The wheel comes full circle
For every change in Indian cricket, there remains a constant; for every action that tries to transform the system, there remains an equal, sometimes even more forceful, reaction. The board can try several attempts at professionalism but there will be games that most of the country can't watch, like today when viewers suffered because of a broadcasting battle. Indian pitches can occasionally be spiced up, like they were during the Champions Trophy, but the beating beauties will eventually return, like today when a record 662 runs were ransacked on a Nagpur tarmac. Indian batsmen will pussyfoot around on lively tracks but turn into ogres on the featherbeds, like they did today posting 338 without breaking into a huff. Sourav Ganguly can be shunted into the wilderness, and seem to be finished for good, but he will invariably make a comeback, like today when he returned with a dazzling 98.
Fifteen months back, on this very ground, in another series opener when India needed to rediscover their winning ways, Sachin Tendulkar batted as if in a time warp. He'd returned from a long lay-off and was opening the innings. Would he find back his groove, would he struggle? Replace Tendulkar with Ganguly and you have a similar innings. Both rewound the clock to their glory days, both brought out shots that had been associated with their prime - where Tendulkar pulled, Ganguly backed away, walked down the track and drilled. Both were under pressure - Tendulkar, it was said couldn't regain his old touch; Ganguly, it was said, couldn't regain his place in the side. Both made nineties, both set the base for a 330-plus total, both showed the dangers of writing them off.
Ganguly's innings will be remembered for its majestic strokeplay - his magical off-side touch, his instinct to chew up the spinners, his shot selection - but one mustn't forget his keenness to run the quick single. After every four he spanked, there he was, ready to nudge in the gap and hurry a single; after every run he completed, there he was, ready to turn back and scamper back for the two. It wasn't a laidback Ganguly flash-class but an energy-filled chug-along. Not surprisingly it resulted in cramps, forcing him to stay away from the action for a large part of West Indies' innings, but the keenness of the approach was most refreshing.
He didn't end as the top-scorer - Shivnarine Chanderpaul, crab-like in technique but pitbull-like in his ability to fight, stood atop a batting mountain. Raging against the dying light, he refused to give up the fight and played what both Brian Lara and Rahul Dravid termed was "one of the best innings while chasing". Chanderpaul himself put it alongside the 150 he'd clattered against South Africa at East London.
His was the innings of the day, Ganguly's came a romantic second, while Chris Gayle and Mahendra Singh Dhoni did what they know best. Lara, for a brief while, took the game to a different plane but the half-century on which the game turned came at the end of India's innings. With the inevitability of the sun rising in the east, Dravid rediscovered his touch. With the tenderness that one would normally reserve for removing a contact lens, he dismantled the West Indian attack. Dhoni's muscular bat-swings - ranging from the swivel-drive to the helicopter-pull - made the crowd swoon but it was Dravid's flying kisses that sealed the issue. Correct in technique, smooth in bat-swing, statuesque in his lofts, he was playing a Test match in pyjamas.
"We've been struggling in the slog overs and it was good to be able to score some runs towards the end," he said at the end of the day. "Some things I tried came off and things were set up nicely." Just once did he try to slog, backing away and swinging Taylor through extra cover for six, but his body seemed to protest as one hand came off the handle. Of the six fifty-plus scores in the match, his was the most tender, at times even apologetic. Sorry, he seemed to be saying to Lara, but we can't leve this chance of batting first on this beauty.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo