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October 4, 1997


Ganguly: A triumph over regionalism

Ashok Mitra

Saurav Ganguly It has been an unusual week. But, at the end of it, there has to be a return to a sense of proportion. Saurav Ganguly must allow neither his wondrous exploits in Toronto nor the adulation from the home crowd to go to his head.

The prospect of emerging as one of the world’s leading cricketers for the best part of the next decade is indeed exciting. To turn that dream into reality would, however, call for enormous application and will of the mind. His cricketing genius by itself would not be enough. Perseverance and determination would need to keep company with genius. Ganguly therefore has his work cut out between now and his 30th year. And he must resist the temptation of making some quick money through television and other advertisements.

Money-making in this environment can be a destructive pastime, comprehensively eroding one’s ability to get on with the serious business. There is no need to quote examples; there are examples galore. It is fervently hoped that he will, in this matter, receive wise counsel from members of his family and close friends.

The basic question however remains. Should there not be a measure of social accountability even in cricket? Certain things do not deserve to be either forgiven or forgotten. Consider the episode of late 1991, when Sambaran Banerjee, the national selector representing East Zone, fought his way through and succeeded in including Ganguly in the 16-member squad that flew to Australia to participate in the World Cup matches.

Saurav Ganguly A stripling of a boy, barely 19 years of age, Ganguly had every right to look forward to some gesture of affection -- and plenty of guidance -- from his seniors. His actual experience was horrid. The cricket establishment in the country did not take kindly to his inclusion. The team management was equally unhappy. The media commentators, mostly operating from Bombay, frothed at the mouth -- if Indian cricket has to attain the pinnacle of glory, they thundered, the quota system, whereby nincompoops like Ganguly were chosen for the national team merely by virtue of their hailing from a particular zone, must be forthwith dispensed with, otherwise young players with capability and promise, resident since birth, let us say, in Bombay or Bangalore, would have to wait permanently for a berth in the national team. There could be no worse scandal.

Rightful indignation boiled over. It was a nightmarish experience for Ganguly during that tour in Australia -- he was allowed to play in just one serious match, in which he failed. For the rest of the trip, he was treated as a pariah.The team hegemony did not consider it fit to offer him a second chance; the press were fed stories about his supposed wayward behaviour. The objective obviously was not to kill his cricket alone, but destroy his personality as well.

Presumably, the young calf had indeed a few kinks and angularities. It was the duty of the coach and the manager to cure him of these deficiencies. Instead, reports suggest that they too joined in the fun and games of doing in the baby of the team. It was a testimony to Ganguly’s grit that he was able to sail through these buffetings of fortune. The team, a vanquished lot, returned from Australia. The cricket establishment cast Ganguly aside. But, what a nuisance, he continued to do exceptionally well both with the bat and the ball in domestic circuit. Finally, in 1996, Banerjee was able to swing it again, and Ganguly was back in the national squad. The rest is history.

Saurav Ganguly But what about the accountability of the cricket bosses, and the great former cricketers who now pontificate on cricket to the nation, though? They have been responsible for wasting four years of Ganguly’s career. Had he been given the opportunity of being a constituent of the national team during these four years, he could have emerged as a complete player much earlier. It has not just been Ganguly’s loss, but the nation's, and that of its cricket. The utility individuals who conspired against him deserve to be exposed; a catharsis of the dross that afflicts the cricket establishment is called for.

We cannot retrospectively award either Ganguly or ourselves the fruits or endeavours and achievements that could have happened, but were not allowed to happen. Narrow-mindedness ruled the roost even after his truly dazzling performance in England last year -- topping the Test average for both batting and bowling. Despite this, the sniping against him was persisted with. His place in the batting order was disturbed times without number. And for some mysterious reason, even when the team captain had run out of ideas, he would rather bowl his Shivaji Park stuff than call on Ganguly.

That apart, Ganguly’s running between the wickets, the world was informed with great glee, was excreable. The persons indulging in such near criminal behaviour are a national disgrace; their sectarianism had crossed limits. This species must not be permitted to play their nefarious tricks any further. It was once more only Banerjee’s intrepidity which has ensured the entry of the lanky lad from Orissa, Debashish Mohanty, into the national team. If the strangehold of the sectarian clique had continued, the Mohantys of the world would never have come to bloom.

Saurav Ganguly Monopoly is evil, but monopoly in cricket is perhaps even worse.There is no particular reason, barring common courtesy, why some of the stonewalling resorted to in the recent past by the cricket establishment -- and the media kowtowing to it -- should not be described as bordering on anti-national conduct. Their concentration was on selecting not the best Indian team, but a team teeming with their favourites. A lesson is derivable from the trails and tribulations Ganguly has been made to go through, only because he possessed talent.

This nation can survive and prosper only if people in different parts of the country learn to nurture respect and regard for each other. And that respect and regard are equally, crucially, necessary to be brought to bear in the arena of cricket. Some of our compatriots, entrenched in the management of the game, had apparently grown oblivious of this essential attribute of our nationhood. The ascent of Ganguly should teach them the appropriate lesson. Sectarianism and national integrity cannot go together, sectarianism and cricket too are ill-matching bedfellows.

Dr Ashok Mitra, Marxist MP and contributor to Rediff On The NeT, is an avid cricket-watcher.

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