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One year on, Sourav rises in the East

In order to reclaim his lost kingdom, Ganguly goes beyond the Duleep Trophy, writes Varun Gupta.

india Updated: Nov 07, 2006 14:27 IST

Some couldn’t bear to watch, some lit up one cigarette after another, while others chose to dance wildly in the stands, hoping that the ploy would help assuage the nervousness that seemed to have engulfed the Nehru Stadium during the Duleep Trophy tie between North and East Zone on Monday.

In the middle of it all, stood Sourav Ganguly, poised, in quiescence, like a priest in the midst of meditation, seemingly oblivious to his surroundings, to the cacophony that was loud enough to make Guwahati shudder.

North dangled the bait, too many times, hoping that the prince would bite once and pay the price. He didn't, he was never going to, such was his unwavering concentration and restraint on the day. And then came the moment, that enchanting moment, when Ganguly pushed off-spinner Rajesh Sharma to the covers and sprinted to complete his century - one that, for a while now, has seemed just around the corner.

There were no wild celebrations, none of the theatrics so often associated with him. Just a look towards the heavens and a punch in the air, as Ashish Nehra, who had fought valiantly to deny him the feat, rushed to his former captain, a man who backed him when others would not and congratulated him, as the rest of the North team followed suit.

Outside the dressing room, national selectors Venkatpathy Raju and Ranjib Biswal stood up and applauded, flashing the thumbs up sigh to Ganguly.

The significance of the moment was not lost on anyone, because at this stage, with Yuvraj Singh not available and the Indian batting floundering match after match, Ganguly, vastly experienced, had staked his claim for a national spot. The prince had just taken a giant stride to reclaim his lost kingdom and in the process, had transcended this Duleep Trophy.

The game, now, seems merely incidental to the feat. Tea ensued an over later and both selectors came down the stairs to welcome Ganguly to the dressing room with open arms. It was hard not to imagine that they might have been welcoming him back to the Indian team.

Gagnuly's ton is all the more significant given the pressure he has been under with many asking why he was not hanging up his boots, why he was so hell bent on fighting a losing battle. Today, he showed why he believed in himself when few others did.

At stumps on a badly curtailed Day Three, which saw only 67.5 overs being bowled because of bad light and security concerns, Ganguly's undefeated 118 lugged East to 215 for four, a position from which they might possibly deny North a deserved first innings lead if they can bat out Tuesday.

Right from the outset, Ganguly seemed a man possessed, a man on a mission, and assisting him in his quest was that timing of yore that had prompted Rahul Dravid to comment, a lifetime ago, "On offside, first there is god, then there is Sourav Ganguly".

There are two things that have been striking in Ganguly's effort. First, the balance that has always helped him look all grace at the crease on his good days. And the second was his indefatigability. Ganguly has been on the field right through these three days, barring 10 minutes on Day Two when the East openers were batting. So there is no doubting his fitness.

He drove Gagandeep Singh through the covers with commanding authority in the day's second over. Nehra bowled a couple of testing spells to him but the southpaw knew where his off-stump was and chose not to flirt with danger by shouldering arms to many such deliveries. As the mercury rose, so did his confidence and soon, in the 44th over, he danced down the wicket to Sharma and unleashed that fabled lofted on-drive that cleared the long-on fence and sent the crowd into delirium.

Another six followed in the 55th over, this time to left-arm orthodox spinner Vishal Bhatia, one that went further down the road. After throwing caution to the wind in the nineties, he completed his century and then, seeing the fading lights, played it safe to remain unbeaten when play ended for the day.