Call it a quirk of fate or, perhaps, God's way of righting a wrong. Ten months ago, it was here at the Ferozeshah Kotla that the Indian selectors had dropped a bombshell that literally pulled the rug from under the feet of everyone present in the room: Sourav Ganguly had been dropped from the Test team, after the southpaw had given a reasonable account of himself in the Delhi Test against Sri Lanka.
The following months saw the Bengal Tiger being systematically ostracised. On Thursday, at the same venue and eerily, under a similar setting — yes, the room was claustrophobic yet again, with the media agog in anticipation — Sourav Ganguly was recalled to the Indian team.
Delhi opener Gautam Gambhir and sturdy Punjab pacer VRV Singh were also included for the three-Test series against South Africa, which begins on December 15, while Suresh Raina, Mohammed Kaif, Dinesh Mongia and Ajit Agarkar would return to India.
Also, in what can be construed as a direct message to the out of form Virender Sehwag, the selectors have stripped him of the Test team's vice-captaincy and elevated VVS Laxman to that position. The shadow of Ganguly loomed large over the selection committee meeting, and when the BCCI secretary Niranjan Shah announced Ganguly's name, even the most stolid journalists found themselves breaking into an applause.
Chief selector Dilip Vengsarkar, who met BCCI president Sharad Pawar in the morning with the other selectors, said: “Our batting has collapsed in South Africa and that is why we need experience. Ganguly and Laxman have enough experience to do well in South Africa."
Asked about Ganguly's chances in the shorter version of the game — in which his record is much more impressive — Vengsarkar said he would cross the bridge when he gets to it.
“Let Sourav play well in the Tests and we'll take it from there," said Vengsarkar, and quickly added: “Of course, I'll be happy if he does well!" Vengsarkar was typically brusque when asked how coach Greg Chappell might react to Ganguly's return. “We have picked the team for India, not for any individual," he snapped.
On the queer case of VVS Laxman — whose fitness had been questioned by Vengsarkar himself earlier in the month, but who now is not only in the ODI team but also is the Test team vice-captain —Vengsarkar said: “Don't forget, he'll be able to play only one ODI. Besides, he was the captain of the South Zone team and has led India A too. He's a fine player and, I believe, his fitness will improve."
Asked whether Laxman was elevated also to send Sehwag a message, Vengsarkar replied in the positive. “Absolutely. No one can take his place in the team for granted." Vengsarkar revealed that the names of Delhi opener Aakash Chopra and Tamil Nadu's S Badrinath also came up, but Gambhir's performances tilted the scales in his favour.
Vengsarkar also felt that a bowling coach was imperative for the team. “We are missing a bowling coach, for sure. I have spoken to Mr Pawar about that," Vengsarkar remarked.
Vengsarkar also leapt to the defence of the beleaguered Irfan Pathan. “He batted and bowled well in the last game, so how can you drop him? That will make him lose confidence," he reasoned.
Vengsarkar lamented the lack of bench strength and the inability of youngsters to cope with the bouncy wickets of South Africa. “We don't have enough bench strength," he said.