A brilliant counter-attack

If the Indians can take on the Australians mentally, half the battle would be won.

THE Indian performance in the Brisbane Test was creditworthy. More so the courageous century from skipper Sourav Ganguly.

The Indian captain has come under much criticism from the media regarding his efforts on pitches with pace and bounce, surfaces that are generally found outside the sub-continent.

Some have even questioned his place in the side, but each time Ganguly has been pushed into a corner, he has shown the resolve to fight back.

His punishing knock at the 'Gabba where his strokes through the off-side were glorious, once again indicated his resolve to answer his critics in the best manner possible, with a sterling performance in the middle.

Before the series, the Australians had spoken much about Ganguly's weakness against the short-pitched deliveries. The Aussie camp had made it quite clear that the Indian skipper would be tested with `chin music'.

Though the Australians did not really pepper him with short pitched stuff at Brisbane, there was natural bounce for the pacemen in the `Gabba pitch and Ganguly handled it extremely well.

The Indian captain walked in during a pressure situation and his response showed that he was going to take the battle to the Aussie camp. The barrage of strokes from his blade certainly left the Australians stunned.

There is a long way to go still in the series, but the Indian display in Brisbane revealed it was possible to take on the Australians on their own soil. The visitors were positive in their approach and it showed in their body language after the first day.

A Test hundred in Australia, achieved on one of the faster wickets down under, must have been extremely pleasing to Ganguly. It was Australia that he first toured with the Indian team as a 19 year old in 1991-92.

Ganguly did not receive too many opportunities in that series, but in the few chances that he got he did show glimpses of his talent. Sadly, Ganguly was dropped from the Indian team after that tour, and it was not until the '96 series in England that he announced his comeback with a century in the Lord's Test.

There were several who wrote him off during this period, and when he was selected for that tour of England, there were many who attributed his selection to the quota system. In fact, I remember there was a hue and cry over him finding a place.

However, Ganguly proved the doubters wrong on that tour and proceeded to cement his place in the side. He is now the most prolific left-hander from the country in Tests, while he is among the premier batsmen in the world in the ODIs.

Here, I must say that the move to send him to the opening slot in the limited overs matches was a masterstroke. Ganguly's natural sense of timing ensures that the ball travels quickly off the bat against the new ball bowlers, while his ability to clear the ground with ease means that he is a destructive player of spin.

It is true that he has been in the midst of some bad patches and has had his moments of uncertainty against the bouncers. There have been occasions too when I felt that he needed to tighten his game around the off-stump area.

However, Ganguly's natural ability with the willow has enabled him to overcome some weaknesses. He has also shown the strength of mind to come out of lean periods.

One such instance was the World Cup this season where Ganguly overcame a disastrous sequence of events and scores in New Zealand to make an impression in the premier limited overs competition.

As captain, his aggressive approach towards the game has rubbed off well on the Indian side. Ganguly's methods as captain have worked wonders with the younger cricketers who have enormous faith in him.

If he believes in a young cricketer, Ganguly provides him with confidence and backs him through thick and thin. For instance, Yuvraj Singh and Mohammed Kaif have blossomed under his guidance.

In the beginning there were a few who doubted his ability to command respect in the side, but Ganguly has displayed fine leadership qualities and has justified his place as one of the most successful Indian captains.

Ganguly's attributes as captain will be on test during the remaining part of the Australian tour. The Australians are bound to come back hard, and Ganguly and his men will have to weather the storm.

There is a possibility that the fiery Brett Lee would be back for the third Test, and he along with the hostile Jason Gillespie might prove a dangerous pace combination. The Indians will have to be on guard.

They will have to continue dishing out positive, attacking cricket, and in this context V.V.S. Laxman's strokeful effort at the 'Gabba should also be given credit.

And the Indian pacemen will have to continue firing at around the off-stump area, catching the batsmen in two minds. Zaheer Khan was magnificent in the first innings in Brisbane.

The Indians will have to emphasise on collective effort, as in the 'Gabba Test and refuse to get intimidated by the Australians. If they can take on the Australians mentally, half the battle would be won. Let's not forget that Steve Waugh, in his last series as captain, will be under enormous pressure to succeed.