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
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.