Purported path-breaking leads to heartburning

SOURAV GANGULY'S omission from the Indian cricket squad for the third Test against Sri Lanka has evoked strong reactions. And predictably so. The selectors have either acted in a manner that is extremely biased against an individual who, in this case, happens to be a distinguished former India captain, or they have embarked on a bold, path-breaking course. The line between the two perceptions is thin.

Let's consider scenario No. 1: that the selectors were unfair to Ganguly. Here was a man with a creditable Test record (5150 runs in 86 matches at 40.87), who, under increasing pressure to retain his place, produced battling, if not attractive, innings of 40 and 39 in situations where the match could have gone either way.

Skipper Rahul Dravid acknowledged Ganguly's performances in the Test. Earlier, coach Greg Chappell spoke about Ganguly `fitting in' well into the Indian team.

Yet, it took no more than five minutes for the selection panel to strike out his name from the list. Was it an open and shut case?

It is true that Yuvraj Singh's second innings effort (unbeaten 77) was made with far more conviction. He is an in-form batsman, whose footwork has shown considerable improvement. But Ganguly's efforts cannot be discounted.

He was searching for Test form, and if the second Test at the Kotla was any indication, he was gradually gaining in confidence. However, he was shown the door in a manner that betrayed a lack of respect to a senior cricketer and India's most successful captain (Ganguly has led India to 21 wins in 49 Tests).

Chairman of selectors Kiran More told the media that Ganguly had to be left out since it would not be proper to retain him in the 15 and not play him in the XI. Even if the selection panel had decided to persist with Yuvraj in the XI, and if Ganguly had to be dropped to accommodate Sehwag, who was returning after a bout of illness, the wise men could have given the Bengal cricketer the option of whether he wanted to continue in the squad. By dropping Ganguly, they were cutting his lifeline. In any case, Chappell and Dravid have maintained that it is the `squad' rather than the `XI' that plays.

If performance was the only yardstick, then out of form opener Gautam Gambir should have been axed, especially since the cricketer replacing Ganguly was an opener in Wasim Jaffer.

And if, indeed, Ganguly was picked as a batting all-rounder, then one hardly saw him with the ball in New Delhi. Ganguly was totally kept out of the one-day squad against Sri Lanka and South Africa since the selectors were not keen on disturbing a winning combination. By dropping Ganguly from the squad for the third Test, they were doing just the opposite. Simply put, he was not given a fair chance.

Now to scenario 2: That the selectors were indeed building a side for tomorrow and that Yuvraj was a part of that future. They had felt Ganguly's best days as a batsman were behind him, picked Yuvraj at No. 6, and wanted the punishing left-hander to evolve in that slot.

If the selectors were not confident about Ganguly — he has faltered against better attacks in this phase of his career and averaged just 9.60 in three Tests against Pakistan at home this year — then it made more sense to drop him now than in the middle of the Pakistan tour. Yuvraj was a better runner between the wickets and would bring with him more energy and enthusiasm to the field.

The selectors could have also identified one half of the opening combination as a problem area and decided to have more depth in the department. Dravid opening in the first innings of the second Test did not send the right signals — the balance of the team is a critical area. By retaining Gambhir, the wise men might have been stressing on giving youth its due apart from recognising his close-catching ability.

And this resulted in a sad exit for Ganguly. A tough-talking skipper with an instinctive feel for the game, he backed some and rubbed some others the wrong way. He was a leader of men who brought with him a dash of aggression to the Indian side. In his pomp, he was a charming batsman, with glorious off-side strokes.

While the logic of looking at youth cannot be faulted, the manner in which Ganguly was dumped left a lot to be desired. You cannot deprive a man of his dignity.

In the days ahead, the selectors will have to apply the same yardstick to the other senior cricketers. If exceptions are made, then their decision to omit Ganguly will be viewed from a different perspective.