हिन्दीಕನ್ನಡമലയാളംதமிழ்తెలుగు

Ganguly. s aggressiveness did the trick

Written by: S K Sham
Published: Tuesday, March 14, 2000, 0:00 [IST]
 
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How swiftly and steeply have the fortunes turned for Indian cricket during the fantastic week that was. For a side that had taken below on the hip and jaw in the devastating period of three months that had telescoped into the new millennium, the present situation is that of a punch-drunk boxer raising his fist of triumph in the arena which has one of the toughest rivals in world cricket.

Even as critics and analysis continue to fathom the cause of the great transformation, Hansie Cronje and his boys may be licking their wounds and wondering what really hit them.

It is not just that India have turned the tide and have won two matches on the trot, but have achieved victories in a manner that was the hallmark of the Indian team in the eighties when we won the World Cup in England (1983) and the World Championship of Cricket in Australia in 1985.

The remarkability of these two successes, first at Kochi and then at Jamshedpur, was underscored by the fact that India did what few teams have ever done before and that is to successfully chase a target of 300-plus and then winning a match (at Jamshedpur) with such felicity as has rarely been seen, with several wickets and overs to spare.

Having taken a 2-0 lead in the five-match series, the advantage rests with the home team. Even if we discount the fact that the South Africans are a team that will not give in so easily and have the wherewithal's to strike back, the next three matches, therefore are going to provide a do-or-die effort from the visitors, whose captain, easily one of the shrewdest leaders in the game, just hates to lose, more so against a team that does not rate very high in his assessment.

We now came to the question: what is it that has transformed an eminently beatable side into a virtual unbeatable one?

The most important factor appears to be the change of leadership. Saurav Ganguly has taken over from Sachin Tendulkar, who admitedly did not relish the responsibility of leading the side any more, particularly after all the unpleasantness that followed his appointment along with Kapil Dev as coach.

The slanging that went on off the field, between these two on one side and the BCCI brasshat and the selectors on the other, over matters such as the sending of wicket-keeper Nayan Mongia and the likely inclusion of Mohammed Azharuddin, had certainly added the woes of a team that was performing much below its potential.

With all the attandant controversies more or less settled now and Sachin Tendulkar stepping down on his own, it made for a smooth transition. The selectors had a choice between Ajay Jadeja and Saurav Ganguly before them as replacement for Tendulkar as captain and they opted for a player who was a certainty in the team in both forms of the game.

Both Jadeja and Ganguly had excellent records as captain, the former proving a winning captain in the six-match series against the West Indies at Toronto, and Jadeja coming very close to making India the title-winning team at Sharjah.

The way Ganguly has led the team so far, indicates that the selectors did the right thing by giving him a preference over Jadeja. What has made him achieve success so instantly is the fact that he has brought a measure of aggressiveness to bear on his job as captain. As one of the finest left-handers in the game, Saurav Ganguly is considered as one of the most attacking batsmen in limited overs format of the game.

Ganguly very wisely took the one option open to him as captain and that was to match his opposite number with as much aggressiveness in his captaincy as he displays in his own batting these days.

And mark you, this has made a big difference to the entire outlook of the Indian team. The new motto could well be "when cornered or forced to the walls, hit yourself out of trouble, whatever the consequences..

This has paid rich dividends, as much in chasing an almost impossible target at Kochi, as in reaching a less imposing total, but by no means an easy one, considering the state of the wicket, at Jamshedpur.

A target of just about 200 for a side that had successfully overtaken 300-plus, may not have looked formidable, but with the wicket at Keenan Stadium, crumbling and the slow pace of its surface making defensive batting some kind of an ordeal, the accepted policy of the Indian team was to go for the kill in a hell-bent-for-leather manner, rather than allowing the runs to come in a natural flow, in view of the low asking rate of four on over.

Many were surprised when Tendulkar started stepping out for the big hits. He eventually holed out at deep mid-off, attempting a second successive hit. But then the raison d. Être of this aggressive approach was made more than clear by the manner in which the skipper himself batted.

Saurav Ganguly justified this approach by not only scoring a memorable century on a difficult wicket, but by also achieving victory for his side with quite a bit to spare. It might have, perhaps, been suicidal if the Indian team had opted for a more cautions approach.

It is hereabout that Ganguly's aggressiveness became a decisive factor. For a shyster, who came into the Indian touring side, or was rather pushed in, in what was then described as "quota" system, the Prince of Calcutta," or "Maharaja," as he was nicknamed by his colleagues on account of his rather laid back attitude, Ganguly has come a long, long away.

For a player who remained in the oblivion for more than five years, his selection for the tour of England in 1996 was heavensent. Not many cricketers have had the privilege of scoring a century on their Test debut at the Mecca of cricket, that is the Lords. That unique achievement was the turning point in Ganguly's career and he has not looked back since.

And now a new phase in his career has opened out. Just as he had made it big in his debut Test. A more mature Saurav Ganguly today stands on the threshold of a facet in his career that will either take him to greater heights, both as captain and player, or will lead him to frustration, depending on how the Indian team responds to his probings as captain.

Sachin Tendulkar was twice unsuccessful as captain, to the point that his own batting suffered somewhat. It may have been that he was not as yet experienced when he took over as captain in 1996. In 1999-2000, however, the world's leading batsmen unnecessarily allowed himself to be dragged into controversies that could not but have affected not only his own game but also the performance of the team as a whole.

It may be that Ganguly's stars at present are on ascendancy and his own success is turning out to be the success story of the Indian team, which, for once, appears to be free of any discernible controversies. It may, perhaps, be too early to state that Saurav Ganguly has ushered in a new, bright era for Indian cricket. But the happy tiding is in it that he has at least helped to change the course of the Indian team from the beaten path of frustration and desperation to a new one of high achievement.

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