October 2, 2008

Many questions, no answers

India's selectors had a lot of explaining to do, particularly about the inclusion of Sourav Ganguly, but there was no open, transparent media interaction

Kris Srikkanth was, for once, short of words © AFP

The moment this sorry saga came into sharp focus was when Krishnamachari Srikkanth was caught by the media mob outside the BCCI headquarters after he had overseen his first selection meeting. Srikkanth is among the more loquacious former cricketers and on any other occasion he would have given a stream of soundbytes. In his new avatar, though, he was forced to rein himself in: "I would like to explain but the board has issued instructions that we are not to speak," he began, before adding a couple of non-sequiturs about the squad he had picked.

A pity, because there was quite a bit of explaining for Srikkanth to do. The summoning of Amit Mishra from the cold, for example, or the exclusion of Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina and Rohit Sharma. Most significantly, though, he would have been asked for the logic in retaining Sourav Ganguly, who yet again became the focal point of a pre-series selection committee meeting.

Ganguly's inclusion - following a build-up fairly dramatic even by his own standards - is surprising, and ultimately controversial, because it flies in the face of all indications of the past two months. After a dismal series in Sri Lanka, Ganguly's neck was on the block; when he was excluded from the Rest of India squad for the Irani Cup, and then for the Board President's XI to face the Australians, the writing was fairly clear on the wall.

Now, within four days of a new selection panel taking charge, he's back.

It's that 180-degree change that requires an explanation, though of course the BCCI has never been known for its transparency - or, in terms of player selection, consistency. Remember, this is the second time Ganguly has benefited from a change in selectors: when Dilip Vengsarkar took over as chairman two years ago, Ganguly returned from the exile imposed on him by Greg Chappell.

This sudden about-turn in position can be unsettling - for the player, for his team-mates, his captain and coach, and for the system as a whole. Ganguly now finds himself on the fast track to match fitness via an India A game; his captain, Anil Kumble, and coach, Gary Kirsten, will have to change their game plan for the first Test somewhat. It is likely they would have planned that match without him, perhaps using as their template the Irani Cup where the fielding of Mohammad Kaif and S Badrinath lifted the Rest of India side.

It is also a mixed message on the overall selection policy. Is it targeted towards youth, as the previous panel indicated? In fact, Ganguly's exclusion from the Irani side was meant to be a "signal" to the rest of the senior players, as one selector of the day told Cricinfo: the first step towards dismantling the Fab Five. Wednesday would have been the perfect opportunity for Srikkanth to set out in public the agenda he and his colleagues plan to pursue over the next few months.

It is fair to say that every selection panel should have the freedom to carry out its own policies, but the point is that Srikkanth's panel had to pick a side for arguably the most important Test series of its tenure, four days after taking charge. Couldn't Vengsarkar's panel have picked the squad for this tour and then gone out? Or, a far more subversive thought, is there really a need for selection panels to change along with the administration?

An open, transparent media interaction with Srikkanth could also have helped dispel the growing speculation that Ganguly's inclusion was part of a "deal", an exit package. A Test series is not the place to make "VRS deals". You do not compromise the selection process, and thereby the most important series for India, because you want someone to "retire gracefully".

Finally, it could have enabled some questioning of the wisdom in choosing Ganguly - a player unarguably out of form and in the twilight of his career - over a youngster in the middle order so that three years down the line, when these two sides next meet in Tests, the spine of India's batting would not be completely new to the Australian way.

Couldn't Vengsarkar's panel have picked the squad for this tour and then gone out? Or, a far more subversive thought, is there a need for selection panels to change along with the administration?

That would have been the way ahead, and Ganguly, in the present circumstances, offers the best opportunity to blood a youngster. Of the so-called Fab Four middle-order batsmen, Ganguly's case is the weakest. In the last Test series, against Sri Lanka, VVS Laxman scored the most runs among the four, followed by Rahul Dravid and Ganguly. The three rank in the same order on runs scored in Tests played since January 1.

