It is the beginning of the end of the Fab Four era in Indian cricket. India’s most successful Test skipper Sourav Ganguly finally broke his silence about his cricketing future on Tuesday and announced that the current series against Australia would be his last in international cricket.
Ganguly’s sudden announcement has stunned the media and the cricket fraternity.
Ganguly, the God of off side, also said that he was hurt at not being included in the squad for the Irani Trophy. Current skipper Anil Kumble has hinted at hanging up his boots too.
Indian cricket it seems to be going through a generational change.
With two of the best-ever Indian cricketers set to quit, Face the Nation debated: Is there a perfect age to retire from sports?
Former billiards champion and Padma Bhushan Awardee Michael Ferreira, Associate Editor, DNA, Ayaz Memon and columnist Debraj Mookerjee took part in the debate which was moderated by CNN-IBN’s Bhupendra Chaubey.
Chaubey began by asking Ayaz Memon if he agreed with the timing of Ganguly’s retirement.
“I think he has done a wise thing, a good thing by making his decision public before the series began. There might be people and players who think they must do it after they have completely finished their career and should make the announcement on the last day of their career. But there is so much pressure on Sourav, so much scrutiny of his actions and he was not even selected for the Irani Trophy tie. It has been a roller coaster ride for him. I think somewhere down the line he thought he doesn’t want any of this any longer. He has suggested or hinted that this is his last series perhaps hoping he can play four Tests but that doesn’t hold true. That depends on his performance,” Ayaz Memon explained.
When Memon was further quizzed if he really believed that there was a possibility that Ganguly may not actually be a part of the playing XI, he replied, “This is a tough series. It is India vs Australia and India could possibly go up to No.2 ranking if they beat Australia handsomely in the series. Look at it hypothetically and suppose Sourav makes 2, 3, 1, 0 in the four innings that he plays in the first couple of Test matches then would you play him in the third match? And if scores very heavily then would you tell him to pack off after two Tests? Both contingencies are possible.”
Michael Ferreira, who put India’s name on the billiards map, was of the view that a sportsperson should retire when the going was good.
“Well the words that my mentor Wilson Jones told me still ring in my ears. This is what Vijay Merchant had told him: It is better to retire when people say why then rather not. I was a bit rebel and thought surely this can’t be right and this doesn’t really matter as long as you are enjoying yourself. The key words are: Are you enjoying yourself? If I was losing to people who are not fit to lick my shoes then it was time to reassess my judgement,” Ferreira said.
Columnist Debraj Mookerjee agreed that contemporary sport has refused to be just a form of sport and said there is huge money in it. He felt the notion of retirement of a sport star has also become corporatised, almost like a relationship between an employer and employee.
“The larger paradigm for things in India has changed. We have moved from sarkari (government) patronage to corporate excellence. So I think that template must also be applied to sport. As Ayaz said Ganguly may or may not play in the Australia series. But if he plays for professional reasons then that’s a good thing but if he doesn’t play for professional reasons then it is a bad thing. We have to see shifts that are happening in other areas in India and why not sport. If you fit the bill and meet the bar, you are inside the arena and if not, you are out. There should be no other consideration, no patronage system, no quasi-feudal network. If you make the grade you should be in, if not you should be out,” Debraj Mookerjee said.
Why did Ganguly decide to go out now?
“Ganguly has a lot of personal pride. He is cussed, he is very determined, he has shown it last year when he came back from the cold and did well. I know a lot of cricketers would not have come back after what happened in 2005. I think what has happened is of all the five players that we are discussing – the four batsmen and Anil Kumble – he has been under most pressure, he has been most vulnerable and somewhere he has sensed that at this age if he is dropped from the team, then it is very difficult for him to come back,” Memon said.
Memon also hoped that even though Ganguly has announced that he would retire after the series, the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) and the Indian skipper might drop him if he doesn’t perform in the first two Test matches.
“I think that is logical. Would Anil Kumble want to lose a Test series or would Sourav Ganguly want India to lose if he is not in form? If he is in good nick and unfortunately gets out and this is something the players would understand, then he needs another chance. But if he is in wretched form should he be playing till the end?” the veteran journalist asked.
Memon also added than sentiments must not dictate the team composition even though it would be Ganguly’s last international series.
“Yes. I think you can go on past reputation that much. At this point in time when you are really vying for the top spot with Australia, it is not like playing against Zimbabwe or Bangaldesh and say no matter what happens we can win the match. Australia are not going to be so easy,” he said.
Is it difficult for a superstar to decide when to quit than someone who is just an average player?
“There are benchmarks in every sport. You can’t make the Olympics unless you make a certain grade. For other sports there are other benchmarks like fitness. In a sport like cricket which is becoming increasingly demanding, you can have some exacting fitness standards. Why don’t Ganguly or anybody else set certain standards just like every jawan in the police who have to pass certain fitness tests? Likewise have some exacting fitness tests and if the person regardless of age passes the fitness test makes the cut. Don’t make age but fitness a criterion. A sentimental reason should not be a reason to take a player into the team,” Mookerjee concurred.
Former Australian wicketkeeper and one of the most destructive batsman international cricket ever saw, Adam Gilchrist, said he took exactly the same time to take a decision about his retirement that he took to drop a catch of VVS Laxman off Brett Lee’s bowling. So how do the Australians approach their cricket which is different from the way Indians do?
Memon agreed that Australians have a very professional cricketing culture but disagreed that all of them retired gracefully.
“The Australian system is highly professionally run and that is one of the highlights of their system. But remember that it is not that they retire so easily or gracefully. Adam Gilchrist is an exception. Steve Waugh was literally asked to leave. He was 38 years old and they were looking for younger players. In the Australian system, fitness factor is very important and I think the hunger for playing, competing, making runs. Even Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne were very successful when they quit. So somewhere it is combination of your own personal desire or there is a hint from the administration,” he said.
NBA superstar and basketball legend Michael Jordan came back twice from retirement and was very successful with his club, Imran Khan returned from self-imposed retirement to take Pakistan to World Cup victory. So is there some thing different in India as when people retire there is an air of finality and no coming back?
“My only criteria is if you are enjoying yourself or not. I think there is slight difference in a team game and an individual sport. In a team game your performance or lack of it can affect team morale whereas if you are playing as an individual what you do affects only yourself. So to that extent certain other consideration might apply to individual sportspersons. I still think as long as you are enjoying yourself and winning and losing are part of sport but when you lose after playing badly that is when you say it is time to quit,” Ferreira said.
When asked if mental strength too should be considered while selecting a player, Mookerjee replied, “If you are playing chess well, it is fine. But there are other sports as well. Leander Paes has gone on for a long time and comes alive whenever he plays in a Davis cup match. He will perform for India as a Davis Cup player. There is Bobby Simpson who at 41 came out of retirement to lead Australia to victory against India. There is Roger Milla, the Cameroon footballer, came back from retirement and did wonders at the 1990 World Cup in Italy. So there are enough examples of people who have retired, come back and done well because they have seen the game over the years and become mentally tough to perform at that level. But today the sport is physically so exacting that unless there is a sport where the mental factor can override any physical disability, then to be anything less than 100 per cent fit is not being fair to the spectators, it is not fair to the nation.”
Memon and Ferreira shared the view that money was also an important factor in deciding the timing of retirement.
“I think you will see players playing till 37-38 as fitness levels have gone up and sports medicine has improved. The awareness about what you need to do with your body has gone up. Also there is huge awareness in terms of money and nobody wants to quit when the going is good,” Memon said.
“I think it is a very important factor and definitely the kind of money that a top star has earned in whichever game. There is a feeling of missing the adulation and recognition. This is a human tendency. Nobody remembers the guy who is over the hill,” Ferreira concluded.
Final SMS/Web poll:
Yes: 54 per cent
No: 46 per cent.