A poignant end
The instant reaction to the decision to drop Sourav Ganguly from the Indian Test team is one of sadness, because, in all probability, this is the end of the road for him. You wished for a better farewell for a man who will be recognised, when emotions recede and a more detached assessment can be made, as India's ballsiest leader till his time. Stripped of captaincy, he did all that he could have done as a mere soldier in the Delhi Test. His batting wasn't spectacular but his 40 and 39 were vital contributions at delicate junctures of the match.
Though he did play cover drives of familiar elegance, he was not majestic. Runs didn't come easy on a turgid pitch, and he fought hard, playing watchfully against Muttiah Muralitharan and dead straight against Chaminda Vaas. But when he was dismissed in the second innings, falling for the second time in the match to Murali's doosra, offering no stroke the first time, and playing an expansive drive now, he would have seen the signs. The man competing with him for the No.6 spot in the team was still at the crease. Yuvraj Singh, one of the players Ganguly had invested faith in, was beginning to play with confidence, and having turned 24 a day earlier, he was the man for the future. He looked livid and disgusted with himself for having given it away after fighting so hard. At the juncture he found himself, he needed a bigger score to secure his immediate future.
Throughout his career, Ganguly has invited strong reactions. The selectors' decision, which is most likely to terminate his international career, will undoubtedly stir passions. Opinions will be polarized, motives will be read, and political maneuvers will be inferred. Since being dropped from the one-day team, Ganguly has done everything within his means to retain his Test spot. He has trained hard, scored runs, taken wickets, and kept his emotions to himself. It can be argued that he had done enough in this Test to keep his place. And the decision to send him packing, while retaining Gautam Gambhir, who has looked inadequate against the moving ball, could seem unjust and cruel. It is difficult not to feel sorry for Ganguly.
However, the decision must be viewed with cold logic, and with an eye on the future. India have an aging batting line-up. Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Ganguly are all past 30. Of these, Tendulkar and Dravid can be expected to go on a bit longer. But Indian cricket can't afford a huge vacuum in the top order. Yuvraj Singh has been around in international cricket for five years, and he is ready to make the transition to Test cricket. India needs to know if he can sustain his performance in Test cricket and for that he needs to be given a run.
Ganguly's Test performances have been patchy at best, and as much as we might have willed him to go out on a high, it was only a matter of time for him. India are about to play two Test series against opponents who will test them to the limits and they need to give themselves the best chance of success. Yuvraj stands a better chance of playing through the series against Pakistan and England. He deserves to play without feeling insecure. And if the Indian team were to break away from Ganguly, it is better now than in the middle of those tours. Carrying Ganguly in the squad and not playing him in the XI would have been meaningless and created tensions that the team can do without.
The selection of Wasim Jaffer was surprising. He has had two stints with the Indian team and has been found wanting on both occasions. He is an attractive batsman with a wide range of strokes but his tendency to get caught at the crease was ruthlessly exploited by pace bowlers at the international level. However, he played his last Test four years ago and has scored heavily in domestic cricket for the last couple of years. Gambhir's lack of success in this series is a cause of worry and the selectors are right to look for options. It can be said that Dheeraj Jadhav, a compact opener who was in the squad for India's tour to Zimbabwe, had a better claim. But Jaffer has just scored a double hundred in a Ranji trophy game and the judgment on whether he has improved his technique must wait.
Meanwhile, Indian cricket must move on. It has found a new energy and direction. A fitting tribute to Ganguly would be not to lament about what he could have achieved with a few more opportunities, but to look back at what he gave to Indian cricket. He was immense. And he didn't go without a fight.
Sambit Bal is the editor of Cricinfo