Friday, November 04, 2005

Has Ganguly received a fair deal?

Has Ganguly received a fair deal?

For some time now, even in the face of some radical and acute ridicule from friends of mine, I have been a staunch, steadfast and devoted supporter of Ganguly. All of this fascination for Ganguly’s contributions to Indian cricket started off with an argument that I had with friends of mine in Melbourne subsequent to India’s disastrous tour of New Zealand in December 2002 (a few months prior to the 2003 World Cup). It was a total and utter catastrophe from and Indian perspective; hardly the sort of preparation that a team should have to undergo prior to a World Cup. The pitches in New Zealand were under-prepared and horrible. So much so that New Zealand Turf Culture Institute guru Keith McAuliffe had to publicly discount the El Nino theory for the state of pitches in New Zealand in the summer of 2002!

A few friends of mine said, “the whole team should be sacked, especially Ganguly”. Now, for some time now, I have felt that the only solution to all known problems that Indians seem to know or care about is what I call the “Danda Raj” (to rule by the stick). The magic potion and the silver bullet to all known and unknown Indian ills is, apparently, to whip out the “danda” (use the stick and sack everyone).

My excessive and, at times, befuddling defense of Ganguly started then.

I yelled out, “A collection of sacks will only give us a godown (warehouse) and not much else!”, before setting off on a path of research and discovery.

But before that, let me chronicle some of Ganguly’s contributions. In my own view, he has achieved a lot for Indian cricket. He brought into the team

  • a sense of self-belief.
  • a fighting spirit.
  • a sense of unity (team above individual).
  • a personnel policy that blended youth and experience.
  • a policy of far-sightedness that meant that players were backed and carried for a whole series instead of the prevailing revolving door policy that meant that players had one match to prove their worth!

Ganguly, perhaps on the basis of his own awful selection experiences, was the first India captain to state his selection principles openly within days of being chosen. He wanted to give players ample opportunities to perform. He resurrected and created many of the personnel who are a part of today’s Team India (Harbhajan, Sehwag and Yuvraj, to name a few). He was the one that insisted that Dravid keep wickets in ODIs. He was the one that insisted that Sehwag open in Tests when even Sehwag himself opposed the idea! And what do we have today? We have Sehwag opening for the ICC World XI against Australia!

It was my view at the time (and remains today) that a revolving-door selection policy will only give you dizzy players and even more dizzy selectors. Ganguly was the first Indian captain who made this a policy in terms of personnel management: a collection of sacks will only give you a nasty godown.

As a leader, he took on the Board and won several important battles for the team. The fact that he was close to the Board and was able to play its politics was, no doubt, in his favour too. But a good leader has to do that. A leader has to make compelling cases and win resource management battles. A good leader has to manage upwards effectively. Ganguly fought and got a physio, a foreign coach, a support unit around the team that included a media manager and the services of a sports psychologist on tap. Note that in the years that Tendulkar was at the helm, he struggled to get even a full-time physio for the team. That doesn’t make Tendulkar a bad leader or incompetent or a bad player. It is just an example, in my view, of Ganguly’s effectiveness as a leader. Ganguly can legitimately these and many more as outcomes that he has been personally responsible for.

There is no doubt in my mind that he is the first “true leader of men” in Indian cricket.

In my view, the rest were either

  • totally incompetent, or
  • corrupt, or
  • completely incapable of motivating men to give off their very best, or
  • played regional politics, or
  • divided the team to safe-guard their own passage, or
  • all of the above.

Ganguly was, in my view, a competent leader who motivated his players to "do battle for him". He supported players and backed them totally. He did not play regional politics and, instead of embroiling the team in administration politics, he himself took all of these with the Board. We have had examples of all of the above.

So, in my view, my support for Ganguly emanated from that belief that he is the first true leader of men India cricket has had.

In terms of on-field results, it is evident that he led India successfully. He is probably one of the captains that Steve Waugh – perhaps the best cricket captain that I will ever see in my lifetime – had a lot of regard for. Yes, Ganguly and Waugh had many a run-in, but to the end, Waugh did maintain a healthy dose of respect for Ganguly, as a leader!

Throughout his reign, the Indian cricket press (I call them the “braying mediocrity of Indian cricket”) continually talked about Ganguly's "form". What specific aspect of his form did these people have a problem with? His win record for India? His batting average? The runs he has made in the West Indies? The runs he has made in England?

Often, the press would quote his “form” in the "last 10 games". Well, if we were to look at changing the team every 10 games, we'd want to have more players in India than we do knickers!! :-)

Ganguly always advocated the selection of players on a combination of potential and form. A player like Ganguly will fire on a few days. He will fail on a few days.

OK. Now onto some facts on Ganguly's value to the team as a player. Here's an attempt to tease out some myths...

Ganguly’s overall ODI record is:

Mat  Runs  HS   BatAv 100  50   W    BB  BowlAv 
279 10123 183   40.65  22  60  93  5/16   37.31  
His average in matches that India has WON is:
Mat  Runs  HS   BatAv 100  50   W    BB  BowlAv 
130  6036 183   55.37  18  33  59  5/16   29.40  

In other words, he has scored heavily in matches that India has WON! Indeed, 18 of his 22 centuries have come in games that India has WON!

His career stats for India in matches as captain:

Mat  Runs  HS   BatAv 100  50   W    BB  BowlAv 
147  5104 144   38.66  11  30  46  5/34   37.63  
Not bad at all, I’d say.
As captain, he won 76 matches. In other words, he won more
than 50% of his games as captain. In these matches his career
stats read:
Mat  Runs  HS   BatAv 100  50   W    BB  BowlAv 
76   3359 144   51.67   9  19  32  5/34   32.06  
Note that his average is higher in matches that India have won,
whether he was captain or not. It would be fair to say that he has
helped India to a lot of these victories.
Let us compare these with the stats for Tendulkar for (a) all
matches, (b) matches that India won, (c) matches for which he
was captain, (d) matches that India won when he was captain.
Mat  Runs  HS   BatAv 100  50   W    BB  BowlAv
352 13815 186*  44.56  38  71 139  5/32   43.35
176  8448 186*  58.26  28  42  86  5/32   32.62
73   2454 186*  37.75   6  12  11  2/61   73.63
23   1360 186*  75.55   5   7   2  1/18   93.50

It is fair to say that Tendulkar’s average is impressive. But let us remember to also consign Ganguly to the history books as a ODI great for India.

If we look at games outside India, the stats fro Ganguly, Dravid and Tendulkar read:

Mat  Runs  HS   BatAv 100  50   W    BB  BowlAv
92   3146 135*  36.16   6  19  20  3/22   53.10
86   3047 123*  44.15   1  30   0   -       -  
109  3467 141   34.32   7  16  28  4/54   54.32

Gnaguly’s stacks up well against these three contemporary greats of Indian cricket.

Ganguly believed in his leadership qualities. Unfortunately, that may have also been his downfall. He may have constantly concentrated on empire building. So much so that that may have become (in his own mind at least) his reason for existence – the very reason for his existence! Towards the last year of his reign, he began to resemble a landlord who looked after his subjects and therefore, expected to be looked after by them! Moreover, my feeling was that he perhaps grew a bit too complacent and thought that his achievements would glide him past his disappointing digs at the crease – of which there were aplenty recently. He did get sloppy and began to work less and deal-make more. All of these may have worked if India had a far more lenient coach. Cricket does not work that way.

Greg Chappell dismantled the landlord myth in a systematic manner and worked out that the team needed. He wanted to cleanse the cancer that had started to set in. Where Ganguly had tremendous pride in playing for India and in seeing India succeed, Greg Chappell may have seen that that had translated into a “kiss kursi ka” mentality in the captain.

The straw that may have broken the camel’s back was his “outing” of the dressing-room conversation between coach and captain; and that too after scoring a century against a below-strength Zimbabwe team. It spoke of a man who was desperate to cling on to a position that he was fast losing grip over. Alas! Ganguly’s renowned and artful political skills and his strategic thinking perhaps let him down at that stage.

And today, although Ganguly had proved his fitness and confirmed his return to form with a century on a green turf at Rajkot against an attack comprising of an impressive North Zone squad, I do believe it is curtains for the best captain India has had in its cricket history. If Ganguly makes a comeback from here, it will be to his ultimate credit. I somehow, do not think he will make the cut anymore. And that is a sad way to farewell

Ironically, it was Ganguly that chose Chappell to succeed John Wright as India Coach. The inside story is that Steve Waugh recommended Tom Moody to Ganguly. However, Saurav plumped for Chappell.

And that is sad really. This is not the way India should farewell its most colourful and successful cricket captain in her cricket history. He is one of four players in ODI history to have scored over 10,000 runs in international cricket.

He has had a great career. Let us remember him for the good things that he did for Indian cricket and let us not confine him to the dark pages of Indian cricket history as a clown who came to a sad end. Ganguly deserves a better place in our archives.

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