Friday, January 25, 2008

THE ONE ABOUT "Ganguly dropped as selectors focus on youth"

While I was still in Calcutta (it became 'Kolkata' only after I came here), seldom has a test match been played at Eden Gardens without me being present in the gallery. I am not just an ardent cricket fan but a dedicated lover of the game. With love comes the obligation to behave responsibly which meant I had to follow the unofficial edict laid down by the Cricket pundits that appreciation of talent, sportsmanship and the game should come before any emotional aspects. I have tried this and had limited success with other teams playing but failed miserably when it came to India. When Miandad would frustrate the Indian bowling attack or people like Afridi, Jayasuriya, Saeed Anwar, Ponting would mercilessly thrash our bowlers all over the ground ... I could hardly appreciate their cricketing genius and my patriotic sentiments hoplessly took over. However, the buck stopped there and no emotion would trickle down to the domestic level with thoughts of regionalism cropping up. This is contrary to how most Bengali's would probably approach the game in thinking that when it comes to Cricket, Saurav Ganguly is God. Such has been the impact over the past 13 years that his name is, at times, uttered with that of Rabindranath Thakur, Satyajit Ray or Amartya Sen. Most Bengalis believe that we desperately needed a cricketing role model from Bengal in order to wipe off the smirk off the rest of the country (especially Bombay) that Bengalis can't play Cricket! "Be with your Football and East Bengal and Mohan Bagan .... this is different ... leave this to us". From the very beginning, the Indian cricket team has almost been run like a personal piggy-bank of the Bombay Cricket Association, with our cricketing history filled with hundreds of negative decisions against other provinces (including Bengal), who were not considered to be of the right 'pedigree'. The popular thought went as this ... if you can hold a cricket bat in Bombay ... you can stand in line for the India cap. Finaly in 1995, with a couple of dazzling centurion innings in England, Saurav Ganguly debuted as a prominent beacon of Bengal cricket. Surprisingly, even at a young age of 20, I was not washed away by popular clannish feelings. I remember being simply happy that we found a couple of strong and powerful cricketers because I was tired of seeing a lot of mediocre ones that just acted as fillers in our team. In case you are wondering what I meant by 'couple of ... cricketers', I am referring to Rahul Dravid who also started with Saurav and handsomely scored 95 and 87, unlucky to miss out on his centuries but enough to leave a strong impression. Even though I am a Bengali and did not have very respectable things to say about the Bombay Cricket Association, my version of God when it comes to Cricket is ... unarguably ... Sachin Tendulkar. I have literally admired, revered and worshipped him. He single-handedly pulled Indian cricket during its dark ages, when he did not have the support of players like Ganguly, Dravid, Laxman and Sehwag. Of all the Cricket, Bollywood and Hollywood celebrities taken together, it was only Sachin's poster that was proudly put up on my bedroom wall. Even today, given a choice, I would like to speak and shake hands with Tendulkar. He is not a player but a phenomenon in Indian cricket and I can frankly give a damn if he is from Bombay or Bhilai or Barmer. In spite of this, my non-bengai friends at the University tried relentlessly to awaken the sleeping lion inside my Bengali soul by choosing to say negative things about Saurav (which I am sure they didn't mean) just to see how this Bong reacts but they were never succesful. I would not bite the bait and always convert the discussion into a technical one, putting emphasis on the exchange of cricketing logic and statistics. Never have my friends heard me speak out for Saurav Ganguly simply because I am regionally and culturally predisposed to do so. Why should today be an exception? It isn't ... it is logic and statistics all over again. The decision to drop Ganguly it seems was a result of strong opposition to his inclusion from our one-day skipper MS Dhoni. This is the same person who, a few days back during the 1st innings of the Adelaide test when India really needed him to stay put and score some valuable runs, scored 16 off 64 balls! Instead, it was the old horse Anil Kumble and the eternal toss around Harbhajan Singh score 87 and 63, respectively and put some respectability into our total. The skeptic would argue that test cricket is a completely difefrent game and shouldn't be mixed with ODIs. But, that shouldn't mean in tests he doesn't need to bat or score runs. After all it is on the same turf against the same bowler throwing the same ball at the same speed from the same distance. Then what is the God damn holdup? Anyay, I will satisfy the skeptic and ignore his recent Test record and focus only on ODIs. In the One-Day Internationals (ODIs), Dhoni in the past 1 year has scored 1035 runs in 35 matches with an average of 43.12, while Ganguly has scored 1129 runs in 30 matches with an average of 43.42. Even today at the lone T20 match at Melbourne, our proud skipper scored 9 off 27 deliveries. So, the guy with more runs in fewer appearences with an equal (to be precise slightly better) average has to drop out of the squad and the other gets to lead the team??? I must have gone stark raving mad as to not see the obvious flaws with Ganguly, which Dhoni himself or the selectors could easily observe. To rub salt on his (and our) wounds, he was replaced by Suresh Raina, who magically keeps coming back after having gone through multiple cycles of trials, tests and failures. His statistics show a total 612 runs in 36 matches with an average of 26.60. This person will replace Ganguly? Well .... the official comment was "Ganguly has been left out because youngsters are being included in the one-day squad with the future in mind ... and he is not a very good fielder". So, it is not about talent, experience or even record ... it is about age and fielding skills. There is nothing Ganguly or anyone can do about his age, so it is pointless talking about it. As far as fielding is concerned, isn't that why we dropped Md. Kaif? In spite of being the most athletic and agile fielder, we said "enough running around .... you bat or you go". So, with this burning example of how fielding skills alone cannot justify someone's presence in our team, we dropped one of the most experienced and talented cricketers in our team with someone who has no experience, talent or record and point fingers at fielding? I could never understand the need of our selectors to keep trying players like Sunil Joshi, Nikhil Chopra, Ramesh Powar, Dinesh Mongia (to name a few) over and over again in spite of them failing to make a mark on the international arena. We see it, you see it, everyone sees it yet the selectors mysterisouly (or conviniently) don't! I though it is the job of our politicians and beaurocrats to look after the downtrodden and make it easier for them AND NOT THE JOB OF THE BCCI SELECTORS!! Is it some kind of delicate cosmic balance that they are after by ading junk to quality every time? The mysteries of indian cricket continue ...


