| Sourav at the end of Day I in Rajkot. Picture by H. Joshi
Rajkot, Oct. 20: The comeback is under way.
Two wickets for 38 runs and 19 unbeaten at end of Day I. Sourav Ganguly got hit once on his helmet by a rising ball, but other than that everything went right about this mother of all matches for the former India captain.
Leading East Zone, Sourav won the toss and put North Zone into bat on a wicket that bore a greenish tinge. The captainís reading of the carpet was spot-on, though India coach Greg Chappell was not around to watch, let alone guide.
North was quickly reduced to 41 for 4 by some lively fast bowling by the East opening bowlers on a seaming wicket before collapsing for 178.
Not that Souravís team had an easy time when its turn came to bat, but the Rajkot crowd ' the Madhav Rao Scindia ground had about a thousand spectators ' was willing the Eastís openers to get out so that they could watch who they had come to see.
This Duleep Trophy match has been turned into a spectacle because of Sourav. The India team is in Bangalore at a camp preparing for the ODI series against Sri Lanka, but itís the former skipperís story that is now unfolding like a run chase in the last five overs of a one-dayer.
Every time Sourav made an appearance on the ground and on the balcony, the crowd roared. ďDada we want a sparkling century from you,Ē someone shouted when Rohan Gavaskar departed with East Zone on 59.
The fracas with Chappell and a loss of form did not appear to have done any damage to his popularity in this western state, exactly at the opposite end of Bengal, geographically and politically.
Rohanís stay in the middle had frustrated the crowd. ďDada we want to see you in your own touch,Ē they screamed.
A computer engineer asked for Souravís autograph on the clippings he had collected on the former ' the word doesnít slip easily off the finger yet ' India skipper. Sourav obliged him after the close of play.
But the job is only well begun. Even the decision to field first, which seems right at the moment, could be stripped of all advantage if East doesnít pile up a comfortable lead. For Sourav himself, of course, the objective is far too obvious to be iterated ' a hostile Chappell has to be convinced of his form.
Itís not an easy wicket to bat on, with 14 wickets going down in a day, all to medium pacers and a spinner getting only two out of the 87.4 overs bowled.
Souravís traditional spot of weakness was shown up when V.R.V. Singh ' some rate him as the fastest in the country now ' hit him on the helmet.
But Sourav appeared to have got over the blow and settled into a rhythm, hitting four boundaries, three of them his trademark offside shots. The other was a pull as he quickly got to 19 off 28 balls.
Tomorrow is another day, but early signs of Sourav returning to form might have given North captain Dinesh Mongia enough reason to try and plan something different for Friday.
As for Sourav, he simply said: ďI am not going to speak, I just want to bat.Ē