I The TINA factor: They used to say this about the Congress in the Sixties. And, Laloo Yadav until a few months ago. But, perhaps, the TINA (There Is No Alternative) factor is far more applicable to Indian cricket leadership.
Deputy Rahul Dravid is supposed to be the captain-in-waiting. The Bangalore batsman is inarguably the country's most technically proficient batsman. But whenever he skippers India, his batting nosedives. Consider this. In Tests, as a player, Dravid averages 60.46. As a stand-in captain, 17.25. In one-dayers, as a player, he averages 40.22; as a captain 29.22. Besides, as former Test cricketer Abbas Ali Baig says, 'Dravid is of the same age group as Ganguly. Both are in their 30s. Making him captain can only be a short-term measure. That apart, he is the team's best bat. Why burden him with captaincy'
Who else' Under Sachin Tendulkar's captaincy India became a dull, defensive unit with a Mumbai tinge and even lost 0-2 to South Africa at home! Virender Sehwag' Come on. Don't destroy the world's most destructive hitter.
II Every captain goes through a bad patch: only two jobs are of any consequence in India. The Prime Minister's and the cricket captain's. Okay, three if you want to include the kind of stuff undercover reporter Ruchi does for India TV.
In other words, the captain has a high-pressure, media-intrusive job. No wonder, every Indian skipper goes through a bad phase; Mohammed Azharuddin being a prime example. It's no different abroad. Take for example Michael Vaughan, England's highly successful skipper. As a player, his Test average is 50.98. As a captain, it is down to 35.94 ' lower than even Ganguly's 37.03.
As former India selector Sambaran Banerjee rightly says, 'All batsmen go through bad patches. Don Bradman was the only exception.' Ganguly has been through worse in 2001. But he came out of it. Who can forget his 144 against Australia in Brisbane in 2003-04' Former India coach Madan Lal believes that knock set the tone for the tour. 'Ganguly has come out of bad phases in the past. Why can't he do it now' he asks.
III Captaincy is a specialist's job: captaincy is not a reward for good batting or bowling. Great batsmen don't always make great leaders, Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar being two recent examples.
Cricket columnist Raju Mukherji points out that Mike Brearley, Douglas Jardine and Jack Cheetham, who led South Africa in the Fifties, were all average players. 'But they were born leaders of men. And successful captains. Like them, Ganguly too is a great leader,' he says. A CEO primarily needs to deliver results. Which Ganguly has, and consistently.
Records speak for themselves. Under the Bengal southpaw, India has won a maximum 19 Tests, a staggering nine of them abroad. Azhar comes a distant second with 14. Not to forget, the team reaching its second World Cup final after 20 years under Ganguly's stewardship. Former India skipper Ajit Wadekar sums up: 'As a captain, he has been the best. Look at his track record. And have we lost the series against Pakistan that his critics need to be so harsh'
IV Without him India will lose its aggressive edge: there was a vegetarianism about the Indian team that ended with Ganguly. Nobody knows this better than Wadekar who coached India with Azhar at the helm. Says he, 'Ganguly has brought a change in the team's attitude. He introduced aggression in his teammates.'
Being bad is good in the Ganguly regime. Fines and suspensions don't stop him from playing cricket the way he wants. With kilos of attitude, he is great at mind games. Remember how he got under the Aussie skin during the 2001 series' Even experts admit to his hunger for success. 'He gave the team a passion to win,' says Madan Lal. And, he was never afraid to show it even on the Lord's balcony.
Now the real question: Among the prospective successors, who can ensure India retains the hard-nosed, hard-boiled edge' The ultra-defensive Tendulkar' Or, the genteel Dravid' Maybe, Yuvraj Singh. But then, he should be in the Test-playing XI first.
V Master of subcontinental captaincy: Being India's skipper requires a different set of skills than say, captaining Australia or New Zealand. Teams in the past have suffered due to stormy ego clashes (Wadekar-Bishen Singh Bedi) or worse. Back in the 1930s, India captain Maharajkumar of Vizianagaram, or Vizzy, even asked fast bowler Baqa Jilani to insult star player C.K. Nayudu if he wanted to play in a Test match. And, he duly did.
Ganguly may not be great in making field placements, marshalling bowling changes or chalking out strategies. But he is an expert in man management. Words such as 'groups' and 'camps' have vanished from the Indian dressing room. Says Baig, 'His tenure as captain has been free from in-fighting.'
VI If Big Brother goes, who watches': You see Team India at work under Ganguly. Parochialism, a perennial malady in Indian cricket, never gets the better of him. So, even a Mahendra Singh Dhoni from Jharkhand finds a place in the squad. As Wadekar points out, 'In giving youngsters a chance, Ganguly has never been biased. Kaif is from Uttar Pradesh. Yuvraj is from Punjab. But they are all equal in Ganguly's eyes.'
The only thing he believes in is talent. If Yuvraj Singh, Virender Sehwag, Mohammed Kaif and Irfan Pathan are doing India proud today, it's because Dada backed them through thick and thin. Harbhajan Singh, currently facing chucking allegations, would vouch for that.
Former India wicket-keeper Deep Dasgupta gives a personal example. 'I remember that when I was going through a rough patch and the media was after my skin, he told me not to pay attention to criticism. 'Don't read newspapers,' he told me,' says Dasgupta.
VII Why remove' Let him improve. Everybody admits Ganguly needs to chip in with the bat. As Madan Lal says, 'It is important for a captain to score runs because he sets an example for his team.' And, in competitive international cricket, past performances count for little.
At the same time, good captains are rare. And so, letting Ganguly improve, rather than removing him, is the solution. Former India wicketkeeper Saba Karim believes that Ganguly has probably overlooked the fact that the team needs him more as a batsman than as a skipper. Says Karim, 'He needs to get some runs quickly, because time is running out for him to prove himself with the bat.'
But they all believe that he has the class and the character to bounce back. As Baig says, 'It is all about regaining confidence. If he plays a substantial innings in the current India-Pakistan one-day series, his self-belief will be back.'
And also because
VIII Everybody wants to see him doing the topless NatWest Trophy act again. Because like Salman Khan, he often gets caught on the wrong foot: getting into fights or being fined for slow over-rate. And because just like Bollywood's topless brat, he emerges stronger every time.
IX He reminds you that nose picking and nail chewing can be public acts. Because you would like to hear him say how and why 'the boys' performed so well, and not Dravid who fast-talks his way through as if he has to catch a train.
X The anti-Ganguly media industry headed by former cricketers such as Kirti Azad will be jobless then. And because Geoffrey Boycott needs someone to fawn over.