Ishant is the man

Former Australian fast bowler Michael Kasprowicz is impressed with the young Indian pace attack. “Ishant (Sharma), he is very good. He’s got pace, bowls a great line, can move the ball both ways,” he says. Over to S. Dinakar.

February 2: It’s raining in the Sunshine State. The golden beaches of Queensland are deserted. In Brisbane, a city with the soul of a country town, roads glisten from the downpour. “Call me Wally. I am 81 and I think I am the oldest registered cabbie in Queensland,” says an ageing man with a fading beard. He negotiates the bends masterfully and shows that his memories have not faded. “Joel Garner was in this car. He had hands as big as the stee ring wheel,” says Wally. He recollects the Don Bradman era, remembers driving Greg Chappell’s kids to school and considers Vivian Richards the greatest batsman he has seen.

Cricket’s in the air in the Sunshine coast...err the wet coast.

February 3: Brisbane is leafy and very Australian. Sun and beaches draw in the tourists, but the locals are happy with rain. “We faced a drought-like situation not long ago and rain is welcome,” says the hotel receptionist. An abundance of water, however, is not good news for cricket. Given the pounding that the ground took from the downpour, it is astonishing that the hard-hardworking groundstaff manage to get the ground ready on time.

Sachin Tendulkar is just getting into his stride when he treads on to the wicket while playing back to Brett Lee. The maestro is out hit-wicket for the first time in his international career, and many in the crowd are disappointed. “He is the best batsman in the world. I wanted him to score big runs. It’s a shame he got out in this fashion,” says a distraught Australian supporter.

Tendulkar cuts across barriers. He is phenomenally popular in Australia. Tendulkar and Australia — it’s a symbiotic relationship.

February 4: The Sri Lankans are in town. Mahela Jayawardene’s men are a lively bunch.

The Lankans arrive from Hobart where Muttiah Muralitharan is hit by a rotten egg thrown at him by a group of miscreants. Jayawardene sees the lighter side of the incident, talks about the red and green lights and how Murali would have chased down the group of people in the car had not the traffic signal flashed green.

Sangakkara, the effervescent batsman-wicketkeeper, is witty and wise as he toasts bread in the players’ area. The man’s never short of confidence and belief.

February 5: The India-Sri Lanka match is interrupted by rain and a steady drizzle prevents play from resuming. Michael Kasprowicz knows much about interruptions.

There have been several stoppages in his journey of much courage. Injuries and selection whims keep him out of the side when young. He returns a craftier paceman with exceptional control. So good was Kasprowicz on his comeback that he pushes Brett Lee to the sidelines. Kasprowicz is impressed with the young Indian pacemen. “Ishant (Sharma), he is very good,” says the Aussie. “He’s got pace, bowls a great line, can move the ball both ways,” he adds.

Despite the doubters, Kasprowicz believes Australia has the depth in its bowling. “It is obviously hard to replace blokes like Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne but we have some good reserve talent. I’m not worried,” he says.

Kasprowicz stresses on Brett Lee’s growing maturity as the leader of the pack and rates Stuart Clark high. Pressed about the Harbhajan Singh verdict, he calls it “a failure of the system.” He is saddened by fast bowler Shaun Tait’s break from cricket owing to fitness concerns and stress. “Shaun’s a real country boy. I like that kid. There is so much pressure on him, people expect him to bowl fast all the time and it’s not easy. I hope he gets back soon.”

Meanwhile, Yuvraj Singh fails again. The man who sends balls rocketing to the boundary is hard pressed to put bat to ball. Life’s a circle and cricket is a lot about confidence. Gautam Gambhir’s stirring unbeaten hundred is another example of changing fortunes. The nowhere man is now the toast.

February 6: The cricket caravan travels to Sydney where Sri Lanka meets Australia. Adam Gilchrist’s exhilarating side is drawing to an end. The focus shifts to the Indian Premier League. There are question marks about the Australian’s participation in the cash-rich tournament. Gilchirst is confident of getting the clearance once he bids adieu.

Much of Australia ponders life after Gilly. Cricketers who change the face of their job have to be legends. For Gilchrist, it’s now time to move on.

February 7: The endless streams of taxis reflect Sydney’s character — it’s a city on the move. It’s also very cosmopolitan with the sub-continental presence in abundance.

The Sri Lankans will not be short of support at the SCG, a charming blend of the old and the new. Under the rain, Sydney acquires a different shade.

The ancient buildings in the city centre glow hazily under the showers and the night sky. It’s as if a light, transparent blanket is wrapped around these ageless structures. Cricket, like life, has several hues.

February 8: The pathway to the press box at the SCG is sprinkled with history. The Don Bradman enclosure defines cricketing immortality. Like Sydney, the SCG has character. Heaps of fans in Sri Lankan shirts throng the venue.

The rain miraculously stays away, but the Lankans slip on a dry pitch. After the contest concludes, it pours again.

Rain, for once, has been kind to cricket. The Australian display, though, is ruthless.