August 20, 2008

Stumps for Sourav

For the Indian middle order, it has become a matter of survival, and Ganguly is the most vulnerable

'Faltering ambition can have various outlets: mental, physical, even technical. All of them point towards a player no longer able to take that extra step' © AFP

Sorry Sourav, but the sands of time have run out. It's been an extraordinary career that deserves to be saluted and celebrated, but all good things come to an end. How many captains have led their team to a series victory over Australia, and also to a World Cup final? How many leaders have presided over a transformation in the fortunes and reputation of their team as Ganguly has done over India's? It has been an honourable contribution, but the sporting life is transient even as its memories are imperishable. All too soon the indispensable becomes the expendable.

If it is over then it brings to an end a notable and productive period in Indian cricket. Beyond argument it is as captain that Ganguly will chiefly be remembered. It is not intended as an insult to his deft work with the willow, rather a recognition of his achievements as a leader. From the outset he shared with Sunil Gavaskar and Arjuna Ranatunga a willingness to pull the beards of western presumption, an amusing diversion but also a way of instilling self-esteem in his charges. To him it was not serious, for he lacked the resentment that drove along these feisty predecessors. Popularity appealed to him, but he had no truck with populism. It is not in his nature to curry favour. Insofar as he was aristocratic of manner - though not birth - it lay in his refusal to be petty or to hold grudges or to take much notice of debate. He had the confidence to be himself. It sent a powerful message to players inclined towards modesty.

Yet it is a mistake to regard Ganguly as a cricketer from another age, as a man of leisure, out of place in a hectic period, an amateur lost amid professionals. After all he prospered in this age, and must therefore have fulfilled most of its numerous requirements. He has been tangential to his time, not apart from it. He has never wanted to be mechanical, yet retained respect for the hardworking run-collectors. Just that originality was his way forward. He could not succeed as another man.

It doesn't mean, though, that Ganguly lacked cunning. Often his apparent disdain worked in his favour. Certainly it had a marked effect on opposing fast bowlers. Somehow the very sight of Ganguly strolling out to bat, looking disconcertingly pleased with himself, caused them to commence snorting and pawing the ground. Opposing leather flingers felt themselves affronted and vowed vengeance. Line and length were abandoned and bone-shakers were sent down, few of them directed at the stumps. By and large opposing captains encouraged the assault, and only afterwards counted the cost. Probably Ganguly had irritated them beforehand. Provocative fields were set, and the crowd became involved, egging on the aggressors or barracking for their man. Ganguly usually managed to look perplexed by all the palaver. But he knew what he was about. He had put the bowlers off their game on the way to the crease.

As a rule, the lower a player bats the weaker his position. Nor is Ganguly a reliable catcher at slip, which makes him even more vulnerable than his contemporaries. Moreover his career figures give him less leeway. Dravid averages roughly 12 more runs an innings than him, and he has mostly batted in the critical position of first wicket down

Had Ganguly been remotely as frail as he seemed, he could not have lasted as long, would have been broken in transit. Along the way, too, he played some of the most rousing innings the game has known. His inspirational hundred in Brisbane all those years ago confirmed the strength of his backbone, while his introductory hundred at Lord's pointed towards the sweetness of his timing. However vulnerable he looked, he kept taking the lonely journey out to bat. He advanced towards the fire, sometimes fanned its flames.

Even now, his nerve has held. It is not his courage that has faltered, or his eyesight. Rather his feet that have slowed, and sometimes nowadays shots must be played before the correct position has been assumed. Perhaps, too, desire has waned, for a man only has so many performances in him before he starts feeling the pinch. Faltering ambition can have various outlets: mental, physical, even technical. All of them point towards a player no longer able to take that extra step.

In the field Ganguly has become a plod. His running between wickets is similarly sluggish, so much so that an alarmed look comes over his face when a partner so much as suggests a quick single. A devotee of silence might as well be given a gossip magazine. It all points towards the lowering of the curtain.

If the Sri Lankan series is anything to go by, India cannot wait any longer to shake up its prestigious middle order. Yet a collective deterioration was already underway. Although it did not get much attention amid the other hue and cry, Ganguly and Rahul Dravid faltered in Australia. In Dravid's case bad luck played a part in his downfall; his dismissal in Perth was questionable and his ejection in Sydney was downright disgraceful. No such license could be given to Ganguly, who was dismissed at the SCG by a catch that may have been doubtful - though the edge was clear-cut. Meanwhile others scored piles of runs, not least Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman. It'd be madness to drop either of them.

