ICC Champions Trophy, 2006 August 9, 2006

Ganguly handed a false lifeline

Just when he might have thought that the way to paradise was barred for ever, a signpost of hope beckons Sourav Ganguly



Sourav Ganguly's selection in the 30-man squad does not mean he is any closer to a comeback © AFP
Just when he might have thought that the way to paradise was barred for ever, a signpost of hope beckons Sourav Ganguly, but the belligerent tone adopted by Kiran More, the chairman of the selection panel, suggested that finding his way from backstage to the arc lights would be rather more difficult. Like his fellow old-timers, VVS Laxman and Anil Kumble, Ganguly finds himself back in the frame for the Champions Trophy in October, though only Kumble of the trio has a realistic chance of making the final 14 once the squad is pruned on September 7.

The ICC stipulation on a 30-man preliminary squad has forced many boards to just pencil in names for the sake of doing so, knowing full well that less than half will make the final cut. The fact that even Australia have named two or three individuals unlikely ever to wear baggy gold and green tells you just what a wasteful exercise it is.

It's not as though Ganguly, Laxman or a young talent like Rohit Sharma will even get an opportunity to prove their worth in the international arena. The squad for Sri Lanka was named long ago, and though India have a tri-nation series now lined up in Singapore and Malaysia - the schedule will be announced in a couple of days - the final squad for the Champions Trophy has to be named before those matches start on September 10.

As a rule, deposed emperors, no matter how great their reign, are rarely welcomed back into their former kingdoms. Despite still being captain of an all-conquering Test side, Steve Waugh was never recalled to one-day colours once the axe fell in 2002. Though he was desperate to be part of Australia's World Cup defence, it was the unproven Andrew Symonds that got the nod, despite the fact that Waugh's glorious Headingley innings had been instrumental in the 1999 triumph - without it, there would have been no semi-final, leave alone a trophy.

Ganguly last played an ODI for India last September, the final stages of a dismal 18-month run that had taken the World Cup finalists to basement status. Since his ousting, a blip in the Caribbean apart, the one-day side has improved immeasurably, with Yuvraj Singh becoming a model of consistency and Suresh Raina giving several hints of a precocious talent.

There's no doubt whatsoever that Ganguly is one of India's top 30 cricketers, but the timing of the rehabilitation might surprise him as much as anyone. When he was in reasonable form - he produced two fairly accomplished innings in defeat at Karachi - he found himself sidelined from the Test team. Now, after an embarrassingly wretched run on the county circuit, he finds himself recalled by a selection panel that once promised "not to look back" when it came to him.

"Go forth and make runs/take wickets" was the commandment from the selectors when the likes of Ganguly and Zaheer Khan were jettisoned. Zaheer, and Dinesh Mongia to a lesser extent, certainly did that on the county circuit, whereas Ganguly could do nothing of the sort despite being thrown a late lifeline by Northamptonshire.

It's enough to make you wonder just how much autonomy the selectors have. Though More angrily brushed aside suggestions of pressure from chairs higher than his, more than one person left the meeting wondering just how much Ganguly's inclusion had to do with a certain email and support for someone in opposition to Jagmohan Dalmiya.

If that's the case, and this is temporary buying of the peace before board elections, then it's a real shame. India's most successful captain, a man who stared down Waugh without blinking in that halcyon spring of 2001, deserves more than a back-door pass, and certainly better than to have his name crossed off as just another probable who failed to make the grade.

Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo