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.
India, I have a feeling, start as favourites in the Adelaide Test. They have a moral advantage at least. Though the Indians have lost both games in the last two outings at this venue, the friendly wicket has inspired our batsmen to do well. I still recall vividly the magnificent hundred from Azharuddin, which almost won the Test for us in the 1991 series.
The Adelaide Oval is known as a batting paradise and most touring teams tend to bat well on this ground. Except for the initial part of the first day, the conditions are conducive for batsmen. Having fielded first in both of India's previous two Tests, the Australians have had the better of the two sides.
Though the Australians have retained the same 12 for this Test, a hint by skipper Steve Waugh that he may reinforce his pace battery with Brad Williams shows a bit of variation cropping up in the mind of the host captain. It obviously means he is not happy with his attack and believes it requires more than it has had. These are definite signs of vulnerability in the host team. But again, the number one side in the world is resilient enough to bounce back.
The Indians are high on batting with Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid yet to pitch in. With Sourav and Laxman among the runs already, the focus will be on the bowling department.
With Zaheer Khan having proved his class, it is now left to Ashish Nehra to move to the next level. Each over he bowled in the Brisbane Test was invaluable for Ashish to come back into form. Ajit Agarkar, I feel, is doing justice to the task he has been assigned. Now one is left to ponder on the spinner's slot.
The team management's biggest headache is to choose one of Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh. It is embarrassing to have Anil sitting out and at the same time it is awkward to have Paaji out of the side. Knowing the wicket to be on the slower side and Anil's ability to bowl tight, I am sure the Indian team will be toying with the idea of using two fast bowlers and two spinners, leaving a seamer out.
But the fate of the Test may be decided by the number of maidens bowled. The side that is more successful in this aspect of the game will hold the advantage.