Do the right thing
It's decision time for Indian cricket. And if those who rule Indian cricket can summon up some honesty when they meet to discuss the breakdown of the relationship between Greg Chappell and Sourav Ganguly, they will know that Chappell v Ganguly is not the issue. It is merely the symptom. The choice they need to make is not between Chappell and Ganguly, but between progress and retardation, between discipline and anarchy, and between team and person.
It is a sad thing to say about Ganguly, for Indian cricket owes him a hell of a lot: he marshalled it through uncertain times; gave it steel and confidence; stood up for young talent without fear or favour; and spoke his mind on the right issues. He was the right man for Indian cricket at the right time. But it has to be said. Indian cricket stands, at this crucial juncture, hostage to Ganguly's personal troubles. It is one of the great tragedies that the man under whom the Indian team took so many bold steps in the path of liberation from diffidence and groupism, is himself a victim now of the most-dreaded malady in Indian cricket: self-preservation.
There was a time not so long ago when Ganguly used to talk with pride about the spirit of the Indian dressing room. Today, you can feel only wistful about it. Intrigue, factionalism, regionalism... all the ills that the Indian team seemed to have left behind have been ushered back. Throughout his four-year coaching tenure, John Wright's biggest concern was the tendency of certain players to develop comfort zones. In the recent past, many players have made the creation of a comfort zone their sole objective, to the detriment of the team. And unfortunately, because of his personal travails with the bat, Ganguly is seen as a leading victim of this syndrome. Insecurity does not take long to spread when it emanates from the leader. The rot is now palpable.
Ganguly loses no opportunity to present stats to advance his cause - 1000 runs in the last 16 Tests is his latest shield. But take a close look and the real picture emerges pretty fast. Cricinfo's S Rajesh brought it out in the starkest possible way with this piece a couple of days ago. In 16 of his last 19 Test innings against teams other than Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, Ganguly averages 26.31. Against Bangladesh and Zimbawe, he averages 86.67. Coincidence? Does a hundred against Zimbabwe mark a return to form?
Let's look at a pattern. In two Tests in the home series against Australia, he managed only 59 runs and only a half century against a tiring South African attack in Kolkata boosted his tally to 97 in the next series. He then travelled to Bangladesh where he scored 159 runs at 79.50 and returned home to help the Bengal team avoid relegation with a vital century.
But he was back to scraping the bottom of the barrel against Pakistan scoring 48 runs in three Tests at 9.60. Off he went to Glamorgan where he soon found his feet and five first-class matches yielded him 438 runs at a respectable 62.57. On his return to international cricket, he plodded his way to a 110-ball 52 against a Sri Lankan attack lacking Chaminda Vaas and Muthiah Muralitharan and was laid low by a bouncer from Darren Powell in the next match. In the one-day series in Zimbabwe, Shane Bond reduced him to a tottering wreck in the first match and he somehow managed to survive Bond in the next.
He refuses to concede a weakness against the short ball and never shies of showing up Steve Waugh's pronounced awkwardness against similar balls. The difference is that Waugh rarely got out to it whereas Ganguly is a walking wicket against any bowler who can dig it short at a sharpish pace. Once again, here are some numbers that tell the story. To prove that he hasn't lost it, Ganguly will have to demonstrate it on the field.
A fault can be found in the way Chappell went about communicating his `frank' opinion to Ganguly and it can be questioned if the middle of a tour was the proper time to tell the captain he didn't belong. But it is difficult to argue that it wasn't the truth. Not only has Ganguly been a passenger in the Indian team for a long while but, unlike Mark Taylor - who went through a long slump - he has not been able to command respect from several senior members of the team because of his indifference to the work ethic, personal fitness and punctuality.
Instead of being the glue, he is fast becoming a destabilising influence. Ganguly's arrival in the middle of the one-day series in Sri Lanka immediately led to the creation of two camps, with a couple of players daring to openly undermine Rahul Dravid's captaincy.
Chappell's methods can be contested. It can be argued that he is naïve, has no understanding of the Indian system, and has been in too much of a hurry to impose his ideas on the team. But can his intentions be questioned? He won the vote to coach India till the World Cup on the basis of a vision. Can he be faulted for being honest to that vision? How long can Indian cricket remained obsessed with personal achievements and comfort itself with glimmers from the past? How long can the Indian cricket fan console himself with individual records while the team continues to underachieve? How long will it take our cricket heroes to realise that overstaying one's welcome is the surest way to mar their own legacy?
Ganguly had, still has, the opportunity to secure his place as a colossus in Indian cricket. But by refusing to acknowledge the bidding of time, by not choosing the right moment to go, he is doing himself, and Indian cricket, a disservice.
Indian cricket needs to make a choice. It is not between Chappell and Ganguly. It is between the right way and the wrong one.
Sambit Bal is the editor of Cricinfo