India v South Africa, 3rd Test, Kanpur, 2nd day April 12, 2008

'This is definitely one of my top Test knocks' - Ganguly

Sourav Ganguly dug in on a tricky track, against a lethal pace attack, but was "very" disappointed to fall on 87 © Getty Images

It's funny how some of the most celebrated batsmen's best knocks aren't hundreds: Sunil Gavaskar's 96 in Bangalore, Gundappa Viswanath's 97 not out against an Andy Roberts-led West Indies in Chennai, on a fresh track are two prime examples. Sourav Ganguly's 87 today on a Kanpur minefield can safely join the company. And the man himself rates this as one of his best efforts. "Considering the surface and context, this is definitely one of my top Test knocks," was his summary after a gripping day's play.

It was inevitable that comparisons would be made with the innings he played in Johannesburg to set up a famous win. As a pure innings, Ganguly said this one was better. "In terms of pressure, that 51 in Jo'burg was better, as I was making my comeback. In terms of quality of the innings and quality of the surface, this one was definitely better."

When he was walking out in the afternoon he must have crossed Rahul Dravid almost writhing in pain, throwing away his arm guard after being hit by Morne Morkel on the right wrist, but the way he batted it didn't seem the pitch bothered him at all. And Ganguly would be lying if he said it didn't. "The odd ball would bounce and go through the top, and that is not in my control. These are the pitches where how you think matters. You may get out to a normal delivery as well. You cannot worry about the ball, if it goes through the top it does.

"I intended to be positive, just play my game and play my shots because there was no point in surviving there and not adding runs to the scoreboard. The key for me and others like Yuvraj, VVS [Laxman], and Mahendra Singh [Dhoni] was to move the scoreboard. That was the only way to take the pressure off us, scoring runs, and I decided that if the ball was there to be hit, I would hit it."

He also said he was "very" disappointed he did not get the century he so thoroughly deserved. But the way he got out was exactly what the situation required. Three wickets had fallen rather quickly to bring the tail in; the first, that of a reckless Dhoni, triggering the collapse when India were 17 runs away from South Africa's 265 and 3.5 overs away from facing the new ball.

Ganguly had to now start dominating the strike because he couldn't have trusted Sreesanth the way he did Harbhajan Singh and Piyush Chawla. Looking to score, he said, was the only way to go out there. "I don't think we threw it away. To be honest, we didn't throw away any of the wickets."

Ganguly said he, like others, didn't know how the track would behave over the next few days and hence couldn't tell if a 23-run lead was good enough. But he said getting to where they did was a difficult job. "It is important that we got till 280. The wicket was difficult, the South African bowlers are quite fast, and scoring against them is difficult. Their bowlers generally bowl well on a pitch with up-and-down bounce, [Dale] Steyn especially bowled well."

There is still one wicket standing and nothing would please India more if the last pair frustrated the South Africans on the third morning and actually got India to a sizeable lead. "I hope Ishant [Sharma] and Sreesanth do a bit of magic tomorrow morning," Ganguly said. "At the moment we are 23 ahead. And if we can get that to 50 and take a couple of wickets before they get to 50 it will be good."

Ganguly doesn't know what target India would feel comfortable with, but cited the way they took nine wickets for 113 runs as indication that India could get South Africa out cheaply in their second innings. And if they manage to square the series, Ganguly's 87 will feel that much more special.

Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo