Will Ganguly find a place in the Test XI?

Is there a realistic chance of Ganguly being made to carry drinks when the Chennai Test begins.

india Updated: Nov 24, 2005 19:35 IST

Former India captain Sourav Ganguly was saved complete embarrassment when he was on Wednesday included in the 15-member squad for the first Test against Sri Lanka, but it is still unclear where the team management will fit him in the playing eleven.

Is there a realistic chance of Ganguly being consigned to the bench or made to carry drinks when the Test begins in Chennai Dec 2?

Though the graceful left-hander scored a century in his last Test series against a weak Zimbabwe side, things have changed dramatically since then, both on and off the field in Indian cricket.

First, Ganguly and coach Greg Chappell were locked in an unseemly spat that became public, then youngsters like Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Rudra Pratap Singh, S. Sreesanth, Gautam Gambhir and Suresh Raina rose remarkably with their fine performances against Sri Lanka.

Quite surprisingly, the selectors fell in line with the plan of Chappell and new captain Rahul Dravid - of giving opportunities to youngsters - and Ganguly suddenly became an outcast as the youngsters shone brightly.

Now the big question is: who will be sacrificed to accommodate Ganguly, provided he is in the scheme of things of the team management comprising Dravid, Chappell, vice-captain Virender Sehwag and probably the chairman of selectors (or the whole panel as it is a home Test).

From the eleven that played the previous Test against Zimbabwe in Harare, only wicketkeeper Dinesh Kaarthick and Zaheer Khan are not in the 15-member squad announced Wednesday for the first Test with Sri Lanka.

Let us look how the 11 players performed in the second and final Test of the series with Zimbabwe.

Openers Gambhir and Sehwag scored 97 and 44 and there is little doubt that they will be changed.

Dravid, another man who cannot be touched, comes next, followed by VVS Laxman, who made eight and did not bat in the second innings. But the stylish batsman scored 140 in the first Test against Zimbabwe at Bulawayo in India's innings win. So Laxman too looks settled.

Batting at No 5, Ganguly scored 16 in the lone innings, and was followed by Yuvraj Singh who scored 12 and 25 in the two Tests. The left-hander, who is considered close to Ganguly, looks a bit shaky at the moment.

Dhoni will replace Kaarthick, and then comes the bowling department.

Now will the team management pick Ganguly as a pacer at the cost of either Irfan Pathan or Ajit Agarkar? If the team decides to go with Pathan or Agarkar, and Ganguly as the second pacer, it will be too risky for India.

There is no guarantee that Ganguly, who is not known for his fitness or fielding, would last the duration of a five-day Test if picked as a specialist pacer.

Then, there is Mohammed Kaif who was not played in both Tests against Zimbabwe, but is liked by Chappell and Dravid for being a brilliant fielder and team man.

From the outside it looks unlikely that Ganguly will find a place in the XI - unless there is a sudden change of heart by the entire team management.

It will be a very awkward situation for Ganguly to sit in the same dressing room as Chappell, with whom he fell apart on the Zimbabwe tour in September.

But the ultimate embarrassment for the Bengal player would be not to be picked in the XI and being asked either to carry drinks or warm the bench.

When he was captain, he found a place in the eleven automatically, whether he was in form or not. But the circumstances are different now and the tide is clearly against him.

The decision to quit is probably the most difficult question for a sportsman. And Ganguly is the latest high profile athlete to be confronted with that same teasing query.

Now that he has been given a semblance of life by Kiran More's selection panel, it is a good opportunity for Ganguly to think hard on the question of retirement.

Considering his relation with Chappell, coupled with the selectors' thinking having been clearly influenced by the former Australia captain, the ideal situation for Ganguly would be to announce before the Test starts that it would be his last one.

It will allow him to go out with dignity and also end all speculation.

But everyone is not Sunil Gavaskar. When the master opener announced his retirement in 1987, his friends and foes felt he had at least a couple of years of cricket left in him.

Even Kapil Dev dragged on for 10-15 Tests more than he deserved.

To quit or not to quit? This question has baffled the best of sportspersons. Ganguly is the latest one to be confronted with it.

First Published: Nov 24, 2005 11:05 IST