| Chappell after his arrival in Calcutta on Wednesday. Picture by Pradip Sanyal nSee Metro
Calcutta, Nov. 23: Sourav Ganguly has retained his Test berth, for the first match against Sri Lanka, but as an allrounder and not a specialist batsman.
It’s a crushing demotion for somebody with over 5,000 Test runs and yet another signal from the national selectors that Sourav must perform big if he has his sights on the remainder of the 2005-06 season and beyond.
Predictably, the former Team India captain’s fate dominated the nearly four-hour meeting ' a record by itself ' in Chennai today.
The selectors (chairman Kiran More, Yashpal Sharma, Pranab Roy, Gopal Sharma and V.B. Chandrasekhar) as also coach Greg Chappell and captain Rahul Dravid began with a “general discussion” before taking a break for snacks.
That done, the real business started with the selection of the 15 for the last two ODIs versus South Africa. As expected, no changes were effected.
Then began the over two-hour discussion on the 15 for the season’s first home Test.
According to The Telegraph’s sources, Sourav didn’t figure in the squad drawn up by Chappell ' he’d left one slot, which eventually went to Sourav, for “any fast bowler”.
The coach isn’t just focusing on the 2007 World Cup, but is “concerned” about Test cricket. Left to him, Sourav wouldn’t fit anywhere.
Dravid, one understands, kept himself away from the Sourav-specific discussion. He told the selectors: “I’ll be happy with whoever you choose.”
At some point, though, Dravid is bound to get firm. After all, in India or elsewhere, the captain’s neck is on the line.
Apparently, Sourav didn’t make any of the seven slots earmarked for batsmen. A suggestion was then made that he be considered as an allrounder.
That ate up time with More (rightly) pointing out that all along Sourav had been picked as a specialist batsman. One other selector held a similar view.
Slotting Sourav, therefore, became a headache with those not favourably disposed towards him being reminded that somebody with a hundred in his second-last Test innings ought not to be dropped faster than a hot potato.
Eventually, even Chappell went along with the majority view. Had a vote been taken, a 3-2 verdict (in Sourav’s favour) was assured if not a 3-1 with one abstention.
The captain and coach don’t have a vote, but their views are respected. That’s how it should be.
Sourav may have “won” a battle ' with behind-the-scenes help from backers within the Board of Control for Cricket in India ' but the war is far from over.
It’s anybody’s guess whether the deposed captain actually has the mental strength to overcome the pressure that’s bound to grow by the day ' till he scripts a memorable performance.
Moreover, he has to share the dressing room with Chappell ' quite clearly the boss now. It’s to be seen how the bitterness of Zimbabwe is forgotten.
Not that it influenced the selectors (they weren’t in the know till after the meeting), but Sourav took five for 64 in Maharashtra’s first innings in Pune.
That would have given some satisfaction, but being retained as an allrounder seems to have left him “depressed.”
Asked to react, he told the local media: “I’m not giving any positive or negative reaction. Please allow me to play (the Ranji match).”
More, of course, emphasised more than once that Sourav had been selected as an allrounder and that his inclusion meant (quick) Zaheer Khan couldn’t make it.
Till not too long ago, Sourav was hailed as India’s most successful Test captain. Now, he has to ‘fight’ with prot'g' Zaheer for a berth.
The selectors, by the way, deserve kudos for continuing with dashing wicketkeeper Mahendra Singh Dhoni and promising quick Rudra Pratap Singh.
They’re the only rookies in the Test 15.