Going through a difficult phase

Sourav Ganguly in his fifth season as captain is going through a difficult phase failing in 10 of the 13 tournament finals he has led in limited-overs cricket. Will he able to succeed this time, asks SANJAY RAJAN.

SOURAV GANGULY is not the superstitious kind. But he is God-fearing and carries a photograph of Goddess Kali with him always. If his wife Dona and daughter Sana are not travelling with him, you'll find their snapshots on the dressing table in his hotel room.

Diving to stop the flow of runs is Sourav Ganguly's routine. He may helplessly watch balls disappear to the boundary as a fielder, but as captain he cannot afford to let slip tournament finals out of his grasp. — Pic. AFP-

It is amazing how, even after a particularly difficult day on the field, he manages to find time for everyone; be it for his daughter, a team-mate wanting to have a word in private, a journalist looking for time, or an admirer wanting him to pose for a photograph.

As captain, the Bengali's strength is man-management. And he is largely believed to be the only leader after `Tiger' Pataudi who disapproved of, and did away with, regional bias. This is probably why he has endeared himself to all members of the side, juniors and seniors.

One felt that he reacted quite strangely to 'keeper-bat Dinesh Kaarthick's inclusion in the place of Parthiv Patel for the limited-overs series in Holland and England, saying that he would persist with Rahul Dravid in the one-day version and Patel in Tests. It probably had to do with the fact that Ganguly is the kind who believes in only what he sees. And he has not watched Kaarthick from close quarters in domestic competition.

Moreover, the southpaw, in his fifth season at the helm, is going through what is possibly the most difficult phase in his career as captain. Acknowledged as the country's most successful skipper in either forms of the game, Ganguly, however, has not been able to translate the side's dominance into title-triumphs, failing in 10 of the 13 tournament (involving three or more teams) finals he has led the side in limited-overs cricket (see box). This has left the `Men in Blue' branded as `chokers'.

And now, back in the land of his only title success — England — and, further, participating in a competition — ICC Champions Trophy — where he had led his team to two consecutive finals, the question on everyone's lips is: can he break the final jinx?

NatWest 2002 at Lord's is his only success, while Ganguly's India shared the title with host Sri Lanka in the previous edition of the Champions Trophy in Colombo, and with South Africa in the TVS Cup tri-series in Dhaka (both rain affected). His maiden final as skipper was the Nairobi edition of the Champions Trophy.

Not the right tag

"Chokers is not the tag for us. There is pressure in semifinals also," he said in defence the other day. That he was defensive was unlike the very man, for Ganguly is usually confidence-personified, at times cocky, and on occasions even arrogant.

Actually, he is a man of inherent contradictions, and provocation seems to bring out the best in him, as he is then razor-sharp. Remember the manner he handled Steve Waugh & Co in both the home and away series. There were talks of the Indian tour being the `Final Frontier' for Australia and the return series a clean sweep for the host.

India dominated, and Ganguly was hailed as the man who got under Australia's skin. As much as he likes quiet, Ganguly enjoys being in the news. And he is quite open about it. It is beyond doubt that Ganguly's boys have, more often than not, choked in the final, what with their famed batting line-up coming to nought when it comes to the crunch. In fact, the skipper's record in the 13 finals is least inspiring (see box).

Analyse the 13 competitions and you will realise that Ganguly's team has rarely ever swept into the final. It has more often than not been a case of qualifying for the final against all odds, and thereafter being the underdog in the title-clash. And, unlike Australia, which won seven matches on the trot in the 1999 World Cup, surviving must-win situations at almost every step while developing brilliantly en route to brush aside Pakistan in the final, India, in what was largely a similar situation in the following edition, didn't look one bit like a team capable of threatening Ricky Ponting's Australia in the title-round. The difference in mental levels is very obvious in the one-dayers.

Ganguly chooses to consider the deciding contest of a one-day series between two teams as similar to a tournament final. However, the fact is that there is a marked difference, as a series between two teams means the opposition is the same and hence there are not many variations. But in a tournament final, a team encounters different oppositions, and with it a different set of problems at every stage.

One needs to be a lot more innovative to be a successful skipper in the shorter version of the game. It is believed that it's easier being a captain in the longer version as pressure situations are few and far between. India's inadequacy in bowling is a major cause for concern. The very fact that Ganguly is bent on the seven-batsman formula goes to show just that.

The truth is, one needs quality bowlers to be a force in either form of the game. India is grouped with Pakistan and Kenya in the Champions Trophy, with only the topper qualifying for the semifinals. About the must-win clash with the neighbour, Ganguly said, "They are good, but we always play well against them outside the sub-continent."

Then, there is the aspect which Pakistan great Javed Miandad calls `captain's luck.' Describing Ganguly as lucky as Imran Khan was, Miandad recently said, "despite committing many blunders, we came up trumps on many occasions under Imran. There were strange twists of fortune in our favour and that, I feel, was because of the captain's luck. Of course, you need a good team. Sourav has that."

Be it luck or tactics, in the end nothing succeeds like success. Ganguly knows it more than most.