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From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 4, Dated Feb 02, 2008
CURRENT AFFAIRS  
cricket

No Country For Old Men

A talismanic partnership that opened at Lord’s in 1996 has been curtailed mid-tour. Surely, Ganguly and Dravid deserved a decent farewell, writes DILEEP PREMACHANDRAN

FOR A team that had pulled off one of its greatest Test victories, the mood in the camp certainly could have been better. As they loitered around the departure lounge in Perth, waiting to board the flight that would take them to Adelaide — scene of another famous triumph in 2003 — most eyes were on two men.

Those with long memories will remember a World Cup match with Sri Lanka in 1999, when a record 318-run partnership facilitated a 157-run win. Saurav Ganguly made 183 that day, and Rahul Dravid 145. In the new millennium that followed a few months later, they would lead India for close to seven years. No matter what happens from here on, with more than 21,000 one-day runs between them, they’ll always be remembered as all-time greats.

They may also never don India’s one-day blue again. Dravid was eased out before the home series against Pakistan and no one believed it when selectors spoke of “resting” him, not after a young and vibrant side had surmounted enormous odds to win the inaugural T20 World Cup in South Africa.

In Perth, it was Ganguly’s turn to get the dreaded phone call. He was asked where he saw his one-day career heading, and he said he’d like one final tilt at Australia. But there were others that didn’t want him there, and after one of the two selectors on the tour refused to rubber-stamp his ouster, calls to the other three based in India sealed his fate.

There may have been concerns about his athleticism and a strike-rate of 73.02, but he had made an undeniable impact after returning from the cold in the build-up to a disastrous World Cup campaign. It’s hard to argue with 12 half-centuries in 30 innings at an average of 44.28. The men who might replace him at the top of the order, Gautam Gambhir and Robin Uthappa, have struggled for any semblance of consistency, while Rohit Sharma, Dravid’s long-term replacement, has just completed a miserable Ranji season.

Yet, the word from those in the know is that Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the man entrusted with India’s one-day and T20 fortunes, wants a fresh start, with younger legs capable of fielding comparable to the best sides in the world. On vast Australian outfields, both Ganguly and Dravid would have gone through an ordeal to cover ground and if India is to be competitive with the best in the business, there’s no time like now to embrace the modern way.

What has left the players deeply saddened and disillusioned is the manner in which everything came about. When you’ve served your country as long as they have and been true titans of the game, you’re entitled to expect a certain respect. You don’t think that you’ll one day be thrown aside like a worn-out shoe. But as Steve Waugh discovered before the World Cup in 2003, the past counts for very little when electors address the present.

The irony in all of this is that the selectorial blueprint differs not a jot from the one espoused by Greg Chappell during his two years as coach. His cry for the passion of youth was never heeded, but less than a year after he walked into a less than spectacular Caribbean sunset, the same theme has resonated around selection meetings, inspired by a captain who was one of the few to thrive in the Chappell years.

The decent thing to do, if the captain and selectors were of one mind, would have been to give them farewell games at home against Pakistan, rather than send them home midway through a tour that both consider cricket’s pinnacle. There could yet be a long kiss goodnight against South Africa in April, but that might be almost insulting after indicating to them that they’re no longer considered good enough to take on the best two teams in the world — Australia and Sri Lanka.

Dhoni may one day be a great captain. But you can’t help but think that he’s flunked his first big test. Words from him, a team-mate, would have meant a whole lot more than insincere ramblings from selectors. Instead, two of Indian cricket’s finest sons have been left to look back in anger. Or sorrow.

Premachandran is a writer with cricinfo.com.

From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 4, Dated Feb 02, 2008

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