Sourav Ganguly is now a very real embarrassment for Indian cricket --- if not for himself.
His public disclosure on the third evening of the latest Test against Zimbabwe that the national contingent's coach had earlier suggested to him to abdicate the team's captaincy was in utter bad taste; what's more, his same disclosure before the television camera came with a Cheshire cat's smile on his face just because he had scored 101 runs off 262 balls from very pedestrian bowling on a feather-bed pitch.
That smile was really a smirk that could well create a schism between Ganguly and coach Greg Chappell, between Chappell and the selection committee and within the team members as well. Any of that would be harmful in the season to come and all of that would cause a mini Katrina to our cricket.
In support of himself and of his smile and, presumably, of his princely right to captaincy, Ganguly flaunted the statistic of having scored close to 1,000 runs in his last 16 Test innings. His supporters have rubbed salt into Chappell's wound by citing the fact that Ganguly has a very healthy current Test average of 41.39 after 83 Tests. And also that he's now become the most successful captain in Indian cricket history.
But these statistics cannot condone any active captain of cricket-mad India if he berates the official coach or washes any other dirty linen in public and lets the germ spread in the environment.
In any case, like the law often times is, a cricket statistic can be an ass. Times without number in recent seasons since his batting technique has been templated on foreign laptops, the knowledgeable Indian fan has been most embarrassed by the sight of a panic-stricken Ganguly square up to balls rising across his face, trying to poke his radar-less bat towards the slips, simply hoping for the best. And more often than not lately, be it a one-dayer or a five-dayer, it's the worst that's happened: Ganguly c. slips b. fast bowler.
Unless the pitch is as dead as a dodo, or the opposition lacks a tall paceman or the other, less ballistic bowlers are in action when he first takes guard, Ganguly blinking his eyes after an ungainly, ugly poke at the rising, fast cherry has been a very real embarrassment.
Of course, his running between the wickets has always been an embarrassing as well as an exasperating sight. If, as in his 83rd Test at Bulawayo the other day, Ganguly, as non-striker, has not grasped the very basic truth that it is the striker's call when the ball is struck beyond the bowler, what else must one feel but embarrassment? Instead, Ganguly has been seen to turn around at the bowler's end and track the stricken ball when he ought to have been alertly responding to his partner's call for a quick single. That's exactly how he undid Laxman at Bulawayo and almost did Pathan in as well.
Moreover, where his other batsmen manage three runs between the wickets, Ganguly invariably remains rooted to a couple, no more --- unless he's the beneficiary.
As a fielder, Ganguly has, at best, been average, has slowed down over time and is today no patch on his counterparts like Ricky Ponting, Michael Vaughan, Stephen Fleming and Graeme Smith. Why, there have been times when he has not only embarrassed us but also amused us as he lets a ball slip through his legs or by his side or chases a hit to the ropes with the speed of an Olympic marathoner.
Finally, Ganguly the captain has been an embarrassment in recent seasons. While he's been welcome to chew his nails to the flesh as he contemplates over the state of the game, the time he's been increasingly taking to discuss and change field placings has known to dock the team for failure to meet the stipulated over-rate of today's competitive cricket that's far removed from the one on the maidans of Kolkata. The removal of his shirt in the players' balcony at Lord's and wildly twirling it around his head to herald a win was hardly a joy-giving gesture in the game that's supposed to be played with a degree of sophistication.
Yes, yes, yes, Ganguly was once the flavour of the season, with his silken off-side strokes and his straight sixers hit on skipping feet against the spinners making us proud of his being an Indian.
But that was when he was not vain enough to flaunt a bare chest in the Lord's balcony or to disguise a smirk as the smile of a Cheshire cat.
Ricky Ponting was so upset with England's frequent use of several substitutes in the recent Ashes series that when he was run out in a particular Test by a throw of a substitute in the deep, he muttered angry words as he returned to the pavilion looking up to the English dressing room. But Ponting apologised soon enough. Any lesson there for Geoff Boycott's Prince of Kolkatta?