Enough is enough

AFP

Sourav Ganguly's chances of recapturing old form will be better if the pressures of leading the side are off his shoulders. Losing captaincy need not signal the end of his career; he could still make runs in the ODIs, and could still prolong his career at the Test level if he can iron out certain technical shortcomings, writes S. DINAKAR.

THE time is right for a twin change at the helm and India should approach the season ahead with a new coach-captain duo in place. India should not miss the moment.

For almost five years, the John Wright-Sourav Ganguly combination delivered. Team India turned a resilient outfit, which, in a departure from the past, could overcome adversity.

Now, Wright, with a pressing need to spend more time back home, has ended his largely rewarding stint with the Indian team. And Ganguly, who would struggle to make the Test side as a pure batsman, faces an uncertain future.

To develop another viable partnership, the side requires a captain who inspires confidence in his specialist role, which is critical if he is to forge a lasting relationship with the incoming coach.

Against Pakistan, Ganguly's brief appearances in the middle resulted from a slump in confidence triggered by a technical meltdown, the biggest casualty being his loss of timing.

The captain's low returns, and his lack of self-belief, sent the wrong message to his men. His frequent fitness problems and the run-ins with the match referees were not helping the team's cause either. After six years of captaincy, he appeared a tired and weary man obsessed, as we saw against Australia, with the nature of the pitches.

The selectors need to be clear and precise in their thinking here. They have to ask themselves the question: Will the 32-year-old Ganguly, in the current mess that his batting is in, last till the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean?

India travels to Sri Lanka for a triangular ODI tournament with West Indies as the third team in July-August. The wise men have to act quickly.

The season-beginning series has its own significance. It often dictates the course of the events for the rest of the year, and if the selectors start on a wrong note, they might be hard-pressed to limit the damage if things go wrong.

Any quick-fix solution — "Let's have Ganguly as captain for one more series and see how it goes" — could prove detrimental to India building a team. The construction of a side, done brick by brick, is a process where much clarity of thought is required.

If the Australians are such a strong outfit today, then credit must go to the selectors, who displayed the courage of conviction to end the tenures of Allan Border, Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh, all immensely successful captains. And Waugh, in his final Test, saved a match for the Aussies from the brink.

Wright said the other day that every captain or a coach, irrespective of his success, had a specific life span and the pragmatic Kiwi was right. There are times when a team needs fresh hands on the steering wheel.

The new coach — there is no better candidate than Greg Chappell — should be given at least three years with a captain whose place is secure in both forms of the game.

It was evident in the series against Pakistan, in the Tests and the ODIs, that this Indian team is on the decline after the heady days of 2004 where the side might have peaked. The failure to close out the Test in Mohali, the batting collapse on day five of the Bangalore Test, and the gutless capitulation at the Ferozeshah Kotla, are clear pointers to a lack of hunger, desire and killer instinct in the side.

Wright and Ganguly have taken the team till a particular point after which the side appears to have stagnated. It will now be up to the new coach and a fresh captain to inject life into Team India and lift it to the next level.

Rahul Dravid, a quietly determined man with technical purity, mental strength, and a deeply analytical mind, has to be handed over the reins in both forms of the game. Few have done more to earn captaincy. The erudite Dravid is not someone like Ganguly who wears his emotions on his sleeves, but will make a competent long-term captain.

Greg Chappell and Dravid will jell well since both lay emphasis on similar areas with work ethic at the heart of it all. The vibrant Virender Sehwag can be Dravid's deputy.

To start with, Dravid is strong in his primary job — batting. He has a remarkable Test record with 7696 runs in 89 matches at 57.86. He has held his own in the ODIs with 8134 runs in 252 ODIs at 40.06. Against Pakistan in the recently concluded series, the elegant right-hander averaged 66.60 in Tests and 51.33 in the ODIs.

He has been consistent, durable and rock-like in the Indian line-up, apart from being a wonderful team-man, who has batted at most top and middle-order slots, and kept wickets in the ODIs when the situation required him to.

Dravid led India to its maiden Test triumph in Pakistan at Multan last year, and that was a match where his decision to use the assorted spin of Sachin Tendulkar at the fag end of the third day proved a master-stroke. Similarly, the manner in which he bowled Murali Kartik ahead of the experienced Anil Kumble in Mumbai, where India was defending just 106 on a minefield against the formidable Aussies, was a high-risk ploy that worked.

Team before self would be the theme of his captaincy; this explains his decision to declare the Indian innings at Multan when Sachin Tendulkar was just a stroke away from a double hundred.

As skipper, Dravid has shown himself to be decisive. Beneath his pleasant exterior, there is a hard edge to his personality and a ruthless side to his captaincy. He will stand up to the mind games.

These are difficult times for Ganguly, who averaged 9.60 in the Test series and 7.75 in the ODIs against Pakistan. And if the six-match ban slapped on him by the ICC for slow overrate in Ahmedabad stays, then he will miss the first four one-dayers of the next series or tournament. Unless the ICC reduces his sentence on a further appeal from the BCCI, it would be pointless, in any case, to name him the skipper for India's next ODI campaign.

His overall record with the willow — 4949 runs in 82 Tests at 40.90 and 9967 runs in 271 ODIs at 41.18 — is creditable. Ganguly's chances of recapturing old form will be better if the pressures of leading the side are off his shoulders. Losing captaincy need not signal the end of his career; he could still make runs in the ODIs, and could still prolong his career at the Test level if he can iron out certain technical shortcomings. As in the past, he can seek Greg Chappell's guidance.

As captain, he holds the finest record for an Indian with 19 wins in 47 Tests and 73 victories in 142 ODIs. But that is past and India will now have to look at the future.

But he should be allowed to walk away with dignity. If a new skipper is named, then the BCCI should felicitate Ganguly for his contribution to the side as a leader of men.

The 32-year-old Dravid's methods as captain are bound to be different. If some of Ganguly's choices depended on often-fierce personal loyalty, Dravid will be very much a performance-oriented skipper, without any favourites.

His methods would be similar to that of Steve Waugh, who too played his cricket the hard and the tough way and led by personal example. Rahul Dravid seems ready for captaincy. It's the selectors' call now.

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