Pakistan v India, 3rd Test, Karachi January 30, 2006

Mosaic of emotions - From hope to disappointment

Around 5:00pm last evening when the crowd was caught somewhere in between delirium and wonder, Sourav Ganguly made his slow walk to the middle to play his first Test innings in 46 days.

Sourav Ganguly started cautiously as he tucked, glided, pushed, and tickled to keep a hot Shoaib Akhtar at bay © AFP

Around 5:00pm last evening, when VVS Laxman was undone by a fast offbreak from Mohammad Asif, and when the crowd was caught somewhere in between delirium and wonder, Sourav Ganguly made his slow walk to the middle to play his first Test innings in 46 days. It was a measured walk: he adjusted his pads, re-jigged his helmet, tinkered with the pink bandana, before taking his position at the non-striker's end.

He had much to combat - deathly pace from Shoaib Akhtar, snaky seam from Asif, rapidly mounting pressure, a noisy crowd, fading light and most importantly a realisation that the series and his spot were very much on the line.

Standing at the non-striker's end, he watched Sachin Tendulkar fall. And he almost ended the day without facing a ball when, in the fourteenth over of the innings, with Asif at the top of his mark, the sun disappeared. Accepting the offer for light, he walked off, but almost miraculously, the sun reappeared in a few moments, and he was making his way in for the second time in a course of few minutes, and this time, India were in even deeper strife.

It took just one ball for him to get off strike, pushing a full ball to the offside and scampering. Minutes later he was up against Shoaib, who had been screaming in with such velocity that he had unsettled both Virender Sehwag and Tendulkar. The plan to Ganguly, with a leg slip in place, was obvious - work him over on his pads. The first he missed, the third he touched, tickling it to the fine-leg fence, and the rest he bravely survived. The first 23 minutes in the middle had passed off without too much fuss when the sun finally had enough.

Suddenly, against the run of play, he fell to his old nemesis - a short ball and a weak swivel pull saw the ball flying straight to fine-leg © AFP

Waiting to resume might not have been easy, considering that his name was missing from the one-day team that had been announced earlier in the day and considering that anything could happen before India play their next Test. He would have to face fresh bowlers, he would need to bat on a pitch with a film of dew. He began with another push to the covers off Asif, and watched Yuvraj Singh, thump a few jaw-dropping back-foot drives. Shoaib arrived with three slips, gully and point but did exactly what he had done last evening - targeted the pads. The first three balls were tucked, tickled and nudged around before Shoaib, as if he couldn't take all this planning anymore, dug one in short. The ball rose quickly, Ganguly rose with it, jumped up and cut in emphatic style, leaving gully and point to stand and admire. Majestic. Shoaib promptly went back to leg-side tactic, and Ganguly went back to keeping him at bay.

His resolve to stick around was palpable. In between balls, he made several forays towards square leg, constantly speaking to himself, geeing himself up, ensuring all was well behind the bowler's arm and leaving the ball with exaggerated caution.

Shoiab was still steaming in. Ganguly endured a painful blow on the thigh, dug out a searing yorker, jamming his bat in at the last moment, and ducked, with assurance it must be said, under many more short pitch balls till Shoaib ran out of breath. The first big threat had been seen off with a degree of comfort.

Then in the 24th over, he unveiled the shot of his innings - leaning on the front foot against Asif and caressing a most gorgeous cover-drive. A good-length delivery on off stump was glided past the slips for another four and he soon laid into Abdul Razzaq for a superb back-foot cut behind square. Ganguly had raced to 33 off just 35, the boundaries were flowing and the stage was set for that innings.

A infuriated Ganguly walked off, despondent and angry with himself, for a big innings was within his grasp © AFP

Yet, in the second over after drinks, with all looking hunky-dory, he was gone, of all things to the pull shot, of all bowlers to Razzaq. Trying his first pull shot, against a short ball that rose more than he expected, Ganguly only managed to top-edge it, skied up towards fine leg. Asif judged it to a nicety, safely pouching the catch, and an innings that had promised much had ended in quite an anti-climax.

He was furious with himself - throwing away his gloves in frustration - for he knew he had blown his big chance. However, not all had been in vain. He had gone a long way in calming the nerves and showing a lot of composure against the raging flames. Most importantly, he had shown that he belonged.

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo