Sourav Ganguly’s return to one-day cricket was memorable not just for him personally, but also for India. He missed a century by two runs but played a lead role in India’s 14-run win in what eventually became a nail-biter here on Sunday.
India successfully defended their highest total against the Caribbeaners, 338 for three (the previous best being 325 for five in Ahmedabad, 2002-03), but this was one that almost got away, thanks to a gutsy unbeaten 149 (136b, 15x4, 3x6) from Shivnarine Chanderpaul, who carried his bat through. In the end, it was a bit too much though, with the West Indies ending with 324 for eight.
Despite it being a belter of a track where the bat naturally dictated terms and 66 fours and 16 sixes were smacked, India would be glad to have their batsmen get back among runs. What probably helped tremendously was that the two men at the top, Ganguly and Gambhir, had been untouched by the savaging the Indian one-day team has received since that miserable outing to the Caribbean last summer.
The two brought a fresh look, a fresh approach and fresh life to the team in the course of a 144-run opening stand in 24.4 overs that set the foundation for a massive score. Later, Dhoni (62 not out, 3x4, 4x6) and Dravid (54 not out, 4x4, 3x6) shared an exhilarating, unbroken stand of 119 for the fourth wicket in just 71 balls, smashing an invaluable 112 from the last 10 overs.
But they couldn’t have done what they did if the start hadn’t been so good. Ganguly (98, 109b, 11x4, 3x6) and fellow southpaw Gambhir (69), both making comebacks, were both under tremendous pressure as they walked out after Brian Lara put India in.
Making a comeback is never easy, no matter how much cricket one has played. Ganguly, with 279 previous caps, has worked his way back after being out of one-day action since September 2005, while Gambhir was out of favour after the home series against England last year before earning his 17th international cap. And the pressures on them were obviously different. While Gambhir is looking to cement his place in the one-day squad after having had a hit and miss time of it, Ganguly’s return to one-day cricket after being the highest run-getter for India in the South African Test series, was keenly awaited.
He did not have to wait long to face his first ball. Gambhir turned Ian Bradshaw’s first delivery to backward point for a single and the man who all of India seemed to be waiting to watch was ready to face the music. He watched the ball closely, letting it go harmlessly by the first time and defending stoutly the next. He negotiated the next three deliveries admirably, setting the trend for the day, where he played an innings that veered between initial caution and sublime aggression, letting a focussed Gambhir have free rein at first and then breaking loose himself.
However, in his anxiety to steal a single and get to his ton after playing Gayle to square leg, he brought about his own downfall, falling to a direct hit from Dwayne Smith. Ganguly later did not field during the West Indies run chase due to cramps.
With the Indians showing the way, the West Indies followed suit. The ruthless Gayle reached his fifty in just 44 balls and clobbered the Indian bowlers all over before Harbhajan Singh came up with vital twin strikes, removing Gayle (52, 46b, 10x4) and Runako Morton in quick succession.
And while Samuels and Lara tried their best to back up the indefatigable Chanderpaul, it was just a little too much for them. From India’s point of view though, it was much too close for comfort.