Is Sourav the solution?

Already Sourav Ganguly is being seen as the panacea to India's current troubles: More than 90 per cent of respondents to an opinion poll on a news channel thought so.-R. V. MOORTHY

Sourav Ganguly has a mountain to climb both on the field and off it where he must share a dressing room with Greg Chappell. Let's not make it any tougher by spiking up expectation, writes S. Ram Mahesh.

What does one make of Sourav Ganguly's comeback to India's Test squad? Is it a move of expediency or of desperation? Is it a discernable shift in power away from the captain and the coach — the most significant gambit in a return to the old guard, a return that has seen the recall of Zaheer Khan, Anil Kumble and V. V. S. Laxman to the one-day side? Or merely a switch in philosophy — process and progress be damned for the moment, it ain't working; let's patch things up for now, and resume building at a distant, comfortable date — as the World Cup looms? Will it work? Just as crucially, what are its consequences in the long term? And what does it say of us as a nation responding to change? Are we unprepared for the hard yards, and long, far too quickly, for the comfort of the familiar when things get tough?

Maddeningly, there are no straight answers. At least none that immediately suggest themselves, and satisfactorily clear matters up. Dropped in February this year after the tour of Pakistan — a trip he made supposedly on the munificence of the BCCI president Sharad Pawar — Ganguly was asked by the selectors to tramp across the desert to nowhere on a day's ration. There was, after all, just too much history with the coach. In any case, he wasn't quite the world-beating batsman in Test cricket he was in the one-day game (where incidentally his laggard fielding and attitude at large had cooked his goose). A drought of Test runs and the accompanying insecurity, it must be remembered, was what had precipitated the infamous spat in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.

To return from here was a stretch even for a man of Ganguly's will and wile. As Rahul Dravid's team began to find vibrant self-expression in one-day cricket, the deposed prince refused to give up hope of playing for India again. Over 10 months, Ganguly scratched around at the domestic crease, got hit for a six off the last ball when five were needed, made runs in losing causes, signed for Northamptonshire where he averaged 4.8 in six First Class innings and struck a 106-ball 71 in his only C&G limited-overs game. He switched camps and accused erstwhile mentor Jagmohan Dalmiya of "playing with players' careers to suit them" in the run-up to the CAB elections only to be called a `bachcha' by Dalmiya for his efforts. Ganguly then flopped in the Challenger Trophy with scores of 24 and 3, and failed to make the Rest of India squad for the Irani Trophy before knocking off a hundred against North Zone in Guwahati in the Duleep Trophy and making 6 and 43 in a low-scoring Ranji win over Punjab on a reportedly pacer-friendly Mohali strip. In between, he was hauled up for dissent, supported both by politicians and — in another u-turn that never seems to go out of fashion in Indian cricket — Dalmiya. And to leave little to chance, the 34-year-old appeared in a tacky soft drink ad, saying he had felt hurt at his exclusion, but had moved on since and was working very hard to get back.

V. V. KRISHNAN

Incident-packed, yes, but a dare-you-not-to-pick-me performance sequence? One thinks not. As far as building ironclad cases for selection by churning out runs at the First Class level goes, Tamil Nadu's S. Badrinath, for one, has done better.

So, to return to the initial question, what does one make of Ganguly's return? Given Yuvraj Singh's injury, the fear that Dravid's injured finger mightn't repair in time, and the manner in which Mohammad Kaif and Suresh Raina shaped in handling bounce, the selectors had few options.

The Dilip Vengsarkar-led panel has gone on record saying it didn't want to blood newcomers in South Africa, perhaps the last bastion of truly quick wickets (the ones in Australia have slowed). The irony of Ganguly's inclusion is just the latest in a career pockmarked by ironies: considered with good reason to be suspect against quick bowling on tracks offering bounce, the left-hander must resurrect his career by first fighting that very stereotype. If he succeeds — how does one define success? Fighting thirties when others fall around him? — will he then make the grade in ODIs?

Again, few answers venture themselves, for a month back Ganguly's return was unthinkable. But if one is to win with a team of chronic slow movers in the field, better the smaller grounds of the Caribbean than the monstrous playing areas — despite boundary ropes being brought in — of Australia.

One wishes Ganguly well: he must be remembered for his fantastic work in remoulding a side, for his efforts in changing the way India's cricketers were perceived; not for hanging on when it was time to go. Which brings us to a disturbing trend illustrated during Ganguly's recall: with reality being mediated subversively by television, public memory is losing perspective and context. Few seem to remember his struggles with the bat leading up to his exclusion. Already he is being seen as the panacea to India's current troubles: more than 90 per cent of respondents to an opinion poll on a news channel thought so. Ganguly has a mountain to climb both on the field and off it where he must share a dressing room with Greg Chappell. Let's not make it any tougher by spiking up expectation.

TIMELINE

India, March 2005: Calls for his removal grow strident after a horror run (averages 9.6 in five innings) against Pakistan.

Zimbabwe, Sept. 2005: Admits he was asked to step down in a presser after grafting a hundred against the world's worst bowling attack. Greg Chappell's sensational email is leaked.

India, Oct. 2005: Dropped from the ODI squad. Hits 117 in a Duleep Trophy game.

India, Nov. 2005: Snared for a pair by Zaheer Khan in the Duleep Trophy final. Sacked as Test captain.

India, Dec. 2005: Dropped after making 40 and 39 against Sri Lanka in the second Test in Delhi. Picked for Tests in Pakistan.

Pakistan & India, Jan-Feb 2006: Fails to make the oneday squad against Pakistan.

Gutses out knocks of 34 and 37 in Karachi. Dropped for the Tests against England. Good-bye?

India, March 2006: Kiran More, then selection committee chairman, shuts the door on Ganguly, who proceeds to guide Bengal to the semifinal of the Ranji one-day tournament with an unbeaten 89.

India & England, May-June 2006: Signs with Northamptonshire, but struggles (averages 4.8 in six FC innings).

India, July 2006: Turns against Dalmiya in a leaked e-mail!

India, Aug. 2006: Pencilled into the 30-man preliminary squad for the Champions Trophy, but doesn't make the final shortlist later.

India, Sept. 2006: Included in the Challenger Trophy squad.

India, Oct. 2006: Fails in the Challenger Trophy. Fails to make Rest of India squad for the Irani Trophy.

India, Nov. 2006: Hits 118 in the Duleep Trophy, and makes 43 on a difficult track in the Ranji Trophy. Recalled to the Test squad.