack of desire

The Wisden Verdict by Dileep Premachandran in Bangalore

March 28, 2005

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Sourav Ganguly bowled by Shahid Afridi on the final day. Throughout the series, Ganguly never looked like scoring a run © Getty Images
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When Sourav Ganguly trudged off after standing for an eternity in the middle, unable to fathom the magnitude of his decline as a Test-match batsman, a young lady in the enclosure beside the press box stood up to give him a send-off. The language used wouldn't have been out of place in a bar full of drunken sailors, and her message was taken up by those around her, one of whom had a banner congratulating Ganguly on doubling his run-tally for the game.

While a drawn series will be cause for celebration in Pakistan, it felt very much like a defeat for those present at the Chinnaswamy Stadium. Ever since that pivotal final day at Mohali, Pakistan had played out of their skins, while India - with the notable exception of two batsmen and two bowlers - performed nowhere near their potential. The capitulation today, especially after Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir had survived the opening hour, exemplified that, with the palpable lack of desire in stark contrast to the Pakistanis, who snapped away like hungry wolves.

The run-rate was close to four an over when Sehwag departed, but subsequently there wasn't even a trace of ambition. The stubborn refusal to put away loose deliveries, or do anything to upset the bowlers' rhythm, ensured that there was never any pressure on Inzamam-ul-Haq or the fielders who had looked rattled while Sehwag was still around. A match which could have had any of three outcomes was suddenly reduced to a grim battle for survival.

A team with four world-class batsmen summarily decided that the exit of the most explosive of that quartet warranted the digging of trenches. Only, for some of those batsmen, it was more burial mound than trench. Anil Kumble showed the way to his more illustrious colleagues later in the day, defending with straight bat and stoutness of heart while ruthlessly pummelling anything that asked to be hit. If everyone in the Indian team had his determination and courage, they wouldn't lose a game.

Of course, it didn't help that the team's leader contributed nothing yet again. Ganguly's inability to even look like scoring a run could perhaps have inhibited those that went before him, and the disgraceful heckling that formed the soundtrack to his appalling brief innings said much about the public's changing perception of a confident and imaginative leader who has retrogressed to become the weakest of batting links.

India failed - and all but the most one-eyed will accept that a drawn series against such an inexperienced side is a failure - because there were too many individuals who didn't make a contribution. While Mohammad Sami improved with every game, culminating in some sensational spells at Bangalore, India's new-ball bowlers - except for Lakshmipathy Balaji - scraped the bottom of the mediocrity barrel.

VVS Laxman managed two half-centuries, without ever being at his free-stroking best, while Sachin Tendulkar will be gutted over another final-day failure against Pakistan. Except for Sehwag and Rahul Dravid, not one batsman played as they can. Ganguly didn't play at all and perhaps the time has come for India's selectors to ask themselves, especially with the likes of Mohammad Kaif and Yuvraj Singh riding the pine, if he contributes enough with the bat in Test matches that matter.

The demeanour of the two captains after the match said it all. Inzamam spoke of how this could inspire his young side to greater glory, while Ganguly's palpable disappointment was a world away from the chest-thumping "We're number two behind Australia" that was witnessed at Rawalpindi a year ago. In a sense, that summed up this series. Pakistan, under Bob Woolmer and Inzamam, have reached for the sky and managed sprinklings of stardust, while India, since that high watermark of 12 months ago, have merely been treading water. If a fresh start is what's needed to get the arms pumping again, then so be it. A cruel decision is preferable to death by drowning.

Dileep Premachandran is assistant editor of Cricinfo.

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Dileep Premachandran Associate editor Dileep Premachandran gave up the joys of studying thermodynamics and strength of materials with a view to following in the footsteps of his literary heroes. Instead, he wound up at the Free Press Journal in Mumbai, writing on sport and politics before Gentleman gave him a column called Replay. A move to MyIndia.com followed, where he teamed up with Sambit Bal, and he arrived at ESPNCricinfo after having also worked for Cricket Talk and total-cricket.com. Sunil Gavaskar and Greg Chappell were his early cricketing heroes, though attempts to emulate their silken touch had hideous results. He considers himself obscenely fortunate to have watched live the two greatest comebacks in sporting history - India against invincible Australia at the Eden Gardens in 2001, and Liverpool's inc-RED-ible resurrection in the 2005 Champions' League final. He lives in Bangalore with his wife, who remains astonishingly tolerant of his sporting obsessions.
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