End of two eras
Today effectively marks the end of two eras in test cricket.
The first, which we were informed was coming, is the Sourav Ganguly era. A 12-year career during which he transformed Indian cricket’s laid back, take-what-comes approach in to a go-out-there-and-get-it one. India’s aggressive nature of cricket owes its origins to the captaincy of Ganguly. Coming on the heels of the horrendous match-fixing scandal and the resignation of Sachin Tendulkar from the captaincy (following a 2-0 whitewash at home against the South Africans) Ganguly turned the team’s low morale on its head. He captained the team in the 5-match ODI series that followed and won it. In the tournaments to follow, India would display the sort of aggression that was very unlike any team from the sub-continent and definitely unlike any soft-spoken Indian team to have played cricket before. Youngsters got their chances and most of them justified the selection. Ganguly was effectively supported by coach John Wright and vice captain Dravid. This helped to a form a deadly mix of youth and experience working in great coordination.
At its peak, Ganguly’s eleven would take the best team in the world head-on in both Tests and ODIs. And win a lot, though not everything. The team’s greatest success and failures came against the Aussies. While beating them 2-1 after being one down in the 2001 Border-Gavaskar trophy would undoubtedly be the biggest high, losing to them the in 2003 World Cup finals would the exact opposite. Apart from this, there were numerous series during which India would reach the finals in a hurry only to lose miserably in the end. Perhaps the greatest exception to this was the 2002 Natwest Series finals against England which set-up India’s run up to the 2003 World Cup finals. One might argue here that the Youth+Experience formula did not quite work, but then it did more good than bad for Indian cricket.
Ganguly’s career followed a typical cycle where it would peak fast and then go down, and down. His test career is a testimony to this. Starting with two artistic centuries against England, he scored at an average of 50 in his first 30 tests (seven hundreds and 11 fifties). Over his next 79 tests he scored eight hundreds and 19 fifties with a straight 20 tests without a hundred. His ODI career, arguably a format he was more comfortable with, is what he’ll be remembered for. 11K runs with 22 hundreds and the most successful opening pair ever. (See here for more stats). Here also, however, the drop was quite visible and lasted long – he averaged a meagre 36, as opposed to his career average of 41, in his last 116 ODIs. While 36 in it self isn’t less, for a man who attained cult following in various parts of the country and gave a whole new definition to aggression, it was a lull that lasted a little too long.
All said and done though, Ganguly can be credited for single-handedly taking Indian cricket to a new level where youth and adrenaline drive the team – he truly was the chosen one.
And today, one of his prodigies lead a team that brought down the curtains on another era: the Aussie era of dominance.
A team that did not know how to lose was today left searching for answers to questions reserved for its opponents till not too long ago: are we playing the right mix of players? Are we choosing the right people? Is our captain making the best decisions?Any one who saw Ponting go defensive post-tea on the fourth day of the last test could say that this team was worried about the wrong things. Imagine an Australian team faced with two options: look to skittle out the tail-enders of the opposing team and grab a definite chance to level the series or worry about the over rates which could result in a ban for the captain and bowl part time bowlers. Anyone, absolutely anyone, who has seen the aussies play for the last few years would say that the former would be a default choice, but Ponting chose the latter and that’s the biggest worry of the aussies.
When was the first time you heard Ian Chappell say this about an aussie captain: “The good thing for Ponting [is] that he comes up against New Zealand in Australia very soon and they can win those two and I suspect things might die out after that.” I don’t know about you, but this is the first time for me. Just what makes Chappell so confident that this team will defeat the Kiwis as easily as he makes it out to be, beats me completely. But one thing is for sure, he never sounded so desperate for a cure. Unfortunately for him, the cure does not seem to be in sight.