Dada has himself to blame

The selectors and the team management have embarked on an ambitious plan to groom youngsters ahead of the World Cup in the Caribbean. They have to be phased into the side. And they need to be given games ahead of the premier limited overs competition.

S. DINAKAR

BAD TIMING: Things have gone horribly wrong for Sourav Ganguly since the time he chose to reveal a conversation between him and the coach Greg Chappell to the media in Zimbabwe.-PTI

WHERE does Sourav Ganguly go from here? The Indian team has gained momentum under a new captain. And the Dada no longer finds a place in the squad.

Ganguly held the top job in the Indian cricket for long. He would surely know how the dynamics of the team composition work. It is never easy to break into a winning side.

The man with over 10,000 runs in the abbreviated form of the game finds himself out in the cold. Ganguly faces a battle of attrition where he may have to dig deep into his reserves of motivation. He has to keep that flame within burning.

It was always on the cards that once the captaincy slipped away, Ganguly would struggle to keep his place in the side. In the event, even a timely Duleep Trophy hundred was not enough to convince the selectors.

His batting form was not the lone issue. Ganguly's attitude towards training, fielding and running between the wickets were held against him as the selectors shut the door on the former captain — for the time being at least.

He now faces a situation where his destiny is not in his own hands.

Ganguly's return is not just linked to his own form, but is intertwined with the fortunes of the Indian side. If the team stumbles, Ganguly's hopes brighten.

Away from the hectic schedule of international cricket, Ganguly can actually spend quality time ironing out the chinks in his batting — on his footwork while confronting movement from the pacemen, on his lack of decisiveness when coping with the short-pitched deliveries from the quick bowlers. It is not impossible for him to become fitter either during this phase.

The last occasion when Ganguly was dumped from the Indian side, after the Australian tour of 1991-92, he had to wait five years before arriving again with a sublime maiden Test century at Lord's. Age was in his favour then.

Now he is 33. If Ganguly does not break into the side within the next six months, he might never do so.

Given the wild swings in Indian cricket, it might be premature to rule out his chances in either form of the game. But daunting odds confront him.

He is out of favour with the selectors. The team management, reportedly, is cold to the idea of Ganguly coming back. If the emphasis is on building a side for the 2007 World Cup, then reverting to the left-hander might be in direct conflict with the path chosen for Team India.

The selectors and the team-management have embarked on an ambitious plan to groom youngsters ahead of the World Cup in the Caribbean. They have to be phased into the side. And they need to be given games ahead of the premier limited overs competition.

The idea cannot be faulted. The side under Ganguly had peaked and was clearly on the decline when the skipper lost his job. The selectors, influenced by Chappell's vision for the side, have displayed rare foresight.

This said, Ganguly's place in the pantheon of great ODI batsmen is assured. When on song, he can pierce the off-side field with precision, and clear the ground with ease when the spinners operate. He has a whopping 10123 runs in 279 games at a creditable 40.67.

His returns, though, have been dwindling alarmingly. Ganguly has scored just 209 runs in 13 ODIs this year at 17.41. In the ODI home series, against Pakistan last season, he averaged 7.75. During this period, he produced just one half-century.

By omitting Ganguly, the selectors have sent out a clear message — a cricketer will be picked on present form and not past performances. Now the onus is on the wise men to be consistent with this line of thinking. Exceptions should not be made.

Chairman of Selectors Kiran More has said that his panel has not put a full stop to Ganguly's career. Finding a slot for him in the ODI XI or XII will not be easy since Mohammed Kaif will be taking back his rightful place after recovering from injury.

Ganguly will be eyeing Jai Prakash Yadav's spot as a batsman who can send down his medium pacers usefully. To his credit, the Railways cricketer has displayed plenty of heart. Unless Yadav suffers a sharp dip in form, Ganguly will have to wait longer; someone as senior as Ganguly will be chosen only if he is assured of figuring in the playing combination.

The Bengal cricketer has the option of adopting the `wait and watch' approach and train his attention on a Test comeback. He notched up a hundred in India's last series, in Zimbabwe, but that was a performance at the expense of an ordinary attack.

The Dada's only hope lies in constructing a mountain of runs in domestic cricket. If the Indian side hits a dry run in either form of the game, then the selectors will be under pressure considering the fact that Ganguly's name will crop up regularly.

Things have gone horribly wrong for the Dada since the time he chose to reveal a conversation between him and the coach to the media in Zimbabwe. Ganguly's words triggered a showdown that turned a low profile tour into a smouldering one. And when the contents of Chappell's e-mail to the BCCI were leaked, it was obvious that the skipper did not figure in the coach's plans for taking India to the next level.

Ganguly continued to make mistakes. By opting out of the Challenger Series on account of an elbow injury, he blundered. Given the situation he found himself in, Ganguly could have endured pain to compete in the premier domestic limited overs competition. As it turned out, he wore the East Zone hat in the Duleep Trophy in a matter of days.

By skipping the Challenger Series, Ganguly was leaving his flanks open. In other words, he was providing the selectors with an opportunity to drop him. They took it.

In Australia, the international career of a long-standing captain normally ends with his tenure at the helm; the more recent examples being Allan Border, Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh.

Now, Border and Waugh are Test cricket's foremost run-getters and Taylor was a competent southpaw who had rediscovered form when he decided to drift into the sunset. There is this theory, not without reason or logic, that when the incoming captain desires to implement his ideas, in Dravid's case, in tandem with a new coach, he needs to be given a free hand.

The former captain could bring with him old scars, and in extreme cases might prove a disruptive influence. It will be unfair to suggest Ganguly would be all if he forces his way back, but then his open differences with Chappell will not strengthen his case one bit. Ganguly evoked fierce loyalty from a section of the side. What is required now is not loyalty to any individual, but to the country's cap.

The days ahead are make or break for Ganguly. It will be sad if this stylish batsman and aggressive leader leaves the international stage in this manner.

He deserves a rousing farewell. But then, Ganguly has himself to blame for the mess he is in.