Poor Saurav Ganguly. Cricket has come to such a pass that the Prince of Calcutta has kicked up a row for spending time with - believe it or not - his wife. Because when you look at all thats being said, repeated and multiplied about him, hes really done no more than that. Think of all the crime thats blighting cricket now. And Gangulys crime? That, as some suburban English hacks in Manchester would have it, hes "aloof". This is the charge Ganguly has to defend himself against. Hes not bothering, and ones almost glad.
That it has come to this says less about Ganguly than about a lowly environment of envy that Englands sports clubs soak in. It also says something about the Indian media to whom a white byline is still Gods own word, and parroting what appears below it is a fine days work because its repeated with such relish. And, sadly, read with such uncritical absorption. This one is no cricket scandal; its more scandalous reporting by the media.
The Manchester Evening News ran a story titled Ganguly Mystery after a match in which Gangulys Lancashire played Kent, which stars Rahul Dravid. The paper reported that when Ganguly got his 50 there was no one on the balcony to applaud him. "Ganguly looked perplexed, embarrassed and then angry as he looked up to the balcony." But the paper said later captain John Crawley clapped him back to the pavilion and that when the team came out to field, "Ganguly looked happy enough".
Two days later a correspondent wrote in the Daily Telegraph that the club should "pay him up this very day, because he is wasting his time and theirs". That was after that fifth 50 by Ganguly in nine League matches. Gangulys fault seems to have been that he did not down pints enough with the back-slapping lads at the pub. Fuel enough for back-stabbing: it transpires that one or two of these lads took their grouse against Ganguly to the press.
Ganguly perhaps saw it coming. "I tend to lose focus if I cant do my own thing," he is said to have remarked days before the scandal broke. On the basis of this, The Telegraph bitched that Ganguly is "averse to false modesty or compromise". The Sunday Times took a swipe at him over two-three paragraphs in a match report titled Ganguly Running Out of Friends. The author says, despite Gangulys five fifties, that "perhaps he regards all this, however subconsciously, as a chance to relax". There was more of this picked up and repeated in Indian papers, with the added comment that this sort of stuff in the English press "is a terribly damaging comment".
Ganguly had done quite the wrong thing, we are told, by "a preference for travelling with his wife than with the team". What a scandal! Sure, that sort of thing, if true, goes against the boyly codes that prevail at many English clubs. Some might grumble a bit, some might go to the press. Someone did. A little petulance somewhere found local print, national amplification and then a straight transfer to India. Thus spake The Sunday Times... Indian media were amplifying allegations by English commentators without a word on what Ganguly might have to say. One Indian newspaper reported simply that there are rumours: "Stories have begun to circulate even at Lords. "
The spokesperson for the Lancashire County Club told Outlook that "the whole thing has been blown out of all proportion". Because many of the things reported locally did not happen. Ganguly didnt come out to bat in protest-blue shoes, and he was applauded by his team-mates. He was involved in two run-outs during that match, and tensions over this sort of thing come and go. But everyone is not targeted as Ganguly has been. And however exaggerated, the reports indicate at least a level of fleeting friction.
The sort of issues that Ganguly seemed to have confronted are no different from those faced by many other players. Lancashire had no problems with Farroukh Engineer and Northamptonshire seemed to have had none with Bishen Singh Bedi. But Engineer went on record to say that "racism is rife in English sport". Bedi had said: "Its very hard to get accepted in an English dressing room; the average pro takes a long time to loosen up and you have to have considerable personal success before you really become part of the team." Eventually Bedi quit, and the parting was not a happy one.
An indictment of Ganguly has been that Dravid playing for Kent and Anil Kumble for Leicestershire have not had his problems - such as they are. Dravid has been more than popular as a Kent pro. A century and a near-century in which he prevailed over all the wile of Shane Warne have been the most toasted knocks of the season. Dravid, in turn, has been more than admiring of English county cricket. "Its been a fantastic experience playing in county cricket," Dravid told Outlook. "Theres a lot to learn here and the organisation and the facilities are just terrific." Cricket in England does not spur the same enthusiasm as it does in India but its very well supported and the coaching and other facilities are excellent. "And theres much a Test player can learn in this cricket," Dravid has said. Again, Kumble doesnt seem to have problems and the local press in Kent and Leicestershire havent played up any minor issues that might have arisen. But some Indian papers conclude that the lack of a problem with them must mean its all Gangulys fault.
Ganguly hasnt perhaps been able to get away from his "elite" status. Reports have circulated in Manchester about his "privileged" background as the son of a wealthy printer. It did not help that in Lancashire he is paid a good deal more than many of his English team-mates. To know that and to see him drive off after a match with his wife is guarantee of a good deal of English grumbling. But this grumbling found broadcast.
"I have no idea where these stories are coming from," the Lancashire County Club spokesperson told Outlook. From within the club, inevitably. One source at the club said there had been some "talking to" about grumbling to local scribes and that the problem has now been "handled". The lid is on at least until Ganguly completes his contract for the season. But no great scandals are expected to emerge from this one later. For, this wasnt about cricket or crime. If anything, it was about class.