Bengali chauvinism, stuck in its 19th century groove, is these days perhaps more to be ridiculed than condemned. Even so, there is perhaps something more than Bengali narrow-mindedness that found expression at Calcutta's Eden Gardens where the fourth one-day international between India and South Africa was being played on November 25 last. The South African cricketers were lustily cheered by the crowd while the newly-appointed India captain, bowled neck and crop for a mere 7 after spending half an hour at the crease, was booed all the way back to the pavilion. That was, however, no lack of patriotism, but an outburst against what was regarded as a gross impropriety hurting the interests of national cricket.
The Calcutta crowd was in an incensed mood. Sourav Ganguly, the erstwhile captain, had been removed from India's ODI eleven on the ground of consistent lack of form. The selectors were stated to have looked at the record of his performance in Zimbabwe after the term of suspension imposed upon him by the International Cricket Council lapsed. His scores in the eight matches he played there against the West Indies, Sri Lanka and New Zealand aggregated to 155, with an average of 22.6 per match. His average score in the twelve matches immediately preceding the suspension ' played against England, Pakistan, Kenya, Bangladesh and an ICC eleven ' worked out to 28.2, which was also, according to reports, taken into consideration. The selection committee ' and their advisors ' obviously decided that enough was enough, a player with such a moderate record of recent performance had no place in India's ODI team.
Comparisons are obvious. Besides, Sachin Tendulkar is sui generis. It is, however, worth noting some of the relevant facts. In the course of his breathtakingly brilliant career, Tendulkar has struck several unhappy patches; his scores during these spells of bad form were generally undistinguished and even lower than the poor averages on account of which Ganguly has supposedly now been chucked out of the national team. For instance, in the 1997-98 season, Tendulkar's total score from nine consecutive matches (played against Pakistan, England and West Indies) was 182, yielding an average of 20.2. In 1999-2000, his total tally from eleven successive matches (played against New Zealand, Pakistan and Australia) was as low as 201; the average was 18.3. In eight consecutive matches in the 2002-03 season (played against England, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Sri Lanka), Tendulkar's run average stooped to as low as 9.2.
Did these occasional low scores matter at all though' Geniuses are geniuses. They have a way of springing back to super-excellence, never mind some random disappointing performances. One cannot offer any judgment on how such under-performances come about or precisely when these end. In the very recent period, in the last eight ODIs at home against Sri Lanka and South Africa ' from which Ganguly was excluded ' Tendulkar has again entered a blue period; his average score has been only 10.4. To request Sachin to opt out of our ODI team would still be absurd. He is sui generis, he cannot be meted out such treatment; nobody will dare to.
It is obviously a different matter where Sourav Ganguly is concerned; he is not a nature's genius. Even so, he is the only other Indian apart from Tendulkar who has scored more than 10,000 runs in ODIs. He has been a magnificent stroke player and has dazzled the crowd in different continents. Tendulkar has scored 38 centuries and 71 half-centuries in the 358 ODI matches he has played till now. Ganguly has played a fewer number of matches ' 270 ' but he too has hit as many as 22 centuries and 60 half-centuries; no other Indian player is yet in sight to reach such a record. The proportion of occasions Tendulkar and Ganguly have scored, either a century or a half-century in their appearances in ODI matches is exactly the same, 30.4 per cent.
What ought common sense as well as the verdict of natural justice to be in such a circumstance' Just as the law of probability supports the hypothesis that persevering with Sachin Tendulkar is bound to yield ample dividends even in the future, should not a similar conclusion seem equally valid in the case of the southpaw from Calcutta'
The selectors thought otherwise. The concept of natural justice has clearly failed to appeal to them. For some reason, Ganguly has got their goat, and he finds himself stripped not only of his captaincy, but was actually dismissed from the team. The belief is widespread that, in taking the decision they took, the selectors were largely guided by the counsel of the team's newly anointed foreign coach, Greg Chappell. Going by the grapevine, Chappell rejected Ganguly on two counts: (1) The 'prince' of Calcutta is a lazy runner, and (2) the Australian coach does not like an Indian player to be argumentative. Rough Australian justice substituted natural justice.
There was thus a fusion of two emotions in the reflexes of the Calcutta crowd who in the past had manned the barricades in support of C.K. Nayudu and Mushtaq Ali. Anti-colonial fervour still runs strong in the blood stream of the average Calcuttan; he is also a great one for natural justice to be rendered to each and everyone in the neighbourhood. The explosion at the Eden Gardens had therefore only a thin linkage with chauvinistic passion; the crowd roared its disapproval of the colonial hangover.
Whether the decision of the selectors was 'autonomous' or 'induced' is almost beside the point. The impression has however gained ground that they are not at this moment particularly worried over the quality of India's cricketing performance; rather, their principal objective is executing the murder of the cricketing career of a particular individual. Civilization has ceased to be a part of the picture. When Steve Waugh was asked to step down from both membership and captaincy of Australia's one-day squad, he was deferentially requested to continue to lead the test side of the country. Over here, no such consideration has been deemed worthy for Ganguly. He was still on the test team, but not as captain, but on sufferance. Near-illiterate columnists from the lower depths were commissioned to express concern over Ganguly's 'form', with a severe warning that should his performance in the test matches be below par, out he would go from the test team too.
An accident happened. Ganguly did not underperform in the Delhi test. His defence was impeccable, he partnered Tendulkar in the longest partnership of the match, but he scrupulously stayed away from playing the sizzling drives and cuts he is famous for. It was patently clear he was worried over the sword of Damocles hanging over him and wary of playing. Sourav Ganguly was cramped, and with purpose. What a calamity, he nonetheless scored more runs in the test than the team's captain. The selectors, however, had already reached their decision: Sourav Ganguly was dismissed from the test team for the next match, and only Sourav Ganguly. This was retrospective vindication of the anti-colonial outburst of the Calcutta crowd on November 25; the chauvinists too inched their way in.
On the other hand, it is perfectly possible that the selectors, along with the dour Australian coach, had taken account of all conceivable factors and decided that the cause of Indian cricket would be irretrievably harmed if 'the lazy Bengali' was persisted with; no default of natural justice, they might claim, has taken place. There are, however, ways and ways of handling such a delicate situation. Only a loony fringe will deny that Ganguly has done the state some service; he deserved to be accorded a bit more of both grace and civilization.
Sometimes chauvinism is thrust upon you.