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16 August 1998
Batting for his place in history
He may only be 19, but Daren Ganga has been given a man's job to do. When chairman of the West Indies selectors Mike Findlay and his panel pencilled in the name of the Trinidad and Tobago youth team captain for the challenging tour of South Africa in November, they were both making one youth's dream come true and throwing down the gauntlet. But the level-headed Ganga seems unfazed by the task ahead.
"I am very excited and confident that I can do well at this level," he says. "I will love to make my (Test) debut in South Africa and play against the likes of Shaun Pollock and Allan Donald. And having played in this part of the world before, I do not think I will have a problem adjusting to the conditions."
Nevertheless, the youngest T&T player in 35 years to make a Test squad, Ganga must now go to bat for himself and many, many people.
Brian Lara, his national and now international captain, has publicly endorsed Ganga's selection, telling the region that, "I know we've placed a lot of faith in him. It's up to the individual now to go out there and show he's capable of playing at that standard". But the youngster from Barrackpore must also now bear a burden of history.
Ganga has the opportunity to become the first batsman of East Indian descent from this country to make an indelible mark at Test level. In the 60-odd years the region has been involved in Test cricket, T&T has had just the lone batsman with an indenture background in Nyron Asgarali playing among this elite group. But his stay at the top was short-lived. He managed just two Test matches.
Of the others who have ascended to the Test arena from this part of the region, all were spin bowlers with only three of the lot playing in more than ten Tests: Sonny Ramadhin(43) Raphick Jumadeen (12), Inshan Ali (12). Ganga's fellow villager Rajindra Dhanraj has played just four times for WI.
Significantly, however, there have been others of similar stock who have distinguished themselves on the international scene as leading West Indian batsmen. But the dashing Rohan Kanhai who played 79 Tests for West Indies and was in his later years team captain, the diminutive and elegant Alvin Kallicharan (66 Tests), Joe Solomon (27 Tests), Faoud Bacchus (19 Tests) and current star Shivnarine Chanderpaul, are all Guyanese.
The T&T contribution to this legacy has been poorer than usual recently. The late Queen's Royal College and national youth allrounder Shirvan Pragg was denied a promising career by a fatal car crash in the 1980's.
National opener Suruj Ragoonath seemed to be one good series away from the Test team last season. But his inconsistent performances on the West Indies A team that toured South Africa last year have set him back.
Even before Ragoonath, Justice Prakash Moosai, current national youth coach Aneal Rajah and David Mohammed all failed for one reason or the other to get beyond regional level. Ganga's selection has brought new optimism that this trend can be reversed. He has the chance to go where few others have gone before.
He will embark on the journey fresh-faced but already well grounded in the game. Ganga hails from a family with a strong background in cricket.
His uncle Mahendra Ganga, whom he describes as his mentor and personal coach from early childhood to the present time, is a former national Under-19 player. So is Ganga's elder brother Sheldon, while younger sibling Sherwin represented the WI Under-15 team in the Lombard World Youth Series in England and played alongside him in the recently concluded NorTel youth series.
Born to Ramesh and Seerajie Ganga, young Daren received his early education at Rio Claro Vedic School, Barrackpore ASJA, St Stephen's College and finally Naparima College where he just sat A-Level exams. Roy Jagroopsingh, teacher and coach at "Naps", described Ganga as a very level-headed individual with tremendous potential. "Daren is the epitome of what a model student should be," he says.
"It is not very often that you find someone with such a high degree of ability in sport who is able at the same time to perform exceptionally well at the academics,'' Jagroopsingh enthused. But even before Jagroopsingh laid eyes on him, Daren was coming through the ranks, representing the country at the Under-14 and Under-16 levels before progressing to the Under-19 and senior teams.
Ganga in fact made his debut last year against Guyana at the Queen's Park Oval. It was a breakthrough at 18, made possible by Lara's willingness to give the youth a chance. And in his nine first-class matches since then, Ganga has impressed with his quality, if not necessarily quantity of runs.
But the Lara intervention aside, Ganga has been blessed with some other measures of good fortune. Last year when the WI Under-19 squad was selected for the World Youth Cup in South Africa, he was omitted. However, Ganga found himself joining the party in South Africa as one of the replacements for seven over-aged players.
Even before that, in 1995, he failed to make the national youth team to play in the NorTel series in Grenada. But as fate would have it, the Secondary Schools Cricket Council selected a national Under-16 schoolboys team to tour England and Ganga was named as captain.
Former West Indies batsman Larry Gomes who accompanied that team to England as coach, remembers the youngster well.
And he sees Ganga's senior team selection as, "a very good investment for the future". "The exposure will do him a world of good later on in his career. Ever since I had the opportunity to work with him on the tour of the UK in '95 I knew he had the ability and the determination to reach the highest level," Gomes pointed out.
Come November, Ganga will get the chance to make the faith of Lara and Gomes pay in runs. And show Mr Jagroopsingh he has truly learnt his history.
Source :: The Trinidad Express (http://www.trinidad.net/express/)
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