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A Consistently Inconsistent Performance
Indian Players And Media Taking Puzzling U Turns
By S Zeyaur Rahman

When some phenomenon assumes gigantic proportions and the people associated with it react hysterically, it is nearly impossible to take a rational stand on the matter. Cricket in India can be qualified  with both these virtues and I for one do not expect many people to have logically verifiable opinions on the affairs of the team. With the benefit of hindsight on the fortunes of Indian cricket in the last ten months, one has seen opinions swinging from one end to another. A series of U turns, which effectively means a succession of round abouts, needless to say contradictory and diametrically opposite views on the one and same topic, by the same people.

One does not need to go much in details. A look at the various opinion polls in any of the leading newspapers or any of the countless websites will vouch for the statement. The metamorphosis is sometimes within the series, some people have patience enough to watch an entire series before doing a somersault. Nonetheless, I have failed to find a single person, including many cricket pundits who have shown some resemblance to a virtue called consistency while expressing their views.

The latest development is the loss in Sri Lanka, which happens to be our first in 16 years. It is a different fact that we have played very less test cricket with Sri Lanka in the past twenty years. It was India’s third tour to the Emerald Isle of which they have lost two and was victorious under Azharuddin (the famous out of home victory). With the conclusion of the series the cacophony in the media has already started and one can hear horse cries for scapegoats for the debacle and disaster.

Let me contend the prevailing opinion. India played a triangular series in which it almost miraculously but not accidentally marched into the finals. Well, we lost the finals rather comprehensively. All one needs to do is to read the reports after India’s third consecutive defeat. Doomsday never appeared nearer for Indian cricket. After a gap of seven days, on the eve of the finals, the papers painted a rosy picture of a renaissance, nay resurrection of Indian cricket. History does follow a pattern, immediately after the crucifixion there has to be a revival. That has been happening all too often. We live in fast times really!

The loss at Galle was a bitter pill to swallow. Within four days and without much resistance or any credible performance etc. That was once again the nadir, things were all over gray, cricketers were villains. A week later after the comprehensive victory at Kandy, love was back in air. Another week, another loss and you know how we are reacting. Is there any valid and genuine reason for us to behave the way we have been doing? I for one cannot think of any.          

The Sri Lanka tour is no exception at all. As I have already mentioned that this senseless swinging from one end to another has been going on for almost a year. Remember the Mumbai test and India’s loss there and compare it with the aftermath of Kolkata and Chennai. Were not they the same people but how radically opposite? Remember Bulawayo victory and Harare loss, recall six consecutive victories in the tri series and the loss in the finals. Is there a single instance that anyone remained consistent?

But so has been the team, somehow it has developed a unique ability to shock one and all with the most unexpected of all performances. Consistency was never a strong point with India, but neither was such a consistent inconsistency its hallmark. The champions one day are the vanquished the next day, and it is getting harder to explain the mysterious mechanism behind it. But the point that I want to make is that the Indian team has in no way disgraced itself. In fact it has performed rather credibly given the constraints it was playing under.        

The display in test series has left a lot to be desired. Not a single batsman got to the three figure mark and that explains the two losses to a great extent. Not for once did India touch the 400 mark. In fact it was bowled out for less than 250 on four of the six occasions. That is certainly not the way to win test matches. The absence of key players can be taken into account while explaining a collective act, like losing a match, but the absence of individual brilliance cannot be explained away. The team did not post 500 runs total might be explained by the absence of Tendulkar or Laxman, but one cannot say that Dravid or Ganguly could not make centuries because Tendulkar and Laxman are not there.

Indian batting did look out of depth and certainly not threatening enough. Ironically enough both the openers performed rather well but that was never enough for a big total. Test cricket cannot be played on the strength of good 50s and 40s. Someone needs to play a long innings, dropping the anchor and navigating the totals to safe shores. That did not happen once.

The Kandy test was won by the bowlers. They dismissed Sri Lanka cheaply in both the innings and had the task cut out for the batsmen.  Still the credibility of Indian batsmen under pressure and on foreign pitches has been so bad that one feels like thanking them for rising to the occasion and doing what they should be doing day in and day out. I mean that is why they are there and it is an apt reflection of things that the execution of a task is passed off as achievement.

The failure of the juniors to  come up with something big has been the biggest disappointment of the tour. Both Badani and Kaif did not do anything special in the six innings to prove that they deserve a place in ten side. Compare that with Australia, where one is in a perpetual fix while selecting the final eleven. Now who would think twice before handing out eviction notice to Kaif if not Badani?

The series was billed as a contest for the slot of the best off spinners in the world. It has been a total one sided contest. Muralitharan has amply demonstrated that he is light years ahead of the young sardar, who did not impress once. It was surprising to see Muralitharan extracting the kind of turn and bagging wickets in handful on ten same track where Harbhajan looked so plebian. And mind you that the tracks were not like Sabina Park or Port Elizabeth. The pitches were friendlier to the fast bowlers than they are expected to be in the subcontinent, but did not Murali weave magic on them. The bowlers, which won the test for India, were Prasad and Zaheer Khan, and even Srinath managed five wickets in the only innings that he bowled.    

How can we forget the captain when we are talking of the debacle. Especially one like Ganguly who is so 'popula'’ with everybody. We can always blame him for the Orissa cyclone or the Gujarat earthquake (so what if he was not the captain then!). Ganguly has to have a hand in anything that goes wrong anywhere. He has been grossly sinned against it is to his credit that he has dealt with the tirade in such a dignified manner (though I would have preferred him to be savage to the bowlers). For a change one could read the current issue of a leading weekly and I would recommend it strongly to everyone. Poor man was the Maharaja one day and 'gangu teli'’ the other day.

His form with the bat is indeed a cause of worry but like his so many illustrious predecessors he is bound to come out of it. We can hardly afford to be so generous and tolerant these days, but that is a reality. Combined with the fact that there seems to be no other feasible alternative. We have seen Tendulkar twice and neither is he very keen on the job. And lets not tamper with Dravid’s equilibrium at the moment. As for the rest, a second glance is not at all necessary.

It would be really unfortunate if Ganguly loses captaincy and an outright crime if he is sacked from the team altogether. He has done an excellent job getting the kind of results from a de facto B team. He has won 6 of the 13 test matches and got India in seven eight of eight finals. Even Steve Waugh would be proud of such a record, though he would have loved to lay his hands on the trophy that has always eluded Ganguly. At the moment that we can wish for his return to form and also the return of key players which will no doubt boost the strength the team manifold.    

Beginning On The Wrong Note
Ganguly Hoping For Calcutta Coup
By S Zeyaur Rahman

Beginning a test series on a losing note has been the bane of Indian cricket for the greater part of the decade. And if the series happened to be an overseas one, then it was almost mandatory. The Indian cricketers know the best how difficult it is to bounce back in a series. They have been through to it so many times but still they do not seem to be learning. Instead of putting their heart and soul in the opening game they have been extremely casual in the first test. It was a lackluster and uninspiring performance in ten first tests and the sooner it is forgotten the better it is.

One can imagine the kind of cricket played by Indians in the match. They came up with their lowest score against Sri Lanka in the first innings. As if unsatisfied by the feat, they got out for even a lower score in the second innings. This is not the kind of performance that one would expect from any test team. No wonder that Sri Lanka found its first victory over India at after a gap of 16 years.  

Statistics apart, the display by Indians was pathetic indeed. It is indeed difficult to ascertain what exactly was playing in their minds that they came up with such dismal scores. The pitch was rumored to be a green top triggering much speculation given India's vulnerability on grass.  The openers had doggedly hung around to provide a very steady start. One would have imagined the danger to be over. But the ever famous and ever fragile middle order did India in once again.  

Fernando and Co is a no doubt genuine fast bowler, bowling with a lot of pace and aggression. It is their sustained hostility that had the Indians on the mat. But one would not have expected world-class batsmen to cave in as if they were facing the most dangerous attack. All said and done, the Lankan bowlers are rookies. They might be greats tomorrow, but tomorrow they stand nowhere near the likes of McGrath or Donald. It is just no business of the batsmen to be unable to face an attack that is at the most effective. It was sheer recklessness that got them out. Remember Badani slashing outside the stump when the side is half bundled for next to nothing.

