The one thing the masses crave more than a hero is a hero in decline. One who generates mass hysteria in ascendancy triggers mass satisfaction in downfall. A sigh of relief escapes us when a hero hurtles down to a non-heroic existence, to become an equal or worse.
This time, it's more than a sigh. The bloodlust of a "lynch mob", as social historian Ramachandra Guha puts it, is coming to the fore as Saurav Ganguly teeters on the precipice of cricketing oblivion. The mob—egged on by ICC referee Chris Broad's decision to ban the Indian cricket captain for six one-day matches for India's slow over rate in the game against Pakistan at Ahmedabad—is leering at the prospect of him falling over.
The referee has only followed the book. Ganguly was banned for two matches for slow over rate after the BCCI's platinum jubilee match in Calcutta last November by referee Clive Lloyd (that ban was scrapped following an appeal) and fined 70 per cent of match fees for the same breach at Jamshedpur. That made the Ahmedabad breach a level III offence, for which a ban is prescribed.
But should Broad, whose record as player is not without disciplinary blemish (see box), have taken such a narrow view? The referee hasn't yet objected to Shoaib Malik's bowling, who, according to coach Bob Woolmer's website, bends his arm considerably more than 15 degrees. He could have taken into account the day's oppressive heat which necessitated numerous water breaks which were all allowed by the umpires. Then, in an India-Pakistan encounter, extenuating circumstances often go beyond what a rule book may consider legitimate, especially in a match that is decided on the last ball. And six matches?
"It's not fair," says former Pakistan captain Wasim Akram. Former India opener and commentator Arun Lal is livid: "If everything has to go by the book, why have a referee at all?...