East Zone v North Zone, Duleep Trophy October 21, 2005

Ganguly hundred puts East Zone ahead

North Zone 106 for 3 (Ricky 56) and 178 (Bose 4-45) trail East Zone291 (Ganguly 117, Dasgupta 57) by 7 runs

Sourav Ganguly: the comeback begins © Getty Images

With a triumphant century heralding his return, Sourav Ganguly showed signs of his vintage best to help East Zone gain a slender advantage on the second day of the Duleep Trophy game at Rajkot. After gaining a 113-run lead, East appeared to have let things slip as the North openers comfortably added 105, but three quick wickets at the end of the day tilted the scales.

But between 5pm on the first day and 2pm on the second, the match had a more important sub-plot. North v East was forgotten. Laxmi Ratan Shukla and Deep Dasgupta played fine hands as East forged ahead, Gagandeep Singh and VRV Singh produced impressive spells as North stayed afloat, a lead was there to be jostled over, a match to be won but all these were mere sidelights. Ganguly's riveting tale was unfolding in three acts, and nobody could think of much else.

Ganguly must love destiny. He flirts with it so often, so dangerously, that just when one thinks he's crossed the line and committed one too many lapse, he returns. His latest fling at Rajkot, fittingly in the princely state of Saurashtra, turned into a romantic comeback and a run-of-the mill Duleep Trophy match that wasn't televised, with a few hundred spectators in a stadium that looked more like a construction site, gained enormous significance.

The first part was tense, the second dangerous and the third delicious. There was hesitation while running, edges, a dropped catch and some gorgeous strokeplay. In short, it was Ganguly in a thrilling mood. He had come through a rib-tickling examination last evening, in which he was hit a flush blow on the helmet and survived some iffy flashes that eluded fielders.

Day 2: In the first half an hour, Ganguly might as well have played with the edge of his bat. The tightrope sequence, spanning five overs, went as follows: a flashed four that just escaped a diving point, a huge appeal for lbw, a prod that flew past the slip cordon, an attempted cut that he missed, a majestic pull to square leg, and another perilous appeal for lbw. Gagandeep and VRV couldn't have done much more, on a pitch that had considerably flattened out. Any moment, any ball, the drama could have reached its anti-climactic end.

However, the entry of the third Singh, Sarandeep, was enough to trigger an old chord. What followed - the third act of this fascinating play - was a sublime dismantling of an offspinner within three overs: a ferocious cut for four, a glance to fine leg that brought up his fifty, a pendulum-smooth swing that catapulted a flighted delivery to the shamiana at long-on, and a cracked drive to long-off that left mid-on stunned. Shukla was creating his own mayhem at the other end - both carted Sarandeep for 34 in three overs - and with the rustiness wiped out and the tailwind behind him, Ganguly began to soar.

In a span of 44 deliveries, when he went from 50 to his hundred, it was classic Ganguly: an imperious cover-drive off Amit Bhandari took one back to Lord's 1996; a rasping cut off VRV - when he actually backed away - reminded one of that gloomy evening at Headingley in 2002; some dismissive drives off Amit Mishra, the legspinner, transported one back to Kandy in 2001, when his 98 steered India to a series-levelling win.

Inevitably, he rode his luck too. On 86, he was dropped when he tried to back away again and carve through the off side. Dinesh Mongia got his hands to it but couldn't latch on. There was no let up, though, as cut followed sweep, followed cut, followed scampered single to complete one of the fairytale hundreds of recent times. A slow rise of the bat was an acknowledgement for the eruption in the dressing-room and he soon walked off for lunch with everyone trying their best to get a part of him.

He fell soon after lunch, trying to cut Mishra, snicking to the wicketkeeper and spontaneously walking off. With normalcy restored, the game resumed with Dasgupta stretching the lead and VRV hitting back with fiery yorkers to mop up the tail. Shikhar Dhawan and Ravneet Ricky, two young men with tremendous records in the junior levels, spanked a few boundaries and neutralised East's advantage before the East bowlers engineered a mini-collapse and provided the play with another twist. This game, though, was mainly about the three crucial acts in between.

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo