Ganguly Must Go as Team Captain

India Cricket News by Shardul Mehta 20/04/05

India’s presence at the final of the 2003 World Cup was not quite the earth-shattering surprise as was it’s entry into the final of the 1983 final leg of the tournament, but it still made people sit up and take notice.

IndiaUnder Sourav Ganguly, this Indian team was a resurgent one, a resilient one—one that may get knocked down, but never totally knocked out and even though that match resulted in India receiving a thoroughly embarrassing hiding, like its predecessor 20 years prior, it was supposed to mark a watershed moment in Indian cricket. Here, finally, was real vindication for the weather-beaten firm of Ganguly & Wright.

A watershed moment it was indeed, but not in the manner one would have imagined. From the moment Adam Gilchrist pasted Zaheer Khan for 15 runs in the opening over of that fateful match, India began a downward spiral, slipping back into the realm of arrant mediocrity

Since that historic day, India has won less than 50% of its one-day matches (19 out of 39 ODIs not counting No Results). This is not exactly the sign of a team in ascendance. In fact, India has slipped appallingly to 8th position in both the ICC ODI rankings and the Rediff ODI rankings!

What’s happened? Throughout his tenure, time and again John Wright has harped on the importance of focusing on the basics—running between wickets, taking singles to rotate the strike and keep up the momentum, catching, throwing, cutting down on extras, and bowling line and length to name a few. Shortly after his appointment, Wright approached Rediff to make a presentation to the Indian team regarding the importance of these rather non-glamorous, “nuts and bolts” type aspects of the game.

Yet, over the past year and more, India has slowly but surely begun abandoning these very fundamentals. Case in point: throughout the Test series, India often lost momentum after the fall of Sehwag’s wicket. The batsmen refused to milk the lion-hearted yet benign Pakistani bowling for singles. As a result, runs dried up, and this probably cost India the series. This inability to take singles continued to afflict India in the one-dayers, and was one of the biggest reasons for India losing both the 3rd and 4th ODIs. Furthermore, fielding standards have steadily dropped over time, and when Rahul Dravid—normally one of the safest hands—began dropping sitters in the slip cordon, it was time to ring the alarm bells.

Defenders of Ganguly (and I have been one of them) point to India’s impressive successes under him. The World Cup final. The 2002 ICC Champions Trophy. The 2000 ICC Champions Trophy final. The tied 2003/04 Test series in Australia. The amazing Test series against Australia at home in 2000/01. The victory in Pakistan last year, marking India’s first Test series win outside India since 1993 and first ever win in Pakistan. Plus, Test victories in England, West Indies and Sri Lanka. All of these are glorious feathers in Ganguly’s golden cap. And they are why Ganguly may deservedly go down as the greatest Indian captain ever.

Indeed, if John Wright gets credit for instilling the values of hard work, discipline and professionalism into this team, Ganguly gets the medal for transforming his players from a group of individuals into members of a team who always thought about and acted in the best interest of the team. Under the Ganguly-Wright combination, each individual worked as part of a team, and each player knew his role within the team. One by one, different pieces of the team fell in place. India still has world-class spinners, but now they are supported by a pace attack that commands respect from opposing batsmen. India’s batting line-up is the envy of the world. And under Ganguly, India has come closer than ever to solving that 18-year old problem of finally having a stable Test opening pair since the retirement of Sunil Gavaskar.

Ganguly also brought a refreshing sense of assertiveness and aggression to Indian cricket. Although this attitude may have rubbed some the wrong way (call Steve Waugh, the foreign media, and certain members of the Indian press), it was good for Indian cricket as a whole, which had until then been looked upon as too timid and “gentlemanly” for the new in-your-face, take-no-prisoners version of international cricket. Ganguly also backed his players to the hilt, especially the younger ones (call Parthiv Patel and Ajit Agarkar), and as captain he has unearthed some real gems—Yuvraj, Kaif, Zaheer, Pathan and Balaji—all players who owe their careers to “Dada.”

But for a team that once declared itself the second best in the world, the question is not what it has achieved in the past, but where is it going? The hallmark of a good team is that it’s always looking to reach the next level. Recently, England has made strides in this area, and Pakistan is also looking good under Bob Woolmer. Even New Zealand, handicapped with its lack of resources, continues tirelessly to work towards improving its game. Australia is, of course, the benchmark. Just when one thinks they can’t get any better, they raise the bar even further.

But India has not done this. Sadly, India has regressed. Here are some interesting facts. Since the 2003 World Cup, in one-day series involving just two teams, India’s record is 2-2. Worse, India is a dreadful 0-5 in tournaments involving 3 or more teams. Since that famous victory in Pakistan in the one-day series, India has won 9 of 20 matches—less than 50%. Compare this to India’s record prior to the World Cup: 45 of 86 matches won—a success rate of 52%.

This is the sign of a team in decline.

What’s made the situation worse for Ganguly is his appalling form. For the statistically minded, consider this. Since the 2003 World Cup, Ganguly has averaged just 32.23 with the bat in ODIs and has not scored a single century. Prior to the World Cup, as captain, Ganguly’s average was 41.43, and he scored 8 hundreds and 21 fifties.

But wait a minute. Was his batting really that good as captain before WC’03? During that time, India played 19 matches against Zimbabwe, Kenya and Bangladesh—winning 15 of them—and Ganguly averaged a whopping 63.07 against them. Remove these matches, and Ganguly’s average falls to 36.45. Even more interesting is India’s record—it plummets to a 45% success rate, a win-loss record of 30-37. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that India’s record prior to WC’03 in tournaments involving 3 or more teams was a paltry 1-8.

Ganguly’s batting record in Tests is equally disappointing. Since that amazing 144 in Adelaide in December 2003, Ganguly has scored just 580 runs at 32.22 with 5 fifties—and not a single century has come off his silken bat since.

So much for statistics. It was once said that there are only three kinds of lies—lies, damn lies and statistics. Just as going by past record alone ignores the present, going by statistics alone can be misleading.

So despite winning more matches than any other Indian captain in history, despite contributing more to Indian cricket than any other captain before, do poor form and a gradual, but definite, slide in performance warrant a change at the top?

Yes, absolutely!

The selectors need not look too far back for inspiration. Steve Waugh, arguably one of the greatest captains ever, was unceremoniously dropped from the Australian one-day squad after not only a string of poor performances with the bat, but after failing to reach the finals of the 2002 VB Series. At the time, the selectors were looking ahead—at the 2003 World Cup—and felt that if a change needed to be made, this was the time, so the new captain and the team had at least a year to get acclimatized to each other.

This does not mean the Indian selectors should blindly follow the Australians. But they should realize some hard facts. The 2007 World Cup is just two years away. This means now is the time the selectors have to plan and prepare. They need to ask themselves some difficult questions, and they need to make some tough decisions. If India is serious about winning the 2007 World Cup, if India is serious about unseating Australia at the top, then serious changes must be made now before it’s too late.

Sourav Ganguly’s contribution to cricket has been extraordinary, and for that he should be heartily thanked, celebrated and admired. But, the sad reality is holding on to him shackles Indian cricket and the Indian team. Give him a send-off with the respect and dignity he deserves and let Indian cricket advance forward.

It’s time to move on.

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