A profitable outing for both

Like Sourav Ganguly, Graeme Smith is a southpaw, and like his Indian counterpart, the South African appears a strong-willed man, who doesn't easily get ruffled by adversity, writes S. Dinakar.

Sourav Ganguly hates unfinished business. The thunderstorm in Dhaka would have left him disappointed, for a shared Trophy doesn't quite hold the same glitter. Never mind that the Proteas had the Indians on the hop at the Bangabandhu Stadium on the reserve day, but Ganguly was still there, so was Yuvraj Singh... and who knows?

For Graeme Smith and Sourav Ganguly the journey continues. -- Pic. AFP-

There was quite some distance for the TVS Trophy final to travel when the weather decided to have the final say. In the end, it was the photographers who had a busy time, as Ganguly and Graeme Smith held the prize together.

Yet, Ganguly returned from Dhaka a happy man for India at least found one cricketer who could, if nursed properly, serve India long. The skipper does have an eye for young talent.

"Have you seen Avishkar Salvi? Is he good?'' Ganguly had asked even as we waited at the Christchurch airport, before catching the connecting flight to Napier, during the New Zealand tour.

And when Ganguly finally had a glimpse of this young Mumbai lad, he must have been pleased with what he saw. He did get the youngster charged too, tossing the new ball at him.

Ganguly does get the best out of the budding cricketers. He wants to give them a fair run, a long run. Perhaps, his own rough ride in his early days, when he journeyed to Australia as a teenage cricketer and was soon cast away like some deadwood, is the cause.

Here was someone with oodles of talent, but whose name was bandied about as a `quota selection.' Ganguly must have been hurt.

Now as the man in the top job, a person who can influence things, Ganguly strives to ensure that the other young men blessed with ability do not have to go through what he underwent.

Harbhajan Singh, Yuvraj Singh, Mohammed Kaif, Virender Sehwag and Ashish Nehra, have all flowered because their skipper backed them, on occasions withstanding criticism. When a youngster realises he has the support of the skipper, he is bound to grow and glow.

Ganguly is not parochial either. A couple of years ago, when given a choice between Nehra and Debasis Mohanty, who hails from East Zone, the Man from Kolkata opted for the former. His judgment was proved right.

In Dhaka, Ganguly could not hide his delight when Yuvraj reached his maiden ODI hundred, but must have been disappointed when Delhi opener Gautam Gambhir failed to grab his opportunities; with so many stars missing in the Bangladesh capital, Ganguly was left with an even younger bunch. The feeling in the Indian camp is leggie Amit Mishra can be developed into a useful bowler, and that this soft-spoken and simple Haryana spinner, who does get his deliveries to turn sharply from leg to off, will develop the variations along the way.

Nothing would please Ganguly more than shaping the careers of a few more youngsters, his natural aggression rubbing off on them as well. A very different Indian captain, who until the last six months hardly received any credit for his leadership. Not that Ganguly craved for recognition.

This has been an eventful year for Ganguly, the side coming together as a unit, the captain playing his part in instilling self-belief. New Zealand was a bad dream, yet, just when it appeared that the side had lost its mental edge ahead of the World Cup, the side regrouped, that passion and fire surfacing out of nowhere. Ganguly's role in the revival was a significant one.

Indeed, the captain was very much on the ball when the Indians began the dream run in the World Cup, leading the side with a touch of authority and assurance, and rediscovering his form with the willow as well. The Indians might have stumbled against the Aussies in the final, however, this had been a remarkable campaign.

Withstanding mental fatigue and a niggle in the back, Ganguly was around in Dhaka, donning the captain's hat, and appeared in fine touch with the willow, yet the inclement weather ensured that the business remained unfinished.

Like Ganguly, Smith is a southpaw, and like his Indian counterpart, he appears a strong-willed man, who doesn't easily get ruffled by adversity.

The Proteas had landed in Dhaka, with their cricket going through a period of crisis. The debacle in the World Cup, and the side's failure to reach the Super Sixes, had meant there was an enormous sense of disillusionment among the supporters.

During the World Cup, there were whispers of divisions in the South African camp, Shaun Pollock's methods as a captain were questioned. These were clearly troubled times.

And when South Africa's ill-fated ride met with a watery end on a dark night in Durban, where the team-management got its mathematics hopelessly wrong, the time had come for the country's cricket to move on.

In other words, it was time for change. Predictably, there was a shuffle at the very top, and the choice of the person who took over from Pollock must have surprised many. It was Graeme Smith.

Now, Smith had the reputation of being a left-handed opener who loved to play his strokes, was undaunted by reputations, but he was also known as someone who was brash, could not always rein in his temper.

Here was a cricketer, originally left out of the World Cup squad, who was actually involved in a spat with the South Africans, turning out for the `A' side during a practice game, ahead of the premier limited overs competition.

It was the injury to Jonty Rhodes that finally won Smith an elusive World Cup place, and within days, following the dramatic sequence of events triggered by South Africa's failure to jell collectively, he was the captain! From the fringes to the centrestage, Smith had jumped.

It was a gamble by the South African selectors, but the wise men felt the 22-year-old Transvaal cricketer, who only made his Test debut against the Aussies last season in Cape Town, would be a hands on, pro-active skipper, assertive in his ways.

The South African cricket was in a transitional phase, with icons Allan Donald and Rhodes, no longer around. Rebuilding would not be easy.

The tough-talking Smith was always thought of as an opener for the future, solid in defence, and dominant on the on-side; if the pacemen banged it in short, the big Smith would pull them ruthlessly. Now, he has greater responsibility thrust on his strong shoulders.

In Dhaka, Smith appeared a man learning the tricks of the trade. Bringing Pollock on only in the middle overs was a mistake, and it was only when the wily paceman shared the new ball with Mkhaya Ntini, that the South African attack stung.

As the tournament progressed, the Proteas settled down as a team, adapting well to the conditions, the hot and humid Dhaka, and the slow Bangabandhu Stadium pitch. Promising youngsters such as Jacques Rudolph began to display glimpses of their potential, while Allan Dawson, an unsung paceman, revealed how handy changes in pace and wicket-to-wicket bowling can be on such surfaces.

Towards the end of the TVS competition, the Proteas were buzzing again collectively, and visible was that famous intensity on the field, and that self-belief that had transformed the side into a leading force in limited overs cricket not too long ago. The ghosts of the recent past could be buried after all.

Well, two captains went out for toss before the rain ruined the summit clash at the Bangabandhu Stadium — one young and the other not so young. That walk is long over, but then, cricket and life are very much like the spin of the coin. For Ganguly and Smith, the journey continues.