The difference is accentuated by the add-ons. Ganguly is not a close-in fielder; he has to be hidden on the field and can be an embarrassment in the outfield. Dravid and Laxman are both excellent slip catchers; the first is statistically India's finest slip fielder ever (and closing in on the world record), the second has been in exceptional form of late.

In any case, Laxman is one of the first names pencilled into any side facing Australia, and he also has time on his side; he is more than two years younger than Ganguly. Dravid is several streets ahead of Ganguly in terms of Test batting achievements and also has a better record against Australia, both of which ensure he deserves a longer rope in the middle of a horrendous batting slump.

Playing Ganguly is not a disaster. He does have the weight of experience, he knows how to get up Australian noses, and in the most recent series against them scored two half-centuries and two spiky 40s. His performances at home over the past 12 months haven't been half bad either. And, for those who say he should quit while he's still ahead, he has the unerring, maddening habit of proving his detractors wrong.

Yet he has not threatened, since that epochal double-century in Bangalore last year, to build on the starts; rarely did those half-centuries, except a gem on a Kanpur minefield, look like they were centuries nipped in the bud. He has looked like a player running on his reserves, not one for the future. Was there no one in better form, or with better confidence, greater promise for the future, to walk out at the Chinnaswamy Stadium on October 9?

So many questions, and not for the first time, no one to answer them. The more the board changes, the more it remains the same.

Jayaditya Gupta is executive editor of Cricinfo in India

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • James on October 3, 2008, 2:13 GMT

    Against good bowling, Ganguly has always appeared the most suspect among the four. It is only in the current Srilanka tour that all four have appeared equally falliable. Ganguly's poor fielding is visible to all, and its difficult to justify this by referring to the fielding lapses of others. And somehow, over the years, Ganguly seems to drive a wedge within the team- and his inclusion doesnt seem to add to the teams morale-the days of inspired captaincy seem to be over. And yes, against some serious fast bowling- which is Australia seems to have, Ganguly is easily the weakest among the four. And in fact it is this unreasonable protection of Ganguly which is helping the other three survive, and it is high time, that they slowly make way. Ganguly unfortunately should be the first.

  • Surajit on October 2, 2008, 18:36 GMT

    This is one of the worst, blind and biased analysis I have seen in recent past in cricinfo. This is the best example of how you can tweak and twist statistics in your favor. It is very clear to everyone that in Indian cricket we dont have professionalism and different benchmark is set up for different players. I am not a Ganguly fan or Fav5 fan but if we shouldn't single out one person when a team has failed collectively in a series. We need to look into the future and inject new blood to Indian cricket team but by now it is clear that noone is an automatic replacement. We hear a lot of noises from some younger players that dont get too many opportunities. How many did Fav4 needed? 2-3 opportunities were enough to show what they were capable of. So young players need to understand test cap has to be earned its not easy as piece of cake.They have got opportunities and will get more, for sure, but its not a good logic that they shud be in the team just becoz they are young.

  • Koushik on October 2, 2008, 16:09 GMT

    Dear Jayaditya, you tried very hard to stick to "questioning the selectors for their U turn" agenda, but your bias against Ganguly showed through. There is a reason why writers with a purely personal agenda should not be allowed to write in public forums. You sounded no different than a Pakistani fan who thinks only about religion, or an Aussie fan who thinks that Sachin is overrated just because he was born outside an island called Australia. Your bias turns a blind eye to statistics, logic and orthodoxy. I will not quote the statistics, but Ganguly happens to be the highest run getter among the fab four since our last South Africa series. His last test at home saw him score a brilliant 87 when all others failed. Please keep your bias to yourself and do not try to spread it amongst other intelligent people at the risk of looking foolish. Thanks, Koushik.

  • ashok on October 2, 2008, 15:20 GMT

    Jayaditya Gupta's biases can be forgiven, but more honesty is expected of an Associate Editor of Cricinfo. In order to establish that Sourav should be dropped but not Rahul, he chooses to cite their records since Jan 1 (in which Rahul has a marginal edge, but not over the last 12 months (during which Sourav scored 1066 in 24 knocks as against Rahul's 754 in 23). In fact, he even splits up the Indian tour of Australia so as to leave out Sourav's superior performances in the early part of the tour. Over the last 12 months, Sourav has much the highest aggregate of the Fab Four, though Sachin was injured much of this time and I would be the last person to recommend the omission of Laxman in a series against Australia. As for fielding, who dropped the catches and missed the runouts in Srilanka? Not the Fab 4 but Karthik, Gambhir, Parthiv, Rohit and Ojha, our superfit, superagile young guns.

