Saturday, October 18, 2008

SACHIN AND SAURAV: MILESTONE AND MILLSTONE!

First, let us blow that trumpet again: Sachin Tendulkar has become the first batsman in the world to score 12,000 runs. Speaking after his stupendous achievement, 19 years on, Sachin responded to his critics by saying "when people throw stones at you, you turn them into milestones." As Sachin reached his milestone, there was another almost forgotten but no less significant milestone being reached at the other end of the pitch.

On October 17, 2008, Saurav Ganguly became only the fourth Indian batsman to score more than 7,000 runs, behind Sachin, Gavaskar and Dravid. Ironically, it was Sachin who spoke of stones even though he has had many more flowers than stones thrown at him all through his career, making him virtually the unquestioned king of Indian cricket, beyond all scrutiny and questioning by any one who is someone in the world of Indian cricket. Saurav, on the other hand, has had a lot worse than stones throw at him, particularly ever since Greg Chappell took over as India's coach.

In many ways, Saurav Ganguly's milestone is much more significant than Sachin's. Sachin's was India's Captain before Saurav took over from him, because it was clear that Sachin did not have it in him to take the additional pressure that captaincy demanded. Saurav not only took to captaincy as if he was born to it but he transformed forever the attitude and approach of Team India to the game and to its opponents. As a result, he went on to become India's most successful captain ever.

If in the seventies Sunil Gavaskar taught a weak Indian team how to draw matches and not lose them, Saurav Ganguly taught it to play hard, aggressive cricket and win. No Indian captain had ever done that before; all captains will try to do that in future. That is an achievement which is far greater than any individual milestone in a team game. If you add 7,000 runs to it, the enormity of his contribution is a complete standout, no less.

Before the series began, Saurav Ganguly, fed up and disgusted with sustained, malicious attempts to throw him out of the Indian team, had announced that he would retire after the ongoing India-Australia series. No other Indian player has faced and survived such hostility and double-faced treatment that has refused to recognise ability and even current form. No other player has made the kind of comeback that Saurav made after he was relieved of captaincy and thrown out of the team by Chappell, setting in motion a series of developments that saw India disgraced in the World Cup. Yet, Mahendra Singh Dhoni dropped him from the One Day team when India toured Australia, on the Chappell inspired excuse that India needed to pick players for the 'future' and the next World Cup! And later, when he failed in just a couple of innings in Sri Lanka, he gave his detractors just the excuse, however dishonest and petty, to call for an end to his career.

Saurav Ganguly has just got out after scoring a century, his 16th, reaching yet another great milestone in his outstanding career. Already he is the highest scorer in this series. His gritty performance in both innings in the first Test helped India save the match. His brilliant century in the second Test has not only held India's innings together and help Sachin achieve his milestone, it has also put India in a very commanding position in the match.

Sachin's milestone had every one gushing and asking him to continue playing for India for many more years, even though at 35 plus, he is about as old as Saurav. Saurav's milestone, on the other hand, seem to be becoming a millstone around the necks of his known detractors. Ravi Shastri, commentating on the match, has had little choice but to grudgingly acknowledge Saurav's effort with the bat. But, to belittle the effort, he has been deviously intent on promoting Mahendra Dhoni as player and captain. Also, he has been repeating ad nauseum that this was Saurav's last series, as if mortally afraid that he would have to see Saurav coming out of retirement and continue playing for India! In fact, the only person who had the courage to talk about that possibility was Peter Roebuck yesterday on CNN-IBN.

See the double standards and the murky politics that have come to occupy centre-stage in Indian cricket? While no one even talks of Sachin's retirement despite his middling performance of late and his recurring injuries, they all want Saurav out despite his sterling performances ever since he made a comeback to the team in South Africa. No one wants to even acknowledge that had there been a rookie in the team in place of Saurav, India would have most likely lost the first Test and would have been already defending a poor total in the ongoing Test. They just want to see his back.

Krishnamachari Srikkanth has become the new chairman of the selection committee. He is from Chennai and Dhoni is the captain of the Chennai Super Kings IPL team. Dhoni is responsible for pushing Saurav out of the team and injecting politics of the Chappell variety into it. He is clearly intent on becoming the unquestioned king of the team. For that he needs unknown midgets, not tall knights. That is why probably Saurav was provoked to say that " now every Tom, Dick and Harry is playing for Team India." Every one is backing Dhoni now and extolling his leadership qualities. My sense is that, blinded by their aversion to Saurav, they are being even more blind to what Dhoni is really up to, and the damage that he will do to the team in the long run.

Saurav's continued brilliance with the bat clearly shows that all talk of dropping him has been motivated, parochial and completely unjustified. But, with Dhoni now securely positioned as the unchallenged leader of Team India, his selection in future is all but ruled out. It is the time of the 'Tom's' of the world who suck up to Dhoni to get into the team. In the face of the seemingly unbreakable wall that he faces, conventional wisdom suggests that Saurav should stick to his retirement plan. That is what all the guilty blokes want him to do.

They don't want the millstone of his milestone around their necks; it is too heavy.

But, may be Saurav should draw inspiration from Sachin who, in response to a question as to when he would retire, told the person who had asked the question that he had come to the wrong press conference. He deserves much better than he has got and his opponents deserve worse than they have. And, to top it all, Team India needs Saurav more than all the Toms, Dicks and Harries of Dhoni and Shastri and others put together. Only the blind cannot see that.
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