Stoic Ganga proves a point
If patience and stoicism were not deeply ingrained in Daren Ganga, he would have already lost hope in his career as a West Indian Test player. Fortunately, they are the hallmarks of an essentially positive character because he has had to endure harsh, often baseless, criticisms over the years.
At Warner Park on the second day of the third Test against India, Ganga scored his third Test century with that same patience and stoicism. He wasn't the only one to thrive in the first innings, with Chris Gayle adding 83 and Ramnaresh Sarwan producing a superb birthday ton. What was interesting was that they all played absolutely within the parameters of their natural games - Gayle was powerful, Sarwan was stylish and Ganga was disciplined. In that framework they managed to build the best opening total that West Indies has managed through this series.
For years, the West Indies team has been searching to find the right combination of skills and experience. Gayle and Sarwan, after a long period of erratic performances, seem to have reached a point of maturity. And it's because the selectors have allowed them a measure of continuity in the team. Ganga's temperament carries a stabilising force that is necessary for a team that is still full of dash and without direction. However, the anchor can become the albatross for a public that is impatient for action and a team that just wants to hit everything out of the grounds.
So to Ganga had been thrust the Larry Gomes role, but he was only 19 when it came. It was an enormous amount of pressure for such slender shoulders. Remember, he had come to the team with a reputation for stylish, technically correct batting ... and runs. The transfer from first-class to Test cricket weighed him down and one could observe that during his debut innings at Durban, when he eked out a painstaking 28 off 94 balls. What followed was a series of in-and-out appearances in the team. Until April 2003, when he scored his maiden Test century against Australia, he had only gone past fifty three times in 17 Tests.
He followed it up with another century but then came another long hiatus, when he was dropped for the England tour in March 2004 after a thrashing in South Africa. Faced with apparent rejection by the selectors, Ganga assembled his trademark stoicism and projected his energy towards the Trinidad & Tobago side, which he captained. He scored 265 against the Leeward Islands in March 2005 - an innings with 36 fours and two sixes - and led his team to a double victory in the 2006 Carib Beer Series, the first regional title for the team in 21 years.
One of his charges, Darren Bravo (the younger brother of Dwayne) described him as a captain who is "very supportive of players". It's an element he brought to the T&T team. He has been described as solid, fair, nurturing, developmental, responsible, decent, and honest. If it all sounds a bit too good to make him likeable to a bunch of young players, they do ascribe some fun to his personality. He is just a cool character.
Sill, despite his calm demeanour, Ganga has been ruffled by criticism that prevails regardless of performance. Here, they were heightened by perceptions that his inclusion in the team spelled the end of the fledgling career of Runako Morton, the local boy from Nevis. Hardly had the press conference begun, when he dedicated his century to his childhood friend Sanjeev Moonan, than he was faced with a barrage of questions about the pressure to perform.
"You've got to turn negatives into positives," he said calmly. "I know a lot of people were getting impatient with me with regard to my own personal game and with regards to me opening the batting with Gayle. But these things motivate me and I must add that I had a very good chat with Brian, who knew that I was under a bit of pressure and helped by seeking me out, especially at such a time. He's been through situations such as these, he's had his criticism and he's bounced back."
The day before, Lara had bristled at suggestions that Morton was dropped because of politics. He mentioned that he'd had a chat with Ganga at breakfast on the first day, where they'd discussed Ganga's different styles while playing for T&T and West Indies. "It's all about being under pressure," Ganga said of the contrast. "Every time I walk to the crease to play for West Indies, I'm under pressure. I need to perform. That definitely adds to it. It's about dealing with that pressure." He added that it had been nearly two-and-a-half years since he'd last played; indeed, he'd missed ten Tests before being recalled for the New Zealand tour this year.
"I didn't have too much match practice," he added, "and that showed in the first two Tests [of the ongoing series]. I got starts but didn't really convert." He thought he'd matured in the past two-and-a-half years, and felt he'd passed a certain developing stage in his life - the Under-24-average phase - to a point of greater confidence. "To compare my average to my present form and present maturity is not a good judgment. I've proven myself in domestic competitions and proven myself in New Zealand."
He doesn't sound too sure though; all through the press conference he referred to the "pressure" to perform. It is clearly a weight he still carries, though his talk with Lara seems to have eased the burden for this match. Just as he was about to finish, one of the local journalists asked, quite brazenly, "Daren, who is your godfather?" It was a stupid question, but symbolic of the continuous jabs to his self-confidence. Sarwan and Gayle found their way through the early years because someone kept the faith even when they had erratic periods. Ganga hasn't had that stretch of stability to nurture him and ease the pressure. It is a great pity because it's something he's brought to West Indies cricket.
Vaneisa Baksh is a freelance journalist based in Trinidad