India v Sri Lanka, 1st Test, Chennai November 30, 2005

The fighter still remains - Watching Ganguly

Dileep Premachandran watched Sourav Ganguly's return to the ranks as India prepared for the first Test



All eyes were on Sourav Ganguly during the practice session © Getty Images

For those there to witness it, it was always going to be more than a mere net session. As it turned out, Sourav Ganguly's return to the Indian team umbrella brought with it no dark clouds, and the way the afternoon panned out, it appeared as though the leading protagonists in a sorry Zimbabwe-based tale had moved on.

The coterie that once surrounded him, and contributed in no small measure to the media disenchantment that cost him the top job, stayed at a respectful distance, and Ganguly then set about showing the team management just what he could do if selected in the XI on Friday morning. There were a few overs of batting against young tyros anxious for a big notch on their belts, and then a spell of seam-up bowling which suggested that he would certainly be asked to play a role as back-up to the new-ball pairing of Irfan Pathan and Ajit Agarkar.

What happened inside the nets though was merely incidental. Every eye was trained on Greg Chappell and Rahul Dravid, and how they would react to the prodigal son's return. Dravid was first to have a chat, and then Ganguly spent five minutes behind the nets having a tête-à-tête with Chappell. There was no sign of rancour, just two professionals getting on with the job at hand.



There was no sign of rancour, just two professionals getting on with the job at hand © Getty Images
After his own spell in the nets, Ganguly spent some time watching Sachin Tendulkar practise his drives against a boy throwing from 15 yards. With a smile on his face, he walked up for a word and for a brief moment, as Tendulkar waved animatedly with his gloved hand, you were transported to the days when the two were the most feared batting combination in the history of one-day cricket.

Afterwards, it was time for some slip-catching, with Chappell slicing them nearly as hard as Matthew Hayden or Virender Sehwag. Given what happened to Graeme Smith in Mumbai, you feared for the hands getting in the way of those bullets, but there appeared to be no damage as the players drifted off. Ganguly even found the time to pouch an outstanding catch low to his right before being enveloped by a horde of cameras and microphones en route to his kitbag. But there was no fighting talk, and certainly no posturing, merely a friendly wave and a hello for those faces he recognised.

Indian cricket's most-celebrated leader now finds himself in the role of ordinary foot-soldier, as he was when he first lit up the cricketing firmament with a century at Lord's in 1996. No one who loves Indian cricket will begrudge him a similar return when he faces up to the best that Sri Lanka have to offer. And given how often he has proved his detractors wrong in the course of a career yielding over 15,000 international runs, you'd have to be inordinately brave - or foolish - to write him off. As Simon and Garfunkel put it so poignantly in The Boxer, "He carries the reminders of every glove that laid him down or cut him ... but the fighter still remains".

Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo