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End of an era?

Leaving out Ganguly was the right thing to do. But launching internet hate campaigns isn't, writes Nirmal Shekar

A bold, pioneering step forward was necessary. And that is precisely what the BCCI selectors came up with on Friday night at Mohali. It took courage, foresight and the ability to appreciate the merits of a long-term plan being prepared by a no-nonsense coach to steer clear of the temptation to bring Sourav Ganguly back into the Indian cricket team. In the event, the five wise men proved that they were upto the task.

All sorts of theories are doing the rounds vis-a-vis Ganguly's non-selection. The first has to do with the fact that the Rahul Dravid-led side has been outstanding in the first two games of the Videocon series against Sri Lanka. Why rock the boat when things are going swimmingly? This could have been one argument in favour of retaining the same team.

From another point of view, a century in a Duleep Trophy match may not have been enough to prove that Ganguly was back to blazing good form — he might need to do a bit more before selectors look in his direction.

Whatever the merits of these assessments, if you dig deep enough, the truth will readily reveal itself. A new order, a new organisation, is in place in Indian cricket with Dravid as captain and Greg Chappell as coach. For a good number of reasons, some cricketing, others psychological, Ganguly does not fit into the new scheme of things.

From the moment Chappell's e-mail was leaked, it was obvious to every sane person that the new coach and the long-reigning skipper got along as famously as sugar and petrol. The vehicle of Indian cricket, if it needed to be tinkered and painted and serviced ahead of the 2007 World Cup, appeared to have little hope of moving in the right direction with the two of them together at the top.

The first bit of evidence that the selectors were, at long last, prepared to value logic more than emotion came when they named Dravid captain for 12 ODIs, seven against Sri Lanka to be followed by the five against South Africa. There was just a smidgeon of doubt whether they would stay on course or make a quick about-turn on Friday. But, good sense has prevailed.

It is not at all easy, after everything that has happened, to have Ganguly play under Dravid with Chappell scripting the play and directing it. It is precisely because of this it seems quite likely that an era has ended in Indian cricket.

Unfair deal

But, then, despite the events of the last few months _ which unravelled like a poorly written horror movie script _ it would be unfair to evaluate the Ganguly era merely on the basis of its vicious final flicker, which threatened to eat into the fabric of Indian cricket.

If indeed this is the end of the Ganguly saga, it is a pity, too, that he had to go out this way. India's most successful captain deserved a better send-off. Yes, he overstayed his welcome. Yes, his form was horrendous for the most part of the last two seasons. Yes, his skills as a batsmen are hardly comparable to the gifts possessed by Sachin Tendulkar or Dravid. Yes, he is not the most agreeable bloke any of us might have come across. And, yes, he may not fit into the team right now.

But, NO, Ganguly doesn't deserve to be despised. Internet hate campaigns directed at the former captain point to the darkness in their authors' soul rather than diminish anything that Ganguly has accomplished, either as leader of men or as a batsman.

Dravid, as perfect a gentleman as Indian cricket has ever seen — and a man whose contribution to Ganguly's success as Test captain is unmatched — will be the first to distance himself from such extreme positions that reflect poorly on our sporting culture.

It is one thing to buy into Vision 2007 and acknowledge that Dravid and Chappell should have the team they want; quite another to trash Ganguly's record as insignificant. Twenty one Test victories in 49 matches are not something to mock at; nor are the 76 ODI wins in 146 games.

Sport is a cruel business, a capricious business whose ever-turning wheel often remorselessly runs over the greatest of heroes. Ganguly's is but a tiny chapter in this timeless drama. We will see it happen again, and again.

Then again, if we rejoiced in the plight of yesterday's heroes, our action will hold a mirror to our true nature. And we may not find the reflection particularly likeable.

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