Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Dada Distraction

Sourav Ganguly announced this morning that he would retire from Test Cricket at the end of this Australian tour. This news comes at the worst possible time for India, and yet it has Sourav Ganguly's signature stamped all over it. It is hard not to see immediate parallels between Steve Waugh's announcement just before India's 2003-04 tour of Australia. The tour quickly became one long farewell tour for Waugh, and some have suggested that this hurt Australia.

Sourav Ganguly has been an exasperating figure. He is probably India's best left handed batsman ever, and yet, for almost half of his Test Match career, was basically carried by the Indian batting line up. He averaged 34 with the bat in Test Cricket as captain against the other 7 top Test playing nations (basically, in Test matches not featuring Bangladesh and Zimbabwe). He was invariably involved in taking brilliant catches, and making clutch stops in high pressure situations in ODI games, and yet, the rest of the time was less than adequate as a fielder. He was an aggressive figure, who was also a fairly conservative tactician. He was a great fighter, who also allegedly feigned injury against Australia at Nagpur.

And yet, he was an endearing figure. His was a polarizing presence, but he was always squarely in India's corner. He was exactly the sort of captain India needed after the disastrous depths of the match-fixing scandal. Apart from his brilliant batting as a One Day International opening batsman in the first half of his career, Ganguly's greatest contribution was his ability harness some talent (which he was lucky to have, thanks to a reasonable group of selectors), and get India's cricket watching public to believe in its cricket team again. That is going to be his singular legacy.

The announcement of his departure has been characteristically ham handed. There was no reason to announce this right now. It seems to have come about as an afterthought, what with the "One last thing lads" preamble. It was an important announcement. Ganguly has had an fine career and the announcement should have been made properly and formally, not as a "oh and by the way" appendage. From the point of view of the India - Australia series, it could not have come at the worse time, two days before the series begins, virtually tying the selectors hands for the rest of the series.

The proper way for Ganguly to have announced his retirement, one worthy of a player of his stature, would have been to announce it on the eve of the Nagpur Test match, with the Chairman of Selectors by his side in a full fledged press conference. That would have been the serious, well thought out way of doing it. Ganguly leaves himself open to criticism that he made this adhoc announcement to avoid being dropped in case he doesn't perform in the first two Tests.

For his sake, and for India's sake, i hope he makes lots of runs in this series. With Australia's bowling being what it is, he wont have a better chance to improve his record against Australia at home (383 runs at 27.35 with a highest of 66).

A more substantive appreciation of Sourav Ganguly is most certainly in order, but that will have to wait until he actually retires. For now, all i will hope for is that Sourav Ganguly's final Test series does not end up like Steve Waugh's final Test series - a valedictory tour full of missteps. I hope Ganguly gets rousing ovations in all the four Test Matches, but i hope he won't feel slighted if the applause is not quite on the Steve Waugh scale.

This announcement right now is a mistake in my view. It is also typical Sourav Ganguly.

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