Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Let's not gloat over Ganguly


SPORT waits for no man, it cares not for reputation, it is quick to ignore the past. It is a distressing lesson that Sourav Ganguly has learnt. The cricket has gone on, the playing has resumed, and Ganguly is a page rapidly turned over, for many he is a uncomfortable memory put away out of reach and sight on a top shelf. Much of the responsibility for his misfortune is his, yet it does not detract from his tragedy. Once he was the new India. Now he is its debris, a ghost forlornly walking the ruins of the past. He may return, but life will never be as he knew it.
He has gone in a heartbeat from acclaim to the sound of silence, and there is nothing more unkind for the athlete than the abrupt end of applause. How grand fame is, and how fleeting, how rewarding this game is and how cruel. Maybe he dreamed of a last heroic innings and being carried off on the shoulders of his men. Now, you wonder, do those men even call?
The field has only room for the hero, the performer, the able. He knows that, it's what he believed in once. Look at my record, he used to say proudly. Then we asked him to look at his record and he couldn't, somehow he could not see what we did, a struggling batsman, a defiant captain now dying. His stubbornness was selfish, yet it was also understandable, even human, for the once gifted athlete in decline becomes blind to his failures, goes deaf to his honest friends, cannot smell his own mortality.
That so many sided with the new coach, a stranger, a foreigner, must have shaken him; didn't his captaincy statistics mean anything? Yes, they did, but the past is another country and his grasp on the future was feeble. He should have gone by his own hand, just stepped down, given himself a chance to clear his head and clean his batting.
But delusion allows no place for tidy thinking, he could not believe he, who helped build this team, was damaging it, could not consider that this most successful captain of India was done. He left it to others and now cannot complain. Still, you think of him, at home, beside a phone that never stopped ringing now gone relatively silent, and it is disquieting. There is no more lonely life than the star forgotten.
For all the instructional stories and the cautionary tales that litter fields, no one learns in sport. Few athletes leave in triumph, with crowds tearful and nations grateful. It is mostly only in the books and cheesy Hollywood films. Skill dies slowly, bodies disintegrate gradually, but too often the athlete believes he has one more season left, he can still lead, he has earned it he insists, but there are no favours in sport, no indulgences, no gifts for services rendered, no room for anything but performance. In the end, so many athletes go full circle, unable to practice what they have for so long preached. Careers end limply, with no fond goodbyes and only grumbles.
No one dares construct an epitaph for Ganguly for we are warned he has returned from obscurity before, has defied prediction. He may return now, later, never. But at 33 can a man remake himself, cast off his old character and grow a new athletic skin, learn to field, learn to be fast, learn to subdue his ego, learn his craft of batsmanship again? As with any fallen man, we must root for his redemption.
Whatever, Ganguly deserves a better memory, a greater respect, a fuller appreciation. This gloating over his departure is unseemly, this rejoicing over his culling is revolting. There has been too much glee over a man's misfortune and it is unbecoming. He needed to step down but the jeering must stop. To be critical of him is one thing, to demean him another. He is a good man of grand deeds and that should not be erased.
Then again, perspective has been lost both ways. Ugly parochialism has come steaming out of some Kolkata newspapers, silly barbs have been aimed at the new captain as if it were somehow his fault, and occasionally it seems there is a disquiet that India is winning under someone else. The local selector is expected in some quarters to fight only for Ganguly, suggesting one man comes before an entire India. That is hateful, too. One side cannot see a virtue in Ganguly, one side cannot see a flaw.
Ganguly was always, even in his best days, a strangely, beautifully, vulnerable man, a mix of real defiance and some bombast, not bothered by critics yet easily slighted, never a truly great player (in one-dayers, yes) yet finding great performances from people, owner of an invisible steel yet unable to shake off the princely clichés of his past.
Suddenly all talk is of youth in this team and forgotten are the young men he fought for, cajoled, believed in. His sins may be fresh in the memory but they should not obscure the virtues he owned. How we lauded him once, how we have amputated his legend now. A grand contribution has been glossed over in cheap hate mail in a blog.
He was a captain whose time has passed a year or more ago, but he was a captain for long that we needed. He was a complex, contradictory, refreshing, charming, easy to talk to, lazy, stylish, awkward, instinctive man who was thrilling to write about for always he was up to something. He moved us, confused us, excited us, frustrated us, compelled us, irritated us, but never bored us.
Sourav Ganguly is not gone maybe but he deserves a better memory. Maybe history will be kinder to him than we have been.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Captain Fantastic !!

Thrasy Petropoulos - 20 March 2003

It was the gesture of an impassioned man. A characteristic short-arm pull over wide mid-wicket followed by an instinctive swivel towards his cheering team-mates.

Sourav Ganguly had just reached his third century of the World Cup - and 21st in all one-dayers - by striking Martin Suji for his fifth six in the semi-final against Kenya. As a captain and a player he had been slated by Indian cricketers turned television pundits earlier in the tournament. But this was not a moment for self-promotion.

Sourav Ganguly and Yuvraj Singh
Ganguly has scored 441 runs in WC 2003

His clenched right wrist and beaming smile were aimed at the players who stood to applaud.

Sachin Tendulkar and Mohammad Azharuddin may enjoy a status as batsmen that he will never attain but neither of his predecessors enjoyed the unquestioned loyalty of his men that Ganguly has earned.

And neither, for that matter, captained India to a World Cup final.

The Ganguly story is a fascinating one.

Born into Indian aristocracy, he still lives in his family home in Behala, in the old part of the city, along with an assortment of brothers, sisters and nearly 40 cousins, uncles and aunts.

His family had a wall built between their house and their neighbours when Sourav, the younger of two brothers, showed a little too much interest in Dona, the girl next door.

Ganguly and Tendulkar
Ganguly and Tendulkar have been in sparkling form in the World Cup
Ever his own man, Ganguly returned from England in 1996 with a boldness garnered from a successful maiden tour in which he scored a century on his Test debut and promptly eloped with his childhood sweetheart.

He once strayed into the arms of a Bollywood actress - a temptation which almost cost him his marriage before the same families that had tried to keep the couple apart fought to reunite them.

For his penance he was obliged to write a column which was published widely across India in which he professed his love for his wife.

His reward was the saviour of his marriage and eventually a daughter - named Sana, a combination of his and his wife's names.

Those same contradictory qualities of hot-headedness and touching humility are apparent in his cricket.

A naturally confrontational character, he is none the less instinctively protective of his players.

Where previous senior Indian cricketers have regarded youngsters as a threat, Ganguly has gone out of his way to nurture emerging talent.

The Indian team has been the most settled of the World Cup, with the only selection dilemma being between Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble - the hardest decision of his career, as Ganguly put it.

Tendulkar and Ganguly have clearly led the way, but three of their key batsmen (Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh and Mohammad Kaif) and three of their bowlers (Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra and Harbhajan) are under 25. The average age of the squad is only 26. Australia's is 30. Clearly, the credit for that goes beyond Ganguly but it is a team built in his self-confident image. And if there is one thing he has learnt in his 30 years - it is how to pick a winner.

A lifelong football fan, he was one of the few to be celebrating in England last year when his other childhood passion, Brazil, knocked that country out of the World Cup.

It Isn't Cricket To Demonise One Man...

Nirmal Shekar - April 19 2005

Ganguly may not deserve to be deified; on the other hand, he doesn't deserve to be demonised either .Seldom, if ever, could the vast, complex world of Indian cricket have been as united as it appears to be now in directing its righteous anger and retributive rage at an all-too-human, vulnerable man of many frailties — Sourav Ganguly.
In a country where cricket is followed with a quasi-religious fervour, the sport is, nevertheless, truly democratic in that it makes room for conflicting opinions on a variety of issues. But, for once, now, all conflicts seem resolved when it comes to our view of Ganguly and what he deserves.
Ganguly-bashing is not merely the most interesting game-away-from-the-game of the recent weeks but it is, too, a powerful palliative when confronted with the ills of Indian cricket. For, what is wrong with the sport can be summed up in one word, sorry, name: Sourav.
And what did the man do to deserve this? Well, he turned out to be the most successful captain in the history of Indian cricket!

Wretched run

Then again, Ganguly, no doubt, has had a wretched run with the bat. As captain, too, he has been far less successful over the last few months than he was in his prime as a leader of men. It would have done Indian cricket no harm if the selectors had counselled Ganguly into taking a break even before the six-match ban was slapped on him by the International Cricket Council. Nobody, after all, is indispensable as the Australian selectors reminded us a few years ago when they dumped Steve Waugh from the one-day side in favour of Ricky Ponting.
Sport is a cruel business. Greater men than Ganguly have fallen victim to its caprice. It is as much a purveyor of nightmares as it is a wonderful vehicle for hopes and dreams. Its remorselessly turning wheel carries some to dream destinations while crushing others en route.
"For life is but a dream whose shapes return. In their recurrence with recurrent changes," wrote T.S. Eliot in Waste Land. As Ganguly languishes now in the dark wasteland of his roller-coaster career, an irony that may not have been lost on those with long memories has to do with the events of the 1996 Indian tour of England.
Even as the suave young man from Kolkata became an instant celebrity with back-to-back centuries at Lord's and Trent Bridge, Mohammad Azharuddin was going through a horrendous time with the bat. In the event, the wheel has come a full circle now, playing out, yet again, the theme of eternal recurrence!
If nothing succeeds like success, then a despicable aspect of failure is that it is highly contagious. If one is the validation of every sportsman's dream, the other is nothing but a case of the dream turning sour, developing dark shadows, as in Ganguly's case today.
But then, Ganguly's form, perhaps even his future as captain or even merely as a batsman, may be less relevant now than the popular pastime of the day — the vilification of Ganguly.
Even if you conceded that the Prince of Kolkata has been stripped of his regal robes and no longer deserves the throne, even if you admitted that he does not merit a place in the side as a batsman in his current form, even if he never plays a single game for India again, is it still not important to give him his due?
And that — his due — in purely statistical terms may be much more than owed to any other Indian captain in history. Yet, this is far less significant than the importance of the new cricketing culture that Ganguly introduced in his years of pomp.

Positive attitude

It was nothing less than a rebooting of our cricketers' mindset, nothing short of a major revolution that changed the body language of Indian cricket. It might be blindingly obvious to anyone who values truth that it was Ganguly's undimmable optimism and refreshingly positive attitude that turned things around for Indian cricket in the new millennium.
It was Ganguly's belief in himself — particularly as a leader — and in his team, a potent mix of rich experience and explosive youth, that saw India match the best in the sport — Australia — in two unforgettable series, first at home and then down under just over a year ago when the captain's wonderfully courageous century (144) in Brisbane set the tone of the series.
If Ganguly's attitude didn't win him too many friends, then it must be noted that a dollop of aristocratic arrogance is never wasted in leaders of men. While it is tough to find talented cricketers for the international stage, it is even tougher to zero in on a leader with a vision, a man who can set goals and inspire the team to achieve them.
For a few precious years, at least, Ganguly did exactly that. He may not deserve to be deified; on the other hand, he doesn't deserve to be demonised either. One of the lessons that life has taught us is this: we might struggle to find great achievers in the future if we failed to celebrate the ones we have now amidst us.

Something Special About Sourav..

Harsha Bhogle - March 21 2000

There is something about Sourav Ganguly that I find most endearing. I don’t know if it is the glasses that sometimes give him the look of a small-town simpleton. I don’t know if it is the thin moustache, the kind that actors in the black and white movies had. I don’t know if it is the smile, not one of those that drop off the lower lip but one that grows to include his face. I don’t know if it is the slightly gawky young man in the commercials who doesn’t quite know the right angles.
I actually think it is the manner in which he speaks. There is a warmth to it, he makes you feel welcome and I have often been taken aback by the candour and openness with which he states his opinions. And in the two weeks since he became captain of India, this openness has shone through. Followers of Indian cricket now know what the captain of the national team thinks about important issues.
Already, we know that he holds pretty firm views; that a cricketer’s age is not a factor in his mind; that he believes a young player should do two years in domestic cricket before making the next step up; that once a player is identified, he should be given five games. And he can be scathing, he doesn’t hide behind polite words that mean nothing. He is quite happy to call Ranbir Singh Mahendra, his manager on his traumatic first tour a "shame to Indian cricket". I have never seen a serving cricketer talk about a serving administrator in such terms and funnily, for calling a spade a spade, he rose in my esteem.
He has come a very long way from the lost child in Australia in 1991-92, even from the lost young man in England in 1996. In every sense of the word. And he has done so because he has tried very hard. There is more to Sourav Ganguly than the man who drives through the off side like he was born to do so.
I remember meeting an extremely shy young man at Lord's the day after he had scored his first Test century. He was very apprehensive, cobbled together a few words and the interview ran only because that was the only thing he had said. Then in 1999, at the start of the World Cup, we chatted about his expectations, his form... the kind of interview that goes into a topical magazine show. "Was it okay?" he said after we had finished. "Yes," I said "but just remember to look either at me or at the camera."
A few days later, we were doing another interview. He walked up, stood before the camera and said "I look there, right!"
For all that he has achieved the eager little child in him hasn’t gone away. I was very amused to read an interview in which he spoke of how he called up newspaper offices in the period between 1992 and 1996 to enquire if he had made the national team. And I am sure he won’t mind if I tell people, now that he has signed with Lancashire, of how eager he was to play county cricket there.
He had been approached by Bob Simpson, who had accepted an offer to coach Lancashire, in Australia and thereafter by the county committee. He had said yes but there was also word that Stuart MacGill might be asked as might another cricketer. "I think they will go for a batsman because Atherton might play Test cricket," he said and a couple of days later, he called to ask if he could surf the net to look for information on Lancashire. Between us, we scanned everything there was on offer on the web page for some news on who the next signing would be. A couple of days later, we repeated the exercise and needless to say, he was delighted when the final offer came through.
"Why are you so keen?" I asked him, a bit perplexed. "Just a fancy," he said. "I always wanted to do it."
I also think he has matured enormously as an individual and it has been a wonderful experience to see it happen. And I must confess there was one occasion when I wondered if he would emerge as his own, worst enemy.
During the Calcutta Test of 1996, one of the Calcutta newspapers had quoted the late Ambar Roy as having said that he should have waited for an injury to heal before playing the Test match. The next day, the Ananda Bazar Patrika carried a very strong rebuttal from Ganguly. I remember mentioning casually to Gautam Bhattacharya, who has worked there with distinction for years, that Ganguly’s interests might have been better served through not carrying the news story. Apparently that is what the newspaper had decided until there was a call from Ganguly late at night insisting that his version be aired. I would be very surprised if that happened today for in the last three years, his increased stature has made him more down-to-earth.
I think it stems out of belonging to a very close knit family. He firmly believes that a happy family is the key to a cricketer’s success and I couldn’t agree more. I have seen a few cricketers go astray through being possessed by a troubled mind and that is why it is such a wonderful sight to see him and Dona together on most cricket tours. They make a very happy couple and for a purely selfish reason, because I have long been an admirer of the way he plays his cricket, I hope they stay that way !!
As captain, I think he will show greater sympathy towards the marginal players. For four years, and in the life of a young man that is an eternity, he lived with failure and rejection and I know he hated every moment of it. That is why I think he will understand other cricketers going through a similar phase and that is why I see him being more understanding and generous. I am not suggesting that Sachin Tendulkar wasn’t. But for him to understand insecurity, never having needed to embrace it, was always going to be impossible.
Now the time has come for Sourav Ganguly to take another couple of steps on the ladder of evolution. As India increasingly looks like becoming an irrelevant Test cricket nation he must be the catalyst for change. And he must be its symbol. He must demand fitness levels and he must set the pace himself. A team that sees the captain transform physically has no option but to follow. Conversely, a slow-moving leader can never demand that another be fleet of foot and sure of arm. At crucial moments in his career, Ganguly has surprised people by the strength within him. Now, he must summon that strength again.
And he has to become a bigger influence in Test cricket. In the one-day game he is an undoubted match winner with enormous confidence in his own ability. Now he must coerce that confidence into influencing more Test matches. He has a very healthy batting average but for all that, there aren’t enough commanding, match winning innings there.
Finally though, I think the key to his success will lie in the strength of the relationships he can forge with key people within his team; with Javagal Srinath and Anil Kumble; with Ajay Jadeja and Mohammad Azharuddin; and more than anyone else, with Sachin Tendulkar. Can he put Tendulkar on a pedestal and yet be the leader? Or will those be conflicting interests?
But I am hopeful; because there is more to him than we know. And because there is something endearing in him.

Ganguly....a great leader ?

Javagal Srinath - December 12, 2003

There is at least one thing that one should accept on the eve of the second India-Australia Test match beginning at the Adelaide Oval on Friday. India's skipper Sourav Ganguly has matured into a great captain. The record book suggests that a few more wins will take him past Mohammed Azharuddin, the most successful captain in Indian cricket.
Termed an arrogant leader, Sourav has withstood severe tests
, including the difficult series of South Africa twice and the World Cup, also in South Africa. I can tell you with my experience that it is never easy to remain captain for so long, that too in a country like ours with garrulous people managing, talking, writing and following the game in huge numbers.
It raised many eyebrows even among the players when Sourav took over the reigns from Sachin Tendulkar. The only way he could prove that he was more than just a blue-eyed boy of the Board of Control for Cricket in India was not only to score runs, but also to produce positive results. He has succeeded in both.
I had the chance to see his career mature right through from a young, ignorant player to a responsible leader. We toured Australia together in 1991, where the media crucified him for his attitude and even some of the senior players found it difficult to accept what they thought was his naivete. He was confined to the drinks trolley except for a chance to play a one-dayer at the 'Gabba (where we recently watched his majestic hundred). By the end of the tour it was clear that he was not the favourite of many in the side.
It took him another five years of scoring heavily and consistently in the domestic circuit to get the selectors' nod again and come back into the side. But it took some more time to shed the tag of arrogant and indifferent man that he had been stuck with on the 1991 tour.
He returned to the national team for the 1996 tour of England a completely changed man. The first and foremost thing was to show his ability to score runs in the preliminary games. The team management acknowledged his form and inducted him into the second Test at Lord's. A century on debut, that too at the mecca of world cricket, saw Sourav's resurrection. From then on, there has been no turning back for this Bengali lad.
Remaining outside the national team for five long years perhaps made Ganguly think and realise what the outside world meant to him. The commitment of the lethargically effective cricketer was questioned from time to time in different quarters, but he always answered them with the willow at the right time.
It wasn't an easy choice for the team to get a foreign coach. But when the time was ripe, Sourav played his cards very well to get the coach, who was then an absolute necessity. The turnaround after the first two games in the World Cup was ample evidence of his good captaincy. He realises and acknowledges that he has to get the best results out of his teammates and the decisions he makes are the outcome of a consensus. He must be greatly indebted to the seniors around him who have helped him to reach a level where he is not too far from becoming the best captain Indian has produced.
Sourav's best quality is that he has the ability to remain unperturbed even when he faces severe criticism or becomes the target of highly personal and derogatory remarks.

Walking Out to Protect Master Blaster Himself....

Wisden Cricinfo staff - December 31, 2003

Sourav Ganguly has put to rest the speculations that has raged over Sachin Tendulkar's 'demotion' in the batting order in the second innings, and that should be that. When pushed to answer what prompted the decision, Ganguly clarified that Tendulkar hadn't suggested the move, but when given an option, had a shown an inclination to save himself for the battle the next day.
"It's not that he suggested it," Ganguly said, "I asked him after they got bowled out that evening if we were to lose early wickets would he still like to go out for the last four or five overs. He said he wouldn't mind coming the next day. I said fair enough. He deserves that consideration after the amount of runs he has scored for the country.
"It wasn't the best time to bat. And when you haven't got runs in your last two or three innings it does become a bit harder when you come out to bat in the last five or six overs of the day. Sachin is the best batsman in the world and he is one of our key members. And there are times in your career when you have to look after certain people. I don't think there is anything wrong in that. We want him to fire, and if he could have converted that knock into a hundred, me coming at number four would have done the job."

Triumph At the Gabba

Sambit Bal December 7, 2003

At 2.40pm local time, the Gabba rose to salute a man whose spirit Australia had sought ruthlessly to crush before this Test began. The Australian fielders allowed him the right of passage and clapped him all the way back to the dressing room. Sourav Ganguly looked solemn for a man who had achieved his biggest personal triumph. But it was understandable. After his double-barrelled celebration of his century, which reminded many Australians of Michael Slater, he would have found himself emotionally exhausted. This was his finest hundred, and among the very best played by an Indian outside the subcontinent.
For years now, Ganguly has carried, not unjustly, a tag of fragility against pace and bounce. He has been a magnificent leader of his men, but from time to time, with every bad series with the bat, speculation has arisen on whether he would have merited a place in the Test side without the privilege of captaincy. He has handled the doubters sometimes with a dismissive grin, sometimes with scorn and sometimes with hurt. Through all his travails, though, he has never let his spirit flag, or the chin drop.
At the pre-Test press conference Ganguly had described the Australian tour as a test of his team's ability. "By the end of this tour, we will find out how good we are. Individually, and as a team." It was a brave thing to say for a man with a Test average below 30 against Australia. Ganguly isn't given to braggadocio, but there is disarming honesty to his straight talking, which is sometimes mistaken for arrogance. His decision to bowl first in this match, though tactically right, had been described as negative and prompted by a desire to protect his top order. It was predicted that Ganguly would drop down to No. 6 to delay facing the quick bowlers as much as possible.
At 62 for 3, all three wickets having fallen for one run, and among those Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid, two men expected to carry the Indian batting in Australia, India found themselves facing a familiar crisis. The follow-on mark wasn't far, but suddenly it looked a long way as Ganguly made his way at No. 5. His opening stroke was a streaky three between third slip and gully and there was the odd swish outside the off stump in the beginning, but apart from a slashed four just out of reach of a stretching third slip, there were no other alarms.
Throughout his career, Ganguly has scored most of his runs on the off side, but a sure sign of good form is when he is striking the ball well to the left of cover. The ball is then hit with the bat fully behind it rather than with an open face. From the moment he off-drove Andy Bichel between cover and mid-off, Ganguly was flowing.
Those carping about his poor overseas record neglect an outstanding series against West Indies last year where Ganguly was a picture of consistency. But there, it was an unfamiliar Ganguly, grafting and toiling for his runs, accumulating rather than amassing. He scored an imperious hundred against England at Headingley later that year, which was savage, and slogged for a good part. Today, he reclaimed the pristineness and the majesty of the batsman who had caressed his way to two hundreds in his first two Test matches.

Ganguly had spent six days with Greg Chappell in preparation for the Australian tour. Chappell wasn't willing to take any credit for Ganguly's hundred today, saying that the hard work was always done in the middle. He did say, though, that most of all, he had emphasised to Ganguly the need to stay positive and let the merit of each ball dictate his response.
The most noticeable feature in Ganguly's batting today was his footwork. The essence of his off-side strokeplay is playing away from his body, for it allows him the freedom of extending his arms and create space for those silken drives, but his front foot was moving positively across today, which made his defense more secure and certain. He left balls outside his off stump with a rare assurance and his handling of the short ball was remarkably decisive: he either swivelled to slap them away in a controlled way, or ducked securely. Admittedly, there were no express bowlers in the opposition ranks today, but a couple of days ago, Steve Waugh had been ruffled by a couple of short balls and Ganguly's composure today would send a message to the Australian team, so fond of psychological warfare.

In Praise Of Sourav Ganguly

Prem Panicker August 21, 2003

Thanks to a four-month layoff from writing about cricket, I find as I start this column that there is enough grist for the mill.
Sachin Tendulkar gets tax exemption for his Ferrari? Excuse me -- on what grounds? And what sort of government policy is this, that makes Joe Citizen pay his taxes on time and in full or else, while exempting the rich and famous -- who can, in fact, afford to pay -- on the most frivolous of grounds?
Sunil Gavaskar takes off on sledging; Dennis Lillee bounces Sunny in turn. Jaywant Lele is sacked from the Baroda Cricket Association for financial finagling; he in turn decides to file suit.
The question of the World Cup contracts remains unresolved; Jagmohan Dalmiya talks of hiring private detectives to probe the workings of the ICC and its marketing partner; player contracts, meanwhile, remain up in the air despite numerous promises and twice as many implementation deadlines...
Nothing has changed, I notice.
In all this, however, there is one silver lining; one feel-good story that makes you believe that maybe things are changing, at least in some quarters.
A couple of months across, I came upon a news item that said Indian skipper Sourav Ganguly was, during the off season, focusing on training to ensure that he was fully fit and ready to take on the twin challenges, later this year, of the home series against New Zealand and the away series in Australia.
Since then, there have been at least four different agency reports, in each of them Ganguly has talked of the demanding nature of playing Australia in Australia and asked his team to step up to the plate when it counts the most.
And now there is this: Ganguly ironing out batting flaws with Chappell
The story, by my colleague Faisal Shariff, says Ganguly, under the pretext of shooting an advertising feature in Australia, is training under none other than Greg Chappell in a bid to sort out his problems against short, rising deliveries.
Silver lining? This story is an entire silver mine.
First, the fact that Ganguly believes he has problems with the short, rising delivery and needs to work on that shortcoming cannot be over-praised.
The single biggest problem with the captain in this respect was that he spent a good part of the period 2001-2002 in denial. I have no problem, he kept saying -- and it does not need spelling out that until an individual becomes aware of a problem, he neither can, nor will, be able to rectify it.
That he has chosen to work on this with Chappell is equally praiseworthy. Coach John Wright is as good as it gets, but a specialist batsman can and does at times feel the need for specialised tips, and the fact that Ganguly recognises that need, and is prepared to think outside the box (after all, he could as easily have gone to Sunny Gavaskar) and to look to an Australian expert in preparation for a tour of Australia, indicates forward thinking.
Reason number three: It is inevitable that when the Indian team goes Down Under later this year, the Aussies will focus much of their energies on the job of cutting down Sachin Tendulkar; in the past, their theory, that if Tendulkar is taken out, the team will collapse, has paid them good dividends on home soil.
To do well in Australia, India needs not Tendulkar, but a team; it needs more than one person ready, willing, and able to stand up to the Aussies. A combative, match-fit Ganguly with his fear of the rising delivery exorcised, aided by the rock-like solidity of Rahul Dravid, are the additional strings the Indian bow needed; the three senior players all doing their bit in turn acts as an inspirational example to the juniors.
There are a dozen different ways in which things could still go wrong -- but at the least, the man who has to lead the team to Australia later this year, for the toughest challenge in contemporary cricket, is already thinking about it and working towards it, and that is the most positive thing I've seen in Indian cricket in a long time.

The Ganguly revolution

By Nirmal Shekar.

