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Sight Screen

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Sourav saga -- the sequel

India won the second Test; but that was a given before the day even got under way. The real talking points of the day were two decisions by the national selection committee -- one good, one questionable.
Giving Rahul Dravid the captain's armband for the Pakistan and England series is the good bit; he now knows he has the job for the span of two very tough assignments, and can prepare his team, and his strategies, without the uncertainty of captaincy.
The questionable bit is the axing of Sourav Ganguly -- and the timing of it.
Firstly, he did not in this Test do anything that merited his axing. His scores in the two innings of 40 and 39 were, numerically, below his own par; but against that, by no stretch can they be dubbed failures. That is point one.
Two, he was pro-active in the field, forming part of the team discussions and even playing a role in discussions with individual bowlers. Too often in the past we have over a beer argued that while the captain is in charge, senior players need to take more responsibility for keeping an eye on the game, pointing out things the captain might have missed, geeing up the bowlers and such. Had Sourav on his comeback sulked in the outfield, you could point to his attitude; in fact, however, he did the reverse and more than played his part on the field. That is point three.
That the team is worried about Gautam Gambhir's form, and wants to explore a backup option in Wasim Jaffar, is understandable; it is difficult, too, to quarrel with the notion that Yuvraj Singh has long merited an extended run in the middle order.
Granting all this, to axe Sourav after this one game, in this fashion, is merely compounding the original error of the previous selection committee, which did the math, realized it could not logically slot him into the mix, and created that mythical label, the 'all rounder', in order to squeeze him in.
That was -- for all that the Yashpal Sharmas of this world rail about the coach -- a ridiculous act; more humiliating for a proud cricketer than being dropped with reason. Had Sourav been omitted from the team against Lanka, there would have been an uproar, yes -- but there would also have been a clear option for the team and the selectors.
If the players picked did not play their role, there would have been a natural case for bringing Sourav back; had all the players shown form and substance, the case for Sourav would then have to be made by the player himself, in the domestic arena -- as, say, VVS Laxman did earlier, when he was first dropped after his failures as an opener.
But this? To pick him as an 'all rounder' was an error; to drop him now, the insult added to that injury. At the very least the team, having picked him anyway, could have given him the third Test, to further demonstrate his fitness and form, before taking a call on his future. How fit him into the ranks for another Test? Oh, any number of ways -- for instance, rest Sehwag, let him fully recover from an illness that, just a few days ago, saw him on a hospital bed being fed through tubes. Surely resting him for one more Test would not cripple Viru's morale? Nor significantly impact on India's chances at Motera?
We can argue back and forth about averages -- to claim, or dispute, Sourav's inclusion. For me, though, his axing midway through the series (and please, spare the guff about being in the frame for Pakistan -- the team math is not going to change, so how are you going to fit him into that squad?) leaves as much of a bad taste in the mouth as his being corkscrewed into the team by selectors playing to a particular interest group did.
Sambit Bal on Cricinfo weighs in on the decision.
The instant reaction to the decision to drop Saurav Ganguly from the Indian Test team is one of sadness, because, in all probability, this is the end of the road for him. You wished for a better farewell for a man who will be recognised, when emotions recede and a more detached assessment can be made, as India's ballsiest leader till his time. Stripped off captaincy, he did all that he could have done as a mere soldier in the Delhi Test. His batting wasn't spectacular but his 40 and 39 were vital contributions at delicate junctures of the match

And elsewhere, Sambit says:
Ganguly's Test performances have been patchy at best, and as much as we might have willed him to go out on a high, it was only a matter of time for him. India are about to play two Test series against opponents who will test them to the limits and they need to give themselves the best chance of success. Yuvraj stands a better chance of playing through the series against Pakistan and England. He deserves to play without feeling insecure. And if the Indian team were to break away from Ganguly, it is better now than in the middle of those tours. Carrying Ganguly in the squad and not playing him in the XI would have been meaningless and created tensions that the team can do without.

That bit about picking him and not playing him is the line the selectors have used, too; in my mind, it raises a question: why not?
Firstly, we seem, IMHO, to use the 'create tensions' argument without really examining it. Had Sourav been in the dressing room with the captaincy question still up in the air, there possibly could be grounds for that apprehension. But that question has been pretty much decided -- Dravid is clearly the leader.
I would think that given that, and if only for self-preservation (we might also want to consider that he is not so sorry a human being that he will disrupt the team if he cannot lead it), Sourav would, rather than be a catalyst for tension, walk the extra mile to avoid it. After all, as a regular member of the side without any sheltering umbrella, his concern I would think would be to cement his place, not indulge in behavior that could get him axed.
So whence came this 11th Commandment: Thou shalt play if thou dost pick?
To pick him in the team indicates you have him on the radar; the fact that he may not make a particular playing composition merely indicates the team management's judgment that he is not the best horse for that particular course. Where is the negative connotation in that? For instance, a game might come where the conditions are overcast and the track and atmospherics hugely conducive to swing and seam. In such a case, wouldn't there be merit in picking Sourav the 'all rounder'? You would then need to drop one of the others -- maybe Laxman, maybe Yuvraj, or Gambhir, whoever. Where lies the harm? Cricket decisions need to be pragmatic -- not emotional.

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