In the scheme of things of a team, talent is often sacrificed at the altar of egos or office politics. The chapter in former Indian cricket team captain Sourav Ganguly’s career in the last decade, where his own choice for the team’s coach Greg Chappell proved disastrous for what could have been a longer innings at the helm, has hardly got anything to do beyond the Australian’s personal dislike. Or eccentricity! For all the laurels Chappell had received as a player, he is equally infamous for capricious acts such as instructing his brother Trevor to bowl underarm to hassle the opponent in a match, and his brother Ian does not have too kind an opinion about the sibling either. But Ganguly thought he could deal with it, and he proved wrong. At a time when the defensive approach the Indian team had been known for in the 20th century had become a thing of the past, the then coach of the team unnecessarily put brakes on the aggression of the eleven by bringing in a recluse, Rahul Dravid. A gem of a gentleman, ‘the Wall’ was, however, not captain material. No less whimsical than his mentor of the time, the generally reserved personality is remembered for an awkward act, too. When a junior had walked up to him for guidance, Dravid is said to have handed the youngster a book of cricket rather than issuing verbal instructions or demonstrating a shot or two! Mercifully, the coach also picked Mahendra Singh Dhoni later for the shorter version of the game, which saw ‘killer instinct’ return to Indian cricket. Fans of cricket were otherwise missing both the famous huddle and the swirling of the blue jersey by a bare-chested Ganguly at the Natwest series. ‘Dada’ did make a comeback, but the second innings missed both the elegance and ferocity of the first. He seemed to have acquired a problem either of his eyesight or of the eyes-limbs coordination by then, as he fidgeted before facing every delivery and his trademark sixes gifted to the crowd dancing down the pitch became infrequent. Eventually, like several masters before him, Ganguly one day declared his retirement unceremoniously — not at the peak of his career, one would say.
Ganguly’s recently released book, A Century Is Not Enough, rightly recalls the fact that history repeated itself in the recent past. Virat Kohli and Anil Kumble, both stalwarts in their own rights, couldn’t get along. However, on the latest occasion, the coach was the casualty. Yet, it is noteworthy that such tussles apart, Indian cricket is blessed with a hands-off approach of officials as far as the game is concerned. Indian soccer, hockey and athletics are marred by both meddling politicians and bumbling bureaucrats who make and break many a budding player. Here, the captain is the boss. The exception in cricket is noticed regardless of the corrupt game of money the Board for Control of Cricket in India has witnessed since the era of Mohammed Azharuddin and others’ alleged involvement in match- and spot-fixing and the Indian Premier League’s scandals that continued in the entire phase between Lalit Modi and Sreenivasan, saving the scalps of Dhoni and colleagues in the different corporate sponsors of franchisees by a whisker. The vicissitudes of the careers ranging from those of Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev to those of Ganguly, Dhoni and Kohli cannot, therefore, be attributed to somebody else in charge. The coach of Team India must play by the script of the skipper the way the President of the country reads out speeches dictated by the Union government of the day inside Parliament. The ‘Maharaj’ had taken a bad judgement call, and he paid a price for picking the wrong successor of a benign John Wright. While the lovers of the sport will forever miss him in those test matches, one-day internationals and twenty-20s he never played, the pride of Bengal must now leave the bitterness behind, take care of the brands he has built for his post-retirement livelihood, enthral the audience with commentary in good English and help groom talents for the future of the national team he loves.