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Since 1st March, 1999
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Sultan of series
- Windies wind in Sourav sails

Visakhapatnam, Feb. 17: Back at the hotel, nibbling at a plain dosa and sipping his favourite Darjeeling cha, a relaxed Sourav Ganguly couldn’t recall the last time he’d won a Man of the Series award in ODIs.

Surely, he won’t forget the one he won this evening for the four-match Hero Honda Cup against Sri Lanka.

Sourav will also remember the Pepsi-bath given by teammates as he went to receive the award. The last time he’d done so was in the West Indies, way back in the summer of 2002, when he’d been the captain.

Reflecting on the latest, which capped a fantastic four weeks (beginning with his ODI comeback versus the West Indies in Nagpur), Sourav told The Telegraph: “I wouldn’t say I’m overwhelmed with emotion.... I’m extremely happy, though, for the team and myself.…”

He acknowledged having had a “few knots” in his stomach while taking guard in Nagpur, his first ODI since September 2005, but said: “The tension was there, but I’d gone through everything and backed myself.… To do well, I had to have lots of self-belief.… Tell myself I was good enough.…”

Sourav has done more than just “well” — 98, 13 and 68 against the West Indies; 62, 48 and the unbeaten 58 today, all versus Sri Lanka. Add wickets and catches and it’s easy to appreciate his impact after the 0-4 thrashing in South Africa.

As congratulatory text messages began coming quicker than the sixes lashed by him and one-time protege Yuvraj Singh at the ACA-VDCA Stadium, Sourav paused and added: “It was important to win both series…. It has boosted confidence ahead of the World Cup…. I’m convinced we’ve definitely got the team to make the semi-finals.... After that, it’s going to be anybody’s tournament…. Of course, I realise it’s probably my last World Cup.”

He turns 35 in July.

Sourav’s own confidence has soared. “God has been very kind and what’s most satisfying is that I performed when the team needed me to (after the drubbing in South Africa).... I’ve always been confident, but good scores help.… They reinforce self-belief…. Prepare you better for fresh challenges....”

According to Sourav, finishing as Team India’s highest scorer in the three-Test series in South Africa “prepared” him for the ODI comeback as well.

“Once you’ve scored overseas, people begin to look at you differently.... It’s not the same as getting runs in familiar conditions (at home).... Like any batsman who has been around for a decade, I went through a phase when I didn’t get many runs.... It happens and, well, I had to live with it.... Among other things, I worked on my fitness.”

It may have been a home match here, but Sourav had to fight the odds to anchor the superb seven-wicket win, which made it 2-1 for Team India.

“I couldn’t sleep last night as there was too much noise (owing to Shivratri) on the street below.... Then, because the ODI began late, lunch was curtailed.... So, I hardly had a break after being on the field for hours and bowling as well.... That’s why, within minutes, I felt giddy.... Began cramping, too, and had to retire for medication and fluid intake…. I also ate before resuming my innings (at the fall of the second-wicket)….”

After taking guard afresh, Sourav made the Dilhara Fernandos giddy. He used his feet superbly and was awesome both while clearing the field and getting runs on the ground. Yuvraj (95 not out) was brilliant and their unbroken 145-run partnership was a high point of the series.

In cricket, after all, there are few more attractive sights than two left-handers batting sublimely.

Significantly, the win ensured a second trophy inside three weeks. Tigers at home or not, it would have been deflating had the last series before the showpiece competition been lost. Worse, to an opposition which didn’t come with its finest bowlers.

Team India’s next ODI is exactly a month away --- in the World Cup (Port of Spain) against Bangladesh.

Footnote: ‘Our Next Destination --- Bridgetown, Barbados... April 28...’ is one placard which wasn’t missed at the splendid stadium. That’s the World Cup final date and the countdown has well and truly begun.

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