When Dilip Vengsarkar, chairman of selectors, was a player, he made a famous statement: I was never confident of playing two successive matches. So poorly did the selectors treat him. Now, ironically, he is handing out similar treatment to the senior players. The pressure on Indias most experienced trio is palpable.
I once had dinner with Sunil Gavaskar after he had been dropped from the Indian one-day team. He had already been anointed Indias finest ever, he had been playing international cricket for over a decade and a half, he was in a sense, the master of all he surveyed. Yet, or more probably because of all that, he found it impossible to come to terms with being dropped. I was in shock, he said with that disarming honesty he is capable of.
Kapil Devs reaction to being dropped from the Test side after playing 68 consecutive Test matches was even more dramatic. He nearly broke down as he tried to control his feelings. How could they do this to him, the great all rounder, the man who had brought the World Cup to India?
It isnt a blow to the ego alone; it goes deeper, affecting the very essence of the great sportsman who, in one swift move is shifted from the most wanted to the unwanted columns of the selectors mind or the publics. When an Indian player is dropped for the first time (especially for no fault of his own as in the two cases above), there is a loss of innocence.
It is against this background that the mental state of Indias three greatest players - Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly - must be seen. Both Dravid and Ganguly know what it is to be dropped; Tendulkar alone has survived the axe. Yet, a shrill, demanding media is whipping up public sentiment against these three players. A generation or two ago, coaches and managers told players not to read the newspapers during a series; now it is impossible to escape the media attention.
The manner in which the trio now approaches the game is suggestive of a siege mentality. When Dilip Vengsarkar, chairman of selectors, was a player, he made a famous statement: I was never confident of playing two successive matches. So poorly did the selectors treat him. Now, ironically, he is handing out similar treatment to the senior players, threatening them with dire consequences if they do not perform. The pressure on Indias most experienced trio is palpable.
It saw Tendulkar struggling like an actor with stage fright in the Chandigarh one-dayer against Australia. He couldnt do anything right. Had he been playing shadow cricket, it would have all looked wonderful - the perfect cover drive, the whipping on drive, the crashing square cut - except that in reality, he just couldnt put bat to ball. It says something for his strength of character that despite the embarrassing early overs, he survived, and managed to make 79; Ganguly struggled too, but hung on so that India had an opening partnership of over 90. That, in the final analysis, made the difference.
Beauty was sacrificed for efficiency; survival was placed above fancy strokeplay. Even as the experts willed Tendulkar to take a chance and hit a couple of confidence-boosting boundaries, the great batsman took the opposite road and played himself in, knowing that the longer he batted, the easier the task would become. Ganguly took chances, so did Dravid later on. Each of the three knew his job.
Public memory is notoriously short, but even for those who cannot think beyond the last match, the reaction has been excessive. This is no way to treat your heroes.