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Analysis

From one sudden-death to another

Sourav Ganguly's appointment as captain for only one series is an uneasy arrangement for everyone concerned

Commentary by Rahul Bhattacharya
12-Aug-2005


Sourav Ganguly gets just one series to prove his form as captain and batsman © Getty Images
Calcutta's Telegraph assured its readers this morning that it would take the "mother of all coups" overnight to prevent Sourav Ganguly's reinstatement as national captain and, much to the benefit of peace in the city, that has not happened despite a selection meeting which lasted roughly four times longer than had been anticipated. The man is back in the seat but confirmed only for a single tour, and it is quite remarkable that the selectors had not the nous to sense the unease of this arrangement. Ganguly himself is understood to have favoured a longer term, say till the year end, no matter who got the job. Perfectly reasonable that is too.
It is regular practice, of course, for Indian captains to be appointed on a series basis, but extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary measures. We've often seen a pair of batsmen at the crease together knowing full well that they're competing against each other as much as with each other. But a captaincy shootout is a bit unique.
The selectors are not allowed to tell us, on the record anyway, whether they picked Ganguly because, well, they had never decided to replace him in the first place, or whether the India they saw under Rahul Dravid was not sufficiently promising. One would have to deduce it was the latter case, else why was Dravid appointed unconditionally and for the entire length of that tournament? In the event, what we had in Sri Lanka was something of a sudden-death scenario, one which doused the side in uncertainty if not worse. Now we will have another sudden-death, for Ganguly is on a one-month trial. And, guess what, should nothing conclusive emerge from Zimbabwe, as it very well could from the one-dayers anyway, then, why, we will go at it one more time ...
Beneath this temporary resolution lie questions which nobody really knows the answers to. If Ganguly aroused enough faith to lead India to the West Indian World Cup then why was he not allowed to lead the side when he returned to it? If Dravid was really being considered as a long-term candidate then how on earth can he have been judged on one tournament, the first of a new season and the first under a new coach?
It must be appreciated that we have here two very different men with very distinct styles of leading. Indeed, one of the few fascinations in Indian cricket recently has been to compare the leadership of Ganguly and Dravid. A confident Ganguly awakens something of the animal in his men; even so Dravid is the more tactically aggressive, with a suggestion of brilliance even, were he to spend time on the job. Ganguly is famously a `backer', firm in the belief that sooner or later his faith in his boys and his formulas will pay off. Dravid, from what he has shown, prefers freestyle, with a thought for the occasion. Go do your thing, I'm behind you and I'll give you what you want, Ganguly seems to tell his men. Dravid lays out the challenge - look now, bowlers, this is your field, it is set for good bowling and you had better raise your game and make it count. If we are to accept Tiger Pataudi's broad compartmentalisation of captains as those who push from the back and those who pull from the front, then Ganguly clearly is of the first type and Dravid most likely the second.
Having to constantly yo-yo between two different styles would leave any side in a twist. Not that the team has been doing much to help their captains. It's now become fairly obvious to most followers that they had rather underestimated just how deep the problems are, particularly in limited-overs cricket. This is now a bonafide weak one-day side, batting, bowling, fielding and fitness all somewhere between middling and lousy.
For the creativity he has shown (though sometimes uncomfortably eccentric), for his streak of ruthlessness, for his marvellous ability to lead by example, and for claiming an unquestionable place in both XIs, this correspondent would have preferred that Dravid be given the task of dragging the team out of the pit. Yet, who is to know for sure? Ganguly has his many strengths and anyhow journalists get it wrong all the time. The decision has been made and it must be hoped that Ganguly is able to rediscover (and sustain) his best self and help lift the cloud that hangs over Indian cricket.
Perhaps, though, we've all been obsessing far too much with the captain and the coach. When the individual team members are not playing well enough or, in several cases, simply aren't good enough, there is little any leader can do. It is hard to escape the feeling that a long and possibly melancholy season lays ahead for India.

Rahul Bhattacharya is contributing editor of Wisden Asia Cricket, and the author of Pundits from Pakistan.