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Yousuf, Pieterson, Ganguly...in the same breath


England…well. They seem to have responded well to the challenge on the first day of the second test (266-3; Collingwood 98 and Pieterson 60 at the crease and the latter may have more significance). Sorry being cynical about their chances, but the script that’ll play out is probably this – England makes 400 or so. Australia make 500 and knock England out for 200 in the second innings – match over. Let’s see. They don’t have the fight.

India-South Africa is getting curiouser and curiouser. Everything that could go wrong has so far for the Indian team. No space for practice games, rain that prevented nets initially, first match in difficult batting conditions for the tourists, poor form from the key batsmen, losing three consecutive tosses and batting second (unsuccessfully) each time, captain and most important batsman by far getting injured, hysteria being generated by domestic media, unrest back home , talk of linking salaries with performance, parliamentarians finding cricket failure more meaningful to discuss publicly than poverty, infrastructure and other such minor problems…and finally the shadow of Sourav Ganguly on proceedings. It’s a royal mess, that has gloriously (or disgracefully) culminated in Ganguly being reinstated to the Indian test team.

It is a bizarre selection for the following reasons. He’s been selected for test cricket where he has a middling record for starters (averaging just about 40 in 88 tests). His batting average in South Africa is 32 and his bowling average 41. Moreover, in the year he played test cricket last, he was deemed to be a sitting duck against the short ball, which kept getting borne out with sickening regularity. Here, it is clear the South Africans have prepared that as their strategy against this Indian team. The tests will surely be on pitches even bouncier than where the ODIs were played, so what has suddenly transpired that enables the wise selectorial minds to put their faith on Ganguly?

 Also, if Dravid is declared fit for the first test (as he is expected to), and if India decide to treat Irfan Pathan as a genuine all-rounder (it can be convincingly argued that he can make his way into the team purely as a middle-order batsman today, which would take off so much requisite pressure to regain his bowling form), then there would quite simply be no place for Ganguly in the eleven.

The reasons for his selection are clearly not cricketing. So, there’s a good chance that his inclusion in the playing eleven will also not be decided on cricket reasons alone. And that’s a really bad situation for Dravid and Chappell. Not only has their accent on youth been summarily dismissed (because of media hysteria?!!), they now pretty much have no control over their own team. Just because they did badly in an ODI series, in adverse circumstances? Despite all the history of knee-jerk reactions in Indian cricket, this one probably takes the cake.

The worst part is – if Ganguly needs a fair chance, this cannot be it. He’s going to have to bat in adverse conditions, and given his game, is not likely to achieve spectacular success. Abject failure will always leave the lingering doubt if he was given a raw deal – “imagine the pressure of knowing this could be your last test match if you don’t score a fifty and that too on such bouncy pitches” kind of logic, the first part of which was being thrown around in Pakistan earlier this year, when Ganguly played his last test.

Here’s a typically articulate piece from one of my favourite cricket writers – Harsha Bhogle, who provides another interesting point.

Progression has ceased, for the moment. Let’s just hope something special starts that wheel again. There is enough talent and class in this team still to encourage that hope.

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