Oct 2, 2008

Sports Columnists - S.Dinakar;Tiger is back

Chennai: There has been yet another twist in the tale of the Tiger. Sourav Ganguly lives to fight another day. An engrossing career stretches further.

The new selection panel, headed by Krishnamachari Srikkanth, has handed Ganguly a lifeline. The speculations doing the rounds after Dada’s omission from the Rest of India squad for the Irani Cup match pointed to a possible end of his international journey.

In all fairness to Ganguly, he played a series-levelling knock, a priceless 87, on a turning track at Kanpur against the South Africans this year. That, incidentally, was India’s last home Test.

Subsequently, he failed against a potent spin combination in Sri Lanka. So did the others. There was a distinct belief that Ganguly was being singled out. Reflexes don’t dull overnight.

In a startling piece of statistics, Ganguly has scored more runs than any other Indian batsman since his famous comeback at the Wanderers against South Africa in the 2006-07 season.

During the period, Ganguly has made 1667 runs in 21 Tests at 45.05. The next highest is Sachin Tendulkar with 1408 runs. Ganguly has scored runs at home, coped well with the bounce and seam movement in South Africa, and the swing in England. He was comparatively less successful in Australia, yet there were combative half-centuries from his blade in Sydney and Melbourne.

Apart from his ability in the middle-order as a strokeful left-handed batsman who can disrupt the rhythm of an attack, Ganguly brings with him aggression and combative instinct. The Aussies know him well. He has worked on his stance that is more upright and balanced and has, consequently, tightened his game against the pacemen.

He had difficulties against two extraordinary spinners in Sri Lanka but then Australia has arrived here with arguably its weakest spin attack. While it is important to groom the younger cricketers — the inclusion of the committed S. Badrinath in the squad is a step in the right direction — accomplished senior and battle-scarred cricketers will be of immense value to the side in the high-profile series against Australia.

Bit of a surprise

The rest of the squad for the first two Tests against Australia is on predictable lines. Perhaps, the inclusion of leg-spinner Amit Mishra ahead of Piyush Chawla is a bit of a surprise. However, the selectors seem to have been influenced by the fact that Mishra rips his leg-spinners harder. Mishra is a vastly improved bowler who, rightly, has the googly as the surprise weapon.

Chawla is not a mean bowler himself and an interesting competition is on the cards as the season unfolds. Mishra, though, is unlikely to figure in the first Test. Skipper Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh should form a familiar spin combination.

Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma and Munaf Patel are the finest pacemen in the land at the moment.

Ishant with his natural bounce and the ability to seam the ball into the right-hander and take it away from the southpaws is a distinct wicket-taking option. A two plus two (two pacemen and two spinners) attack is the likely option for India.

The return of the influential Mahendra Singh Dhoni will lend greater balance to the line-up. While Dhoni qualifies as a wicketkeeping-all-rounder, there is no all-rounder of the traditional variety in the squad. The selectors have put Rudra Pratap Singh’s credentials as a left-arm paceman ahead of Irfan Pathan’s prowess with the ball and the bat.

Back to Ganguly. Dada returns to a venue where he notched up a double hundred and a near century against Pakistan late last year. The Chinnaswamy Stadium awaits the Tiger

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