Anybody who hadn't seen a fish out of water had only to watch Sourav Ganguly batting in the Bangalore Test against Pakistan to get a perspective. He looked battered, bewildered and totally out of depth during his short stint at the crease. The body language was that of the vanquished, not one supposedly on top of the situation. The uncharitable believed that he hung on for so long at the crease even after being bowled, only to ensure that the endorsement on his bat got at least some television air-time!
The Ganguly of recent vintage is a pale shadow of the free-stroking, flowing batsman of yesteryears. The last thing he inspires at the crease is confidence. You don't need to look far for the reason. He has not scored a Test century since 2003. During the same period rival skipper Inzamam-ul-Haq has made four centuries. This is the same number that other skippers, Brian Lara (including the world record 400 not out), Michael Vaughan and Graeme Smith have notched up. The Ricky Pontings, Marvan Atapattus, Stephen Flemings and even Tatenda Taibus have all clobbered Test centuries during the period. Only Ganguly, of late, has not looked the part of a Test batsman.
Ganguly returns to the
pavilion after being
dismissed in the second
innings of the Bangalore
Test against Pakistan
It is obvious that Ganguly, once a top-notch batsman, has lost the nerve to battle in extreme situations. The short-pitched bouncer aimed at his rib-cage and throat has always been his bugbear. When high on confidence, he overcame this line of attack with either some short-arm pulls or deft ducking. But at other times he has looked horrendous against these deliveries. They play so much on his mind that he ends up playing ridiculous strokes against other innocuous deliveries.
In 1999, during the World Cup, Shoaib Akhtar did not miss an opportunity to mock him. He would point at Ganguly's upper rib-cage area and state that he was going for that spot! Ganguly was clearly squirming during that edition.
It was during the era of the great West Indian fast bowlers of the 1970s and 80s that the West Indies skipper Clive Lloyd specialized in mind-games to soften up the rivals' skipper. The belief was that if the man at the top crumbled, the rest of the rudderless opposition would follow. His demonic fast bowlers unleashed a barrage of bouncers which bordered on bodyline tactics and soon had some of the finest rival skippers, Greg Chappell, Kim Hughes, Tony Greig, Ian Botham, et al on the mat. Every one of their teams crumbled after the skipper was sorted out.
Today Ganguly is in the same boat. Teams have repeatedly targeted him to such an extent that his confidence is shot to pieces. It has reached a stage that captaincy seems a burden, especially when batting. In crunch situations he does not have the luxury of a calm and uncluttered head. Consequently his moves on the field are illogical and let down the team.
Ganguly has got away with a lot of goof-ups only because others with steel, Rahul Dravid, Virendra Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar were scoring runs and Anil Kumble and company were picking up wickets. But it was the times they did not that his leadership qualities were desperately needed. More often than not, he turned tail and that spelt the side's doom. In fact his occasional sitting out, like in Pakistan, worked to the Indian team's advantage!
In Bangalore, the manner in which Inzamam-ul-Haq handled his part-time bowlers and destroyed the Indian batting line-up clearly exposed Ganguly's limitations as a skipper. That an inexperienced Pakistan outfit could pull the rug from underneath the feet of a richly experienced Indian team was a reflection of the poor captaincy of Ganguly.
The Indian captain was at his worst on the fourth day. When the Pakistanis were going for runs, he looked lost. Instead of his main bowlers, he looked to part-timer Tendulkar to stem the follow of runs. For long moments, he illogically maintained attacking fields and gave away too many runs too easily to help the Pakistanis come up with their challenging declaration. The Bangalore Test saw the disintegration of the Indian team and its tactics and for this the clueless skipper must take all the blame.
So, has the time come to bid goodbye to Ganguly? The only answer to this is an emphatic YES. Every single person, including the juniors, is aware that when the chips are down he is not the person to turn to. He might still come up with a sterling knock, like he did at Brisbane in December 2003. But the fact is that these are so few and far in between that they do not justify his place in the team. The other batsmen are clearly feeling the pressure of playing with a lame duck batsman in the line-up and that is not good for the team.
It is true that Ganguly has done quite well as captain. It is obvious that though he has brought the team this far, he is not capable of taking it further. For India to progress from here they need a better man at the helm. If it is a short-term solution they seek then either Kumble or Dravid should be elevated. In the long run, the captaincy should go to either Sehwag or Mohammed Kaif. In any scenario, Ganguly must go and NOW!