Ganguly: Just the coolest one
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Ganguly: Just the coolest one

For a while on Friday, it appeared that nothing had changed and the recent past had come back to haunt the team.

india Updated: Mar 09, 2003 14:01 IST

For a while on Friday, it appeared that nothing had changed and their recent unhappy past had come back to haunt the team. The Indian fielding was ragged, so sloppy that the crowd sniggered through most of the Kenyan innings.

But the worst was reserved for the time India went in to bat.

Dark clouds had engulfed blue skies and the crowd, the majority of whom were supporting underdogs Kenya, were just settling down to watch Sachin Tendulkar unleash another of his sumptuous innings.

But it was not Tendulkar's day --- he was out for next to nothing and India were soon in the throes of a deep crisis. Coupled with another failure from Virender Sehwag, this was a shocker of a beginning.

Suddenly, the atmosphere was electric. There must be no better sight in the world than to watch fragility triumph over strength. India were expected to decimate Kenya but in reality, the Kenyans had exposed the Indian team's brittle temperament.

What had gone wrong? Was this the same team that had thrashed the Pakistanis in such brilliant fashion? Was this the same team that had knocked out England with commendable ease? It definitely didn't look like that one.

Watching butter-fingers in the field and jittery batsmen unable to get the ball away from the square was very disturbing for Indian supporters. Cricket, they say, is a game of glorious uncertainties. It is a cliché, which has been flogged to death by pen pushers like us.

Yet, one was reminded of the aptness of these words as India were forced onto the back foot and the scoreboard read 24 for 3.

The Kenyan attack was keen, their medium pacers --- Martin Suji and Thomas Odoyo --- bowled a restrictive length and the fielders cut off all escape routes for the ball with alacrity. Was there any hope for India?

In Rahul Dravid yes, he is familiar with just this sort of situation but Sourav Ganguly has had such a rough time of late that most wondered whether he would have the mental strength to cope with this crisis.

Ganguly is a fascinating subject. When he scores runs, critics say he is lucky. When he does not, critics say he never can. That he is leading India --- something that is always difficult --- is never taken into consideration when his detractors lash out at him.

Most simply ignore his cool assurance on the field even when disaster is staring at the team.

He conducts himself with restraint and dignity off the field, and, these days, on the field, he looks more in command than he ever has in his career.

Perhaps his greatest quality is calling a spade a spade and he is never ever afraid of taking the fight to the other camp. Perhaps, that is also his greatest weakness.

When Pakistan were getting the better of the Indian bowling, Ganguly kept his nerve and made some very astute bowling changes. Don't underestimate him --- he is a fast learner and his leadership vocabulary is growing by the dozen by the day.

His batting has its flaws, as does the batting of most players playing international cricket.

In the Indian team, Dravid is the only one who can pass the supreme test of being a batsman who knows where his off stump is. Sehwag, like Ganguly, lacks footwork and will always be susceptible to the moving ball. Wait for Sehwag to have a long dry run and then see how critics will ram him.

But Sehwag is another story, another day. For the moment, our focus is Ganguly and the pressure he must have been under when he was batting to battle India out of a major crisis.

It would be easy to say that the Kenya is a weak team and Ganguly's century was made against a pedestrian attack. But this kind of simplistic explanation does not explain the pressures a player undergoes and the way he handles them.

There is no doubt that the nature of the Kenyan attack must have made his job that much simpler but let no credit be taken away from him.

He kept his nerve, and kept reminding Yuvraj Singh at the other end to not get carried away and throw his wicket. No one talks about the quality of the Zimbabwean attack when Kapil Dev's 175* is mentioned in glowing terms.

It may be unfair and totally out of place to compare Kapil's epic innings at Tunbridge Wells with Ganguly's controlled but fluent innings on Friday.

But there should be no doubt that it was an innings of immense significance.

If India had lost to Kenya it could well have been the end of their World Cup dreams.

First Published: Mar 09, 2003 00:57 IST