A moment to behold

SPORTSWRITERS, when their knees get creaky and the black in their hair has gone forever, tend to gaze back at their youth fondly.

ROHIT BRIJNATH

SPORTSWRITERS, when their knees get creaky and the black in their hair has gone forever, tend to gaze back at their youth fondly. Memory by then has begun to die, and matches seen have turned into a blur of forgotten faces and jumbled numbers. But still, surely, some moments, of beauty and of courage, are never to be forgotten.

Sourav Ganguly did not let the Australians dominate him in the Brisbane Test. Instead he challenged them and played like a man unchained from his tentative past. — Pic. V. V. KRISHNAN-

For this writer, one of those images that is burnt so deep in the brain to be erased arrived last fortnight. It is the picture of a man chained by criticism for a moment breaking free. It was the sight of a man airborne, his face a study in delight and defiance, his fist punching the air as if knocking the wind out of his detractors.

Sourav Ganguly's jubilant leap after his heroic, and there is truly no other word, century in Brisbane was a moment to behold for all time.

Of course, he has scored centuries abroad, but they had not come in South Africa, or the West Indies, or Australia, where the pace and the bounce was said to be beyond his technique. Consequently his arrival in Australia was met with some derision from Shane Warne, who stated that the Indian captain had better be prepared for some "chin music".

Psychology remains a primary component of the Australian armoury, and it works. Ganguly has often been preoccupied with the short ball, and balls whizzing past his off stump, and as his new mentor Greg Chappell said: "You can't just develop shots for the short ball, you have to develop shots for all balls."

But mostly, as Chappell, or any gifted athlete might tell you, the mind is the sportsperson's finest weapon; it is in the brain where doubt collects and insecurities lie and it is the bane of lesser men; and it is in the mind where the strength of great players arrives from.

Tendulkar's conviction, for instance, is evident to even the most casual observer, but Ganguly has occasionally been a batsman cling-filmed in hesitancy. Such an attitude would not work here, and clearly he recognised that.

This innings, his second finest moment since his century on debut in 1996, is extraordinary because of the place where it occurred, the situation he was faced with (India 3-62 in the first innings). But it is Ganguly's altering of a mindset that is his finest triumph.

The greatest challenge facing established athletes, those who have already found fame and success with their prevailing style, is to alter that equation in the quest to get even better. It took courage for Ganguly, at his age, nine years down the line from his Test debut, to convince himself this flaw he owned, both mental and technical, required correction, that while he might get by with it, it stood as an impediment to true greatness.

"One of the pleasing aspects of this Indian team is how relaxed and confident so many of its young men are. A conversation with Akash Chopra was a revelation, for, as he spoke about his admiration for Michael Atherton and how he studied tapes of the last Ashes tour here, there was a self-assuredness and easy charm about him that is rather becoming," says the author. — Pic. R. RAGU-

His innings was not without blemish, for he was still prone to slash outside off stump, though his feet moved to a different beat and occasionally he let balls he would have once chased settle in the keeper's gloves.

But he would not let the Australians dominate him, would not let them push him into a corner and force him into indiscretion. Instead he challenged them, he put his chin out and said, "Give me the best you got," and he played like a man unchained from his tentative past. That the Australians did not dig many into his ribs, did not post a short leg in whispering distance to pressure him into error, was surprising, but it cannot be far away.

Ganguly may not find this moment again for the rest of the series, but in a sense it did not matter. Athletes will always tell you they have no point to prove but it is all nonsense. Of course, they do, sometimes to the opposition, sometimes to the critics, sometimes just to themselves. In one innings of enchanting lyricism, Ganguly did all three.

It would be a bigger surprise if the BCCI decided to embrace change as well and prove a point to a billion people that incredibly they are not as incompetent as they suggest. It has recently been claimed by the venerable Mr. Dalmiya that there is nothing wrong with the BCCI, which elicited an impressive guffaw from a player.

For instance, the most embarrassing moment of this tour has not been Steve Bucknor's dismissal of Sachin Tendulkar, but Australian board media officials running Indian press conferences. On the subject of Bucknor, though, some of the reaction to his mistake was clearly exaggerated. Firstly, it was just that, a mistake, and Indian bowlers have made more this tour than he has.

Secondly, the heightened pitch of protest was directly proportional to the celebrity of the batsman at the crease. Undoubtedly, if the victim was Ajit Agarkar we would not have batted more than the odd eyelid, and surely all players must be considered equal. It cannot just be a terrible decision because it was Tendulkar's wicket. At least the batsman exited with his usual grace, a reminder to all that this is just cricket.

One of the pitis of this Test was that despite rude interruptions by the rain it was a riveting game but mostly watched by rows of empty, coloured seats. That an entire Test brought in less than 60,000 spectators (usually what we get in one day in India) is absurd, and surely the Indian team is a more attractive proposition than that.

There is, of course, no shortage of media (some even from England!) for the Australians adore Tendulkar and prefer to dislike Ganguly, and think Harbhajan Singh has more devils in his wrist than we have seen so far. The ESPN commentary booth is filled with its assortment of nationalities, ranging from Englishmen to Australians to Indians and even a Pakistani, suggesting the game is in a way without borders. It is a pity Channel Nine, for once, does not have an Indian on its team (usually Sunil Gavaskar), for while they are scarcely biased an Indian perspective would be an education for the local viewing public.

One of the pleasing aspects of this Indian team, and initially there have been many, is how relaxed and confident so many of its young men are. A conversation with Akash Chopra, for instance, was a revelation, for, as he spoke about his admiration for Michael Atherton and how he studied tapes of the last Ashes tour here, there was a self-assuredness and easy charm about him that is rather becoming. Unlike so many players of the past, whether with media or spectators, they are hardly self-conscious in their interactions, and no doubt some of this poise is transferred onto the field.

It may not gain them victory on this tour but it is a terrific sign of the times to come.