A sacking & a retention

THE sacking of Steve Waugh as Australia's one-day captain and the retention of Sourav Ganguly as India's skipper for the Tests as well as the one-dayers against Zimbabwe was announced on the same day, albeit hours apart. The coincidence of the selection meetings in the two countries and the different verdicts came in for much comment and as happens in cricket-mad countries there was a huge debate on the rights and wrongs of the decisions. People in both the countries follow cricket avidly though the sheer emotion that the game generates in India is hard to match anywhere else, including Australia. This emotion does lead to likes and dislikes, some very strong indeed, and it is invariably this emotion rather than the practicalities that leads to people taking such extreme stands.

Waugh's appointment as captain replacing Mark Taylor was not universally accepted and there were plenty of former Australian players who believed that he was too self-absorbed to be an effective captain. The problem here is that there is a very thin line between being single-minded and being selfish and even former players, when they pass judgment on this, bring their emotions rather than experience into play. Over the years Waugh has shown the doubters - and there were some pretty distinguished former Australian captains among those - that he is not just the captain of a team but a leader of men. Under his leadership Australia have not only conquered opponents on the field, but have won many more admirers off it with their willingness and keenness to learn about the different cultures and try and help the less fortunate in the developing countries.

Stephen Waugh has encouraged teammates to go out and meet the people of different countries and thus has made the members of the Australian cricket team world citizens. For all their aggressiveness on the field, which at times has exceeded the bounds of decency, the Australians are the friendliest of players when compared to the other teams and when you consider their status as world champions you begin to wonder why the non-entities of the other teams have such a massive chip on their shoulders. Waugh's team meetings also were unique in the sense that he encouraged his players to think poetically about the game on the morrow and how to tackle the opponents. So each team meeting invariably had at least one player or team official coming up with a short poem on how to deal with the opposition the next day.

What was interesting was that even when Waugh was injured and his deputies took over and won matches there was never any question of their being ambitious. They accepted that they were only stopgap captains while their skipper was on the injured list. So you never heard Shane Warne, Adam Gilchrist or Ricky Ponting, all vice-captains to Waugh, ever saying even while they were deputing for Waugh that they wanted the job. Even if they did they dare not publicly say that.

A few hours after Steve Waugh was given the sack as Australia's one-day captain, the Indian Selection Committee met and retained Sourav Ganguly as the captain for the Tests and one-dayers against Zimbabwe. There was a section that believed that with the Indian selectors getting the courage to drop V. V. S. Laxman from the one-day side only after the Australians dropped the prolific Matthew Hayden from their one-day squad, they might again go by what the Australian selectors had done and dump Ganguly. When that did not happen there were probably more people who were shocked than those who were relieved.

Though the Indian team had won the Test series against England and drawn the one-day series, there was much criticism against Ganguly which was mainly emotional. His inadequacies against the short-pitched deliveries were highlighted, the fact that he has got out to the short ball only occasionally, being conveniently forgotten. Even Waugh had a problem against the short ball but he worked hard to counter it and even though he never looks entirely comfortable (which batsman excepting perhaps Tendulkar does?) he has stuck on, taking some body blows, but winning the battle in the end.

For all his shortcomings against the quick stuff, Sourav Ganguly's plus point has been his attitude. Modern-day cricket demands that a captain be a fighter, even a street fighter if need be, and Ganguly is one who does not take a step backward in a confrontation. Far too many Indian captains have been swallowed by the opposition because of their desire to be nice guys. Ganguly has won more matches as captain than he has lost. So the record is certainly in his favour. It's only the batting difficulties and the lack of runs that are a cause for concern. But then in cricket we have seen how just one innings can transform a player from an ordinary one to a great one and an out of form player into a brilliant performer. Even while pointing out Ganguly's lack of runs, the critics have not conceded that apart from Tendulkar there has hardly been any consistency from the other batsmen as well.

Ganguly may not be a great tactician as yet, but then he does not have the personnel to use tactically. However, he is a good old scrapper who will not let the opposition bully the team. Steve Waugh and the Australians tried it and came to grief. Instead of admitting that they had been outplayed, the Australians tried to belittle the Indian captain for his attitude. It was almost like the pot calling the kettle black.

We in India have this incredible fascination for recognition from overseas. So, when there is criticism we tend to believe it almost blindly forgetting there may be a hidden agenda to it. We also forget to see who has written or commented on something and what that person's qualifications to do so are.

This is the complex that has stopped us from asserting ourselves and getting our due. Ganguly is one of those rare Indians who is assertive and without an inferiority complex. Maybe that's why the guys with a complex want him out!