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India: A story of one man?s obsession

Chappell?s fixation with Ganguly is destroying a once-united Indian team, writes Pradeep Magazine.

india Updated: Feb 04, 2006 17:06 IST

Hindsight is the best friend of an armchair critic. In a world where interpretations abound and the final verdict depends on the results achieved, India's embarrassing defeat against Pakistan must have left all those who believe in Greg Chappell's "futuristic vision" somewhat uneasy in heart and mind.

It is not his fault that India lost. Even before the team left for Pakistan, it was understood that Pakistan was a better team and in their home conditions, it wouldn't be easy to beat them.

Yet, the past few months have seen so many innovative ideas being introduced into the static world of Indian cricket that somehow, they created a grandiose illusion that this team was invincible. And the media played a significant role in creating this illusion.

Though most experiments were done in the one-day format, the feeling that India was heading for a new dawn and habits of old were being eradicated with an iron hand by a man who knew every nuance of cricketing grammar, changed even inveterate cynics into believers.

After he gave "marching orders" to Sourav Ganguly and made the world believe that the former Indian captain was the source of all the ills affecting the team, India fell in love with him. They loved a man who had come to India to challenge its "star system" and after the team's one-day wins, that too in great style against Sri Lanka, Chappell acquired god-like status. No one questioned his complete obsession with Ganguly and his one point agenda to keep the man out of the team.

Politics and intrigue

Politics and intrigue became the buzzword in this fight to the finish. A nation fed on soap operas lapped up this new serial and no one cared what effect it would have on the team. And it was bound to have an effect.

After all, the players are not "commodities", as some would like us to believe but men with emotions and feelings. And once in Pakistan, the drama began all over again. Right from first Test to last, all we did here was to report on whether Ganguly was playing or not and how the team management was being "forced" to include him in the playing XI.

So much so that the specialist openers became redundant and Rahul Dravid, against the wishes of everyone including Chappell, decided to open in the interest of the team. Simply, he did not want the world to accuse him of making Ganguly a sacrificial lamb.

It came to such a pass that it seemed that India's whole strategy revolved around Ganguly --- for some to keep him out somehow and for others to somehow include him. As one team official put it, "this is something we could have well avoided. Whatever any one might say, it did have an effect on the morale of the team and on an important tour like this, where was the need to make this into an issue once he was in the team?"

The team might believe it was neither coach nor captain who made this into an issue but the media --- which stoked the fires of controversy by getting obsessed with the whole Ganguly-Chappell equation.

Ganguly’s image

In Pakistan, Ganguly is a larger than life figure. They respect him as a player and more than that, as a captain. Younis Khan summed up what Pakistan feels about the whole issue in his press conference by saying, "I am a great Ganguly fan and he batted well here. India should back him."

What is very strange about the whole drama is that now, even Rajsingh Dungarpur, who was seen almost violently opposing Ganguly's inclusion, says "Ganguly's behaviour on the tour has been impeccable." According to an official, "He has been one of the best behaved boys in the team and the players respect him and are not hostile towards him. Yet, an impression is being created that he is a hate figure and no one wants him."

No one for sure knows what views Dravid holds on the whole issue. He has studiously avoided getting into any controversy and weighs his words carefully whenever any question on Ganguly is put to him. From his perspective, as he has repeatedly emphasised in his press conferences, "We are here to pick the best XI that helps the team to win."

Ego clash

To an outsider, it may appear that he does not want to annoy Chappell or may even agree with him, but one thing is sure --- Dravid would not want to be seen as a party to any plan to humiliate or insult his former captain. Whatever the pros and cons of the whole issue and whatever the cricketing merits of the debate, there is no question that this Test series got hijacked by this unnecessary "ego" clash.

It was unnecessary, as in the end, when Ganguly finally got a chance to play on the most difficult wicket of them all, he batted extremely well and despite not going on to make a big score, showed that he still can bat.

This makes everyone here wonder --- what was all this fuss about?

There are a lot of important questions India needs to answer if it has to become a strong team. Its medium pace bowling is mediocre, the spinners can't deliver outside of India and not just Ganguly, there are other seniors in the team too who are probably at the end of their career.

That is all the more reason that India should not allow one man's obsession to destroy a team, which, not so long ago, was one solid unit. And it should also learn to treat victory and defeat with equanimity and not let passion dictate reasoning.

First Published: Feb 03, 2006 01:38 IST