Ganguly is doing a fair job

BEING the captain of the Indian cricket side can be demanding. Unless the person handed the job has the mental strength to handle the pressures from various quarters, survival in the top job can be very tough.

There have been several skippers along the way, who could not quite measure up to the challenge, although their ability as cricketers was never in doubt.

A captain has to take decisions on the field, motivate his men, lead by example, handle the media, and in short, keep the team focussed. It goes without saying that his judgment has to be impeccable.

I had a brief stint as captain during India's tour of Pakistan in '89, and under difficult circumstances and conditions, the side did extremely well to draw all the four Tests. It is quite another matter that it was also the last time that I led India!

It is often said that a captain is only as good as his team. While that is broadly true, a good captain does make a difference, especially when the contest develops into a close one. At critical junctures, a clever skipper seizes control.

Sourav Ganguly has his friends and foes, but if you ask me for an opinion, I feel he has done a fair job as India captain. And do not forget his has been the only side to clinch a Test series against Steve Waugh's otherwise all-conquering Aussies, even if the victory was achieved at home.

His upbringing - Ganguly hails from a well-respected family - and education - such a necessary requisite for a captain - make him a fully rounded cricketer, and the fact that he has been leading sides since schooldays suggests that the job comes naturally to him.

Ganguly has been at the helm for quite a while now, and I must say I have been impressed with some of his qualities. He is aggressive, an essential quality for a captain.

Against stronger sides, especially Australia and South Africa, it is important that the top man does not get intimidated. If that happens, the team will gradually lose its confidence.

Ganguly has never allowed that to happen. On the contrary, there is a feeling that he may have carried his aggression too far. Here I must add that he must learn to keep his cool during tense situations without compromising on his attacking instinct. Imran Khan was a good example in this regard.

Ganguly also needs to be a little flexible on the field. For instance, it was puzzling why Sachin Tendulkar was not given a single over during that long and frustrating England first innings at Lord's.

The Englishmen are not the best players of spin, and Tendulkar could have chipped in, especially since there was no Harbhajan Singh around to tease them with his flight and turn.

There are occasions when Ganguly tends to become a bit too rigid with his bowling changes. It is all right to have faith in the main bowlers, but if they are not delivering, then the skipper has to take a chance with a partnership breaker. Tendulkar certainly belongs to this category.

To his credit, Ganguly has backed the right kind of players - Harbhajan Singh, Yuveraj Singh and Ashish Nehra to name a few. They have all done well for India, and Ganguly has stood by his men.

On the other hand, he has reacted to criticism on a few occasions and he could well avoid that. Being in the hot seat, he is sure to come under scrutiny, but, if he stays quiet and just carries on with his job, Ganguly will surely help his cause and that of the team.

During the same period last year, he was in serious trouble against the short-pitched deliveries from the quicks, and, to his credit, has, to an extent, worked his way out of the problem. When India toured the Caribbean this year, the left-hander dealt with the short balls quite firmly, often pulling them to the fence.

He has not always received credit for his performances with the willow, and over the last two years, even when his form has been rather inconsistent, he has managed to come up with some match-winning knocks for India in Tests. In Kandy, New Delhi, and Port of Spain, against Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and the West Indies.

His good performances are not taken note of and the moment he fails, there is a clamour for his removal. My sympathies are with Ganguly.

However, there is hardly any threat to his place in the side, and right now Ganguly finds himself in an enviable position, where the Board too is backing him. He must utilise this chance to arrive at some bold decisions in the area of team-management.

In England, Ganguly has not had the best of times with the bat so far (this article was written before the second Test), and there has been much speculation about his batting slot, considering V.V.S. Laxman has been in fine form at No. 6.

Ganguly is the kind of batsman who loves to play his strokes, has changed the course of games while doing so, and the logical option for the captain would be to continue to walk out at No. 5. In any case, if Laxman is among the runs consistently at No. 6, why change his slot?

By the time this article appears in print, the second Test would have concluded, and hopefully India and Ganguly would have done turned the corner. This is an important series for India, with plenty of pride at stake.

One man who has batted with pride over the last few months has been the gifted Laxman. I never ever nursed any doubts about his ability. However, his tendency to give it away after settling down, left me and several others angry. It was such a waste of talent.

Laxman's exploits in the 2001 series at home against the Australians will ensure him a glittering page in cricket history. However, the Hyderabad batsman, subsequently, did his cause no good by perishing to reckless strokes after doing all the hard work. His shot-selection left a lot to be desired, and he appeared a touch casual as well.

In the West Indies, we saw a very different Laxman, who concentrated hard, picked his shots judiciously, made the bowlers earn his wicket, and produced a string of valuable knocks.

He has definitely tightened up his defence, and is looking solid at the crease these days. Add his brilliant catching, and you have an outstanding contributor.

What I like about Laxman is that he remains a simple person, even though he has the status of a superstar. He has respect for the elders, is a willing listener, and has a sharp cricketing brain which the team-management should make use of. Above all, he is a team-man.