Less than twenty four hours after the national selectors decided to wield the axe on Sourav Ganguly, the Indian board started desperately pursuing damage control. What triggered the panic button was not the extent or intensity of mass protests, which were predictable, but outrage expressed across the political spectrum.
Sharad Pawar, the BCCI president, who categorically claimed that he was not party to the decision, told the Times of India, "As a cricket lover, I am hurt and shocked over the exclusion of Ganguly. In the Delhi Test his performance was satisfactory. Also, he was a victorious captain and we feel proud of him".
Already, moves are on behind the scenes to review the issue and to, if possible, provide Ganguly with a more dignified exit. Pawar has let it be known that it is "my prerogative" to sit with the selectors in the next "two or three days" to "understand" what actually happened. The scheduled selection committee meeting on December 22 and 23 thus assumes considerable significance.
Principal among the various `rehabilitation' measures being discussed is the one whereby Ganguly will be included for the upcoming tour of Pakistan as one final appearance for the national side. This is to enable him a "Steve Waugh-like exit" and even if he were to score two consecutive hundreds there it would make no difference.
After the defeat of the Jagmohan Dalmiya camp - believed to have solidly stood behind Ganguly on all occasions - in the recent board elections the latest selectorial decision is being widely seen as vindictive on the part of the new incumbents.
Pranab Mukherjee, India's defence minister and Pawar's cabinet colleague, and Buddhadev Bhattacharjee, West Bengal's chief minister, were among those who criticised the dropping of the former captain from the team.
"I think we should not play politics in cricket. He is a good player and should be in the team," Mukherjee was quoted by AFP. Bhattacharjee supported his state's most successful cricketer ever, saying: "This is unjust ... It is an insult to Sourav and to all of us."
"Extraneous factors are deciding all these things, and a dirty game is on," said Mohammad Salim, the Marxist member of parliament, whose party is an ally of the central government. Gurudas Dasgupta, the Communist Party of India MP, said, "throwing out Sourav is the worst kind of politics". He has also shot off a letter to the board president on the issue.
The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party's Arun Jaitley, the Samajwadi Party's Amar Singh and the Rashtriya Janata Dal's Laloo Prasad Yadav too complained in parliament about the "unfair" treatment meted out to Ganguly. Somnath Chatterjee, the parliament speaker, has reportedly spoken to Praful Patel, a Pawar confidante and central government minister, on the issue and the need to make amends for Ganguly.
Prominent people from other walks of life have also joined the chorus against Ganguly's ouster. Soumitra Chatterjee, legendary hero of many a Satyajit Ray film, claimed that, "It's an act of treachery to cricket that has polluted the sport's atmosphere".
Ganguly had scored 40 and 39 in the second Test against Sri Lanka at Delhi. After the match the selection committee met and announced the squad for the final Test at Ahmedabad. The selectors explained Ganguly's exclusion on the grounds of retaining the in-form Yuvraj Singh in the playing XI as part of the team's nurturing of younger talents and its build up to the 2007 World Cup. But, according to critics, this position contradicted the selectors' earlier promise not to tamper with winning combinations.
The selectors, on their part, have said that the decision was "not motivated or made in a hurry". Kiran More, the chairman of selectors, said that "our decision is final. We will not change it".