I would have loved to maintain that despite Tendulkar India could put up a fight. The way they bounced back in the tri series was heartening. I feel that what India really missed in the test was an anchor and Tendulkar even at his best is never an anchor. He is not born to build platforms for others. He would rather have the stage to himself and the crowds or may be even cricket itself is much the better for it. India needed Dravid to play a long innings. But what can he do alone as he did in the second innings. It is for the second time on the tour that Dravid has run out of partners. It is here that the role of someone like Laxman becomes remely important and India is missing him sorely.    

The manner of dismissals in the second innings was no better except the fact that it can be attributed to the magic of Muralitharan. He is a master bowler and on any day he can have any team on its knees. It is not for nothing that he has an average haul of more than 6 wickets per match, better than many of the greatest bowlers to have played the game and it is getting even better. But once again India has to device some strategy to counter his spin or the series is as good as over. Imagine Indian batsmen succumbing to spin bowling. Gone are the days that Indian batsmen used to counter spin bowling with extreme ease and even contempt.  

It is indeed difficult to comeback in a test match after puttying up 187 runs on the board. One can do that only with an assortment of highly accomplished bowlers, which India does not have at the moment. Srinath is no doubt effective and to his credit he got five wickets despite bowling with a broken hand. Prasad was disappointing and Zaheer Khan can perform much better. It is Harbhajan's failure that cost India dear. The series was billed as the contest between the two best off spinners on the world. No one is in any doubt after watching the first match.

One must also remember that the injury list is taking a heavy toll on the outcome. We are without our mainstays in both the departments. No body would say that India couldn’t lose with Tendulkar and Kumble around. But it does matter a lot to miss the top guns. Not only that we are also deprived of Laxman and Nehra, the two most improved players on the circuit. As luck has it we will be without Srinath for the rest of the series.

Ganguly could be forgiven for doubting some celestial conspiracy against him. One has to keep in mind that he has not leaded a full strength Indian side for almost a year. He has been quick to point out to the fact. But how does he explain his inability to get a 50plus score in the last twelve innings. Bad patches are a part of the game, but if Ganguly's bad patches are too prolonged then he himself will not be a part of the game for too long. Yes Ganguly is in the line of fire and he has to save his captaincy and may be even his place in the team. It is unduly harsh on a person. But this is a part of the game and he has to live with it.    

I am also reminded of the fact that no other Indian team has shown a flair for bouncing back and writing the crickets off. This is a happy development. All that we can do is to keep the fingers crossed for an encore. And all that Ganguly needs to whisper in his team mate's ears is, REMEMBER CALCUTTA!  

Mirror Mirror On The Wall
Bradman's Reply To Wisden
By S Zeyaur Rahman

Countless times cricket pundits have ritualistically indulged in this exercise. And of course it is pretty natural for us to have a curiosity of knowing the best among the greatest of the game. But each time the effort gets mired in unending controversy.

The release of the much talked about Bradman Eleven has stirred up the hornet's nets once again. What makes the timing of the release interesting is the fact that it is very close on the heels of the Wisden 100 great innings list, which raised a big storm and is yet to die down.

Nobody takes any opinion seriously unless it has the potential to influence people. And as luck has it, Wisden is nothing short of the Bible of cricket and Bradman has no shorter stature than a God of the game. That partially explains the tremendous response hat these lists have generated.

Lets proceed step wise. One controversy at a time! That is more than we can tackle. The Wisden list created a furore in India primarily because it did not include any innings by Sachin Tendulkar. That was the main thrust of the arguments in its criticism against Wisden. There was no honest analysis done and we reacted emotionally. It does not mean that everything was okay with the list, but neither was it the best way to react to it.  

The best way to react would be to make a list of all those innings, which should have found a place in the list ahead of those included. Then after taking a stand one should have stood by it. In case there is a disagreement on the priority order, one could have suggested the changes. That is called taking a stand on the issue. Nobody has cared to do that because it is always easier to criticize rather than face the music for oneself. I am aware that one can find umpteen faults with the Wisden list. But I am sure that any other list, published by any other person or institution will fare no better, only the nature of criticism will differ, depending upon the regions of 'victims'.

We exist in a divided world, a polarized world. And we do not have too poles only. Our affinities and repulsions are of many hues and shades, colour, nationality, groups, lobbies etc. Depending upon the current alignment, the reactions are constructed. The West Indies fore example will vote with Asia when the issue has a racial tinge to it and with Australia when the question deals with a gradation of teams.

I for example do not think that there could be many changes in the list though the order could be tarried with a little. Nor do I endorse it categorically. As far as Sachin Tendulkar is concerned the Chennai innings has to be there at any cost. But if I were to insist on the hundreds at Perth or Old Trafford, it would come at a cost of far more deserving efforts.  

Cricket is not a poor game. It has a rich history and has seen brilliant feats and achievers. So when one has to face so much opposition making a list of hundred then the one attempting a list of eleven has to be very brave. It is simply impossible to satisfy one and all.

One has to read the Don's list in light of his views published just a day before. He has tried to explain the reasons of his choice as well. It is here that he disappoints one and all because his views and selections are not consistent.

A left-right combination of openers has Arthur Morris and Barry Richards. Well Richards' is an emotional selection like many others, to which I will return to a little later in the team. And for Morris it is a partisan decision. Bradman has shown undue favour to his team members, not as an Australian but as a person who had seen them from very close quarters. That explains five of them from 1948 Australian team alone making it to the list. Well as for alternatives, Gavaskar is the first name that comes to mind but one has to be blind to overlook Sir Len Hutton completely.

Bradman at three is unquestionable. Then we have Tendulkar at four that is surprising indeed. Sachin is the only player who is still in business, which makes matters a little difficult. He may surpass one and all or he could lose a few inches of his reputation through subsequent performances. It would have been safer to include Viv Richards here, though to quote Bradman, 'history could prove me wrong here'.

Sobers can walk in the side on the strength of his batting alone. His abilities as a spinner making the task all the more easier. Nothing could be more absurd than the selection of the wicket keeper. To put it plainly, Don Tallon does not fall in the same league as Rodney Marsh, Allan Knott or even Ian Healey. Any of these would be far more deserving selection.

Three fast bowlers in Lillee, Lindwall and Bedser. Well where do the great Windies go boasting a great lineage of fast bowlers? None of them make the grade nor does Hadlee. Two leg spinners are never good for a variety and certainly a luxury when u already have Sobers in the side. That place has to go to an extra batsman and there can be no better option than the inclusion of Richards, or Jack Hobbs if we decide to keep Tendulkar out. When a great like Wolly Hammond can be the 12th man, then why not Tendulkar. 

A Reversal Of Roles Across The Ocean
Sri Lanka Hoping To Break The Jinx
By S Zeyaur Rahman

After a rather interesting triangular series, the focus in the Emerald Island is shifting to the more serious stuff. India and Sri Lanka are all set to lock horns in a three test series. Gone are the days when the contests with Sri Lanka were a walkover. After the World Cup triumph in 1996 Sri Lanka has emerged as a force to reckon with and at home turf, it has beaten every single team, be it the invincible Aussies or the mighty Proteas.  

Despite being neighbours, India and Sri Lanka do not share very old or deep bonds as far as Test cricket is concerned. India has played a big brother attitude so far, obliging the former Test minnows with a trip or two every now and then. But it is only now that we have started to take Sri Lankan cricket seriously and it reflects in the overall attitude. Needless to say that the Lankan tigers have earned this respect by the sweat of the brow.

The statistics of the Indo-Lankan tests show a very lopsided picture. In fact nothing could be further from reality. India leads its rivals 7-1. That solitary victory has a curious history of its own. The first test between India and Sri Lanka had ended in a draw. In the next series Sri Lanka was the one to draw the first blood and India managed to open its account much later. That Sri Lankan victory came in 1985-86 and in the next 17 years Sri Lanka has not managed to win a single test against India.

India has been victorious in four series against Sri Lanka, three of them on the trot under Azharuddin. In fact Azhar created a World Record of sorts when India won all the three tests of the series by innings margin. Also it was under Azhar that India recorded its first overseas victory after the English tour of 1986.

The next three series went undecided but to be true to the Lankans, they have dominated the scene. No one can forget the Colombo test. In which Jayasuriya (340) and Mahanama (225) lead the run feast to produce a record score of 952. In the bowling department Murali has been more than a match for Kumble, stealing the thunder from right under his nose.

That as they say is history. On to the present, India looks a beleaguered side struggling to regain its foothold after a series of upsets in the recent past. The team was relatively new and is further depleted by the absence of its top guns, both in the bowling and the batting department.

Tendulkar's injury might as well be the most talked about ailment on the subcontinent. Needless to say that India will miss him sorely. He has been the main stay of our batting and his young shoulders have carried the huge burden for 84 matches on the trot before faltering owing to the demands of the game on his body. The man who had put forward his claim on the Tendulkar monopoly is also out. Laxman had proved to be a cushion for the batting lineup and in very short time provided an extra depth to the batting order.

India has been without Kumble for most part of the year and have almost got used to it. The credit for that indeed goes to Harbhajan Singh, who rushed in to fill that vacuum. But Harbhajan does not have a decent back up, with all respect due to Rahul Sanghvi. The chief architects of Indian victories in the recent past had been Kumble and Tendulkar and it remains to be seen how India copes up without their most potent weapons.

The list of injuries does not end here. The latest talent to emerge out of the Indian system was Ashish Nehra. He had performed wonderfully well on the Zimbabwe tour and was the pick of the bowlers in the earlier part of the triangular tournament. He was an ideal partner for Zaheer Khan and now the big-hearted lad from Baroda might find himself waging a lonely battle.

The prospects are not so bleak altogether. We still have two renowned batsmen in Dravid and Ganguly. Well Ganguly has to strike back form someday and there could not be a better occasion than this one. It would be a real motivation for the youngsters waiting in the wings.

That reminds us of the silver lining. India does have a bunch of talented players waiting for their place under the sun. It will be a tough initiation for Mongia, Kaif and Badani and at the moment all our hopes wrest on them. If they deliver, there is no doubt that we would be able to floor the Lankans in their own den. Nobody denies the talent that they possess. But now it is time for them to display the right kind of temperament and turn the tides for India.

We cannot totally discount the old warhorses Srinath and Prasad who will be bowling in tandem once again. Ironically enough they too have a fantastic opportunity to remind all of us that they are not spent forces and still have the firs to win games for the side. If the constitution of the Lankan side is any indication, we can expect seamer friendly pitches and here the experience of the two will be a definite edge for India.

On the other hand the Lankan side is not facing any of these problems. In fact they are overflowing with options so much so that they could afford to leave out a seasoned campaigner like De Silva, who had been India's nemesis in the past. Now the mantle has rightly passed on to Jayasuriya and he has brilliantly groomed an entire army to foil the plans of Indians. The youngsters in the Lankan side are coming of age and have begun to deliver.

Thew bowling department has suddenly started to look lethal. With five pace bowlers and a match winner like Muralitharan, they have little cause of concern. The added home advantage is for everyone to see and it is a golden chance for Sri Lanka to break the jinx.

Over all it does appear to be reversal of roles. It is India, which finds itself on the defensive. But as the saying goes, when the going gets tough, tough gets going. With back towards the wall, we hope that India will muster enough to corner an upbeat side.

Faltering At The Final Hurdle
A Strange Case Of Consistency
By S Zeyaur Rahman

Oh yes! It happened yet again. Our worst fears came true one more time no matter how much we hoped for the contrary. It cannot possibly happen yet again. It has to come to an end sooner than later. This is how we had tried to be optimistic before the finals of the Coca Cola Cup against Sri Lanka. But all in vain as the familiar script was enacted yet again and India ended on the losing side.

Eight consecutive losses in the finals. That must be a record of sorts. It also defies all cricket logic. I mean if the team is good enough to make a place in the finals it should be able to win it as well. At least on some of the occasions if not always. But it has been extremely agonizing to see India go down in one final after another, after they have worked their way up to the title round.    

It really makes us sit up and question the questionable performance. Wins and losses are of course the part of the game. But here we are left with a string of losses. These are no ordinary losses. These eight losses have undone and negated the 24 victories that have gone behind them. These are the losses in the finals of the tournaments. It is in fact a lucky coincidence for Ganguly and his men that these losses have come at a time when the match-fixing crisis has almost blown over. Imagine eight final losses at the same time last year; it would have been curtains for Ganguly, his men and cricket in India.    

That does not mean that the entire nation is delighted to experience its third drought year in terms of titles. The fact that India once held the record for the highest number of titles in a single year does not allow the hard dose to sink in. The amazement is all the more exalted when we are told to believe that this is one of the best sides, which at times appears true as well. Then what is it that has kept us waiting for a title?

Come to think of it. It is a strange situation. Strange in the sense that it is irrational and yet frequent. One cannot explain it on any normal premises but it keeps on happening with alarming in fact sickening regularity. The nearest parallel that I can find for this phenomenon is India's string of losses to Pakistan at Sharjah, Friday or no Friday. Well some of them attribute it to be a psychological case in which our friends from across the border have an upper hand.

Of these eight finals India has lost to Pakistan only once. We have conceded finals to New Zealand and West Indies, which are second rung sides (and we do not have any border disputes with them either). Sri Lanka has emerged as our chief tormentor humiliating us on three occasions. Ganguly has admitted that Jayasuriya has made a habit of winning finals for Sri Lanka. What Ganguly forgets is that India has not specifically targeted Jayasuriya’s wicket the way Australia zeroes on to Tendulkar or Atherton or Lara. Much worse Jayasuriya has been let off on each of these three occasions early in the innings and he went on to post a huge score for his side.

We are also reminded of another aspect of the side. It is one of the youngest, fittest and one of the most dynamic sides to have turned out of India. We have a bunch of seasoned campaigners, who are not on the other side of 30, and a group of talented youngsters raring to go. The adrenalin should have been higher than normal and this side should have risen to every occasion and performed feats unheard of. Quite the contrary, we have been let down on every single occasion. If a young and fit side cannot do that then which side can?

Giving surprise results is a habit with this team. They devoured the top sides on their way to the finals in the mini World Cup at a time when they never had a ghost of a chance. And then they bungled it against a moderate New Zealand side. They did the unthinkable by beating the Invincibles. When one had thought that a victory on the foreign soil was ours, they lost within four days. What followed was a string of comprehensive victories in the triangular series and the disappointing loss in the finals. India had three losses in three games before essaying a wonderful turnaround. They appeared to be peaking at the right time but the final was damp squib.

One cannot question the potential of the team. This team has clicked repeatedly both in individual and collective terms. Each and every one of them has the potential to be the match winner on any given day and they have displayed it on numerous occasions. Be it Laxman, Sehwag, Sodhi, Yuvraj, Badani, Zaheer, Nehra or Harbhajan. We are fortunate to have aside that will serve us well for a long time to come. But the way it has been repeatedly succumbing under pressure is a cause for concern. Superiority has to be asserted and displayed as often as possible and certainly at all costs on a big occasion. This is the mantra that the team has to learn.

Of course we can all heave a sigh of relief that this is not a one-man team. We all knew that it was a myth, prolonged for a little too long, simply because nobody broke the myth. A lot of hullabaloo was made of Sachin's absence and these soothsayers were gloating when we lost three games on the trot, posting extremely mediocre totals. But the very same set of people were running for cover, when Laxman, Yuvraj and Sehwag took turns to come out blazing and scorching the opposition.

Last but not the least. The captaincy issue is once again raising its head. Earlier there was the tag of non performance of the team, then the charge of loss of form of the captain, slanderous campaigns of personal nature and now the discipline issue. Ganguly has seen it all during a very short span and till date he has given a suitable reply to each of these charges. One cannot expect a Maharaja to be a timid creature. But bit is necessary for him to know his limits. There is a very thin line demarcating between bravery and foolishness and Ganguly had been guilty of transgressing it too often. But it is that gut feeling which has kept the side going and also won many games for India. One cannot have best of both the worlds.

We are still in a phase of transition. But that cannot be allowed to go on. The boys will have to take charge and announce in clear and categorical terms to the world that Indian cricket is now a force to reckon with. That cannot be done all of a sudden but in a phased wise manner. Then why do we wait for long? Shouldn’t the Test series against Sri Lanka be the first ladder?   

Ganguly In Suspended Animation
Is The Mahraja's Innings At The Top Coming To An End
By S Zeyaur Rahman

Remarkable turn arounds have been a characteristic of Saurav Ganguly. He has a wonderful ability to surprise people, to deliver the unexpected. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the entire career graph of Ganguly has never been predictable.

But as luck has it, he finds himself on the wrong end of the spectrum. No doubt all that he is doing is surprising people. Only that this surprises are not pleasant anymore.

