Wednesday, December 12, 2007

THE BENGAL TIGER ROARS AGAIN, AND HOW!

Man of the match, man of the series, 534 runs in the series and only the second batsman after Jacques Kallis to score a thousand runs in 2007.

This louder than ever roar of the Bengal Tiger, Sourav Ganguly, has all the mice scurrying for cover. Only three days back, even as he was striking a century against Pakistan in the first innings at Bangalore, the knives were out for him, comparing his relatively ‘laboured’ innings with the fluid one of Yuvraj Singh, to suggest that it was time Sourav made way for the ‘more talented’ and younger Yuvraj in the middle order as India had to look forward to the future!

“Not only the door, even the windows have been shut for Sourav’s return to the Indian team”. Not many people remember these words of the then Chairman of Selectors, Kiran More. He, along with the supremely arrogant and scheming Greg Chappell did everything that was humanly possible to keep Sourav out, explaining it all away by telling a believing India that they were looking to build the future of Indian cricket.

No one told them then that you don’t win matches in an abstract future. The next match has to be won by picking the best team. You cannot keep experimenting for the future while sacrificing the present! Yet, they kept getting away with the ‘decimation’ of the Indian team, reducing the players to behaving like frightened rabbits with the docile compliance, possibly complicity, of the captain, Rahul Dravid. When, finally, the team was thrashed out of the World Cup in disgrace, Chappell had to be sacked.

Many in the BCCI should have been sacked too, but that never happens. That is a closed club of politicians and bureaucrats who know only how to take credit and pass on the blame! Remember the celebrations in Wankhede Stadium after India won the T20 World Cup? All of them were there on the front row to show themselves visibly to the whole world as the real winners of the Cup! The players? Well, except for the unavoidable irritant of the Captain sitting in the front row, the players were all barely visible behind the long row of officials up in front!

Dilip Vengsarkar, the Colonel, brought back Sourav Ganguly to the team in the series against South Africa against much opposition from the coach, the captain and many others, including Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri. In hindsight it is clear that these gentlemen were afraid that the Tiger would roar again and expose the dirty underbelly of those who were gunning for him, most out of personal pique, mainly because he had kept them firmly in their place for almost five years!. Indeed, he was roaring majestically even when he was thrown out of the team, having scored a century against Zimbabwe.

Sourav’s century against the weak Zimbabwe was used against him while Sachin’s centuries against Bangladesh were praised! Sachin was allowed to get back into form, without being dropped, while Sourav, the Captain was not just dropped; he was humiliated. Ravi Shastri, known for his strong likes and the opposite, not only vociferously defended the sacking of Sourav as right, but praised Chappell for Sourav's performance when Sourav, on his recall, silenced all with his bat in South Africa.

Even after the World Cup, Chappell loyalists and Sourav baiters tried to blame India’s defeat on Sourav’s ‘slow’ batting, pretending to forget the ruins among which he stood tall despite the hostile environment generated by Chappell and his followers. Despite the provocation, the Tiger kept quiet with the dignity that behoves a real tiger and concentrated on his performance.

Those who are still yelling for Yuvraj, would do well to remember that Sourav, while he was captain, had tried to find a slot for Yuvraj too. He had pushed him up the order to one down, but Yuvraj repeatedly failed at that spot. Recall also that with Sehwag too there was an identical problem. Sourav made him open, even though he had never opened even in a Ranji Trophy match for Delhi! Sehwag grabbed that chance with both hands and made the opening slot his own.

Yuvi, for all his talent, cannot open and is extremely uncomfortable at number three. He is sublime and beyond compare on flat wickets, but has always struggled against bounce and a moving ball. Australia, where India is headed next, is going to offer both to the Indians, without mercy. This tour may well decide the future of Yuvi. If he faces the Aussie challenge on hostile wickets with the same confidence and aggression that he has shown recently, he could well be the next ‘Prince’ of the Indian cricket team after Sourav, the ‘Prince of Calcutta’ as Boycott calls him, not without reason.

Sourav, after his stellar performance against Pakistan has finally spoken and said that his sacking was not justified. He has also sounded a warning bell for the Australians. The way he is playing and the aggressively flowing blade that he is carrying are ominous for the Aussies. In what will be his last tour Down Under, let us all pray that the Bengal Tiger roars with a majesty and authority that echoes for a long, long time.

Oh, yes, there is one small thing which keeps nagging me. Remember that Australian Tiger Tamer who was sent back after the World Cup fiasco? Why is he back in India as a coach (!) in Rajasthan? Me thinks it is just to purchase his silence and keep locked in the cupboard some sordid machinations and manipulations of the BCCI which, if made public, could cause some serious damage to that all powerful body!