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Sourav Ganguly says that he enjoys touring more than playing at home. With so many people around and so much hype, Ganguly suggests that he feels cramped in domestic surroundings. Indeed he never tires of pointing out that he has a better Test average away than at home. At 47.66, his away average is almost seven points higher than the corresponding figure of 40.79 at home. Ganguly is not the only Indian to possess such a distinction. Rahul Dravid and Sadagoppan Ramesh also share it and while Sachin Tendulkar does not, he still averages a healthy 53 away. Dravid actually boasts a figure above 50 in seven of the nine countries he has played in (except Sri Lanka where he is close enough and Australia where he is far enough) which is positively brilliant.
A closer scrutiny reveals some warts in that seemingly impeccable looking away record. The captain for instance has not approached the uniformly good record across the five continents as his second number. He has come, seen but failed to conquer in four nations: Australia, South Africa, West Indies (from where not coincidentally the best fast bowlers hail) and Zimbabwe. One of the commonly articulated grouses of batsmen is the lack of sufficient practice games to get acclimatised to the conditions. A hastily arranged visit from South Africa to break their isolation in 1991/92 meant that one of India's warm-ups in the subsequent tour of Australia was lopped off the itinerary. India went into the first Test with just one first class game behind them and were ritually slaughtered.
On the first tour of Zimbabwe in 1992/93, India blithely entered the Test without so much as a first class game behind them and almost faced the mortification of a follow-on. Six years later, on their second tour, they had one game which they won by an innings without hardly breaking into a sweat. But that one innings of batting practice clearly did not suffice for when it came to the crunch, the celebrated Indian batting folding up without so much as a whimper. With two games scheduled this time (in which the Indians utilised all four innings) they have nothing to complain about. Four Indian batsmen grabbed the opportunity to make centuries and yet there have been some disturbing signs.
The Indian captain's Test place is largely hanging on reputation. He hasn't scored a century in his last 11 Tests. It should be a challenge Ganguly should be raring to overcome by getting as much match practice in the middle before the Test. In the circumstances, his approach in the second warm-up game was a trifle baffling. Having failed in both innings against Zimbabwe A in the first tour game, what did Ganguly do against CFX Academy? He promoted Hemang Badani who does not figure in the Indian team's plans for the first Test ahead of him in the batting order and then retired after making 53 which was incidentally his first 50 in his last eight first class games. Shades of overconfidence?
The stunning turnaround midway through the series against Australia meant that Ganguly was forgiven for his poor run with the bat. There is a perception running in sections of the public that he sacrificed his personal form for the sake of the team by focusing his energies on the verbal pleasantries. It may be difficult to reproduce such aggro now when the team is installed as favourite and not as underdog. Ganguly's place in the team is not under threat. Far from it. Mark Taylor and Nasser Hussain have survived longer periods in the batting horrors. As long as the team wins, all other foibles will be forgiven. But to keep winning India needs the skipper to fire in his primary role sooner rather than later. He should realise that, as the old cliche goes, the willow can speak the most eloquently of all.