G Rajaraman - Keep the Faith

Kumble and Co. should  not allow the shadow of Ganguly's retirement  to loom over their plans for Australia

Tuesday, October 07, 2021
India should focus on beating Australia

The charismatic Sourav Ganguly has announced that the series against Australia will be his last but I shall hold my farewell note for India's most colourful captain until he has played his last innings. My first thought on hearing the news was a hope that Indian team would keep the individual and collective emotions in check till the last ball is bowled.

It takes much for a player to figure an intense series of matches against a hard-as-nails opposition against the backdrop of his retirement. And it takes more for a team to try and break free of the shadow of such an event. Kumble's challenge just got that much bigger and, together with coach Gary Kirsten, he will have some work to do to ensure that the team goal remains in focus.

First, consider what Chairman of Selectors K Srikkanth said on Tuesday: "I think Sourav Ganguly has been an excellent player. He has brought so many laurels as captain and player. He had a good chat with me and [fellow selector] Narendra Hirwani. He wants a peaceful series without any troubles on his mind. I hope he goes out with couple of hundreds. Ganguly was one of the best captains the world has ever produced and I think he deserves it."

The tone of Srikkanth's statement has lent credence to the belief that a deal has been struck. By speaking about Ganguly wanting a series without any troubles on his mind, the new Chairman of Selectors has revealed another area of concern. But the larger concern, more so since the opposition is Australia, is how well the team itself can handle this unusual situation. How well Kumble and his troops manage that could turn out to be a decisive factor in the series.

India has taken a leaf out of the Australian book in planning a retirement but the moot question is: Can Team India emulate that team's hard-nosed approach, too? The names of Steve Waugh, Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath spring to mind as men who chose the dates for their final Tests and handled the impending retirements with as much aplomb as they had done in their careers.

Waugh had decided – in conjunction with the selectors – that the Border-Gavaskar Trophy of 2003-04 would be his swansong and finished the series with a blazing knock of 80 as Australia battled to keep India at bay in the final Test in Sydney. He ended up with a series aggregate of 267 runs at 44.50

Back in January 2007, three Australian stars – Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Justin Langer – exited from the Test stage at the same time. Warne and McGrath had indicated that the final Test of the Ashes series in Sydney would be their last. Just a day before the Test started, Langer revealed that he would make it his last game too.

But look at how well Warne and McGrath kept their focus on their primary task of contributing to Australia's 5-0 victory in the series. They combined with Stuart Clark (26 wickets) and Brett Lee (20) to ensure that the revenge for the defeat in England was complete. Warne finished with 23 scalps and McGrath 21, being the only home bowlers to claim five-fors in the series.

There is a primary difference, though. Each retirement plan in Australia was conceived when the players were still lending their shoulders to the team's cause. In the series preceding his farewell contest with India, Waugh had made 226 runs in the West Indies (average 75.33), made 256 runs in two unbeaten innings against Bangladesh and 139 runs (average 69.50) against Zimbabwe.

Similarly, Warne had a fabulous 56 wickets in the 11 Tests from four previous series and McGrath had claimed 43 wickets in the 10 Tests from four previous series. Age was surely catching up on the masters but they hadn't been forced to contemplate retirement because of diminishing skills – or a desire to play with a free mind.

Ganguly comes into the series against Australia on the back of a disastrous trip to Sri Lanka where he averaged 16 runs in scoring a mere 96 runs from three Tests. Worse, he had been given reason to sulk by the erstwhile Selection Committee, led by Dilip Vengsarkar, who dropped him from the Rest of India squad for the Irani Cup and said Ganguly had been found unfit for Tests.

This is the reason why my first thought on hearing of Ganguly's retirement plan on Tuesday focused on the team goals rather than on writing an eulogy on his exit. Yes, I am hoping that Kumble and Co. will not allow the shadow of Ganguly and the selectors' decision for him to bid farewell to loom over their own plans for Australia.