The clock is ticking for Sourav Ganguly
It is getting sadder by the day. To witness Sourav Ganguly, once a proud man, resemble a slow and ageing boxer, entering the ring tired and sluggish is a sad sight. That image of an intense Ganguly, staring his opponent in the face and steadily infuriating his enemy with his attitude, strategy and daring, is now a thing of the past. Instead what remains is an athlete, forcibly fighting against time and playing in a format that is uncompromising.
After five games in this IPL, Ganguly has yet to complete 100 runs - he is two short of that mark and has a paltry average of 19.60. Lesser-known batsmen like Manish Pandey, Saurabh Tiwary, Ambati Rayudu, to list a few, have shown more character and had more impact on the fate of their teams than Ganguly has. And, before you say that all these three are youngsters, more suitable for the format, what of the dominance of Sachin Tendulkar, Jacques Kallis, Adam Gilchrist and Anil Kumble? All these men are on the other side of 30, all Ganguly's peers, but it is only the Kolkata captain, who finds himself in an isolated corner, sitting numb from the punches thrown at him.
Today was the first instance of Ganguly walking in as an opener in this IPL. In the first four matches he batted at No.3, and in the previous match, against Rajasthan, he had come in as No. 4. But Ganguly batting in the middle-order was always going to be a gamble considering he lacked the firepower he once possessed to take the bowling attack on. Also in the absence of Chris Gayle and Brendon McCullum, Brad Hodge opened the innings in the company of Manoj Tiwary, but apart form the solid partnership in the home victory against Bangalore, that pairing had not proved to be successful.
After the defeat in Ahmedabad, Dav Whatmore said the loss would prompt a change in the batting order. For Ganguly, opening remains the most appropriate position in his present form where he could at least use the pace of the ball and the freshness in the pitch to his advantage along with some initiative. But that was not to be the case at Brabourne Stadium, which was once again filled to the brim with Mumbai supporters.
On the fifth ball of the fourth over, Zaheer Khan pitched a short delivery outside off stump. In his pomp Ganguly would've hit that ball over, or cut it past point for a definite four. In this instance it ended up being a hit and miss. Zaheer followed with the same delivery, maintaining the same line. Ganguly stepped out, failed to connect once again, ending up looking ridiculous. Immediately he asked for a change of gloves. Clearly, the erstwhile 'God of the off side' was nervous. The pattern did not change through the innings - even as Ganguly lengthened his stay, the run rate stayed stagnant.
The reasons behind Ganguly's failure to dominate can be many but the most important one is his slowness. His reflexes have dimmed. That impeccable placement has disappeared followed closely by the timing. Those wrists don't co-ordinate anymore with the bat to lend any direction to the drives, those legs stay planted to the spot. Even his charges against spinners invariably end in the hands of the fielder, where once they ended behind the ropes. Ganguly's actions have become predictable, making it easy for the bowlers to gain the uppherhand.
It is easy to put the detriment of age behind Ganguly's reverses but take the example of Tendulkar today. He was chalk to Ganguly's cheese: Tendulkar bristled, stayed athletic at all times, and urged his fielders and batsmen to remain pro-active, and dissected the bowlers clinically.
All this is not saying that Ganguly doesn't try doing the same. He does, only that, perhaps, time has overtaken him. Things happen in the Twenty20 format at run-time - all those net sessions add up to zero most times and what remains the key is recognising the moment to step up the ante. Today Ganguly had the opportunity many times to force the change with the bat. But he failed miserably. It was the same case against Rajasthan.
In fact it is not the first time he has been exposed in this format. In the inaugural season of the IPL, when Gayle was absent, McCullum left after four games and Brad Hodge was yet to be bought, Ganguly was the top run-getter with 349 runs at 29.08 but those runs could not save Kolkata from drowning. In South Africa, the following year, Ganguly struggled on the bouncier pitches and ended the tournament with 189 runs at 17.18.
This is not the end of the road for Ganguly because he remains Kolkata's brand image. Also he still retains the leadership qualities that are necessary to inspire the team and he is the most accomplished and capable man to lead the side. Only that he needs now to inspire himself first.