Seldom can one man have so dominated a training session. Sourav Ganguly arrived 90 minutes after everyone else, having driven straight from Oliver Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, barely pausing to drop off his bags at the Willows Hotel. And though both Rahul Dravid, the captain, and Sachin Tendulkar are on the mend, everyone gathered at the outdoor nets was waiting for just one man.
He made his entrance quietly, shook some hands, exchanged pleasantries, padded up, and then went across to do some stretches under Greg King's supervision. And just before he made the acquaintance of the bowling machine, Anil Kumble had a quiet word and a smile for him.
Ian Frazer led him in, and the first ball sent down from a height sneaked through bat and pad. Reassuringly for those watching, the next few all thudded into the meat of the bat. Ganguly, who averages 32.44 from his five Tests in South Africa, was getting into line and playing mostly from the back foot. At one point, as a ball sped off in the direction of cover, Frazer yelled, "I like it."
By then, Greg Chappell had asked Sreesanth and VRV Singh to be prepared. "Full-match intensity, boys," he said, and soon after Ganguly moved to the adjacent net for his first taste of real pace. The first ball was a bouncer that he ducked, and there was a "well bowled" for the bowler. Sreesanth and VRV were up next, along with a brawny local pace bowler whose pace wasn't quite in sync with his immense physique.
Sreesanth, who professes to always having been a fan, tested Ganguly with a couple of deliveries that moved off the seam to fly off the bat airily in the direction of point, but a superb fast yorker that VRV bowled was expertly dug out. Then, as the local kept trying to bounce him, Chappell took him to one side and said: "You should follow it up with one that tempts him to drive instead of keeping on bouncing him."
Soon after, with Sreesanth discussing wrist positions with the local boy, Ganguly moved to the next net for the far less arduous task of facing some spin. For a man who had landed on South African soil just five hours earlier, the first glimpses were more than encouraging.
Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo