Ganguly's hunger is to be welcomed
I would not like to be in Rahul Dravid's shoes if I am the captain. In this entire Sourav Ganguly episode, his silence borders on complicity. He has every reason to seek the team he wants; but he also owes it to his men to be seen standing right next to them. At best he would miss out on the trust and loyalty of his mates, which allows a captain to ask for the impossible; at worst he would be very unpopular in the dressing-room.
Sourav Ganguly was very impressive at Kotla. His two innings were well crafted and critical to the eventual scores. His dismissal in the first innings triggered the collapse, which only accentuates his contribution on the first day. A few of his cover-drives, trust me, were the best I saw in the entire match. He was seen giving his 100%, and he wanted his place back badly. Such hunger is to be welcomed, not scorned. It has not reflected well of the system, nor of selectors or team management.
The match, by and large, did not reflect well on the batsmen too, who seemed to suffer from sudden, unexpected collapses. In a way it was a tribute to Murali and Kumble who both tend to take wickets in a clutch. You give them an inch and they would set you back by miles.
It was thus imperative on the batsmen to stay at the crease for longer hours. India made the mistake in the first innings, but learnt its lesson in the second outing. Sri Lanka only did the repeat act. It was not a wicket where you score 240s in your two innings. It is here that Mahela Jayawardene's horrid shot in the first innings hurt the team the most.
Kumble needed only such kind of invitation. The man now has more variety than he used to in our times when we strictly dealt with him like a medium-pacer. He has a good slider with a hint of googly and his pace variation is brilliant. He still is best negotiated if you keep rotating the strike. Marvan Atapattu and Mahela Jayawardene did it in the first innings and Kumble looked ordinary. The moment he could force batsmen to go back into their shells, the pressure built up. The wicket too was his ally in a way -- it was slow and low and batsmen were forced to play him in front of the wicket. It restricted them from manipulating him around the field.
If Lankans looked messed up in their handling of Kumble, they also did not win any points for allowing Irfan Pathan to run away with an impressive score. The visitors did not seem to have learnt anything from the one-dayers. Sri Lankan planning against Pathan was all skewed even though bringing on Murali in the second over suggested they sensed his weakness against the magical off-spinner. I would have preferred to keep medium-pacers on for at least four to five overs, but then it is easier to be wise on hindsight.
I was also disappointed with the standard of umpiring in this match. It was very ordinary: Sachin Tendulkar looked down and out against Dilhara Fernando first up and Yuvraj Singh was wrongly given out. So was the fate of Avishka Gunawardene. Umpires are prone to give 50-50 decisions in favour of established batsmen like Tendulkar and Dravid, but when it comes to youngsters, they tend to take the hard road. It could have critical bearing on somebody starting his career. If umpires are overworked, I would rather have more in the elite panel to allow them to be fresh and not jaded.
I can't really close without joining others in applauding the feat of Sachin Tendulkar. He has been a marvel of our times, a once-in-a-generation cricketer who scores a perfect ten on all scales of excellence. His lustre remains undimmed and so is the inspiration, which his presence imparts to millions of youngsters. He is the high deity of the game we all love