Amit K said...

I read your blog. Here are some thoughts that I wanted to share:

1. Comparing Dhoni and Ganguly is like talking about apple and oranges. Ganguly is a specialist batsman while Dhoni is an all-rounder (wicketkeeper batsman). So if they have similar averages then anyone can observe who is doing better. Dhoni's contribution gets more bigger if you compare him to all Indian wicketkeeper (past and present). He is very much in front for him place in the team.

2. Now, comparing Raina and Ganguly leaves these facts. Raina is an excellent fielder and saves minimum 10 runs an innings, however, on the other hand Ganguly is a liability on the field and gives minimum 10 extra runs to the opposition. Now, if we recalculate the effective AVERAGE, it will be 36 for Raina and 32 for Ganguly. The other point is Ganguly opens the innings and has more chances to settle the pace of his innings. Raina has batted most of thimes at number 6 (only 3 times at number 3)which makes hard to accumulate runs.
3.Raina offcourse cannot replace Ganguly of late 1990's but he can surely replace Ganguly from 2006-07.
Good composition but warrants some more thoughts about the game we play with so passion.

Shiladitya said...

Well said my friend. I believe that I am a fair and balanced individual and any arguement given with sense and logic is always welcome. You just made me realize that its not always about statistics. However, most decisions have to have a "feel-good factor" and this one does not. First of all, I am not comparing Dhoni and Ganguly, but merely questioning the fact that Dhoni pushed to eliminate someone who has decent performance in the near past. Just didn't feel right in the gut ... and to replace him with Raina? No ... I can never digest that .... thats the same Md. Kaif and good fielder logic revisisted. Replace the talents like Ganguly (or Sachin or Dravid or Laxman or Sehwag) if and only if you get someone comparably talented ... not with just some good fielder.

Amit K said...

"Replace the talents like Ganguly (or Sachin or Dravid or Laxman or Sehwag) if and only if you get someone comparably talented ... not with just some good fielder."

In that case Tendulkar in ODI and tests and Dravid for tests will never find their respective replacement. In that case either they have to play the game with two sticks (a bat to hit the ball and a stick to support themselves so that they can stand properly). It is not always finding someone with comparable talent. It is always finding someone with good cricketing skills and then grooming them for some time.
Everyone has to go and according to me all big three must retire, but Tendulkar is still playing the game at same level, so he deserved to stay for more time. India needs to build a team for 2011 world cup and you cannot play with players in their late 30's with poor running and fielding (Dravid and Ganguly). We do not need players playing for the sake of fixing their place in the team for next two years. We need some who can stay for a decade. I still believe Raina has a great potential not only because he is from UP, but because he is an Indian. He was also predicted as one of the 10 players in modern world cricket to define the cricket in next decade by Wisden.

Shiladitya said...

I couldn't disagree more. I still say don't replace talent unless you have comparable talent, as long as the current players are performing in tune with international standards, which Saurav and Sachin are (and so are Dravid and Laxman in tests). Even Kapil Dev today said the exact same thing. WE do not have Michael Clark or Mike Hussey sitting on the bench that would justify their exclusion.

As far as building a team for the future is concerned (even as distant as 2011), we have to keep in mind that international cricket is not where you expect players to come in and become good ... its just the opposite ... they come in if and only if when they are exceptionally talented. This is not agriculture where you plant seeds and hope for a good harvest.

And as far as Wisden is concerned, I couldn't care less. They have been naming 5 cricketers every year as "talented". Here are list of some of the players who have been "Wisden Cricketer of the Year".

Robert Key, Chris Adams, Mark Alleyne, Martin Bicknell, Ian Austin, Matthew Maynard, Tim Munton, Steve Watkin, Nigel Bryers, Martyn Moxon

Who are they? Cricketers? So, if these are the list of "champions", you think we should be happy that Raina features in their "umm ... probably ... someday ... maybe" list?

I know you are not saying this because he is from UP and I am also not singling Raina out. Who knows? May be he will become a very good player in the future. All I am saying is that it doesn't make sense for us to blindly experiment with our team, especially since the aspirations of millions of cricket lovers like us are involved.