India in South Africa, 2006-07 December 5, 2006

Ganguly joins team in South Africa

Sourav Ganguly has joined the Indian team ahead of the practice match at Potchefstroom beginning December 7 © AFP

At 10 past eleven on a hot and dry day at Sedgars Park in Potchefstroom, a Mercedes minivan pulls up a few feet away from the outdoor nets. As soon as its doors open, the TV crews make a beeline there from their vantage points. Sourav Ganguly gets out quietly, picks up his kitbag from the boot, and wheels in into the practice area.

Initially no one sees him, all of them occupied midway through a session. Then, as he sets his kitbag down and set about opening it, Munaf Patel turns around. He stares wide-eyed for a minute and then extends his hand. Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who had been chatting to Munaf just moments earlier, follows suit. 'You drove straight from the airport?" asks Dhoni. Ganguly just nods, and half smiles.

Ian Frazer, who had just been lobbing balls to Rahul Dravid in a net kept apart from the others, is next to see him. He too goes up and shakes his hand, sharing a few words. Greg Chappell is having a quiet word in Gautam Gambhir's ear when he spots Ganguly. Ganguly crosses the few metres that separate them and they shake hands. "Welcome back, mate," says Chappell. "Glad you made it."

Dravid has just finished a small session with Frazer and Greg King throwing them down when he wanders across to meet the man he replaced as India's captain. They chat for a couple of minutes, both men gazing in the direction of the batsmen and bowlers engaged in the nets.

Soon after, Ganguly breaks away to see to his equipment. The SG thigh pad comes out, and he puts his bat, gloves, pads and helmet on the grass in readiness for what will be his first experience of South African pitches in nearly four years. As he pads up, Irfan Pathan spots him and waves. Ganguly waves back. After nearly a year away from the limelight, he's back. Only time will tell if he still belongs.

Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo