Sourav Ganguly’s startling attack on Rahul Dravid could have a negative impact on the team, just days before the start of an important Test series against Australians. Arunabha Sengupta explains why Ganguly’s outburst is most untimely and dwells into possible reasons for his barb on a former colleague.
In his fascinating Sir Don Bradman oration, Rahul Dravid underlined the stark contrast between the flannelled men on the cricket field and the soldiers in uniform on the battleground. Yet, to the Australians, an ensuing Test series against India is nothing short of war. With each day that draws the teams closer to the start of action, psychological shelling increases in the form of verbal volleys by the Australian media and a belligerent battery of men who had once worn the baggy green – trying to win skirmishes and battles way before the first ball has made its way across the 22 yards.
While the Indians in recent years have managed to ward off the slings and arrows of such outrageous campaigns rather industriously, they have suddenly been affronted with a self-destructive bombshell exploding in their midst. And judging by the moment of the salvo which uncannily borders the start of the Boxing Day Test match, and hints at blasts from the remote past, this particular implosion has all the ingredients of a catastrophic time bomb.
A week or so before the opening Test match is scheduled to start at Melbourne, Sourav Ganguly’s outburst against Greg Chappell’s supposed mistakes and Rahul Dravid’s lack of ‘guts’ to challenge the same, is tailor-made to queer the pitch in the Indian camp. Not only does Ganguly hint at the ineffectual leadership rendered by a senior player who is held in the highest regard by each and every member of the Indian team, by chance or design his words are incisive enough to cut through the fabric of teamwork that binds a side together.
He quite openly said that Chappell was against – among others – Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and Zaheer Khan, and from his words one can surmise that Rahul Dravid, then the skipper, did nothing even when these senior players were targeted by the Australian coach. Since Tendulkar, Laxman, Zaheer and Dravid are all featuring in the current series, one wonders whether or not some strained looks will crisscross within the dressing room. The media will obviously want reactions from all concerned, and although Dravid is understandably too much of a gentleman to indulge in the mud-slinging that would work wonders for channel TRPs and paper sales, his legendary powers of concentration will be challenged to remain focused on the game alone.
It is more remarkable that this self-destructive criticism comes from Ganguly, since this is the man who has been credited with taking India to the next level, by standing up to and retaliating against the mind games of the Aussies.
His getting under the skin of Steve Waugh through deliberate tardiness at toss, and then telling him to shut up and concentrate on Australian cricket when the former Aussie skipper had commented on the Mike Denness affair, are all part of his acclaimed archive of accomplishments.
This sudden attack on his former team-mate not only resembles an enemy within, but is also akin to the kamikaze warrior to an extent. Putting India’s cause ahead of all else and generating the elusive quality of winning against the bullies of world cricket have for long been the first to tenth line of defence for his fans whenever his rather ordinary test batting average has come up for comparison against the other modern Indian giants. Is he not then shooting himself in the foot by indulging in the ancient pastime of the ex-Indian cricketers by creating controversy for the current team?
Oddly, this has come a few weeks after another former left-handed batsman attempted to raise debatable ghosts of an ancient past through tearful allegations concerning the 1996 World Cup semi-final. Interestingly, Vinod Kambli’s assertions had been unequivocally slammed by Ganguly, before the latter went ahead to do something equally remarkable. Kambli had tried to dig up facts and fables one and a half decades old to cast his severe accusations. While, in comparison, Ganguly has gone back only about a third along the temporal scale, given the enormous credibility that he brandishes in contrast to the former Mumbai batsman, the damage is bound to be more devastating.
Quite unnoticed in this sequence of sound and fury, one other minor southpaw has quickly stated his views before unobtrusively making his way back into the field of play. Suresh Raina, revisiting the same era Ganguly has been talking about, has gone public saying that Greg Chappell had always championed the cause of the youngsters.
Well, to a lot of his fans, Ganguly was also known for the same virtue of backing new talent – yet another favoured line of defence of his followers. But, when his own performance started to plummet – with an average in the mid-30s over a five year span between 2000 and 2005– the youth-friendly attitude perhaps stood at loggerheads to his own purpose.
This is eerily similar to his current contrasting behaviour. Someone who was adept at retaliating mind games against the principal enemy when at the helm turns out not quite averse to turning the same barrels inwards at the worst possible moment for India when he is no longer a principle stakeholder.
Does it paint the picture of someone who puts himself ahead of the nation?
Why Rahul Dravid?
While his unceremonious exclusion had resulted in a lot of bad blood as far as dynamics with Greg Chappell is concerned, the outburst against Dravid is a remarkable first.
The two made their debut together in that famed Lord’s Test of 1996, and while Ganguly finished the first two Test matches with back-to-back hundreds under his belt, Dravid had to be satisfied with scores of 95 and 84. Down the years, though, the graphs of respective fortunes crisscrossed, and while Dravid etched a fantastic upward trend, Ganguly was more erratic before a rapid downwards drop, until he came back stronger after his omission. In such circumstances, is it not very human to be sensitive about the ultimate edge – rather chasm – of 6000 runs and 20 centuries that his contemporary has developed over him? It can be distressing that Dravid continues to reap the harvest of hard work, while the spark of Ganguly becomes visible only once in a while in the dreary domestic grounds of first-class cricket. Is the allegation a result of their respective records that rankle in recesses?
Let us look at some facts.
Dravid has gone on record stating that batting lower down the order has forced VVS Laxman and Ganguly himself to miss out on the number of centuries. What remains unclear is why a similar fate had not befallen his age old rival Steve Waugh who scored 30 of his 32 centuries batting at No 5 or 6.
Sharply-contrasting stats of Dravid and Ganguly
During the recent English tour, Dravid was at the wicket while Ganguly was in the seat of his new vocation, the commentary box. The discussion had turned to Dravid’s recent Test record of facing the maximum number of balls. When asked to estimate the number of balls he himself had faced based on Dravid’s 30,000 plus, Dravid confessed having no idea, but hazarded a guess in the range of 22,000 to 23,000. When his colleague in the box informed that it was 14,070, the aggravation of the former Indian captain was apparent on air even as the camera remained steadfastly focused on the pitch. It ultimately prompted the addendum from his colleague, “You scored a lot faster.” Grasping at these welcome words, an audibly relieved Ganguly remarked, “Yes, I obviously scored a lot quicker in all three forms of the game.”
Two things are apparent from the above anecdote
1. The assertion is wrong. While Ganguly does manage a strike rate of 51 in Tests to Dravid’s 42, in ODIs the figures are much closer at 73 and 71 and in T20 cricket he trails 108 to 117.
2. If we place weigh this against the self-effacing humour of Dravid in the recent Sir Don Bradman oration, the contrast is all too conspicuous.
It is quite obvious that comparison with Dravid does touch a very sensitive nerve in Ganguly. Sportsmen are not supposed to be saints, although often unfairly expected to display similar qualities. This sensitivity is quite natural in contemporaries.
However, the question is whether this had anything to do with the frenzied outpouring?
Did the honour bestowed on Dravid, and the magnificent speech that he delivered, bring out suppressed anger? Did it hurt that throughout his long talk, not once did his former team-mate mention him, let alone wax eloquent about his greatness as a captain?
Let us quickly bring Kambli back into the frame, this time in a supporting role. When he had made his tumultuous and tear-streaked headlines, Dravid had been sought out for reactions. The classy maestro had responded with a characteristic straight bat by focussing on Kambli’s achievements rather than acrimonious allegations. According to him, whatever the Mumbai middle-order batsman had accomplished in spite of his socio-economic background was quite outstanding. He added that not many Indian batsmen could boast two double hundreds in Test matches, which Kambli had managed in just 17 Tests.
Now, did this touch a raw nerve? A shortcoming in a career which managed a solitary double century at the fag-end, a reminder of a deficiency overlooked by legions of fans who would rather glorify a 32 not out for Pune Warriors? Did the subtle hint of correlation between background and achievements – something that differentiates the talented from the privileged – also seem a personal affront?
Whatever instigated the discharge, it could not have come at a worse juncture. The famed sense of timing, that glorious gift that saw him pierce the crowded offside field with élan, could not have gone more awry. By making the statements that have added firepower to the Australian strategy of rattling the Indian dressing room, the Big Brother has fended questions in the same ungainly way that has so often seen him snapped up in the gully off short deliveries.
While he will still enjoy the raucous support of all those who had cheered South Africa to victory at the Eden after his axing from the side, Ganguly does stand to lose a major proportion of his discerning fans who have always identified him as the champion of the Indian cause.
(Arunabha Sengupta is trained from Indian Statistical Institute as a Statistician. He works as a Process Consultant, but cleanses the soul through writing and cricket, often mixing the two. His author site is athttp://www.senantix.com and his cricket blogs at http:/senantixtwentytwoyards.blogspot.com)