Flashback to circa 1991. The Indian team to Australia under Azharuddin had a couple of promising batsmen who were billed to move into the shoes of Vengsarkar and Shastri. There was the flamboyant Tendulkar and the gifted Manjrekar. The train to Australia had an extra wagon and that was Saurav Ganguly. Well he was written off much before he had even arrived. He did not get much to do on the tour and the famous "I will not carry the drinks" episode made sure that he would be banished immediately after.

And banished he was with immediate effect. Another southpaw replaced him by the name of Kambli, who was not particularly endearing to anyone with his demeanor. Nonetheless he was to play a very central role in the golden period of Indian cricket in the mid 90s.

Ganguly was forgotten for the next five years. Like a bolt from the blue he was recalled for the 1996 English tour. It was clear to every Tom, Dick and Harry that he was their because of the quota system. Once again he was not expected to do anything significant. In the first place he was not expected to figure in the final eleven, because the team was already packed with batsmen and he had to fight for a place with another lad, who was not there on a quota. That lad was none other than Rahul Dravid. Sidhu's infamous walk out, the dream debut of two youngsters in the same test are a fairy tale of stuff. It was the extra wagon that kept the train from derailing and got a century on debut at Lords and followed with another one in the next test.

Ever since Ganguly has established himself as a top notch batsman, not only in the Indian line up, but among his contemporaries. A player who was supposed to find a place only if the team had seventeen players was in the top ten of the world was a major surprise to one and all. Of course he had far more illustrious companion in Tendulkar but he had comprehensively overshadowed the one who was not a quota beneficiary. While Dravid did struggle in the onedayers and is still doubtful sometimes, Ganguly has matched Tendulkar step for step and stroke for stroke.

Not only that, Ganguly has proved to be a very effective bowler. Specially as a breakthrough bowler he has some kind of an inevitability. To sum up, a very effective allrounder, at least in the shorter version of the game. To begin with his beautiful batting was a surprise to his critics and then his display of controled swing bowling was as beautiful as it could be. Does one forget the inaugural Sahara Cup at Toronto where he walked away with four Man of the Match awards in five matches?

That was not the end of Ganguly's bag of tricks. He had established himself in the team and was the lone choice for captaincy when Tendulkar decided to be austere. True to his character, he has proved to be a very unconventional captain.

The first deviation from the past was his assertion of his rights. Apart from Gavaskar, no Indian captain has put his foot down in a team selection meeting and walked away with the players of his choice. During the peak of his career, all that Azhar could do was to openly criticise the selectors, that too after the meeting. He had never demanded anyone specific like Ganguly did and got. That was unheard of in the annals of Indian captaincy and that too by a comparatively new chap.

This dominating demeanor was at its best in the series against Australia, which was supposed to be the massacre of the innocents. The Mumbai test, all but confirmed the theory. But Ganguly did the impossible at his own den in Kolkatta and later in Chennai he produce one of the most sensational upsets of all times, both in terms of statistics and style. The sheer manner in which he ruffled feathers with the ruthless Steve Waugh was a sight in itself. Meeting fire with fire is a trait which was never associated with an Indian Captain, not even the self respecting Gavaskar and the royal Tiger Pataudi. Well it did border on impertinence and even temerity, given Waugh's stature in the game, like keeping him waiting for the toss.

Ganguly was the toast of the media after the coup. He was hailed as an ambassador or even prophet of new found self respect in being an Indian. Suspensions and warnings not withstanding, he was an apostle for the jingoistic nationalism which has found many favours of late. As long as Ganguly was riding the success horse he was the cynosure of all the eyes. But it is a different story now.

The most dreaded phrase for a batsman is loss of form. And Ganguly saw that from close quarters. Day in and day out there were graphic representations of Ganguly's poor scores. Every statistical detail was fished out in proving his incompetence. He went through a hell of a time, but only after the loss at Harare. Even after the Bulawayo test there were only fleeting references to his poor scores.

Now that India is performing woefully in the Coca Cola triangular series, the anti Ganguly campaign is at full pitch. Not long ago he was praised for being an angry young man. Now his antics are akin to a national disgrace. His suspension on disciplinary grounds has come at a very wrong time and Ganguly has begun to feel the heat. He must have realised that victory finds hundred fathers, but defeat is an orphan.

