The stage was all his and Sourav Ganguly made it a performance to remember. His unbeaten 51, the core of India’s first innings 249 and a knock that came under severe strain and extreme scrutiny, could perhaps set the stage for the rest of this tour. Much like his 144 in Brisbane did for India’s incredible tour of Australia three years ago.
But the stakes are vastly different, as are the circumstances. Then, Ganguly was the Maharaj, lord of all he surveyed. Now, he is a man fighting for redemption, even acceptance.
In those heady days, wherever he went, he was always surrounded by mates, friends, fans. These past 10 days, he has spent a large part of his time here alone. Frequently, he has been found quietly walking around the vicinity of the team hotels on his own, smiling at those who greet him, seemingly untouched by the drama around his presence here in South Africa.
But there is one thing in common. Now, as then, he has shown a stirring spirit and an indomitable will to beat adversity. His unnecessary second innings dismissal for 25 apart, his batting has oscillated between stubbornly scratchy and sure, with a couple of moments, like that pulled six off Ntini (who eventually got him in the second essay), showing the sublime arrogance of old.
And after Ganguly, two other men made this day all India’s and incredibly, given how this tour has been, perhaps this match too.
First, S Sreesanth, who grabbed his maiden five-wicket haul, bowled with channelled venom to destroy the Proteas batting. Around him, India played like they haven’t in months. With a joie de vivre that was a joy to watch as South Africa were bundled out for 84, their lowest at the Wanderers since 1957. Later, VVS Laxman, another man who has been hurt by the system and shown it, played a vintage knock of 42, which helped India to 146-5 and a lead of 311 at stumps.
If India win, it will be a fascinating human drama that Rahul Dravid’s team will owe so much to that inspirational knock from Ganguly, a man who had been given up for lost by them, but has instead danced back under the lights in enchanting fashion.