Hard but fair
They are supposed to respond with alacrity to the distress calls of India's huge disenfranchised. Instead the Indian parliament has reduced itself to the pedestrian by setting aside other urgent issues and announcing a debate next week on the exclusion of Sourav Ganguly from the national team.
It is universal to cite one's own wife as the prettiest and the West Bengal contingent in parliament is guilty of making the Ganguly issue a cause celebre perhaps only to that extent. The danger actually lies in the initiative the Left parties, who routinely project themselves as beyond parochialism, have taken in subsidizing wounded self-esteem. Somnath Chatterjee, Marxist eminence and the speaker of the Lok Sabha, the lower house of parliament, has called Ganguly's axing "a great injustice". This cannot be to score mere political points because the Left at present is an integral part of the ruling coalition. Instead, it appears to be another manifestation of how India's so-called `progressives' are hostage to prerogatives of the past.
Because, seen objectively, at the heart of Ganguly's sacking is the fraught question of managing the country's transition - as much in other walks of life as in sport - from a protected environment to one that is internationally competitive. It is in cultural and developmental terms the difference, metaphorically, between being content with wetting one's feet and to be thrown at the deep end of the pool.
It is ironical that Ganguly, who sort of sowed the idea of winning, and winning consistently, in large sections of the Indian consciousness, should be the one emerging as the chief obstacle to taking the same idea to its logical conclusion. Because, in all the uproar over providing Ganguly a dignified exit, one central fact is being missed or glossed over conveniently: the man himself is simply not prepared to go.
This is a fact all those who love Indian cricket, both as a game and as a proud form of national expression, should seriously ponder upon. It will alter the perspective we have on what is currently unfolding.
Let's revisit the basics to understand this more clearly. Firstly, why was Greg Chappell hired as a coach? It is to get India to do a Australia - that is, try and be the top team in world cricket in the coming years. In the short term it means focusing on the World Cup in 2007 and to build the right team with the necessary bench strength to at least match the Indian performance in South Africa last time around.
Where does Ganguly fit in here? His USP at the moment is not his captaining abilities, even less that of a `batting allrounder', the sorry description used by his erstwhile patrons to provide him a backdoor entry. Then, solely as a batsman, who will he replace in the top six - surely not Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid or VVS Laxman. Which leave only Yuvraj Singh and the specialist opener's slot.
Yuvraj is in not only far better nick currently than Ganguly, but as a long-term prospect he deserves the nod ahead of the former captain. Ganguly, then, as the specialist opener? One just has to imagine how he might fare against Shoaib and Co in the upcoming Pakistan tour, or against Steve Harmison and his gang of four - including a raring-to-go Simon Jones - in the home series with England, to answer that question. He might himself be in deep denial about the short-pitched stuff, but the whole world knows that Ganguly has more flaws against the steepling ball than one can shake a stump at.
So, finally it boils down to the timing. Why now, in mid-series - he may as well have been included for the third and final Test against Sri Lanka? Especially, since the coach and selectors had gone on record saying they wouldn't want to tamper with winning combinations.
It is here that Greg Chappell's contribution needs to be acknowledged. He correctly discerned two problems: Ganguly, if retained for Ahmedabad, might come up with another neither-here-nor-there performance which would make it more difficult to show him the door. Second, he had the option to take Dravid along and have a candid chat with Ganguly - what about a dignified Steve Waugh-like exit in the third and final match of a home series?
But given Ganguly's proclivity to envision the media as a means to his own cricketing ends, not to mention his repeated contention that he had many more years of international cricket left in him, this was an option the coach and captain could only hazard at the whole of Indian cricket's risk. And, of course, one other option - Ganguly on the bench - was not an option at all, given the potential for disruption that has.
In lieu of these alternatives, Chappell did the wise and courageous thing: to bite the bullet. It was now or too late and the selectors, obviously influenced by the coach's vision, took the right decision. The lesson from all this is to hell with sentiments in professional matters though, like gout, it is a metabolic thing and will remain an intense part of our private selves. It is a distinction we, as Indians and cricket fans, will increasingly have to learn to make if our modernity is not to be confined to cable television and the syrupy narcissism it breeds.
Anil Nair is the managing editor of Cricinfo in India