Why another look-in?

PETER ROEBUCK

Sourav Ganguly... no thought yet of throwing in the towel.-PTI

SOURAV GANGULY'S inclusion in the Test squad could not have happened in Australia. V. V. S. Laxman's case is less complicated because he has been cast as a five-day specialist owing to his lack of speed between wickets and slowness in the field. Every country juggles its resources to accommodate the skills required in the different forms of the game. A different balance is needed in 50-over cricket. Drafts and chess, too, are not the same games.

Australians regard the position of the captain as sacrosanct. A lot of nonsense was talked about sacking Ponting after the loss of the Ashes. It does not work that way down under. Of course captains have an important part to play in the rise and fall of a team but it is trite to blame them for everything. One team must win, another must lose. Ponting had presided over a victory in Sri Lanka and had won a World Cup. He had a track record.

Also Australians take the view that the captain cannot lead properly without the backing of the Board and selectors. They accept that captains have bad patches and can learn from them, as Ponting has done. Australia does not chop and change skippers as Pakistan has done, as England did in the 1980s. Nor is the practice unknown in India. However, once a captain's time is up the Australians act ruthlessly. That Allan Border, Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh led the side with distinction did not help them when the rot set in. All felt a tap on the shoulder. Border was livid because he felt he had a few more good years in him. Waugh looked like his car had broken down but that was his usual state so his thoughts remained elusive. None ever played for his country again. Australia lets its captains run their course but then puts them out to pasture. Former captains are not even considered as candidates for places in the team. As far as the Aussies are concerned there is only room for one captain in a Test match dressing-room. And the reason is simple. Every leader has his own style, every leader makes his own mark. Clarity is needed. Harking back to past dispensations does not work.

Not that Ganguly would ever undermine his successor. On the contrary Ganguly and Rahul Dravid have had a fine relationship for many years and there is no reason to suppose they cannot continue in the same vein. Simply, the Bengali has had his chance and now Dravid's time has come and he must be able to set about his task with a free hand. If anything Ganguly's inclusion speaks of a desire to allow an outstanding servant to pass gracefully into retirement. Perhaps a regret is felt about the treatment dished out to the man who silenced the Australians and took a team to a World Cup final. But the past cannot be rewritten. In any case Ganguly's achievements will be remembered long after the manner of his falling. Does anyone care that Border went in a huff?

India ought to be looking forwards. Ganguly hardly bothers to train and his best years are behind him. New men are knocking on the door. A new captain is building a team and has a method of his own. The selectors were right to recall Laxman and must tell him to focus on his batting and not to let distractions into his mind. But Ganguly's career is over and to allow him to linger was a mistake.