Ganguly's arrogance serves India well

England 407 & 257 India 291 & 198-3 Match drawn
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The Independent Online

Judging by the scorn poured on Sourav Ganguly in some quarters, some of it going as far as to claim that his captaincy has turned his team into a dispirited rabble, it is a wonder England did not walk the second Test here, rather than draw it on Saturday. But if India are a divided team under an unpopular leader, they remain favourites to take this three-match series by at least one match.

After Pakistan, captaining India is probably the most difficult job in cricket. Politicking and skulduggery are ways of life and few find favour with all interested parties, at least not for long. Ganguly is no exception and having led India to an astonishing series win over Australia earlier in the year, the recent defeat in South Africa, and a scrappy performance in this Test, has suddenly seen his stock fall, mainly due to expectations being raised to unrealistic levels by both the media and a fanatical public.

To condemn the man as a poor captain, as some have done, cannot be right. His win rate, seven Tests from 14, is the highest in India's history among those who have captained on 10 or more occasions. Only Mohammad Azharuddin, 14 from 47; Sunil Gavaskar, nine from 47; and the Nawab of Pataudi, nine from 40; have won more, so history does not back the knockers.

Of course if the figures do not add up, you can always assassinate the character and in the last few weeks Ganguly has been accused of being haughty, snooty and having no respect for the traditions of the game. While it is undoubtedly true that there is something patrician about him, these just echo similar criticisms once levelled at Sri Lanka's Arjuna Ranatunga, and the Pakistan captains, Javed Miandad and Asif Iqbal, who also managed to get up white nostrils.

In the past, England and Australia have liked their Indian captains to be compliant. Ganguly, the scion of a wealthy family from Calcutta, is part of a burgeoning post-imperialist spirit in middle-class India, that refuses to be cowed. In sport, as in life generally, standing up to bullies is an admirable trait, though one, with seven past offences under the International Cricket Council's code of conduct, India's captain has way overplayed.

His reputation as a boorish swank, at least as far as one English newspaper was concerned, stems mainly from his season at Lancashire and the recent series against Steve Waugh's side. County cricket likes its overseas players to be like English pros, which means lots of jolly japes and post-match beers. Ganguly partook in neither, but was happy to take the money. Lancashire claim he did not give it his best shot, but plenty of counties have said that about their imports.

Against the Aussies, he continually kept Waugh waiting at the toss, a habit that apparently infuriated the flinty one. Obviously there is a fine line between what constitutes bad manners and what is seen as standing up to an opponent, but Australia have become so politically correct under Waugh, they could probably run Hackney borough council.

A regal bearing and a well-to-do background, another cheap jibe at him, have actually been one of the constants when it comes to appointing India's captains, at least before 1980. Ganguly may conduct himself in an arrogant fashion, but when has that been a crime in cricket? Compared to the Maharajah of Patiala, who brought both his concubines and a batman with him as captain of the 1911 tour of England, Ganguly is a picture of modesty.

Until his recent lean patch with the bat, something not unknown to Nasser Hussain, he is also worth his place in the side, a factor sometimes overlooked in the past. When another Maharajah, this time of Porbander, came to England as captain of the 1932 tour, he was so inept, that he had no choice but to stand himself down for the Tests.

In truth, he has probably suffered in comparison to Hussain this series who has been showered with lavish praise. In fact, they are about level pegging with the next Test, which begins in Bangalore on Wednesday, being the clincher, though Hussain, who has caught the bug that laid low Michael Vaughan (now six kilos lighter as a result), will probably start the game feeling more washed out than his opposite number.

Accused of favouring players of the same advertising stable as himself, such as Yuvraj Singh and Zahir Khan, there has been no regional bias to Ganguly's sides, the usual bone of contention in India. He also appears to be a good judge of players and it was at his insistence that of the two off-spinning Singhs, Harbhajan was persevered with, ahead of Sarandeep.

Some point to a consuming jealousy of Sachin Tendulkar, but there is little evidence to support that. Jealousies have always existed in teams with players like Brian Lara, Viv Richards and Sunil Gavaskar. Most captains just count their blessings they are with them rather than against them and get on with it.

Jagmohan Dalmiya, the Indian Board president, is an old family friend, and Ganguly also suffers from being seen as Dalmiya's man. In fact, he was appointed under another Board president when Tendulkar discarded the job 14 months ago.

Like Dalmiya, whose cunning has just squeezed a sixth one-day international out of the England and Wales Cricket Board as a trade-off for playing four Tests next summer, Ganguly has his enemies. But, given that he has a team containing one batsmen of sublime gifts and two fine spin bowlers, he is not over-blessed with match-winners, decent fielders or an aggressive attitude. His biggest crime, if it is one, is trying to change that.