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Grit, guts and Ganguly

Despite pressure, Dada shows fortitude on the pitch, writes Kadambari Murali.

india Updated: Dec 08, 2006 04:33 IST

He came (when India had lost Jaffer, Sehwag and Tendulkar for just 37), he saw (began cautiously and stayed focussed even as Laxman and Dhoni flashed and fell) and he conquered (after being hit above the right ear by a fiery Nantie Hayward delivery, next over, he hit the bowler twice to the cover-point boundary off consecutive balls).

By the time Sourav Ganguly fell for a 141-ball 83, he and Irfan Pathan (111* at stumps) had put on 115 runs for the sixth wicket and more importantly, he had shown a disbelieving world just what cussed self-belief can do.

Frankly, it was a pleasure to watch Ganguly play on the day, not just because of the sheer grit he showed given the situation he walked into, but also because of the terrible pressure he must have been under because of the conditions of his selection.

And once he fell, Pathan, who had played with a combination of patience and panache to show a feckless top order that it was possible to stand and fight on this wicket if you put a mind to it, just continued in the same vein, as he and Harbhajan Singh (47) put on a rollicking seventh-wicket stand of 79.

Harbhajan too fell with the score at 287 but at stumps, India were on 316-7, with Pathan on his highest score in any form of the game, obviously seeing the ball beautifully and Zaheer Khan, having decided that the track had nothing much in it, joining in the party.

Which, obviously nursing a hangover from the one-dayers, the top order didn't realise. The pitch here is almost made up of two halves, the part closer to the University End (where the pavilion and press box are) has large patches of green.

The other half, towards the interestingly named Cargo Motors End, seemed barer and browner but the behaviour of the pitch at both ends seemed more or less the same. And while the wicket had both bounce and carry, it didn't have too much pace in it and logic (and the way the latter order bats played) dictated that it was basically a matter of watching the ball and negotiating the bounce.

In fact, within the parameters of South African conditions, it should have been the perfect practice pitch for the Indians to get runs by the tons and get back some self-confidence.

Well, needless to say, the top order bats couldn't do it, yet again, and South African coach Mickey Arthur, who kept interrupting watching his daughters play at a tennis tournament in Port Elizabeth to check on the scores every now and then, would be absolutely gleeful about the way they collapsed.

As usual, India were put on the backfoot immediately, when both openers departed early. Jaffer was trapped in front by a Hayward full toss off the third ball he faced, while Sehwag was superbly yorked and castled to become the first of Morne Morkel's four victims so far, off the first legal ball he faced. That was two ducks and India were staring down the barrel at 2-2.

Morkel, a tall, lean young bowler, who Alan Donald has picked out as something special, proved that for the early part of Thursday, when after removing Sehwag, he also picked off Tendulkar (10), Laxman (23) and Dhoni (6) to leave India struggling for survival at 69-5 at the stroke of lunch.

Only Ganguly stood there this morning, all firmness and focus, eschewing the glamourous shots for those that would help him survive. He took his time to settle down, tried not to let anything go through the air, presented the full face of the bat, used soft hands and left the ball outside the off stump well alone. He seemed calm, composed and at peace with his turbulent world.

He seemed to lose his concentration only twice, once when on 41, he edged the unlucky Morkel to slips, where Vaughn van Jaarsveld got both hands to but couldn't hold onto what should have been a regulation catch slightly low to his right. And earlier, when on 33, he was hit on the helmet just above the right ear by an otherwise, frequently wayward Hayward.

In fact, Hayward, who has the red-heads' reputation for hotheadedness, walked down to say things to Ganguly more than once and Ganguly merely ignored him, preferring to use his bat to hit him out of the attack instead.

As did Pathan, who, after standing around and watching things, opened up in glorious fashion, taking on every South African bowler with a style and confidence that would have done a top-order batsman proud.

And he's still there, so Friday should be really interesting, nicely, for a change, despite the top order batsmen's best efforts.