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Chance to start afresh

By Deepti Patwardhan
Last updated on: April 19, 2005 14:46 IST
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That Sourav Ganguly's appeal was rejected by ICC Appeals Commissioner Michael Beloff is a sign of the changing times in Indian cricket.

In a similar hearing last year, when Ganguly was charged with a slow over-rate by match referee Clive Lloyd during the Board of Control for Cricket in India's Platinum Jubilee game in Kolkata, Tim Castle had upheld the Indian skipper's appeal.

The BCCI's influence in the ICC was said to be one of the reasons for the verdict.

Couldn't the Indian Board use its influence this time too?

Ganguly was then still stumbling as a batsman, but as captain he was completely in charge of his team.

Four months later, after a disastrous series with the bat, and as captain, is he not viewed in the same light by the men that matter in the BCCI?

Does his name bring less weight to the table?

An indication of Ganguly's declining influence is the fact that despite him being eligible for the last two matches in the recently-concluded One-Day International series against Pakistan -- because of the pending decision on the ban for slow over-rate in the third ODI -- the Indian selectors kept him out of the team.

Five months ago, the entire Indian cricket set-up would have rallied behind the Prince of Kolkata.

He was seen as the most successful Indian captain ever. Nine 'away' victories are testimony to that.

Now, he seems to have served out his sentence as India's captain.

Five years is the shelf life of the best captains in contemporary cricket.

Clive Lloyd outlived that as he led the West Indies for almost ten years, winning two World Cups for his country. The West Indies' current poor form can be attributed to the fact that the country failed to groom a leader.

Allan Border took over a fragile Australian team and turned it into a world-beating side. His successors Mark Taylor, Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting added dimension and records to Australia's dominance. The essence of that consistency is the baton of captaincy was passed on at the right moment.

During his tenure, Ganguly led from the front, pushed his team from behind and also held his teammates' hands as he took them to glory.

He showed them the peaks of achievement and pulled them through disappointments.

Coach John Wright, who was a revelation for Indian cricket, and more than an ally for Ganguly in times of success and failure, has also called it a day.

India has to move on from here, probably without Ganguly the captain.

Instead of seeing this as a tardy end to the most profitable partnership in Indian cricket, the cricket establishment needs to see it as a fresh beginning.

It needs to bring in new ideas, and fresh -- not necessarily young -- blood and groom a side that can take over after the stalwarts have left.

The Indian selectors have to broaden their criteria, take away the focus from the under-19 players and shift it to India 'A' and domestic cricketers. Because, in the past, this selection policy has done more harm than good to the youngsters.

Overawed by performances on the under-19 tours, the selectors were quick to pick players who were neither ready for international cricket nor the adulation that comes with it.

The changing glove of the wicketkeepers is a classic example. The throne, left empty by Nayan Mongia, took a while to be filled. Ajay Ratra, fresh from winning the under-19 World Cup in Sri Lanka, was drafted in prematurely.

The man who replaced him was another under-19 talent, Parthiv Patel, the captain of the under-19 team's 2002 World Cup campaign in New Zealand. He was seen as the next big wicket-keeping hope. But, two seasons on, mid-way through the Australia series last year, he was replaced by Dinesh Karthik, who was India's wicketkeeper for the 2004 under-19 World Cup in Bangladesh.

Now, it is Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the Jharkhand 'keeper, who, with consistent performances on the 'A' tours and domestic competitions, has emerged the strongest contender for the slot.

Patel and Ratra have disappeared from the horizon. By introducing these players to the big league even before they reached their potential, the selectors may have destroyed their future.

If Michael Clarke was an Indian, he would have walked into the senior side after leading his team in the 2000 under-19 World Cup. He was a serious contender for a place with the baggy greens for almost four years, but the Australia selectors delayed his entry into the international arena. When he finally did make the cut, his performances did not have any doubters.

Australia's selectors have always let their youngsters go through the grind of domestic cricket before giving them the national cap. Adam Gilchrist, Simon Katich, and the latest addition, Mike Hussey, all made their debuts in the late twenties and went on to turn in compelling performances.

By making them play domestic cricket for a long time, Australia has ensured that the players who come up are battle hardened. Having gone through a series of rejections and failures, they are also more likely to value the national colours.

That's why India's selection committee chairman Kiran More's declaration that Ranji Trophy performances hardly count is not prudent.

Players like Jai Prakash Yadav and Amol Muzumdar have been around for long and don't deserve a cold shoulder only because they are not 'young' enough. Throughout the year they play a domestic tournament in front of empty stands. They cannot afford indifference from selectors as well. Since the Ranji players are not even paid well (Rs 4,000 per day in the league stage), an India berth is their only incentive. 

Keen competition at the domestic level is the only guarantee for stability and consistency in Indian cricket.

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Deepti Patwardhan

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