But the setbacks in Sri Lanka brought matters to a head. Several factors lay behind the failures. Obviously it is easier to open the batting in that neck of the woods than to walk to the wicket with two clever spinners operating in tandem. But Test batsmen must adjust their games to meet whatever challenges arise. These senior players did not apply their experience or live up to their reputations. Nor did their outfielding or work between the wickets have much to commend it. By and large Ganguly was the worst offender.

Ganguly is a batsman who gets under the bowlers' skins easily, but his leadership will remain his biggest legacy © Getty Images

Accordingly the time has come to break up the most resourceful and capable middle order India has known. Since several batsmen failed it might seem unfair to pick on Ganguly. As a rule, though, the lower a player bats the weaker his position. Nor is Ganguly a reliable catcher at slip, which makes him even more vulnerable than his contemporaries. Moreover his career figures give him less leeway. Dravid averages roughly 12 more runs an innings than him, and he has mostly batted in the critical position of first wicket down. Much the same applies to Tendulkar. India ought to think long and hard before replacing him. Laxman, too, batted superbly in Australia, and sometimes held the lower order together in the most recent series. It also worked for him that he did not play as an icon player in the IPL. Failures of any sort take a toll on a player's morale, and both Dravid and Ganguly fell short of expectation. Nor has Jacques Kallis fully recovered from his poor showing.

If Ganguly's time is indeed up then he deserves to be remembered as one of the mightiest warriors to take to the field in the colours of his country. That he did not much resemble a warrior added to the effect. He has been underestimated, even resented by those inclined to confuse sweat with effort. His ability to get under the skin of his opponents was matched by a talent for getting into the minds of his players. He did not seem to worry what anyone thought, so long as his players retained faith in him and the cause. He provoked opponents as a means of showing his youngsters, especially, that there was nothing to fear. At his best he gathered his players into a potent force. It was only when he backed off that it went wrong, for then India played a tentative and doomed game. Mostly he was audacious and adventurous, and India rose with him. But Ganguly's stint as captain ended long ago, and ever since, he has been on shaky ground.

Peter Roebuck is a former captain of Somerset and the author, most recently, of In It to Win It

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Andy on August 22, 2008, 21:10 GMT

    Yes Sourav should be dropped because his name is not Sachin Tendulkar , got the drift , mate ? An unimaginably low-on-substance article from Peter Roebuck, although BCCI might follow his suite since Ganguly somehow happens to be the favorite scapegoat, come what may. One bad series and everyone is shouting "Drop Ganguly" although ( as someone here has rightly pointed out, after his comeback he has been the most successful cricketer in India. But Ganguly might still get dropped, because it's India and it's BCCI !!

  • Harichandra on August 22, 2008, 19:13 GMT

    Mr. Peter, eventhough I agree on few things, but still I do not support you or anyone who talk about players they should retire based on their performance, thats not your or my job, its upto the cricket association to decide, yes sometimes, players perform well and sometimes not, they disappoint fans, thats okay, thats part of the game. What would be nice is to give some tips how to handle the situation rather than critisizing.

  • tinku on August 22, 2008, 8:07 GMT

    There is no way Sourav's career is over. It will be wrong on the selectors' part if they drop him for the Australia series. All the Fab Four failed, so why does the axe have to fall on him alone? He was recently given the Best Asian Cricketer Award, and that was for his performances. He played well in the three series against England, Pakistan and South Africa. He was shown the door from the ODI side, that too when he was giving decent performances. Now, if he is axed from the Test side, it will be one of the most cruel things things done to a great cricketer and a fighter.

  • shenbaga on August 22, 2008, 6:56 GMT

    Saurav's 2003 WC team probably scored lowest Indian total in WC (125 against OZ). It conceded highest total scored in finals of all WC. His team scored lowest total against minnows in that WC. So, to me, it's apt if we say India reached finals despite saurav's captaincy and not because of. Also lowest Indian ODI score belong to saurav captained team. I think peter is quite generous. Secondly, there's all talk of how saurav has come back and scored over his detractors. To me, his come back was not from his willow. There were so many fighting his cause; fans, politicians. I remember saurav met BCCI pres just before his recall. Lastly, saurav played maximum deliveries in recent WC at WI with paltry strike rate when India was drubbed and failed to reach second stage. To me, atleast 3 out of the Fab4 could've been dropped even a year before.

