Australia v India, 1st Test, Brisbane, 1st day

Fighting ground

Roving Reporter by Dileep Premachandran

December 4, 2003

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Ricky Ponting: Will he be Lindsay Hassett to Steve Waugh's Bradman?
© AFP

Having decided to take the bus - the tarmac equivalent of the underground - to the Gabba from South Bank, I find myself boxed in by a motley crew of Australian fans. Some of the replica shirts date back to the '80s - remember Tony Dodemaide? - and most have come equipped with pouches that keep any type of beverage cool. The local brew XXXX is the preferred poison in these parts.

Wearing the media badge was a big mistake, and as soon as one guy spots it, the winding-up starts. "Load of rubbish except for Tendulkar," says one bloke to no-one in particular. Another taps me on the shoulder and asks why I'm wasting my time following such a "bunch of losers". "Occupational hazard," I say. "After all, some of your journalists had to write about the Wallabies ..."

Sore nerve touched, I'm left alone till we reach Vulture Street. The media entrance is through Gate 6, and right opposite is the Willow Centre, where a 7-Eleven - a 24-hour supermarket - co-exists with Domino's Pizza, Willow Laundry, Pastry Perfection and Adult World, which lists "lotions and potions" among its many attractions.

Woolloongabba is purported to be an Aboriginal word that means "fighting ground" - a tribal fight was supposed to have taken place in the vicinity in 1853. The modern-day Gabba looks very different from what it used to, with towering stands where once there were only fig-trees and empty spaces. Part of the expansion can be put down to the popularity of the Brisbane Lions, the Aussie Rules fan's team of choice in this neck of the woods.

I'm directed to the media enclosure by Albert - "You can call me Al," he said, echoing Paul Simon's Graceland hit - who also informs me proudly that he was operating the scoreboard on the day when John Buchanan's Queensland team ended 68 years of hurt by winning the Sheffield Shield for the first time. "Special day, that," he says. "I've been here 35 years, and that was a great moment."

As play begins, a banner near the Sir Gordon Chalk Building proclaims "Waugh for PM". Cricket fan and Steve Waugh-lover he may be, but John Howard would not be amused.

There's plenty of discussion about Waugh during the rain delay, when Ian Chappell visits the press box. While some suggest that Waugh was pushed too soon, Chappell reckons otherwise. "That's been the tradition in Australian cricket," he says, "making tough decisions before you're faced with a problem." And what of Waugh's tremendous run of form? "I think the selectors would have given him a choice," he says. "It's just that he wouldn't have wanted to play under Ricky Ponting's captaincy."

Chappell also rubbishes suggestions that Waugh's exit will leave a gaping void in the Australian team. "Just look at Lindsay Hassett's captaincy record. He took over from Don Bradman ... and you don't get many voids bigger than that. I think Hassett won around 56% of the games he captained in. Bradman's figure was 62, not much of a difference."

Frank Tyson is another visitor, along with his grandson, and he seems dismayed by the Indians' inability to make optimum use of the new ball. "Maybe they're getting too much conflicting advice," he says. "Do they really understand the scientific basis behind what's being told to them?"

On a day when the in-stadium muzak was largely Why Does it Always Rain on Me, David Frith - eminent cricket historian and writer - has an interesting story to tell about the Ashes Test here in 1946-47, the first series after the break for the Second World War. After an evening deluge so severe that even the stumps were washed away, most expected the match to be abandoned. But the water drained away so quickly that play started only an hour late the following day.

That was also the match in which Bradman made 187 after the English had a vociferous appeal for a catch at point turned down when he was on 28 - the umpire declared it a bump-ball. Not good omens for India on a pitch where they have never won, and where Australia haven't lost since the summer of 1988.

Dileep Premachandran, Wisden Cricinfo's assistant editor, will be following India throughout their Test series in Australia.

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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Dileep Premachandran Associate editor Dileep Premachandran gave up the joys of studying thermodynamics and strength of materials with a view to following in the footsteps of his literary heroes. Instead, he wound up at the Free Press Journal in Mumbai, writing on sport and politics before Gentleman gave him a column called Replay. A move to MyIndia.com followed, where he teamed up with Sambit Bal, and he arrived at ESPNCricinfo after having also worked for Cricket Talk and total-cricket.com. Sunil Gavaskar and Greg Chappell were his early cricketing heroes, though attempts to emulate their silken touch had hideous results. He considers himself obscenely fortunate to have watched live the two greatest comebacks in sporting history - India against invincible Australia at the Eden Gardens in 2001, and Liverpool's inc-RED-ible resurrection in the 2005 Champions' League final. He lives in Bangalore with his wife, who remains astonishingly tolerant of his sporting obsessions.
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