Right around now, a decade ago, India were preparing to play the Adelaide Test in a series they lost 2-1, the only win – a famous one – coming in Perth in the third Test. Sourav Ganguly didn’t do too much of note in that series – a couple of half-centuries, an average under 30.
Brisbane, December 2003, was an old memory by then, and so was Ganguly’s gallant 144, one of the great innings by an Indian captain overseas.
Between 2003 and early 2008, enough water had flown down the Hooghly to wash away the sins of an army, the Ganguly v Greg Chappell phase (2005 to 2007) should also have been a distant memory.
Not to Bengalis and the people in Kolkata, though. Perhaps not to cricket watchers in general in India even, because the humiliation in the 2007 50-over World Cup was still fresh in the memory, papered over only somewhat by the success at the 2007 World T20 and Yuvraj Singh’s six-sixes Broad-side.
Indeed, now, over a decade on from what was a rather unpleasant sequence of events, irrespective of which side you were/are on, the Ganguly v Chappell story continues to intrigue. What exactly happened? Why? How? Was it because Ganguly was a prima donna, or was Chappell dictatorial? A bit of both? Neither?
Of course, we all know what is out there. The leaked Chappell email, for example. That Ganguly interview with Harsha Bhogle in Zimbabwe. And more. Even those of us who were around reporting during the match-fixing years were awed by this phase in the mid-2000s: in terms of sheer conspiracy-headlines, it beat everything else. Every day a new twist, a plant here and a leak there, a sulky Ganguly and a smug Chappell, then a sulky Chappell and a smug Ganguly – full-on tamaasha.
For the longest time, Ganguly has only hinted at the matter, with his trademark half-smirk. Rumours are that he said what he wanted to, leaked what he wished to through his pals in the Kolkata journalistic circuit. Be that as it may, when Boria Majumdar called up excitedly the other day to say that Ganguly had ‘opened up, a little bit at least’ on the subject after so many years, I sat up. What? What’s he said?
Well, Majumdar explained, it’s for a new book, one that tells unknown/untold stories of Indian cricket. This is one of them, tentatively chaptered ‘Challenging the Chappell Shenanigans’ – we know which side Majumdar is on, don’t we?
Kintu ki bolechhe? What has ‘Maharaj’ said?
Here goes …
First, on that Zimbabwe tour, in September 2005, when Ganguly returned as captain after serving a six-match ban; the first time he was playing as skipper after Chappell took charge in July 2005.
“Something from the very start of the tour was not right. I don’t know what had happened but something definitely had gone amiss. I think some people who Greg had become close to may have told him that, with me around, he would never have his way in Indian cricket and that may have triggered a reaction. Whatever it may have been, he was not the same Chappell in Zimbabwe compared to the one who had helped me get ready for the Australian tour in December 2003.”
Then, on that tennis elbow condition which Chappell wasn’t quite convinced about.
“It was an inconsequential side game and the best thing for me was to walk out and nurse the injury. […] He was unrelenting. To my surprise, he insisted I go out and bat and I was forced to tell him I wouldn’t because I was in good touch and did not want to jeopardise my chances of playing the Test match. I even said that, the pain notwithstanding, I was sure to turn up for the Test.”
As you might recall, Chappell’s leaked email mentioned that he thought Ganguly was being lazy, trying to avoid facing pacers in operation with a new ball – not the only time Ganguly has been accused of that, 144 notwithstanding. He was being “just Sourav”, as Chappell had written.
While on that same tour, Ganguly tells Majumdar, “He, it was clear to me, was in a hurry to make the team ‘Greg Chappell’s team’. The problem with some coaches is that they come with a preconceived notion. They have a pattern in their mind and unless you fit the pattern you are out. These people are very rarely successful and have had to give way soon enough. Good coaches are those who come with a free mind and adapt to the system they are exposed to.”
It only got worse. Ganguly might have borne the brunt, but according to various accounts, even their own, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Virender Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh and a couple of others also felt they got the wrong end of the stick when it came to the Chappell Way.
Back to Ganguly, and now we come to the Challenger Series in October 2005, which Ganguly skipped because of the tennis elbow. At the end of the series was a One-Day International series against Sri Lanka. Ganguly wasn’t selected for it.
He recalls to Majumdar, all these years later, “I called Greg to ask why I had not been picked and was told I had to first prove my fitness and only then could I make a comeback to the team. He said I had missed the Challenger Series and he was not clear if I was fully fit. It was surprising because the Challenger had never been looked upon as a selection trial. I had scored more ODI runs than anyone in the team in the last few years and it was a shock to see my name not in the team. It was the first time I felt Greg was trying to end my career.”
Ganguly’s career didn’t end just then, though Chappell’s stint in India certainly did, less than two tumultuous years later – bringing the curtains down on one of the most distressing sagas in Indian cricket.
Chappell’s never shied away from telling his side of the story but with Ganguly, it has always been ‘not right now’, ‘another time’. What Majumdar has sent my way is one such another time. He might have a little more stashed away for the book, of course. Knowing Ganguly too, there’s more. For sure. For yet another time.
To his fans in India, Ganguly emerged as the wronged man then, the victim, the target of a conspiracy. But why exactly? Egos? Because Chappell rocked the boat too much too hard too soon? What could Chappell have had against Ganguly that wasn’t a cricketing reason? What if Chappell’s right, Ganguly wasn’t the right man for Indian cricket at the time? Questions, questions …
With the two gentlemen, two excellent cricketers and fascinating characters, it will perhaps forever be a matter of he said v he said. Words. Versions. With some truth, perhaps, in what both of them say. Meanwhile, it is a story that will likely not fade for a while longer, especially if bits and pieces keep coming out, like in this case.