Sourav Ganguly’s method and madness make him India’s most colourful skipper ever

first_imgIf Sourav Ganguly’s captaincy was turned into a musical production, what form would it take? The Sound of Music, if only because of a set of song lyrics that seem to define his personality – the ones about out-pestering pests and driving hornets from nests? How about Swan Lake with,If Sourav Ganguly’s captaincy was turned into a musical production, what form would it take? The Sound of Music, if only because of a set of song lyrics that seem to define his personality – the ones about out-pestering pests and driving hornets from nests? How about Swan Lake with initial lyricism and grace followed by conspiracies against the Prince? Or perhaps Jesus Christ, Superstar, as an acknowledgement of the man’s overwhelming sense of self? Those are tame choices.The Indian captain’s saga most closely resembles a jatra, a morality play rooted in Bengali tradition, loaded with melodrama and histrionics. Except in Ganguly’s case everyone, exasperated selectors, chattering commentators and a billion armchair critics, wonder whether he understands the morals of his stories.In his 17 months as full-time captain, Ganguly has not courted trouble, he has married it and sprayed controversy all over Indian cricket like confetti. The euphoric series win over Australia is long past, and without warning his team now goes from magic to tragic and back again. They threw away a Test series win in Zimbabwe with an epidemic of kamikaze batting.Four straight one-day wins were followed by four straight losses setting off the murmurs: the Indian captain was too headstrong, he supported unsupportable players, annoyed the selectors with his contrarian ways (see box) and Sachin Tendulkar was talking elliptically about the job again. With the runs off his bat drying to a trickle, and 15 Test matches lined up in the next 12 months in South Africa, the West Indies and England, it’s open season on Sourav Ganguly, captain and batsman.advertisementThose Who RaveArun Lal”He could either be criticised to hell or go on to become our best captain.” Arun Lal, Former PlayerKiran More”He’s doing a great job. This is a team game. It is our batting that is failing.” Kiran More, Former PlayerB.S. Bedi”A captain’s place should be a certainty on the team. Ganguly’s is not.” B.S. Bedi, Former CaptainK. Srikkanth”Ganguly and the team look confused and woefully short in planning.” K. Srikkanth, Former CaptainA telephone poll carried out by a Mumbai newspaper asked whether Ganguly should be summarily sacked as skipper, and of 3,180 callers in a seven-hour period 2,328 said he should be. Those figures would be turned on their head in Kolkata but that’s just the job.Captaincy is a lofty profession, intended for men above the ordinary who, like stars from 1950s movie posters, gaze out into the future, eyes shining into the long term. Skippers are supposed to have a gravitas, a quiet wisdom and an iron-fisted control over their feelings-all distinctly non-Gangulian character traits.Last week, he became the first captain to be suspended for a match for showing dissent twice. His crime hardly matched the punishment-twitching in the umpire’s direction for about four seconds-but the day he came off suspension, Ganguly had to be dragged away from raining profanities on Sri Lankan batsmen. He was fined 75 per cent of his match fee.There isn’t another skipper in the world with such a quick lip or such a short fuse, and what’s more he’s Indian, that tribe which usually turns the other cheek. Ganguly, not into Gandhism, probably thinks that means being even more cheeky.A couple of weeks ago, with memories of the sudden capitulations in Zimbabwe still fresh, he asked the chairman of selectors, Chandu Borde, why they didn’t consider appointing him for a year and dispense with the series-by-series appointments.Borde brushes this off as a casual remark, describing Ganguly as a “nice boy”. Many think not. Bishan Singh Bedi, a former captain as fiery as the current one, is unimpressed. He says Ganguly’s behaviour has set a bad example and his poor batting has diluted his authority.A board official calls the man’s captaincy “third-rate”. Australian Ian Chappell once even called him “a pretty stupid captain” on air. Throw a stone anywhere and a Ganguly critic will emerge, rubbing his head, asking for Ganguly’s.Arun Lal, a former captain who led Bengal and Ganguly, holds firm, “As captain he will either go down as the best India has seen or end up being criticised to hell and back.” Like the opinions about him, Ganguly swings between two uncomplicated extremes: face to face he is reasonable and urbane, at the head of his team he is instantly inflammable.When he is happy, he dances around his fielders, when he is angry, he hollers. He doesn’t eat meat on Tuesday, supports East Bengal football club, and is currently an Adnan Sami maniac. His thumb rule: Shoot first, worry about casualties later.advertisementA selector who has sat in meetings with India’s past three captains says their operating procedures were as varied as their batting styles. Mohammed Azharuddin was the most “polished”, Tendulkar “not pushy” and Ganguly would never die wondering.The selector says, “Sourav doesn’t mince his words. What he feels, he says. Azhar would accept what you said, Sachin would ask you for a reason and never broach the topic again. Sourav will try to convince selectors again and again. He doesn’t sulk, but he doesn’t give up easily.”Nothing like the Ganguly of 1992 or even 1996 when he made his famous comeback. That one was withdrawn and quiet to the point of being invisible. Captaincy has come to the Kolkatan like a pat on his back. It has squared his shoulders, set his jaw and over-ridden that seriously uncool moustache.Some believe that leadership has only given the already lordly left-hander an arrogance above his abilities, but there are others who say he brings some missing spice to the job. “For how much longer are we going to be the good boys of cricket?” says a former player.India’s most venerated leader M.A.K. Pataudi thinks Ganguly settled into the India captaincy well because “he is not overawed by the job”. Going by his ICC match referee rap sheet, some would say he’s somewhat “underwhelmed”. Here is where the Ganguly jatra takes a surprising turn: his team doesn’t care what the world thinks.As a young player he was accused of being aloof and obsessed with his own batting. Today his teammates single out communication as his most outstanding quality. When opener Sadagopan Ramesh was being roasted by the TV experts, Ganguly told him he was sure Ramesh would finish with a better average than “those guys”.Nervous first-timers are reassured with constant peptalk. The ritual of debutants receiving their Test caps, as celebration and welcome, is now performed outdoors in front of the cameras on Ganguly’s insistence.Players don’t mind being pulled up for misfielding from a captain not quite Jonty Rhodes himself. “It looks worse on TV than it actually is,” says one. “It’s just his way of telling us to do the right thing. It starts and finishes on the ground,” says another.They are loyal to their cowboy captain because he believes in being liberal with chances. When they let him down, like in Sri Lanka he’s equally liberal with criticism. “It’s unfortunate but true-these guys lack the temperament to play in the international arena. They have this problem of attitude,” he let rip at the young batsmen.Ganguly versus the selectorsHIS BOYS: Yuvraj Singh (left) and Agarkar are Ganguly’s pet candidatesAs captain Ganguly has often driven the selectors crazy. The five-man committee has found itself paying heed to the captain and then wondering why it even bothered.For the Sri Lanka tri-series, Ganguly specifically singled out Madhya Pradesh hard-hitter Amay Khurasia to replace the injured Tendulkar. He was pulled out of English league cricket but played in only two matches.advertisementYuvraj Singh, rated highly by the captain, was instead given plenty of chances to play himself into form.Despite nothing to show from Zimbabwe, Ajit Agarkar made the Lanka tour where he was a tourist, suffering from sunstroke while sitting in the window seat of the aircraft to Colombo.”Sourav has left us in the dark and without answers,” says a selector. His captaincy though seems alittle more secure than his popularity.”This is no time to change captains. What can he do if the batting lets the team down?” says one selector.Another wants to give the Kolkatan the long rope to see how he will fare on tougher overseas tours.But captaincy is not all about sound and fury, no matter if it’s entertaining. Mike Brearley, who led England in 31 Tests despite a career batting average of just 22, listed what a modern captain should be: “Loving and tough, straightforward and crafty, ready to gamble everything and wishing to have everything, generous and greedy, trusting and suspicious.” The greatest of captains manage to be all of those things at the same time. The apprentices, Ganguly included, embrace them sporadically.Anshuman Gaekwad, who has played under five India captains and been coach to three, says Ganguly’s biggest strength is his aggression but would like him to be a little more tactically flexible.Last year in the ICC Knock Out Trophy final, Gaekwad wanted Ganguly to bowl Yuvraj Singh at Chris Cairns to make the tall New Zealander stretch and put his weight on an injured knee. “Sourav thought that because he played left-arm spinners so well so could Cairns and he didn’t want to try.” Cairns won the title for New Zealand.Maninder Singh thinks his handling of his second-string bowlers needs to be more thoughtful. Bowlers define captains in two groups: those who give them fields they want and those who don’t. Azharuddin belonged to the former, particularly with his favourite spinners, Tendulkar gave bowlers a couple of overs headstart before setting his own positions and Ganguly is a fifty-fifty man.He will go halfway but no more if it does not suit the strategy he has in mind. He remains a leader driven largely by instinct-whether it means changing tactics in the five minutes it takes to walk from dressing room to the middle or a surprise declaration, like the one that caught Zimbabwe off guard in the Delhi Test last year, when India were only 30-odd ahead.A captain’s skill lies in knowing when to trust common sense and strategy and when to go by gut feel. “You either win or lose; I don’t believe in draws,” he says but victories, specially overseas, are carved out by predictable things like long hours of occupying the crease and being patient during bad sessions in the field.Ganguly’s supporters-and they do exist-believe a longer spell and some maturity will take care of that. If Ganguly the Test batsman survives till then. Going by his form, a minefield of trouble awaits him in the middle. The slump is not a recent byproduct of Steve Waugh’s “disintegration” campaign. It has come over a two season period: in his past 10 Tests he has averaged 23.31, and hasn’t scored a 50 in his last five (ave.13.33). Bedi believes, “His fallibility as a batsman has been detected and he has not made much effort to rectify his batting technique.After a few years, it happens to all batsmen and then the strength of character takes you to the next stage.” Ex-India player Ashok Malhotra, who counts himself more a friend than a selector, says, “He’s too good a batsmen for us to be worried. He will find a way.”It’s been an adrenaline-charged first year and today captain Ganguly has proved that he can go eyeball to eyeball with any opposition and not take a backward step. To mature as a leader now he must seek the middle ground between power and responsibility.He clearly enjoys and is at ease with power. But in the Tests against Sri Lanka, Sourav Ganguly, a central figure in a batting line-up with more reputations than runs nowadays, must take on greater responsibility.last_img

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