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The Ganguly Affair: An account through the eyes of a novice
19 December  2005

Let me start with a disclaimer. I am merely a cricket fan. I have followed the sport for close to 20 years, and I offer but another one of a billion “cricket opinions”.

As a people we Indians are prone to histrionics. Maybe that’s an understatement given that ‘effigy burning’ is considered an acceptable form of social intercourse. But this emotion-ridden overreaction is unfortunately not restricted to the lay men. And all of this rumbling and grumbling has reached a crescendo with the exit of one Sourav Ganguly from the Indian cricket team.

So what really happened?
For starters Ganguly’s performances as a batsmen started tapering off over the last 2 years but his remarkable ability to score big runs against small teams (with due respect to Zimbabwe and Bangladesh) ensured that his average remained high enough to stay in the reckoning. But the crux of the matter was that this once strong leader of Indian cricket was fast becoming a divisive factor. If Mr Chappell’s email is to be believed, and there seems little reason not to believe it, then Ganguly’s inclusion in the team was causing more harm and distrust than ought to be tolerated. And this, I believe, has been the decisive factor for his exclusion.

The new BCCI
But stories in Indian cricket are always shrouded in ‘open-secrets’. The first critical ‘open secret’ is that Mr Dalmiya has been a great supporter of Ganguly’s and this had greatly influenced the latter’s continued stint at the helm of the team. The new BCCI, while doing everything it can to appear impartial in matters of selection, asked the three pro-Ganguly selectors (another ‘open-secret’) to leave. And that is where his fate was sealed.

Silly mistakes
The biggest problem with the Indian selectors is that they have a rather poor spokesperson. Kiran More was an excellent wicket-keeper (even though he dropped Gooch on 36 at the Lord’s test in 1990) and may very well be a good selector. But when he announces the team his attempts at explanations cause more controversy than necessary. Ganguly is not an all-rounder. Tagging him as one was a mistake. He may have been one 15 years ago, but his bowling has steadlily gone down-hill and despite wickets in Duleep trophy matches he is a batsman and a batsman alone. And after the Delhi test match More should have merely announced the new team without offering explanations about how they did not want Ganguly to sit out matches. These two announcements have merely added to the confusion and offer the Ganguly camp a few more arguments that shouldn’t really be there.

The problem of plenty – Plenty of opinions
In a country of a billion people the one thing we are never short of is opinions. Each one of us understands the game a lot better than everyone else, and we all know what the right team should be. But the fundamental problem is that we assume ability on the cricket field improves one’s understanding of the sport.

A number of former cricketers have been quoting More’s numerous statements and highlighting inconsistencies and irrational explanations. There as been an outcry about treating our heroes badly and loud voices have taken over the debate. An erstwhile attacking Indian opener who is now known for his infinite witticisms is a case in point. When asked to discuss the exclusion of Ganguly on a TV show he chose to completely ignore any sort of rationale offered by any other panelist and drowned out various well-founded opinions with his raucous yelling. But we are losing focus. The crux of the debate is not whether the selectors offered the right explanation. The question really is, “Does Sourav Ganguly have a role to play in the future of Indian cricket?”

Quietly, unobtrusively an article by Sambit Bal appeared on Cricinfo and offered a remarkably sane account of the affair. It was initially entitled ‘Sad but right’ and that sums up the entire saga.

And finally, my opinion
Ganguly in his prime was an excellent leader of the Indian cricket team and helped establish the winning feeling. At his best he was an exceptional player of spin bowling and was a true match-winner in the shorter form of the game. But let us face the facts. He is no longer at his prime.

At the end of the day one must step back and judge this decision purely on cricketing terms. Is Ganguly one of the six best batsmen in the land? Probably not. Is he likely to be a divisive factor in the Indian cricket team? Possibly. The real question is that if tomorrow India was to play the best test team in the world in the most trying circumstances would you want Ganguly in the mix? My personal guess is “No”.

But then again, what do I know?

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