The seesaw of being Sourav

Published : Sep 22, 2001 00:00 IST


WHAT Chandu Borde told us, in effect, was that the selectors confirmed Sourav Ganguly as captain in two shakes of a duck's tail. In two shakes of a lamb's tail did someone I well know go out of the reckoning for India's captaincy? Who? Who if not Chandu Borde! Let us tell Sourav how Chandu lost out on India's captaincy then.

It was the Friday of January 8, 1971, as the selectors congregated in the CCI setting of Bombay's Brabourne Stadium. The D-Day on which the casting vote against Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi was but waiting to be cast. That afternoon, the first name to come up for captaincy debate was that of Chandu Borde. But Chairman of Selectors Vijay Merchant foreclosed the issue by observing that when, on form and fitness, Maharashtra's Chandu Borde did not find a place in the team to the West Indies, where was there any question of considering his name for India's captaincy?

That pleased the pro-Pat selection duo of C. D. Gopinath and M. M. Jagdale no end. Here was the chairman (from West Zone itself) inveighing against Chandu Borde, so they thought the coast was clear for Tiger Pataudi. This was when Vijay Merchant (backed by Bal Dani) sprung, from the Blue Mountains, the name of Ajit Wadekar. Tough postures were inevitably struck on both sides. "As is my way," Vijay Merchant told me, "I tried to convince them that Indian cricket urgently needed a change of guard. Added to our drawing with great difficulty (1-1) the series against Graham Dowling's lowly placed New Zealand, we had, with the best spinners in the world, lost (1-3) the series to Bill Lawry's Australia - after having drawn level with that conclusive win in the Kotla Test. In the eight Tests at home against New Zealand and Australia, Pataudi was not viewed to lead from the front as his own batting witnessed a sudden decline. As Chairman of Selectors, I wanted results. If Pataudi could not get them after having been captain through 36 Tests running (17 of them lost and only seven won), why not a radical departure from convention? But my plea fetched no response. That's how I came to use my casting vote in favour of Ajit Wadekar."

It was another selection committee chairman's casting vote that had affirmed the Junior Nawab of Pataudi as India's captain (in the 1963-64 five-Test series at home) against Mike Smith's England. That chairman, M. Dutta-Ray, was now, in January 1971, also a selector. But a court ruling kept away Dutta-Ray from that crucial Bombay selection meet. If only Dutta-Ray had been present as one always rooting for Tiger Pataudi, he would have strengthened, 3-2, the Gopinath-Jagdale axis' voting hands. Indeed there would, then, have been no casting vote for Vijay Merchant to trump the ace Pataudi.

Ajit Wadekar's resourceful left-handed bat (91 not out) had won the Kotla Test for Pataudi's India against the might of Lawry's Australia. So had Sourav's lithe left-handed bat (98 not out) won the Kandy Test for India from Jayasuriya's Sri Lanka. Ajit Wadekar, after he became India's captain, was in wretched form right through those five path-breaking Tests of early-1971 against the West Indies (151 runs from 7 innings - ave. 21.57). But Wadekar won for India (1-0) our first series abroad against two of the big three in the game: Gary Sobers' West Indies and Ray Illingworth's England.

So did Sourav win for India (2-1) a milestone Test series against World champions Australia. But Sourav, after that, slumped against Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka almost the exact way Wadekar lost ground against England. Wadekar encountered no end of problems winning (2-1), at home, the series against "England's second eleven" led by that celebrated violinist, Tony Lewis, not playing Bedi as well as Bach. Followed the 1974 three-nil whitewash of Wadekar's India by Mike Denness' team in England. Sourav, likewise, had a rough passage during the Test series in Zimbabwe (drawn 1-1) and Sri Lanka (lost 1-2). Wadekar, when 1974 turned out to be India's English summer of discontent, was compulsively retired from cricket itself by our Cricket Board - out to settle that casting-vote score with Vijay Merchant. Our Cricket Board here even acceded to Tiger Pataudi's astonishing precondition that he would take over, for the five-Test 1974-75 home series against Clive Lloyd's West Indies, only if there was, for him, "a unanimous voteback" to India's captaincy. How Pataudi (94 runs from 7 Test innings - ave. 13.42) discovered that his "left" eye for Sharmila Tagore's beauty was not good enough for the ugly pace of Andy Roberts is Indian cricket history.

