Ganguly blows away the cobwebs

THE Brisbane Test did not produce a result, but the contest tested the Australian resilience right at the start of the series.

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

THE Brisbane Test did not produce a result, but the contest tested the Australian resilience right at the start of the series. Who would have imagined that Australia, the mighty team that conquered all it saw, would concede the first innings lead to a team that hardly evoked support from any quarter? It was a Test that had action all the way. A good match that deserved a better finish than the tame draw after rain played spoilsport on the first three days.

Sourav Ganguly has beaten back the Australians with an aggressive hundred and V. V. S. Laxman is overjoyed as he hugs his captain. — Pic. AP-

In the sunshine state of Queensland, there was no prediction of rain. So, when it did rain, the cricket fans were obviously dejected. For this was not the kind of start that they had hoped for, what with a confident India promising much against a team which was not at its best.

The Australians were depleted in the bowling department with Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee nursing injuries and Shane Warne serving a ban. This was an opportunity for the likes of Nathan Bracken and Brad Williams to showcase their talent and grab a place in the side. Williams lost out to Bracken and also earned a reprimand for his remark on being left out of the XI. "I'm bowling with the wrong arm, mate,'' Williams said in disappointment and was promptly asked to apologise.

The bowling hero for India is Zaheer Khan and fellow-left armer Ashish Nehra seems to be emphasising it. — Pic. AP.-

It was a match that saw Sourav Ganguly leave his mark with a sterling century, the 11th of his career and sixth overseas. It was a match that brought the fighting instincts of Zaheer Khan to the fore as he picked up five wickets, for the fourth time in his career. And then it was a match that saw Justin Langer and Matthew Hayden in excellent form, sending ominous signals to the opposition.

From the Indian perspective, the innings by `Man of the Match' Ganguly was the highlight. "Not my best but a special one,'' remarked Ganguly, as he celebrated the feat. It was an attacking knock, flawless, and one that showed his progress after a short stint with Greg Chappell. The simple message that went to Ganguly was to exploit his off-side play and he remembered the lesson well enough to leave the Aussies in a trance. The strokeplay by Ganguly was a treat for the spectators because it brought out his skills to pick the gaps with consummate ease. "It was such a joy watching him from the other end,'' said V. V. S. Laxman, who warmed up for the series with two neat innings, the first worth a century, but cut short by a casual shot.

The Australians are not ones to look a gift horse in the mouth. Steve Bucknor has sent Sachin Tendulkar on his way with a dubious leg before decision and the Aussies converge on the successful bowler Jason Gillespie. — Pic. AFP-

Zaheer's spell on the second day was a proof of his wicket-taking abilities. True, the ball did a bit and batting was extremely tough that day, but then Zaheer pitched the ball in the right area and it was this quality that impressed his skipper the most. With little support from the rest, Zaheer concentrated on attacking and his positive approach helped the Baroda fast bowler. He destroyed the Aussie middle-order before Ajit Agarkar polished off the tail. The disappointing figures came from Ashish Nehra and Harbhajan Singh. They tried too hard when they had the example of Zaheer in front of them.

Akash Chopra was a gain from this match. In his first Test overseas, he came across as a compact opener. He impressed with his judgement in leaving the ball and was an asset with his close-in fielding. Rahul Dravid managed his best score (this was in the second innings) in four Tests in Australia, but Sachin Tendulkar was left stunned with a debatable decision from Steve Bucknor, who adjudged him leg-before. The master did not open his account.

Matthew Hayden struck 99 in the second innings and completed 1000 Test runs in a calendar year for the third time in a row. — Pics. V. V. KRISHNAN-

The Australians experienced plenty of action, too. In 62 overs on the first day, just two wickets came India's way but the next day, in 16 overs, the Aussies lost seven wickets in sensational fashion with the break coming from Damien Martyn's run out. "Much was made of that run. It happens in cricket but I thought people lost their sense of balance when treating that run out differently,'' said Steve Waugh, who was responsible for his partner's dismissal. Martyn sacrificing his wicket came in for criticism in the media and Waugh did not appreciate all that was written.

Half centuries in each innings by Ricky Ponting showed how he enjoys facing the Indian bowling. Langer's 16th Test century was well-timed because it gave momentum to the Australian first innings. He too was not happy with the decision that caused his exit but then he had got away earlier when the Indians were convinced he was plumb in front of the stumps.

His fellow-opener Justin Langer, however, cracked a hundred in the first innings. — Pics. V. V. KRISHNAN-

Another batsman to enjoy his stint in the middle was Martyn. His timing was the best by any batsman in the match and he promised a big innings on the second day before that run out cut short his stay. But then he came up with a fine effort on the last day in the company of Steve Waugh, who knocked up his 49th Test half century.

Jason Gillespie rattled the Indians when he claimed Dravid and Tendulkar in the same over, in the first innings, but he lacked support. Bracken was overawed and Andy Bichel was quite ordinary. But Waugh defended all his bowlers. "I thought they bowled well and they all had their moments in the match,'' he said.

Steve Waugh has been dismissed hit wicket, but he has not realised it yet. — Pic. V. V. KRISHNAN-

The final day witnessed some clinical hitting by the Australians with Hayden in great form. The ease with which he dominated was amazing. Not once was Hayden hurried into playing a shot as he became the first batsman to score 1000 runs in a year for the third time in succession.

Having made a sensational return to international cricket with an aggregate of 1391 runs in 14 matches at an average of 63.22 in 2001, Hayden followed it up by compiling 1160 runs in 2002 from 11 matches at an average of 72.50. At the end of the Brisbane Test, his aggregate for 2003 stood at 1094 runs from 10 matches at an average of 78.14.

It was unfortunate that Hayden missed his century by a run in trying to sweep Harbhajan. He had played the shot with authority all through his innings, apart from some breathtaking drives on the off, but this particular stroke was ill-timed and he did rue it once he failed to direct it properly. But the disappointment of missing a century on his home ground will haunt Hayden, who played the best knock of the match in terms of entertainment.

There was a little drama in the last session when India, set a target of 199 in 23 overs, lost its openers cheaply. But Dravid and Laxman used the stage for some batting practice as the game petered into a draw. It was a fair result in a match where India enjoyed spells of dominance. It had begun the series in the right way.