Forced to eat the humble pie

A Gallup poll today will show the popularity rating of Sourav Ganguly above those of Sachin Tendulkar and Mohammad Azharuddin, or even both put together.

In the case of Sourav Ganguly, the negative opinion was near unanimous, but the outcome was the opposite.   -  Getty Images

A Gallup poll today will show the popularity rating of Sourav Ganguly above those of Sachin Tendulkar and Mohammad Azharuddin, or even both put together.

Understandably so. What the bashful, boyish looking all-rounder accomplished at the Mecca of cricket on that warm Saturday afternoon is indeed an event to cherish. Few cricketers of our times and perhaps only a handful in any era have this enduring honour of scoring a century on debut at Lord's. For many, even making an appearance on the sacred turf is in itself a life's dream.

Eloquence over Sourav Ganguly's performance in the media, however, looks paradoxical. This is unfortunate. Admittedly, the pre-tour media assessment about this Bengal all-rounder was more than unfair. His selection in preference to Vinod Kambli, not wholly for cricketing reasons though, received widespread comment, more of the negative variety. This provoked even a high functionary like the Secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, Jagmohan Dalmiya, to describe the criticism as motivated and anti-national. What obviously must have pained Dalmiya was the accusation that Sourav came in on zonal quota.

It is undeniable that media projections play a large part in making or marring an individual's career. This applies not only to sport but to every other aspect of life. At the same time, it must be understood that there are always two sides to a coin. The media represents both positive and negative attitudes. What should not be ignored is the perception and the logic behind it. If, for instance, Sourav Ganguly had failed on the tour, all the criticism about his inclusion would have been justified. But one memorable innings where and when it mattered forced quite a handful of writers to shift their stand. This cannot be termed as a climb down, so long as there is acceptance of such a change over their previous incorrect judgment. It is natural that a few who saw positive signs in Sourav Ganguly should point out derisively at those who took the negative stand. Is it not ironical that the media, which once saw no flaw in skipper Azharuddin now finds everything wrong because the results are going against him?

Cricket manager Sandeep Patil, has expressed regret that some former Test stars have spoken and written disparagingly against the team and some players, like Sourav Ganguly. He had particularly referred to the views attributed to Dilip Vengsarkar and Ajit Wadekar. If the Cricket manager is attempting to generate a consensus of praise from every quarter for a team fumbling like the present squad, then he is chasing a shadow. May be, he is speaking from the standpoint of the team's morale. But to silence criticism is again a wrong step. It, however, does not eliminate the fact that some writers do have a certain measure of prejudice. Negative signals from such a bunch should at best be ignored.

Sourav Ganguly, it must be emphasised, is certainly not isolated as a sportsman who has been viewed with some scepticism by the media. Conversely, several who were built up beyond proportion by the media have flopped, unable to bear the pressure of expectation.

A great deal depends on how seriously the players in question take the media assessment. The over-sensitive among them react emotionally. But those with a practical bent of mind take it in their stride. Sachin Tendulkar is probably the finest example of this.

Against what is being said and written, it is heartening to see Sourav Ganguly not showing even a trace of rancour or resorting to a repelling statement to put his critics in place. It is the self proclaimed advocates of Sourav who are using this extraordinary innings to rile those who were wrong in their judgment. Of course, the Sourav Ganguly episode should serve as an eye-opener to those prone to hazarding a prediction, or making a reckless evaluation. Criticism for criticism's sake has only projected the image of the media as incapable of making a proper, balanced evaluation using a firm, scientific base. True, the risk involved is as big as conducting and publishing the opinion polls during an election.

The yardstick differs and so does the findings. But in the case of Sourav Ganguly, the negative opinion was near unanimous, but the outcome was the opposite. It definitely gave one the impression that the entire media had ganged up against this youngster, unwilling even to recognise the fact that he had rubbed shoulders with Tendulkar, Kambli and the rest reckoned as the rising stars of their generation.

Ifs all in the game, they say, and those deep into this game of making assessments that go wrong have to grin and bear it. The embarrassment is too much to stomach, and a smart alee will not hesitate to make Sourav's epic innings look like a flash in the pan if the all-rounder flops in the next encounter.

If Sourav Ganguly is quietly having the last laugh, he is jolly well entitled to it after that magnum opus. At the moment, Sourav has made his detractors eat the humble pie.

(This article first appeared in Sportstar's special edition issue dated July 2, 1996)