Sourav, that was not well done!

It is a classic 'me or you' gamble, writes Arun Sivasankaran.

india Updated: Sep 20, 2005 18:42 IST

We know that he can drive beautifully through the offside when he is in the best of form, that he evokes extreme reactions in people, that he has won more Tests for India than any other captain before him. We also know that Sourav Chandidas Ganguly has not been in great nick for quite some time and that Team India's not-so-distant future will not have him in it, unless there is a miraculous turnaround. Quite a lot we know about the player, actually.

Thanks to the last few days, we now know more than a bit about Ganguly, the man, as well.

The no-so-accidental letting out of team secrets that should have remained within the dressing room proves that Sourav is quite willing to bend rules or go around them if it suits his interests, that a friend is one only as long as he does not have a different opinion, that hitting below the belt is not quite a sin as long as it is not him at the receiving end. The fact that he waited till he had hit a century to tell the world how he was 'wronged' tells one that he knows when to hold back, and when to strike. If you are a businessman, these may be good qualities to have, but not when you are a leader of men.

One saw Wasim Akram on TV speaking on the controversy and telling Greg Chappell to "mind his business" and from the way former cricketers seem to be divided on the issue, Sourav, who is quite close to a few important men in Indian cricket, may end up winning this round. But it is hard to see him survive the bout, for all the din over the latest controversy will not be able to hide, beyond a point, that he is yesterday's man. We will never know what exactly Greg told Sourav, whether it was just a gentle suggestion for the captain to chew on or an order to step down as Sourav makes it out to be, but we know that it is very unusual for a coach to even contemplate such a course of action. You and I know what made Greg, who chose to play by the rules and talked about the issue only when there was no other way out, think on those lines.

Greg, when he took over, had made his liking for Sourav quite clear, but then, the coach is too Aussie to let personal preferences cloud over his vision for the team. Ganguly has not offered enough runs in recent times to suggest that he can resuscitate his career and on the other side of the frame, Kaif and Yuvraj have done more than enough to virtually demand permanent places in the playing eleven. Shorn of runs and confidence, Sourav's captaincy too has lacked the verve of old. Perhaps more importantly, Team India has not produced the sort of results that would have deflected attention from the captain's poor performance.

Greg has every reason to be worried, as a look at Sourav's performance in recent times would tell you. The Indian captain has 5050 runs at an average of 41.39 in 83 Tests, but his last twenty have produced just 1024, at an average of 36.57. The last ten Tests, including the one against Zimbabwe, have seen him hit just 464 runs, at an average of 35.69. During this period, he has also been largely invisible as a captain. Statistics do not convey everything, but they do tell if Sourav has been doing his primary job, of making runs, well enough. Sourav hasn't, which is why his 'how can you pick on me?' reactions are hard to take.

Ganguly has never been one to readily admit his shortcomings - his almost laughable comment that he does not have a problem against fast men and the short, rising ball and that it is all a creation of the media is a perfect example of it - and in recent times, there has been at least one comment that shows that he feels hunted. A few days before India were to go to Zimbabwe, Sourav had said that one needed to be considerate when talking about personal performances of captains, as they have to look after the interests of the team. You would not have had such a statement from a Sourav in control of his team and his mind. A man at peace with himself and world around him would not have acted the way the Indian captain did that eventful evening in Bulawayo.

Sourav's laboured century, and in its own way, the spat with Greg, will buy him more time with the team, and that too at the helm, but it remains to be seen how well he and the Aussie - one man seemingly worried only about his future and the other thinking about the team's - will be able to do business together, that too in the changed circumstances. The captain himself has sent out not so subtle signals that team spirit is an expendable commodity, and Laxman's outburst after his century in the first Test prove that there are at least a few in the team who feel justice has been denied to them. Team India's fabric look torn beyond repair. A bunch of disgruntled men, uneasy in each other's company, rarely make history.

Sourav's 'me or you' gamble against Greg Chappell - it cannot be seen as anything else - will not hurt him much, going by BCCI's trackrecord of handling sensitive issues, but he cannot afford to look too far ahead. Even if he manages to convince Greg that he is the boss, or the Aussie wants out as he may well be tempted to, Sourav will still have to make runs, and good runs, against opposition that is much better than what he has faced in Zimbabwe. In the last few days, he has played the game, beyond the boundary, exactly as he wanted to, but out in the middle, against fast and aggressive men armed with a hard red cherry, it will be slightly more difficult. And then, there is the small task of winning over his mates again.

First Published: Sep 20, 2005 18:42 IST