  • Abhratanu on October 2, 2008, 13:47 GMT

    At least do some homework. Raina never played for the ROI side. And don't pretend to be blind when you are not. At least mention Sachin Tendulakar and his recent achievements in TEST cricket and the current status of his physical fitness while discussing the phase out plans for the fab-4.

  • heramba on October 2, 2008, 13:04 GMT

    if u want to sack ,sack 4 of them. frankly speaking we where flummoxed by a weak Sri Lankan team. but one must also know that they produce world-class bowlers. we must blame the fab four for putting up poor performances. ganguly has done well in indian conditions for the past 2 series .u must tell concious that who has performed than these 4 guys.look badri, rohit and yuvi failing .there is no perfect replacement. it was funny to see they way badri performed against aussies in a practice match.

  • Raj on October 2, 2008, 12:58 GMT

    I'm not sure if Sachin Tendulkar took part in the last Sri Lanka tour, but according to your reasoning, he should'nt have been included in the players selected for the first 2 tests against the Australians. Firstly, if he did take part in that tour, then he scored less runs than Ganguly, and secondly, if he did not participate, then one would have to go back somewhat (maybe the last 12-18 months) and see where Ganguly stands in terms of runs scored by the fab-4 during that time. I don't have the figures in front of me, but I will hazzard a guess that he has scored more runs during that period than at least one of the others. By the way, you don't drop one of your best players over the last ten years just because he did not produce in the last series - if that was the case, you may have to come up with a completely new 11 to play from now on. Good article, all the same.

  • Vinod on October 2, 2008, 12:35 GMT

    Hey guys just relax. All are bothered about why Ganguly is back in the team. Let me ask you all why is Tendulkar there in the team then? We all tend to pass the buck on to save the other. I will for sure say it is times up for the FAB 3 sachin,dravid and Ganguly. Sachin is first here followed by Ganguly and then dravid. Rohit, Virat and Raina are the ready replacements. So Jayaditya ask the question out properly dont single one person. Open to discussions still.

  • Murthy on October 2, 2008, 11:53 GMT

    Sorry to read Gupta's review on 'Inclusion of Ganguly' into the team. Guess, he must have overrlooked Ganguly's performance since his return into the team in 2007. Ststistics indicates that Ganguly is on the top among the Fab four since 2007 with an Avg 82/match (inspite of bad performance in Srilanka). No doubt, his fielding skills are not impressive but his experience is very much important for Australia tour. He definately deserves another chance before his retirement. Also, Gupta's review did not mentioned anything about Tendulkar's performance. His saga of "Injuries" continues since 2005 and yet, his inclusion in the team without 'fitness' should rise several questions on the transparency of selection team. Looks like, executive editor's review is biased to some extent and sure, it must have surprised many CRICKET followers.

  • Venkat on October 2, 2008, 11:28 GMT

    "Playing Ganguly is not a disaster". Shocking statement!! how can u first of all relate Ganguly with disaster. He was/is and will be( read as,for the aus series) the man to pull out India from any disaster. Be it the 144 in Brisbane or the recent 87 against south africa on a minefield where, without his 87, we would have been embarresed in spite of playing on the track that suited our style of cricket.secondly, what explanation you expect from Srikkanth for inclusion of ganguly. ganguly was in the team for the last series against Srilanka and now he is in the team. Since his comeback, he was the top run getter among the 'fab four' leaving out the srilankan series where all the four failed to make impact.i dont know why only Ganguly is the main target of you ppl(mediapersons).Sachin has not played well for the past year,but not a single person dares to question his place. Rahul Dravid is out of form of late, but no questions asked about his form. its time u ppl stop writing about dada.

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