  • Krishna on August 22, 2008, 6:43 GMT

    Ganguly made a big error in not countering Mendis with his footwork, and I do not mean his pads! Ganguly has always played spinners by coming down the wicket to meet the pitch and smash the daylights out of the bowling. Dravid's style is different. In Sri Lanka all the Indian batsmen looked mesmerised by Mendis. These guys are the best you can find in the world and armchair criticism is the easiest occupation. To suggest how they have to play the bowling is certainly beyond our competence. We have to give credit to Mendis for having had the measure of this lot. Kudos to him. However, given the same set of people and a change in venue, ie. in India, the results would be something else. Time is running out for the big four and I am not sure that they will encounter Mendis again in tests. All the same one bad series is not enough to say it's curtains for any of them. Aistralia always brings out the best in the Indians and it will be interesting to see how the Big 4 play. Am sure they will

  • Zahid on August 22, 2008, 5:29 GMT

    I totally disagree. Ganguly is brilliant player.he should be given a permenent fixture in the team (both in tests and ODIs). Players of his quality are rarely found. Dhoni is not upto the standard yet. Ganguly has proven it many times that hes the best.. so i dont think there should be any confusion regarding this.

  • ram on August 22, 2008, 2:49 GMT

    There are some very valid things mentioned in this article, ganguly's passion and sprit as leader is unquestionable , his membership ability in ODI 10,000 club ( along with sachin and Dravid from india ) has made him one among top scorer.. so he needs to get a chance in ODI one more time (say another 15 matches) if he proves with more than 45 Aggregate he can be given fifteen more same thing applies to other two Dravid and Sachin. again in TEST cricket Ganguly is not as best as SACHIN and dravid ( Both re in 10,000 club) so he can be given with one series to prove his ability. and few series to sachin and dravid. Morever ganguly you need to work hard for fitness bcos that is the main criteria for any sports... all the best ganguly

  • Adnan on August 21, 2008, 22:28 GMT

    Well its not a good time for Ganguly to say good bye. Every one wants to have an exit like the great Shane warne and Mcgrath does. Both were in a tremendous form when they announced their retirement. Ganguly might be expecting the same thing, but yes, he needs to deliver good performance in Test cricket quiet often and then opt to retire. Any ways he will be remembered for his legendary leadership and the success he gives to india during his regime. Again, if he decides to play for more years his performance should contribute more to the team.

  • Suvajit on August 21, 2008, 21:38 GMT

    I dont' understand how people can still go on saying that the fab four should retire... Chasing a mere 140 odd, the youngsters lose seven wickets!!! Rohit Sharmas n Rainas are all good, but look at the opportunities that they have been given... Playin more than 30 ODIs n compare them with the likes of the FAB 4... They might have slowed down in the field... A Raina may save 10 extra runs in the field, but a Ganguly or a Laxman can enthrall the world with their impeccable stoke play n will give us innings to remember....

    Just ahead of the Aus series, imagine a middle order from no. 3 in the following order: Raina, Yuvraj, Sharma. Kaif, n Dhoni!!!

  • Manimaran on August 21, 2008, 21:23 GMT

    I totally disagree with Peter, though the article is clearly written with some facts I really doubt the end of his career. He, as really as a tiger will pounce on the target at times of crisis like this. And as a hard cocre fan of Ganguly am too waiting for that time. Neverthless Tendulkar did not also shine like Dravid and Ganguly, however he is still with the team.. Is it because of his ability ? Is it because of the huge fan support ? Is it because of Records..A million dollar question !!Ofcourse time is near, young age should be groomed, but not by chasing the legends but by giving them honor with couple of more chances... This could inspire young age in addition..Please selectors give him 1 last chance..and see the outcome. You should respect him as a successful Captain!!and a successful batsman! at many cases..Who can forget the timing sixes he hit..who can forget the fours he clears in offside with ease though the entire opponents field in offside..Lets give him 1 more chance..

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