The problems of plenty are quite often as difficult to deal with as the problems of poverty in team sports. For, the greater the number of options, the bigger the headache for the team management. As recently as a fortnight ago, you might have laughed at any suggestion that there may be even a semi-serious debate about one Mr. S.C. Ganguly "deserving" to get back into the Indian Test cricket team.
But, then, in the capricious world of sport, which is forever on the fast-forward mode, two weeks can be a long time. And in the time since Sourav Ganguly injured his lower back and flew back to India for treatment, his team has not only toasted its first triple century maker in Tests and its first Test victory on Pakistan soil but has also celebrated the extravagant shot-making skills of the dashing Yuvraj Singh.
Had Ganguly not been forced to vacate his place in a team which he has built, nurtured and led to remarkable triumphs, Yuvraj, for all his talents, may have had to spend a lot of time in the Indian dressing rooms at Multan and Lahore still dreaming of making his first ever Test hundred.
Fate presented the young Punjabi an opportunity and he grabbed it like a determined, gifted champion might be expected to. But his gutsy, sparkling century in the first innings at Lahore has certainly created a few problems for the Indian team management. If Ganguly is fit to play in the final Test at Rawalpindi — which, of course, he is — what do you do to make room for him?
Long-time Ganguly-baiters might be tempted to hang a "No Vacancy" board outside the Indian dressing room at Rawalpindi upon sighting the Indian captain in the vicinity of the Pindi Cricket Stadium.
For, in every street in every city in this country, in every dusty lane in every small town in India, there are as many cricket fans who love to hate Kolkata's `Dada' as there are ones that love to deify him.
Ganguly is that kind of man - when it comes to opinions about the Indian captain, about what he means to the team, about his strengths and weaknesses both as a batsman and as a leader of men, we find that the middle ground is so thinly populated as to be almost irrelevant. We love to inhabit extremes when making judgements on Ganguly.
In the event, it is hardly surprising that there are those, today, who feel that Yuvraj has cemented his place in the side so well and Rahul Dravid has led the team with such confidence and skills that Ganguly may have wasted his time and the BCCI's money by making the trip back to Pakistan.
That, to be frank, is almost malicious. Say what you want about how unfair it may be to dump someone from this side to make way for the returning skipper but that should not in any way stop any of us from acknowledging the fact that a side that will play a crucial series-deciding Test in a few days' time desperately needs its long-time captain back in the ranks.
As successful as Dravid was in Multan, the point is very simple: this is Ganguly's team. This is a side shaped in his image, a team carefully nurtured by the man from Kolkata from the middle-to-lower rungs of the Test ladder to where it is today — in a position to take on and match the best in the game (Australia) in their own backyard.
Of course, in the rather limited context of team selection for the third Test against Pakistan, it may not entirely seem fair to drop X or Y or Z to accommodate Ganguly. Yet someone has to go, for only 11 can take the field at Rawalpindi. And most probably it will be the opener Akash Chopra, who failed in both the innings at Lahore.
Some might argue that the obdurate foot soldier from Delhi played with tremendous determination in Australia and was involved in a century stand for the opening wicket with Virender Sehwag in the first Test in Pakistan. And to shove him out after one failure may be unreasonable. If your perspective is rather narrow, yes, it certainly would appear unfair.
But it would be even more unfair and plainly unjustifiable not to make room for a fit Ganguly who is, inarguably, one of the greatest captains in the history of Indian cricket. And to drop a batsman with a Test average of 28 to let the captain in is not really a crime.
Few Indian captains — if any — have accomplished as much as Ganguly. India is still some way from being a world-beater in the mould of Clive Lloyd's West Indies or Steve Waugh's Australia, both in Tests and in one-day internationals. But in five years Ganguly has turned what has always been a team rich in talent but lacking in character into a wonderful bunch of self-assured pros who go about their business with the unwavering belief that they can match anyone in the game if they played to their potential.
Along the way, now and again, Ganguly has put his foot in his mouth, has taken the wrong turn here and there, has insulted one of the game's giants — Steve Waugh — and has struggled with his own batting form. Many believed he was far too cocky and abrasive to occupy such an exalted position. But Ganguly himself was sure in his mind that he wasn't striving for the Nobel Peace Prize but simply working towards turning the Indian team into a fighting unit. And, through thick and thin, from the heights of the World Cup and Adelaide to the pits of drop-in green-tops in New Zealand, Ganguly has led with the supreme confidence of a born leader of men.
Not surprisingly, the Indian cricket team in recent times has shed the tag it's had to carry for a long time — Heroes at home, Zeroes abroad — like a sorry skin. That six of Ganguly's 14 victories as captain have come outside the country is indeed a very significant piece of statistic.
And Ganguly has led India to 14 victories in just 37 Tests while the man with whom he shares the record, Mohammed Azharuddin, needed 10 more (47) to notch up that many Test victories, a good 13 of them on the spinner-friendly dust tracks at home.
On Tuesday, as he walks out for the toss with Inzamam-ul-Haq at Rawalpindi, Ganguly will be surely aware that the game presents him and India a very special opportunity. Even as Team India will be looking to make history by winning its first ever Test series in Pakistan, its captain will want to become the most successful skipper in India's Test history.
Should Ganguly accomplish that feat, quite a few arguments will cease. No matter that, it will always seem starkly ironic to me that we should have long bemoaned the lack of killer instinct in Indian cricketers and then have failed to celebrate adequately the very person who helped instil this rare virtue in every one of his players.
Welcome back, Sourav Chandidas Ganguly.