At the time of writing this article, India had opened its account in the series and technically still is in a position to qualify for the final. That would be an interesting situation. I am sure much of the criticism would have disappeared by then. Ganguly would be given an extended run a freer hand etc. But in case India does not make it then it is going to be curtains for Ganguly as a captain.

There are too many things working against him. He cannot expect a soft treatment from the selectors for obvious reasons. The reported and speculated rift with Tendulkar is potentially threatening. But ultimately what counts are the results that he delivers. That is the only way to survive in this big bad world. Keep on delivering Mr. Ganguly if you have to live to see another day.

Ashes Thou Art, To Australia Thou Shall Return
English Cricket Digging Its Own Grave Yet Again
By S Zeyaur Rahman

The result of the second Ashes test has once again belied the hopes of all the cricket fans who were expecting a keen contest this time. As a built up to the series, England had been performing well by any standards. To be precise they had been unbeaten in the previous seven series. In fact they had won the six of them. Nobody doubted the superiority of Australia. But they had finally lost a series in India and critics started to ponder if the peak had been scaled and now it was going to be a downhill journey for the Kangaroos.

But Australia stopped the slide in the tracks and the critics began to think of some term to denote permanent superiority. They won the triangular series in style, routing England totally and beating Pakistan convincingly. That was the first sign that the Brits are up against a tough side.

Still nobody had expected the Australians to do such a demolishing act. They won the first test by an innings and in the second one they had to chase 14 runs for victory. In the end we are left with the all-familiar story of Australia marching towards yet another clean sweep. The score line is reading 2-0 in their favour. More than the results, the manner in which they have out played England is a clearer indication of the result at the end of the series.

No doubt that Australia is a great side but England has no business to surrender in one test after another. They have hardly had an upper hand in any of the sessions so far. That is really bad. It is surprising because they do have a reasonably strong batting line up and their attack at the moment can be counted amongst the best in business today.

May be the ghosts of the previous Ashes still haunting them. This is the first Australian side to have won six consecutive Ashes and I am sure that it will return after claiming its seventh one. Personal capabilities apart, this England side does not have a single member which knows the taste of an Ashes victory and apart from Steve Waugh, no Australian has tasted an ashes defeat. In my opinion it is a big big difference and that has tilted the odds so terribly against England.

A lot can be said about the character as well. Steve Waugh for example uses the wounds of defeat to urge him on and he comes up with something extra every time he is under pressure. On the contrary the entire English side scatters like nine pins whenever the need is to hold forte. Atherton for all his resilience and resoluteness is not the same player he was and one is not seeing the park in him that made him play memorable innings, the kind of innings which single handedly defied defeats.

Stewart is not in his good phases either. There was a time that he was on of the most reliably openers of his time. But he was shifted down the order only because England had got a better option in Marcus Trescothik. At the moment we are unable to recount the last time that Trescothik produced a big innings. Among the others, the captain Nasser Hussain’s perennially injured. It is the fourth consecutive series that he had to sit out of a test match owing to some kind of an injury. That does upset the rhythm of the batting side and always puts extra pressure on the stand in captain. No winder that there were no takers fore the captains slot when Hussain had his latest injury. They have had enough of it by now.

Atherton, Stewart, Hussain.. that is an impressive line up. To add they have a very dependable player called Graham Thorpe who is always trying to give his best. With four top class batsmen, there is no way that England should not be bale to put up a defendable total or fail to chase a decent score. But to the surprise of one and all that has failed to happen in all the four innings so far.

I know England is facing perhaps the most balanced and lethal attacks of the world. McGrath does not have a substitute as yet. Brett Lee is the fastest. That in itself is an all win situation. The back up bowlers like Gillespie can run through any side on any given day. And then there is the trump card, Shane Warne, the best slow bowler of all times. That does explain the mystery behind England’s small failures, but that is not a rational explanation or an excuse for their failures.

It is indeed very difficult to come back from 2-0 and go on to win the series. I mean that is difficult for any side against any side. But for the current English side doing that against the Invincibles is not what I would bet on. Even history is not on their side, as England has never won an Ashes series after being losing the first two tests. But English cricket cannot afford to hide behind these statistics and excuses It will have to come back and at least infuse some life in the series. They are answerable to history and of course accountable to the present, and given the resources at their disposal, I see no reason why that they should not do it.




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