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Home > India > Cricket > Column > Madhav Thambisetty

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Sourav Ganguly and the symmetry of circumstance

October 03, 2008

If Krishnamachari Srikanth and his newly-salaried band of BCCI colleagues were keen followers of boxing history, they would doubtless be aware that they picked India's 15-member team for the home series against Australia [Images] on the anniversary of Muhammad Ali's legendary bout against "Smokin' Joe" Frazier in Manila.

It was thirty three years ago on October 1 that an incessantly voluble Ali took on Frazier, still smarting from being at the receiving end of the former's quicksilver invective. To add further needle to the match, there was Frazier's perceived ingratitude of Ali for his steadfast support during his legal battles for the restoration of his boxing license during the draft-dodging controversy.

The 14 round epic culminated in a nearly blinded Frazier's defeat by an exhausted Ali who fainted in the ring shortly after being declared the winner. There can scarcely be a more striking example of two champions embellishing a bitter rivalry with a grudge and, pushing each other to the limits in sporting denouement.

There is a compelling set of circumstances that make Sourav Ganguly's [Images] current selection more than a placatory gesture towards a former great well past his prime. It was in 2003, prior to India's tour of Australia that Ganguly actively sought out the services of Greg Chappell [Images] amidst a well orchestrated campaign that he would be found wanting against "chin music" from Brett Lee [Images] and friends.

A sublime century at the Gabba in the first test was the defining moment of the series, while his decision to bat ahead of an out-of-form Tendulkar in the Melbourne test was, for me, Ganguly's leadership at its unselfish best. Five tumultuous years hence, Ganguly's career has come nearly full circle. Stripped of captaincy, dragged into controversy over his relationship with Chappell, shut out of the abbreviated forms of the game and on the verge of the end to a remarkable test career, Sourav Ganguly has been given one more opportunity to script a happy ending to his story.

Greg Chappell's most recent avatar as the assistant coach of the Australian side lends a strange but tantalising symmetry to the occasion and I wonder if this might just prove to be the needle that Sourav needs to lay past ghosts to rest.

A grudge is hardly a noble motivation to seek, but has proven to be at the core of many a memorable sporting encounter. I have no doubt that Ricky Ponting's [Images] batting will benefit enormously from Greg Chappell's considerable expertise, but I suspect that Chappell's presence in the touring party will have an immeasurably greater influence on Sourav Ganguly's performance this series. Sourav cannot seek a finer redemption than to excel against Chappell's newly ordained prot�g�s and I can just glimpse a champion coming into his own for one last time.

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