Finally, Ganguly finds paradise at Eden
At 12.55pm on December 1, time stood still for a moment in this laid-back eastern city. When Sourav Ganguly pushed Danish Kaneria just wide of mid-off and ran a single, hands aloft in the air, the 50,000-strong crowd at Eden Gardens had finally witnessed something more than a decade in the making. All through his career Ganguly has had a sense of occasion, an uncanny knack of claiming what is rightfully his.
He might have begun his career with a hundred at Lord's but he did not deserve to end it without a Test century at Eden Gardens. That he finally had a Test hundred against traditional rivals Pakistan will not mean as much to him as the fact that he had, in some token, paid back his faithful and often fanatical supporters, for Ganguly shares a bond with his fans that no other Indian cricketer does.
Sachin Tendulkar is loved in Mumbai, but no less anywhere else in the country which adopted the curly-haired 16-year-old as a national treasure soon after he made his debut. Rahul Dravid is respected in Karnataka, but not celebrated as much as a son of the soil as Anil Kumble or Javagal Srinath. VVS Laxman is the sort of character no-one can dislike, but sections of Punjab grudge him his success as he's seen as the one delaying Yuvraj Singh's inevitable installation in the middle-order.
For Ganguly, Kolkata feels an unconditional love, the kind that asks for nothing in return and yet blindly accepts whatever it gets. There's nothing objective about the manner in which Ganguly is assessed as a cricketer, and anyone who dares to contradict the overwhelmingly positive image is not spared. He's the uncrowned prince of Kolkata, and on Saturday, in the company of VVS Laxman, the man who earned the position of the lord of Eden Gardens with his 281 against Australia in 2001, Ganguly rattled off a century as easily as he was batting in the bylanes of Behala, and not a Test match.
Ganguly was helped along by a hamstrung pace attack and a pitch so dead you wondered if it was prepared by a mortician rather than a curator. But still, there have been flat decks and weak attacks in the past, and this no guarantee of a century. What does help is having a free mind. Coming in to this Test match on a back of a crucial and positive 48 in the first Test in Delhi, and walking out to bat with the score on 313 for 3, Ganguly appeared to be completely free of pressure.
Sure, there are always nerves at the highest level but the manner in which he played his strokes, and the regularity with which the placement matched the timing, suggested that the pressure of batting for his place in the side, of having Yuvraj knocking loudly on selectoral doors, had lifted. This was not the Ganguly of old, the god of off-side batting, but an improved version. This was the Ganguly who could score runs even when the going was tough, even if it didn't always look pretty, and one who was smart enough to cash in when the going was good.
Ganguly's first boundary was an open-faced poke past slip off Danish Kaneria, and the second was a forcing drive straight to Sohail Tanvir at point, who somehow managed to let the ball go through his feet, but the strokes that followed were unhurried and decisive. Shoaib Akhtar, normally played with the weight on the back foot and a state of readiness for the bouncer, was disdainfully slapped through point off the front foot. Mohammad Sami was timed through cover, pure dada style, and Tanvir's awkward angle was negated by Ganguly's left-handedness.
Ganguly's innings progressed at a steady clip, his fifty coming off only 72 balls, and his hundred - the first against major opposition in almost four years - off 144 balls. If he felt any nerves as he approached the milestone, he didn't show it, taking only five balls to get through the so-called nervous nineties and reach three figures. If there was one disappointment - and in Kolkata on a day like this you want be careful what you criticise - it was that Ganguly threw it away straight after getting his hundred, holing out to long-off. In the context of the game, though, it mattered little, and it would take a cruel person to hold this against Ganguly on his day.
The crowd, which had cheered so lustily every time Ganguly's face flashed on the giant screen as he waited for his turn to bat, certainly didn't mind, and gave him a rousing reception as he walked off the field. The moment was made that extra bit special because this crowd hadn't got sight of their hero in the flesh for a while. The last ODI here was washed out without India batting, and the one before that was the time when Ganguly was out of the side. Today, with his maiden Test hundred at home, Ganguly made that wait worthwhile.
Anand Vasu is an associate editor at Cricinfo