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Home > Cricket > Columns > Prem Panicker

Nothing to crow about

January 16, 2003

Shortly before the Indian team left for New Zealand, skipper Sourav Ganguly spoke -- spoke eloquently -- of his dream of winning a Test series abroad (See Story).

New Zealand, he said, was his last chance, in a while, to do that (fair comment, considering that India's next 'away' series is against Australia end-2003 -- See Analysis).

If I can't pull it off, I'll think I have failed, Ganguly said then.

It was all very admirable -- a national captain putting himself on the line; setting out a goal; challenging himself and his mates to live up to it. Indian teams, and captains, are not usually renowned for such proactive comments.

To say that the outcome of the tour has been unhappy is putting it mildly. The batsmen went from a season of gorging themselves at sumptuous banquets, to finding themselves in a land where famine prevailed. To survive took grit, courage; it needed men who could dig deep, find within themselves the will and the desire to adapt, to survive, to win.

Sourav GangulyThe batsmen -- Ganguly being just one among them -- universally failed that test.

In extenuation, the condition of the pitches are being offered up, and there is at least a modicum of truth in the argument that the tracks were sub-standard: I mean, how many captains of host nations have, after winning a Test series 2-0 and a one day series 5-2, actually called for an investigation into the pitches provided? (See Story)

When, in all of cricket's recorded history, has the chief executive of the host board angrily demanded an immediate investigation into the nature of tracks on offer? (See Story)

There is no slot in the scoreboard, though, headlined 'Pitch Conditions' -- thus, History will merely look at the series score-line and say that this series was an unrelieved nightmare.

It wasn't our worst ever -- that honor surely goes to the 1999-2000 tour of Australia, in course of which India lost three Tests by mammoth margins; played four practice games in-between and lost two of those as well; then went into a triangular one-day series and lost 7 out of 8 games played, with a sole win over Pakistan to show on the credit side of the ledger. (See Table).

Worst tour ever or merely runners-up, the fact is it was a bad tour, from which none, with the exceptions of Javagal Srinath and Virender Sehwag, emerged with even a modicum of credit.

Ganguly, though, did have a point when he said, at the end of the tour, that his side was going to put the tour out of their minds and focus on the World Cup; that there was no possibility of Kiwi-style pitches popping up in South Africa next month; and that his team was determined to do well there.

Fair comment. How I wish he had stopped with that, and not gone one step further and engaged in an unnecessary -- and unseemly -- public wrangle with former New Zealand captain turned commentator Martin Crowe. (See Story)

Since the story linked to above pretty much sets the scene, I won't go into an elaboration of what was said by whom -- what is distressing is the thinking that lies behind the captain's diatribe.

What is Ganguly's underlying argument? Generalizing from the particular, it appears that the Indian captain has clear notions of who can, and who cannot, comment about his game. And in the 'cannot' category, he puts anyone who hasn't scored as many runs, or hasn't led his country in as many games, or won as many games… in other words, only someone >Ganguly may comment about Ganguly.

There is an enormous logical fallacy here. Taking this comment to its natural conclusion, would it be fair to say, for instance, that Sunil Gavaskar should not ever comment about a World Cup game? I'm not even going near that 36 not out off 60 overs that remains a blot on Gavaskar's cricketing landscape -- consider, instead, his record in the 1983 World Cup, which India won.

13 players (including all rounders like Madan Lal and Roger Binny) padded up to bat for India, in 8 matches. If you rank them according to performance, Gavaskar narrowly misses out on the wooden spoon: In six matches, a player rated one of the greatest openers of all time managed a grand total of 59 runs with a highest of 25 and an average of 9.83 -- he was, in fact, one of only two players with sub-ten averages. The other -- number 13 on the list -- was Kirti Azad, who in two matches managed 15 runs, at an average of 15.

In fact, in that competition, Gavaskar's performance was so woeful that he was actually ‘rested' midway through.

Or how about Ravi Shastri -- can he comment? Five matches played in the 1983 WC, a highest score of 17, a total of 40, an average of 10.

Or how about Kapil Dev, the captain of that World Cup winning team -- can he comment? When Kapil Dev at the end of the New Zealand tour said that in his book, Ganguly deserved to continue as captain because the New Zealand fiasco was not one of captaincy alone, should we accept that judgment -- or do we say that since Kapil Dev does not have the Test captaincy record Ganguly has, he clearly does not know what he is talking about?

So, if we accept the Ganguly dictum, would it be fair to say that there should be an immediate ban on Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri going to South Africa as a commentator? Because if Sunny and Ravi do go, and if they find themselves in a position where they have to criticize the current Indian captain for some act of omission and commission, they are apt to have these records thrown at them, right?

It raises a larger question -- does a film critic writing about the next Steven Spielberg film have to be someone who has made at least one dozen hit films? Does a reporter commenting on the prime minister's latest policy decision have to have served at least one full term as prime minister? Does a financial reporter setting out to comment on a company's performance have to first possess the track record of a Dhirubhai Ambani?

Alternately, if a Steve Waugh criticizes Ganguly, is Ganguly mandatorily bound to accept the criticism in toto? Logically, the answer has to be yes -- after all, Ganguly certainly cannot point accusing fingers at Waugh's record as player and/or captain in both forms of the game. (See Stories)

So then, when Waugh all but called him a spoilt brat when the Aussies were here last, do we accept that as comment that is both valid and true?

Ganguly's comments were unfortunate in three ways:

Firstly, it reveals, for the world at large, the fact that the captain of India's national team is feeling the pressure. And that is not a signal you want to send out, just ahead of the World Cup.

Secondly, it shows an intolerance to criticism one might expect from a Robert Mugabe or a Pervez Musharraf or one of those other dictator types, but which one did not look for from a sporting representative of our country. Briefly put, the rejoinder lacked in one vital aspect that has always been a hallmark of Ganguly's batting at its best -- grace.

The ability to show grace under pressure better defines a sportsman than runs, wickets, records, trophies, and endorsements.

Martin CroweAnd finally, having taken guard, he then makes the cardinal mistake of playing a loose, false shot -- when he suggested that Crowe had walked off the field midway through a World Cup game, he had his facts in a twist; Crowe did not field at all; in fact, it shows a certain unawareness of history, either on Ganguly's part, or on the part of whoever did his research for him.

The game in question is the semifinals of the 1992 World Cup -- which, incidentally, saw co-hosts New Zealand coming up with innovation upon innovation (remember a certain Mark Greatbatch, forerunner of today's slam-bam brigade and the first to utilize, as part of regular strategy, the advantages of going over the top during the period when field restrictions are in force? A certain Martin Crowe was captain of that team, and originator of the idea) to shrug off their underdog status and make it to the semifinals.

A day before the Pakistan-New Zealand semis in Auckland, in fact, Crowe was voted by assembled sportsmen and sportswriters as the Champion Player of 1992.

Batting first, New Zealand were 87/3 before Crowe and Ken Rutherford (50 off 68) mounted a recovery (Rutherford in fact faced 24 balls before scoring his first run, putting added pressure on his captain). What I remember of that Kiwi innings was Crowe's assault on the Pakistan quick bowlers, that fetched him a top score of 91 off 83 -- and limping his way through the last dozen odd runs with a torn hamstring.

He never did come out to field.

The Indian team coach, John Wright, could have told him all this, and more -- he was Greatbatch's opening partner in that competition.

Throughout the series, Crowe has constantly criticized aspects of Ganguly's captaincy, batting, and even fielding. There were times when I felt -- and from emails and phone conversations, I know a few other friends shared the opinion -- that the former Kiwi skipper was overdoing it somewhat.

For instance, there was one instance -- if I recall correctly, this was during the fourth one-day game -- when a fellow commentator started talking of how the Indian batsmen, universally, had failed to adapt to the seam movement. And Crowe said, “Yes, but never mind that, now look at Ganguly -- inner edge onto stumps, outer edge to keeper, inner edge onto stumps… what is going on?”

On that occasion, and on several others, Crowe's criticism did take on the dimensions of a crusade.

But then, Crowe was answered -- right then, and there -- by an over-excited Navjot Singh Sidhu, and a savagely caustic Sunny Gavaskar (the guy who, if you follow the Ganguly doctrine to its logical conclusion, should not even be in the commentary box), both of who immediately took issue with the Kiwi commentator over his diatribes and in fact shut him up.

The best, the most graceful, course for the Indian captain was to rise above it all; to let the criticism go outside off stump, if you will.

By choosing instead to play at it, he has merely ensured that the spotlight will be even more firmly on him come February.

Come to think of it, what happens if, say, India does not make the semifinals? I can predict one thing for certain sure -- Martin will crow, if you'll pardon the pun; and he will helpfully point out that he has every right to, since his record shows that when he led his team, he took it all the way to the last four stage, against the odds.

Why get into a war you cannot win?

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