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Why Ganguly affair is not just cricket
By Boria Majumdar, Calcutta

Questions in parliament, MPs demanding an explanation from the people involved in the injustice, chief ministers decrying the 'dastardly' act, road and rail blockades, the nationwide burning of effigies.

Priest offers prayers for Ganguly
Praying in Calcutta for Ganguly's return to the team
One might imagine that India has gone back to the days of Mahatma Gandhi's non-violent opposition to British colonial rule.

However bizarre it might sound, all of the above is happening in the India of the twenty-first century over the dropping of one cricket player, Sourav Ganguly, from the national team.

What the above demonstrates is that in modern India no hyperbole is sufficient to capture the importance of cricket in the country's life. Cricket is, to put it simply, still much more than a "game" here.

Indiscreet words

The best parallels to this fiasco occurred half a century ago.

The first was when Vinoo Mankad, then one of the best all-rounders in the world, was not picked to represent India against England in February 1952.

Ganguly's runs rate is strong

During the selection meeting, the Times of India of 17 February 1952 reported that "one of the selectors decreed that Mankad was not special and Indian cricket had dozens of players of his calibre".

It wasn't long before the selectors had to chew their words of indiscretion and Mankad had to be welcomed back into the team.

The second instance was when India's captain, Lala Amarnath, was dropped in 1952 after leading India to its first ever series win against Pakistan.

With India leading 2-1 going into the last Test, it seemed inconceivable that the captain would be ousted from the team for the following series.

Why was Amarnath dropped? Because of his alleged alignment with one faction in the Indian cricket board.

It was argued that he was instrumental in removing former BCCI President AS de Mello from the board by joining hands with the rival faction in the BCCI led by Pankaj Gupta and JC Mukherjee.

This was his punishment. And the five selectors seemingly succumbed to the pressure. I am forced to believe that history has indeed repeated itself with Sourav Ganguly, albeit in a different garb.

Last innings

If the selectors have dropped Sourav Ganguly for purely cricketing reasons, their prudence is questionable.

For over the last two years, as chairman of selectors Kiran More has made plain, Ganguly has had an average of 43 in comparison to VVS Laxman's 38.

Chappell did not mess around with his chance - it was soon 'bye bye Ganguly'

Thus mere cricketing form over the last two years can't be an index.

Coach Greg Chappell has made much of the need to build a team that can win the 2007 World Cup.

But that should not be a reason for dropping Ganguly because in test match cricket a player is only as good as his last innings.

Finally, had the selectors dropped Ganguly after the first test of the series where he had scored a paltry 5, things might have been different.

Dropping a player after he has scored 39 and 40 in the two innings of a test and was involved in two crucial partnerships that helped fashion an Indian win is unacceptable.

Script written

Only if there are extra-cricketing reasons involved can we spare the selectors, who have hardly had an illustrious record in the years gone by.

Burning the effigies of the team selectors
Ganguly fans express their feeling about the team selectors

As well as the cases referred to above, we can point to the unceremonious dropping of Mushtaq Ali in 1945-6, Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi in 1971, Ajit Wadekar in 1975, and Mohinder Amarnath in 1989, which provoked the latter to call the selectors a "bunch of jokers".

Some suggest (and not without reason) that the script of Ganguly's exit had been written in Harare, Zimbabwe in August when Ganguly had made public Chappell's suggestion that he should step down as captain of India.

That statement sparked off a series of events, which, collectively could rank as one of Indian cricket's ugliest controversies ever.

Even when the two shook hands and played pool in Zimbabwe, it was clear that the truce was, at best, uneasy.

That it indeed was became apparent when the two men met the BCCI appointed review committee in Mumbai on 27 September. In fact, both contenders were looking for the opportune moment to strike. That Chappell got in first on account of an improved team performance under his leadership and on account of a change of guard in the BCCI is well known.

He did not mess around with his chance. It was soon 'bye bye Ganguly'.

Overturning decisions

A common thread that runs through most of these cases is that they occur soon after there is a change of guard in the BCCI.

The turn to a professional managerial staff to assist the president has now become an imperative

With professionalism still being a far cry in Indian cricket, often the sole intention of a new regime is to overturn most decisions of the previous group.

In such a situation, a lack of judiciousness often becomes the order of the day, hurting the interests of Indian cricket.

The message often conveyed is that seniority will not be accorded respect.

With almost everyone feeling the heat of insecurity - a persistent problem of Indian cricket over the last 75 years - team unity is the single biggest loser.

And this bigger outcome is far more significant than the unfairness meted out to Sourav Ganguly.

Thus the new regime within two weeks of coming to power is confronted with perhaps one of its biggest crises.

For if the Board president intervenes to overrule the selectors, then the whole issue of transparency, much harped upon in recent times, will remain a non-starter.

Whatever is thus done to remedy the situation, the ultimate outcome has already been sealed - Indian cricket is the loser.

The only way Indian cricket can spare itself these blushes in future is by removing the curse of zonal representation in the selection process and by abolishing the honorary positions of secretary, joint secretary, treasurer etc.

The turn to a professional managerial staff to assist the president has now become an imperative.

Oh, anything for a period of relative calm!!

The author is a sports historian and author of Twenty-Two Yards to Freedom: A Social History of Indian Cricket (Penguin-Viking)

Ganguly gone?
15 Oct 05 |  India

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