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Misplaced Loyalty & Thinking Inside The Box

By Gaurang
August 27 2004

Ganguly's ascent to India captain has spelt an astonishing reversal of fortunes. In a short span of time, the team has gained a reputation as winners. After four years of continuous improvement, some adjustments may be useful. When Sourav Ganguly took the helm as Captain of the Indian cricket team in 2000, the ship of Indian cricket was badly hit, and about to sink without a trace. Tendulkar had spurned the skipper’s job in disgust and frustration after an ignominious drubbing in Australia, followed by an even more ignominious one against South Africa at home. Just as these defeats were being painfully digested by the average Indian fan the biggest scandal in International cricket broke as the Delhi police uncovered match fixing involving the visiting team’s captain and a very senior Indian player. And from that moment the news kept going from bad to worse with each passing day, as new allegations, counter allegations, and revelations surfaced.

In the gloom of this darkest hour for Indian cricket, the BCCI asked a young southpaw from Bengal, with exquisite timing, a penchant for speaking his mind, a reputation for arrogance, and a keen eye for recognizing talent, to become the Indian captain. The Board also hired an unassuming New Zealander with a reputation for being tough in a gentle way to coach the side, and gave them a professional physiotherapist and trainer to work on the player’s fitness. They also named an thorough team man, and close confidant, as vice captain.

What has followed in the space of four short years is nothing short of a transformation of the face of the game in India. Bringing much improved fitness, professionalism, and transparency Ganguly, Dravid and Wright have achieved a tremendous amount in a very short time. This combination has won eight Test matches overseas from Adelaide to Headingley to Multan and Pindi, while first denying the rampant Australians the dream of the “Final Frontier” and snatching from them the Border Gavaskar trophy at home and successfully defending it in Australia, followed by the icing on the cake that was a first Test match, and then Test series, victory over Pakistan in Pakistan. While all this was happening the team also excelled in Tests at home, compiling a record of eight wins and only one loss at home during this period.

In the One-Day version of the game, the team also reached the finals of 13 multiple team tournaments in a row, including the Champions Trophy twice in 2000 and 2002 and the World Cup in 2003, winning outright the 2002 NatWest Trophy in England and being joint winners with Sri Lanka in the Champions Trophy in Sri Lanka in 2002. Add to this ODI record head-to-head wins against West Indies in West Indies and Pakistan in Pakistan, and Ganguly, Dravid, and Wright can be justifiably proud of their achievements to date.

What led to such a reversal of fortune from the miserable immediate past was a combination of excellent leadership, effective coaching, superb support from senior players, who played their part with minimum of ego, and a new found unselfish spirit that had the players playing for each other, and for their Captain like never before. Another key ingredient was the fierce loyalty of the Captain who stood up for his players in public and in the media, no matter how much he berated them for poor performances on the field.

Another reason for the team's success has been the willingness to experiment, and innovate. Ganguly was the one to push for the conversion of Sehwag into a Test match opener, and he also convinced his vice captain to don the big gloves in the One Day version so India could go with a batting line up that Nasser Hussain conceded, after losing the NatWest Trophy, just kept coming at you. He also convinced Superstar Sachin Tendulkar to temporarily shift to the No. 4 slot, providing a solid fulcurm to the batting order. The level of fitness both while bowling and batting and especially while fielding has also shot up under the new management.

However recently, after a disappointing loss in the Asia Cup final and then in the Holland Tri-series, some of the sheen has been dented. There are murmurs about the commitment and heart of some of its players, as well as questions about Ganguly’s fierce, some would say, misplaced, loyalty to some of his players. Players such as Sehwag, Yuvraj, Kaif, Harbhajan, Zaheer, Laxman, Nehra, and a few others who have come to be seen fairly or unfairly as “Ganguly’s boys”. The loyalty and faith that Ganguly aka Dada, has shown in these youngsters has enabled them to go from the fringes to become established “stars” who have each performed great feats for their team. And who have each been rewarded with sponsorship deals and all the other trappings of mega-stardom.

But a combination of non-stop cricket, (a two and a half month break, while no doubt very welcome, is hardly the long six month or longer break that players got in the past) and unimaginative scheduling by the BCCI, (with either tons of ODIs or lots of Tests in row with no interspersing of the two), coinciding with off the field distractions (such as product launches, felicitation, fashion shows, and awards functions, etc.), the long drawn out contract negotiations (why did it take so long to finally arrive at consensus and where was the ICPA here?), coupled with a sense of security about their position in the team because of the fierce loyalty Ganguly has shown in the past, has made Ganguly’s boys seem a disinterested and jaded lot.

At the beginning of the season this writer wrote that the only thing that could stop the Indian team from achieving greater glory was rust and complacency. Now it is must be acknowledged that fierce but misplaced loyalty and a lack of out of the box thinking, that has made the team predictable to its opponents, may be bigger threats to the progress of the Indian cricket team.

Over the past four years the Men In Blue set the standard but recently the other teams of the subcontinent have taken their lead and have caught up, and some would say surpassed them. The challenge for the Men In Blue and particularly for their leadership is to insist on complete meritrocracy -- where continued failure is not an option, and where the ability to innovate and thus stay a step or two ahead of rivals is fostered. The season ahead will show whether they have made these adjustments or not.

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