Nothing wrong with this

Having taken the team to great heights there is every chance that Ganguly will guide the side to further glory. Similarly, there is every reason to believe that Captain Courageous will regain his touch with the willow, writes SANJAY RAJAN.

SOURAV GANGULY has never considered himself to be in the same league as Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag or V. V. S. Laxman as a Test batsman.

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But, if there is one man in Team India who understands his own strengths and weaknesses as a cricketer and plays within them, it is undoubtedly Ganguly. At the same time, however, one cannot brush aside the left-hander's credentials as a batsman of international repute. After all, the Bengal cricketer averages a shade over 40 in either form of the game. And he is within striking distance of the 5000-run mark in Test cricket and the magical 10,000-run landmark in One-Day Internationals.

Though his stats are not exactly exceptional in the longer version, they are indeed impressive in the abridged form.

Ganguly's contribution to the team has always been two-dimensional. And here, one would agree that the side had risen dramatically under him over the last five years, to a stage where it had challenged the very best every inch of the way.

It is only natural then that the lows of 2004-05 look like an abyss after the highs of the previous season for Ganguly. Every disastrous season is invariably followed by a form assessment of the individuals.

Ganguly's run with the willow had nose-dived and more glaringly if you consider the country's unimpressive run during this period. Then, there are a couple of deserving batsmen waiting to take his place in the XI. You need to find a reason for the team's failures and it might seem logical to go for the captain's head.

The fact remains that the batting failures, particularly those of the middle-order, contributed to India's poor display. Rahul Dravid, Ganguly's aide and touted by many as the heir apparent, was honest when he said the other day, "A majority of us have not shown the kind of consistency we displayed last season. Obviously, we have not moved as much forward as we had hoped to, following our exploits last year. And that's reflecting. We need to keep maintaining high standards."

Delve deeper and you realise that Ganguly is not the only one going through a bad patch. Sachin Tendulkar, too, did not have a good season. In the last nine ODIs (from the BCCI Platinum Jubilee game against Pakistan in Kolkata), Ganguly has made just 178 runs at 19.77; Tendulkar is only marginally better, with 227 at 25.22. In their respective last nine Tests, beginning with the home series against Australia, Ganguly — who missed the final two Tests of the Australian series — has 363 runs at 30.25, while in Tendulkar's case the 248 against Bangladesh boosted his total to 664 at 55.33.

The point is when far more gifted batsmen are going through a lean patch, why is the skipper alone being singled out for criticism?

Considering his track record both as a batsman and a leader of men — he is only 32 — should he not be persisted with for another two series at least?

Ganguly's lack of confidence at the crease has been apparent this season. Clearly, this has affected his captaincy as well. But then, is it fair in a team game to blame it all on one man?

Knowing Ganguly he is sure to come out of the bad patch sooner than later. A two-month break is sufficient for any international cricketer to work on his flaws, be it technical or mental.

If the saying, form is temporary, class is permanent is true, it would only be logical to continue with Ganguly as captain. After all, he is the country's most successful skipper with 19 victories (importantly, nine of them abroad) from 47 Tests, as against 14 by Md. Azharuddin and nine by Sunil Gavaskar. That the wins came in Australia, England, Pakistan and West Indies make them all the more creditable.

In the slam-bang type of the game, he has 73 wins in 141 matches and has taken the country to a World Cup final apart from two ICC knock-out title-clashes. In fact, India shared the trophy with Sri Lanka in the 2002 ICC Champions Trophy in the Emerald Isle. Let's face it, these are not achievements you can ignore.

Having taken the team to great heights there is every chance that Ganguly will guide the side to further glory. Similarly, there is every reason to believe that Captain Courageous will regain his touch with the willow.

It is only a matter of confidence, a trait he had in abundance not too long ago. While it is easy to remember his expansive cover-drive in the final Test against Bangalore, which allowed an Afridi leg-break to sneak in, or the unconvincing, and short, stints in the middle in the first four ODIs against the Men in Green, one should not forget that he was the man who walked out to bat at Melbourne late that evening in December 2003 to shield an out-of-form Tendulkar in what was an awe-inspiring act on that historic tour.

Similarly, Ganguly was guilty of walking out on the team on the morning of the third Test against Australia at Nagpur in what was an act of diffidence. India promptly went on to lose the series there. But it also must be remembered that he was the man who scripted that brilliant 144 at Brisbane in the first Test when India had its back to the wall. That set the tone for the four-Test series, which India famously went on to draw 1-1.

As the man who moulded Team India, the left-hander has every reason to believe that he has a few seasons left in him, as skipper and batsman. The fact is, he does. And what more, he understands the chemistry of this team better than anyone else.