All this is pinpointed to bring home to Sourav the style of seesaw the business of leading India could be. Sourav is indeed lucky that Chandu Borde, letting bygones be bygones, led the way in retaining him as India's skipper. For out of the way had Sourav gone to rub the wrong way our selectors and cricket mentors alike. Sourav's allusion to these Pooh-Bahs as having "fixed terms" where his "job is on the line with each Test" was calculated to win neither friends among selectors nor influence people among those manning our cricket administration. Sourav's open TV mind only had the effect of seeing Raj Singh "Dungarpurr" - setting the cat among the pigeons - that Rahul Dravid should be ready to take over from his dressing-room mate. But Chandu Borde (in what was this particular selection committee's last meeting) placed India's interests first by putting a "cap" on any idea of change at this U-turn in the once-magnetic batting career of Sourav.

Or is there more to the Cricket Board's staying with Sourav than meets the third eye that ruled Rahul (36) run out in the Colombo Test? What better tour than the dimensionally daunting one of South Africa to let Sourav go and fry himself as the one already in the electric chair? It is a tour on which Sourav is expected, successfully, to seesaw from six ODIs to three Tests. Sourav's current batting health has been diagnosed as being less than sound. Even the on-tour advantage Sourav has of the six ODIs (against South Africa and Kenya) being played first is a Pyrrhic one. For Sourav, if still more productive in the one-day game, has now to look out for that singular bouncer allowed in each of the 50 overs! And the bouncer, aimed by Steve Waugh & Co. at his rib-cage, is what loosened the seat-belt in the case of a Sourav in full flight as captain from the "wordy" go.

Yet, it is amazing how (when everything has for long gone wrong) that last bit in the jigsaw unexpectedly falls into place. Sourav's own Britannia blade, blunted as never before (with umpires, too, joining in watching the fun), could suddenly find runs easier to flesh out on South African tracks where the ball comes on to the bat. The grammarians of the game might argue that Sourav no longer knows where his off-stump is pitched. The counter-argument is that Sourav never did need to know where his off-stump was pitched! His bat instinctively did the right thing the moment the ball came to be dropped on or just outside that off-stump. Those slips could yet again wait in vain - as Sourav's square-drive fairly singes the grass through gully.

My short cover-point is that Sourav is overdue for some luck with the bat. He succeeded against all odds as captain against Australia. So might he now excel, against all odds, as a strike force in South Africa. The touch that Ajit Wadekar's left-handed bat lost in the West Indies was magically regained in England by mid-1971. So could Sourav, in 2001, deliver with the willow in South Africa when least expected. It is a double-edged sword with which our Cricket Board has saddled Sourav in asking him, one last time, to perform as skipper and striker alike. It is now or never. South Africa's agenda is to bounce Sourav out of contention in the one-day series itself. Sourav well knows this. He also knows that Rahul is only biding his timing in bidding for India's captaincy. Sachin, for his pre-eminent part, is not interested in leading "for the time being"! His battle, right now, is as much with Wisden top as with Sachin toe! Laxman, of course, remains a cricket law unto himself. Keith Miller (0) is supposed to have disdained runs - as too easy to come by - on the occasion when Don Bradman's 1948 Australian team hit up 721, in a day, against Essex. So, let us make-believe, did Laxman spurn runs in Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka to reserve his big act for South Africa - the way VVS did against Australia.

How fit for the Protean fray is Laxman? VVS, in a sense, is so fit, and no more, at the best of times! He just goes out and puts bat to ball. The rest is a matter of Shane Warne's thinking (and writing) that he met his match only in Sachin. Little did Warney then know that the answer to "After Sachin Who?" lay in the quicksilver feet of V. V. S. Laxman! From the Mumbai Test itself (in which Laxman "failed" on his comeback with 20 and 12), VVS was viewed to be step-dancing, down the track, to Warne in a style designed to make that rotund Wallaroo wonder if this man was not India's Gene Kelly. Oh, but the challenge in South Africa is against the quicks, isn't it? But wasn't it first Brett Lee and Glenn McGrath (only then Shane Warne) Laxman wristily cut to size in that January 2000 Sydney Test 167 - so rivetingly etched in our Channel 9 imagination? Capture our imagination, afresh, Laxman and Sachin alike must in South Africa. Sourav, by the same token, must use the six ODIs, in the Veldt, as the platform to get his batting on the rails again. As he opens anew with Sachin, Sourav must remember how he once kept stroke-making pace with The Elfin One.

"Batting," observed Vijay Merchant, "is no different from driving. Your footwork and wristwork are instinctive in the way you clutch, brake and accelerate - before getting into top gear. Coordination of eye and foot comes from a total lack of consciousness that you are driving."

On or outside the off-stump in the case of a Sourav now called upon to be hard-hitting as batsman and helmsman alike.

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