The serial offender has done it again. Sourav Ganguly's announcement that this series would be his last took most of the adverse attention off his middle-order friends and concentrated it upon him. He revealed it was the Irani Cup axe that prompted his decision to quit and then drew flak for uncharitable comments, which were attributed to him, about selectors and team-mates. Suddenly, barely days after his decision to "gracefully retire" was celebrated, he once again became the villain. How we love to do that to Ganguly.
The pressure facing Ganguly this time, however, was new. He has battled for his place in side on several occasions but this time his selection was beyond doubt. And that created pressure in itself because he wouldn't want to be picked only because he had announced his retirement. That too after he had been made to feel unwanted, in no unsubtle terms, by not being called for the pre-series camp in Bangalore. The camp was held before the selection for the Tests, and apart from Ganguly (and Parthiv Patel and Dinesh Karthik, who were both sure to be dropped), all the members of the previous Test squad were present.
The retirement and its aftermath ensured that Ganguly would still be fighting personal battles during the series. Another charge he's had to face was that he was a distraction to the team. Not to worry, though, for the dramatic build-up only took the game to Ganguly's home turf. It's hard to explain why, but as Ian Botham said of his own technique, it sort of clicks. Ganguly's game sort of clicks when he has been written off, it sort of clicks when people want him to be seen as the enemy. His game has sort of clicked so far in this series, for one last time.
Not many have scored a century in a series which they have chosen to be their last, a feat which Greg Chappell, an admirer of Ganguly's mental toughness, has performed. And when he completed his hundred, his celebrations portrayed a man at peace with himself. In his mind, perhaps, he didn't need to respond to chin-music claims, a coach, or even a former chairman of selectors. It has been a distinct characteristic of the Ganguly who made a comeback to the side in South Africa. Some have even called it his "paternal avatar".
So when Ganguly flicked Cameron White towards the midwicket boundary in the third over after lunch, and realised the ball wouldn't be cut off by the fielders, he ran towards the end opposite the pavilion, pumped his fists and raised both his arms, while smiling to himself. The helmet stayed where it was, and he didn't point at anybody. By the time Mahendra Singh Dhoni went up to hug him, Ganguly had already had a private moment or two. Here was a man who had fought the world, and more, but during one of his final moments of glory, he didn't have a message for his detractors, as if they didn't matter.
The century itself was a subdued effort on a flat pitch: more determined than flamboyant, more workman like than princely. He said later that the Australians had blocked the boundaries by employing defensive fields almost throughout. This innings required more patience than usual and Ganguly had it in abundance. Yesterday he took 18 balls to get off the mark but raced away while everybody was focused on Sachin Tendulkar's record. By the time Tendulkar took charge, Ganguly had reached his thirties and took the back seat again.
Today he had to start anew, almost like an opener, against refreshed bowlers and a ball which was five-overs old. He also had to make sure India didn't collapse before reaching a formidable total. He had the perfect partner in Dhoni, who took the attack to Australia, and the spotlight away from Ganguly. Quietly he moved towards his second hundred against Australia and his first at home. Perhaps it had taken a lot of out him for the error that resulted in his dismissal came immediately after he had reached the century. Ganguly's innings had begun with India on 163 for 4 but his partnerships with Tendulkar and Dhoni had helped achieve a total of 469.
On October 7, he had said "just one last thing lads", and dropped a bomb. On October 18, he said that one last thing. Or maybe not for there are five possible innings to go. We are still listening, Dadi.