My heart totally goes out to Ganguly.
This is no way to send off the most successful captain. His 40 and 39 weren’t great knocks, but they were pretty adequate given the batting position assigned to him, that requires him to drop anchor. He was only doing the job of a middle order batsman: To hang in there protecting the lower order from the bowlers and giving the batsman in form the charge.
I’m not exactly a Ganguly fan, though I did make a case for him earlier when he was sacked for inconsistency, saying that sport is played through emotions. It’s best enjoyed when you see players ruled by their heart having a blast. I hate to see an emotional side like India turn into a cold-hearted winning machine because a machine does not have a heart. It’s programmed. Sport aint about winning, it’s about character.
The sort of character Ganguly displayed when he removed his shirt … that was like him taking Flintoff’s pants off. The sort of character Venkatesh Prasad showed by striking timber after being hit for a six, showing the batsman the way back to the pavilion. The sort of character Courtney Walsh presented, without running the runner-out-of-his-crease out. The sort of character Dhoni demonstrated in his record innings of 183, blasting his way to the second highest score by an Indian… or Sehwag’s rule-breaking triple hundred or Lara’s batting flamboyance.
None of these unforgettable moments in sport were instances of classic science and applied formula. They were all feats of sportsmen playing their heart out.
The new team India is moving away from what has been the quintessential element of sport: Instinct.
The focus is on developing a standardised winning machine and importance of human and personal relationships seem to be taking a backseat.
People don’t seem to matter anymore. Nor does talent. It’s become like the military, where you train the soldier for war, standardise him, strip him of his individuality and make him wear the uniform that the coach wants him to. Incidentally, Chappell was raised in a military family.
Today, the team is a unit under command and players are kept on a leash. Players merely take orders from the boss/bosses. And cricket is becoming like a routine nine-to-five job with deadlines and targets. Players become soldiers on a mission to win.
So Pathan, with all due credit to his batting abilities, becomes the suicide bomber sent out right at the top order, Ganguly becomes an all-rounder, Dhoni is sent in at all possible slots, Yuvraj has a sword hanging over his head and Gambhir has coach Chappell’s hand over his.
The idea is flexibility, we hear. There lies the contradiction in the approach. Flexibility only makes for unpredictability, not for scientific strategising.
Though it might work for you initially, it’s just a matter of time before the opposition knows you’re gonna send a bowler in at No.3 or give Dhoni the ball at the bowler’s end. The shock value would ultimately wear out.
Also, let’s not forget that we’re just playing at home under favourable conditions. Flexibility here does not prove anything and on the contrary might prove to be misleading. Send in a pinch hitter at No.3 in South Africa or Australia and it might have disastrous results.
You cannot design a winning machine and a batting order that’s based on the same principle as lottery. Preparing your team for surprises is one thing and letting a player settle and specialise in a specific slot that suits his individual style is another. If you really wanted to play scientifically with a specialist for each position (as the selectors now pretend as they ask for a specialist opener), then you don’t mess around with the batting order under the pretext of flexibility.
The team management is doing well hiding behind the ‘Flexibility’ strategy, aided well with some promising batting by Pathan, Yuvraj and Dhoni but didn’t these guys always perform well, even when Ganguly was captain? Scrape the surface and you can see a team ruled by the whims and fancies of a megalomaniac coach.
A man who has the audacity to show the finger to the people of a country he’s come to serve (Can you imagine this happening in any other part of the world and the foreign national not losing his job?). A man with a grudge against the former captain. A man who knows to manipulate the clowns crowned as selectors — the failed cricketers who have their own scores to settle with the captain, their own agendas to push.
I don’t want to see Ganguly as captain again, now that Dravid is comfortably settled in the job and doing a pretty neat job of it but the least Indian cricket can offer its most successful captain is a decent exit. But there is a need to handle people with more sensitivity and understanding. Where is the happy Indian huddle?
Dravid is surely maturing into a fine captain, but I hate the coldness in his words when he says it’s a happy problem to choose between Yuvraj and Ganguly. Surely, that’s not how a captain backs his players. Pathan, Dhoni, Yuvraj and Dravid himself were all players Ganguly backed and stood behind: rock solid. True he has had problems with VVS Laxman but then again, Laxman hasn’t been the most consistent of batsmen either. (You can test that statement and compare his performance with Sourav’s own here.)
‘Divide and Rule’ has been one of the oldest strategies employed by the white man. Pity, we are falling for it all over again.
There’s something that’s pure and virginal about sport that is turning into a manufactured assembly-line ritual with military discipline. Now, it has become serious work.
All work and no play.
At this juncture, I find most apt, the words with which fictional sports agent Jerry Maguire signs off his mission statement — what his mentor Dicky Fox once told him: “The secret to this job is personal relationships.”