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Double debacle for Chappell
- Sourav, Laxman selection blows after S. Africa battering
Sourav at the Eden. Picture by Santosh Ghosh.

Nov. 30: Call it self-belief or give it another name, but over the past nine months, Sourav Ganguly kept saying (a) there was “plenty” of cricket before the 2007 World Cup and (b) he would “definitely” make a comeback.

This afternoon, less than 12 hours after another crushing defeat in South Africa, the senior national selectors fell back on the 34-year-old former captain. He’s in the 16 for the three-Test series there.

If Sourav’s recall is seen as a pointed message to captain Rahul Dravid and coach Greg Chappell, both of whom had kept him out of short and long term plans, Dilip Vengsarkar and co. made an even bigger statement by removing Virender Sehwag from the vice-captaincy.

India’s solitary triple century-maker in Tests has been out of form. Worse, he hasn’t been learning from mistakes and taking his place for granted.

Last night, for example, Sehwag had the opportunity (owing to Dravid’s injury) to lead from the front. He flopped yet again.

In fact, had Sehwag not been the current stand-in captain, he might even have been overlooked for the Test squad. No consolation that for somebody like Mohammed Kaif, who is among the four to return home after the ODIs.

Clearly, with Vengsarkar in the chair, nobody can take anything as assured. That message couldn’t have been sent more firmly.

Incidentally, the selection committee chairman had a “dialogue” with Dravid and Chappell yesterday.

A teleconference between the two in Port Elizabeth and all five selectors in New Delhi, therefore, wasn’t necessary.

The quintet, however, met Board of Control for Cricket in India president Sharad Pawar at his residence before heading to the Kotla for a most keenly awaited meeting.

Vengsarkar didn’t go into details of his “dialogue” with Chappell, but it’s obvious who held sway. “Why do you wish to talk of something that’s over'” he asked.

Among other things, Sourav’s return has put Chappell’s look-to-the-future with youngsters policy on hold.

It has come apart in the ODIs, after some early success, and certainly won’t be on view in the forthcoming Tests.

“Not one selector was opposed to Sourav being brought back…. Ditto for sacking Sehwag as vice-captain,” a well-placed source told The Telegraph this evening.

The vice-captaincy has gone to V.V.S. Laxman, who would’ve automatically been in Sehwag’s position had he been a regular in one-day cricket.

Laxman, rushed to South Africa after Dravid fractured his right middle finger, lost out in early 2003.

Over the years, many selectors have spoken highly of the Hyderabadi’s acumen. Today, that got recognised.

Till the other day, of course, Laxman had been preparing to lead Hyderabad in a Ranji match.

If that’s a remarkable turnaround in fortunes, many will label Sourav’s comeback as nothing short of a miracle.

With senior-most pro Sachin Tendulkar and Sehwag short on runs and the Suresh Rainas not justifying selection, the selectors had no choice.

For now, Sourav has been recalled for Tests alone. Fine performances, though, could see him back in the ODIs as well. That won’t be known before mid-January.

“We need his experience (88 Tests, over 5,000 runs),” explained Vengsarkar, who unlike predecessor Kiran More, has actually shown that the “doors haven’t been closed on anybody”.

More often than not, More said things for public consumption.

“I’m happy to be back, but I don’t intend celebrating at this point in time. That’s on hold till I get big runs,” Sourav remarked.

His chance should come as early as December 15, when the first Test begins at the Wanderers in Johannesburg.

The sceptics are bound to question Sourav’s ability to handle the short-pitched stuff on wickets with bounce, but he didn’t duck while interacting with the media at the Eden.

“I have done well in Australia, where there is a lot of bounce. I have played with the same group of players earlier.... So, the question of not performing well on bouncy pitches doesn’t arise…”

For much of the day’s second half, congratulatory calls and SMSes kept Sourav occupied. The business end of this season, however, will begin on Monday when he lands in South Africa.

The prayers and pujas have been answered. Now, he has to deliver.

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