Friday, December 16, 2005

What's to be done?

This post is necessitated because Greatbong - at whose blog the real debate on Sourav Ganguly rages - has shut down further comments on the subject as the debate got very ugly. I don't blame him. He has put his viewpoint on Dada with lucidity and closely-argued reason. He has been polemical - in the best sense of the word - and in return attracted some very good responses but also many boorish and abusive comments that didn't add to the debate but threatened to trigger base regional sentiments. In fact, while the main issue is Indian cricket and Sourav, the way the debate has panned out has also become a fascinating study of spectator response, filtered through layers of regionally and societally conditioned likes and dislikes plus, of course, pure and simple personal biases. There's raw passion in it which, apart from war, only cricket seems to generate in India. If you haven't seen gb's blog (although I doubt that you haaven't) its: Check it out and you'll see what I mean.

First, the positives of this fierce debate. Times of India did a sms poll today. All-India, 93% said it was wrong to drop Sourav; 95% in Kolkata said the same. So, there's hardly any difference between Bengal and the rest of India in the trend of popular opinion. Secondly, an obscenely overwhelming opinion is in Sourav's favour while stating that selectors have been unfair to him. Such is the popular opinion, an astute politician like Sharad Pawar has quickly dissociated himself from the selectors' decision. As Harsha Bhogle points out today, Dada deserved to lead the team out before bidding goodbye; he deserved a warm hug from his team mates instead of a lonely corner in a room. He says what they've done to him is simply not "good manners" and "courtesy". Guys like Harsha, even when they know grevious wrong has been done, will talk of things like manners and courtesy. They won't talk of the visceral stuff that created this sordid drama because they too are sponging off the system.

So, the big positive is that the overwhelming opinion for Dada shows that his unceremonious ouster is not viewed as wrong only by Bongs alone but by the country as a whole. Even in yesterday's political outrage in Parliament, Arun Jaitley and Amar Singh joined the West Bengal MPs. As far as the common man is concerned, it's not a regional issue, although there are efforts to make it parochial. Hindustan Times today, for instance, has an edit titled, "Lumpens for Dada". Really? I don't think Somnath Chatterjee or Jaitley are lumpens, or for that matter are gb and people like me lumpens. But here's an attempt to tar all those who are vocal in their support for Sourav as lumpens. Gb pointed out how Cybernoon, the net edition of Mumbai's Afternoon, has a gleeful story titled, "Tata Dada".

And now the big negative - it's the ugly regional hues that the issue is acquiring. For me, it's not surprising to me that the biggest support for Sourav comes from West Bengal; had he been a Maharashtrian, people from Maharashtra would have naturally lead the protest. This is not because Bongs or Maharashtrians are a chauvinistic people; it's because a home-grown boy has done the country proud and if he's unfairly shafted, they will cry 'foul' first and also the loudest. It's a sense of belonging with the home-grown boy, not alienation from the rest of the country. Unfortunately, a lot of influential middle-class guys, esp in the media, are seeing it as one. As a result, there's a pretty strong hate-Bongs undercurrent which could erupt into a vocal campaign.

I find this very distressing. And, of course, disgusting. Bongs have been mad about a lot of things, including sportsmen, esp cricketers, and I am not surprised that they're madly passionate about Sourav. In fact, I would tend to agree with gb that regionalism, or if you prefer partisan politics, has also guided the new dispensation's targetting of Sourav. This regionalism is really based on its opposition to Dalmiya and associating Sourav as 'his man'. That's why selectors backing Sourav are sacked (they're also Dalmiya's men), players allegedly close to him are kept out (Zaheer and Nehra) in preference to those who aren't (Agarkar), and those who aren't close to him selected (Wasim Jaffer). It's perhaps accidental that Agarkar and Jaffer are both from Maharashtra, but perhaps it's not. In any case, Bongs can't be blamed if they see the pattern as betraying an assertion of parochial interests. The reaction to Sourav's ouster was, therefore, bound to be regional. And the way he's been dumped - creating the grounds for a regional maelstorm - was, therefore, doubly stupid.

I say stupid because there must also be a pretty strong case against Sourav on cricketing grounds. His sack couldn't have been decided in 20 minutes. And Bongs must see this point (it'll also explain the exasperation of non-Bongs). Since Sourav scored 143 or 146 runs in Brisbane in 2003, his performance has been pretty poor. And if you leave out Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, itsactually quite pathetic. He hasn't been able to perform against good bowlers. Perhaps he was only going through a lean patch and would come out of it (I think he's got 2-3 years cricket in him). But this lean patch also coincided with run-ins with key members of the team, including Dravid (blaming him for the declaration), Sachin, Kumble and VVS. Who was right and who was not isn't the point. When you're the leader and performing, the team will take a lot from you. But when you aren't, you can't come down just as heavily. Somewhere in this period, Sourav - known to be a team man, who gave a toss for what the media said so long the boys were with him - lost the boys' affection and respect. Somewhere the harmony in the team was lost. The contrast between team's performance in the last few month's of Sourav's captaincy and its performance after he was removed as captain is striking and tells an eloquent story. It should tell you something and I would like my Bong friends to grasp that. Somewhere Sourav lost the enormous fund of goodwill he had built among his mates.

So, cool. What do we do with him then? Sack him as captain. Okay. Should he have been also sacked as a player - and that, too, in this manner - because of an overhang of this past? Not at all. I think Pawar & Co (More and Chappell seem to have emerged as key players in the new dispensation) acted with such singular lack of grace because they were still fighting Dalmiya. Rub him to the ground so that he can't pose a challenge again. Well, this is a political fight, they have ended up showing shocking small-mindedness towards the country's most successful captain; a player who has given every good lover of the game great entertainment. If India today disapproves of the decision, it's because of this pettiness that forms the cornerstone of the decision. It's this that's creating an entirely unecessary situation bristling with portends of ugly regional confrontation.

What's the way forward? One way is to let the matter lie, and people would lose interest in the issue with time. But a great injustice would still be done to Sourav who has been humiliated. And how that can be undone, I don't really know.