Leading from the front

The Indian skipper Sourav Ganguly not only found his touch with the bat but also captained the side well in its World Cup campaign.-Pic. V. V. KRISHNAN

THE Indians emerged from the New Zealand campaign in tatters. On juicy pitches that assisted the seamers, the much-vaunted batting line-up had taken a pounding.

The World Cup was around the corner and several uncomfortable questions were being asked. Would the beleaguered Indians be able to recover and get the confidence back? The Men in Blue faced a major test of character. In the hot seat was captain Sourav Ganguly, whose cause was not helped by the fact that his own form in New Zealand had been wretched. The Indians had dished out wonderful, competitive cricket for most part of the last 12 months, but had run into rough weather at the wrong time.

And matters did turn from bad to worse, when the Indians struggled to overcome the minnows, the Netherlands in Southern Africa, before being blown away by Australia at Centurion, after they had been skittled out for 125.

There was much anger back home and as Ganguly must have realised the moment of truth had arrived for the Indians when they travelled to Harare for a key group `A' clash. India and Ganguly managed to turn the tide; reverse the trend.

As captain, Ganguly did play his part, backing the Young Guns who rallied behind their skipper, and leading the side aggressively. This was Ganguly's principal success as skipper.

With the willow, the Indian captain notched up three hundreds, two of them against Kenya, and one at the expense of Namibia; he ended up with 465 runs at 58.12. There will always be those who say he only put the minnows to the sword. However, at least one of the centuries surfaced at a critical juncture for India.

The day-night Super Sixes game at Durban was going the Kenyan way, with the Indians, in pursuit of 226 under the lights, getting off to a rather bumpy start, losing Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar and Md. Kaif.

The score was only 24, the ball was moving around in the night, as it so often does at Kingsmead, and senior cricketers Ganguly and Rahul Dravid had a fight on their hands. The duo responded to the challenge, but there still was much pressure on India, when Dravid departed with the Indian score at 108, knocking a return catch to leg-spinner Collins Obuya, in the midst of a fine spell.

As a southpaw, Ganguly may have been better placed to counter Obuya, since the leggie does not really possess a threatening wrong 'un. Yet it was brave batting by him when he danced down to the Kenyan and spanked him, winning a psychological battle at a crucial juncture.

The captain received splendid support from another left-hander, Yuvraj Singh, and the two gradually dismantled the Kenyan attack. India eventually cantered home by six wickets and Ganguly's 21st ODI hundred — he finished 107 not out — could not have arrived at a more opportune moment.

The southpaw was in his element against the same opponent at the same venue in the last four clash with a strokeful unbeaten 111, an effort during which he cleared the ground with effortless ease; sixers are never at a premium when Ganguly finds his rhythm and range.

His decision to field first in the summit clash at the Wanderers will forever be debated upon. On his part, Ganguly had handled his pacemen remarkably well till that point and the trio too had responded to the challenge. Things may have gone wrong in the final. However, Ganguly had several happy reasons to remember the 2003 World Cup. The skipper was in charge.

S. Dinakar