Dada is no longer the ~~God~~ on the off-side

Published: Saturday, April 23, 2005, 23:53 [IST]
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Kolkata:Notwithstanding the heat and dust raised over the ban slapped on Indian captain Sourav Ganguly, his prolonged poor batting form and the side's string of recent failures have cast doubts over his continuance in the team and dented his commanding presence as skipper.

Once rated as one of the world's leading batsmen for his fluency of shots, Ganguly now finds himself in the unenviable position where his average in recent matches has plummeted so low that even some tailenders in the Indian team have outshone him with the willow.

Against Pakistan, in the recent Test series, Ganguly averaged only 9.6 with an aggregate of 48 in five innings.

Even Anil Kumble (95 from five innings unbeaten on four occasions, average 95.00) and Irfan Pathan (64 from five innings, unbeaten once, average 16.00) have performed better than the 32-year old batsman, who took the cricketing world by storm in 1996 scoring back-to-back hundreds in his first two Tests against England.

In the just concluded One-day series, Ganguly totalled 31 in four innings, at a miserable average of 7.75. The only Indian player who had an average poorer than Ganguly was medium pacer Ashish Nehra (aggregate 2, average 2.00).

What could be a greater denouncement for a cricketer who has struck 22 tons in 271 ODIs and is only 33 short of completing ten thousand runs - a feat only Sachin Tendulkar and Pakistan skipper Inzamam-ul-Haq have achieved!

A look at Ganguly's performance in the 2004-05 season bears out the downward graph in his batting.

In his last nine Tests in 2004-05, starting from the home series against Australia, Ganguly has culled 363 runs in 12 innings at an average of 30.25. However, the runs include scores of 71 and 88 in the two Tests against minnows Bangladesh in December.

If the twin knocks against Bangladesh are put aside, the player has notched up only 204 runs in 10 innings at an average of 20.4.

His only other 50 plus score during the period has come against South Africa, when he made 57 in the first Test at Kanpur in November.

It was at Brisbane in the 2003-04 series that Ganguly had struck the last of his 11 tons - 144 - in the longer version of the game where he has amassed 4949 runs over the years in 82 Tests at a still respectable average of 40.90.

In ODIs in the 2004-05 season, Ganguly's performance has been a shade better, though the slump in form is distinctly visible, particularly against superior bowling sides.The left-hander, called 'God on the off-side' for his sway over bowlers in the region from cover to long-off, has managed 658 runs in 21 innings, since the Asia Cup last July-August, at an average of 31.33.

He has struck six half-centuries during this period, but four of them have come against lesser-known sides - Bangladesh (60 and 55), United Arab Emirates (56) and Kenya (90).

While Ganguly failed to score a single hundred in the season, he succeeded in hitting only two 50-plus knocks against established teams - 79 against Sri Lanka in the Asia Cup and 90 opposite England in the Natwest Challenge.

In fact, leaving aside the six matches involving the three minnows, Ganguly has scored only 275 runs in 15 innings at a below-par average of 18.33.

His captaincy record also shows a sharp drop from the heady successes he achieved in the last few seasons that made him India's most successful skipper ever.

Of the 21 ODIs India played with Ganguly at the helm during the period under scrutiny, one was washed out. Of the remaining 20, India won nine and lost 11.Though apparently the figure does not seem that disheartening, it needs to be mentioned that five of these victories came against teams like Bangladesh (3), Kenya and UAE (one each).

Ganguly also led the Asia XI against Rest of the World in the tsunami fund raiser earlier this year, but finished on the losing side. Damaging Ganguly's record further, India crashed to their first-ever defeat against Bangladesh in an ODI in December.

The stunning 15-run triumph at Dhaka in the second match of the three-ODI series, was also Bangladesh's maiden victory on home soil in 36 matches. The win helped Bangladesh square the series, before India upped the ante in the decisive third match to claim the series 2-1.

The Asia Cup was the only tournament where India reached the final last season, but hosts Sri Lanka had the last laugh as they finished champions with a 25-run victory over Ganguly's men.

India had to rest content with the wooden spoon in the Amsterdam tri-series, before losing the Natwest Challenge against England and making an inglorious exit from the group league stage itself in the International Cricket Council (ICC) Champions Trophy.

Pakistan then put a dampner on the Board of Control for Cricket in India's (BCCI) platinum jubilee celebrations by winning the one-off match in November. There was more trouble in store for Ganguly, who was banned for two Tests by the match referee Clive Lloyd for the Indian team's slow over-rate. However, Ganguly appealed and the ban was lifted.

After the stuttering success against Bangladesh, India began the latest series against Pakistan well by taking the first two matches, but the visitors came back strongly to win the next two.

After Ganguly was banned for six ODIs for the side's slow over-rate in Ahmedabad, Pakistan defeated the Rahul Dravid-led side in the fifth and sixth matches to run away with the honours.

But amidst the lows, India's performance in Tests provides some sort of a silver lining.Under Ganguly, India won four Tests - two against Bangladesh, and one each against South Africa and Pakistan - this season, and lost two.

India pocketed the two - Test series against South Africa 1-0, defeated Bangladesh 2-0, and finished the home series against Pakistan 1-1.

The Ganguly-led side, however, went down to Australia 1-2 in the hose series.Ganguly has given India and his countless admirers many moments to cherish, both as captain and a high quality batsman.

One only wishes that the immensely talented player's blade again starts doing the talking and he regains his touch as Team India skipper after the ban-storm blows away.

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