Ganguly seizes the day as India take the lead
Close India 362 for 6 (Ganguly 144, Laxman 75) lead Australia 323 by 39 runs
Sourav Ganguly: who said he can't play the short ball?
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India had a day they could be proud of at the Gabba. Sterling performances from Sourav Ganguly (144) and VVS Laxman (75) went a long way in assuaging the pain of seeing Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar dismissed for only a run between them. There was a passage in play between lunch and tea when India were well and truly on top. Australia's bowlers were under pressure, the field was spread and India's traditional strength, their batting, came to the fore. India reached 362 for 6, a lead of 39, with one day left in the game.
When the day began, with India on 11 for no loss, there was still plenty of work to be done. Steve Waugh unleashed Australia's bowling firepower on a bright, sunny day, but India had answers to most of the questions asked of them. Akash Chopra and Virender Sehwag looked the part at the top of the order.
Sehwag made the most of Andy Bichel's ordinary spell earlier on, driving and flicking with confidence. It was only the full, swinging deliveries outside the off stump that created trouble. He was dropped by Damien Martyn off Nathan Bracken in just the fourth over of the day. But, Bracken had his revenge, and first Test wicket, later on, when Sehwag's flashing drive resulted in an edge to Matthew Hayden in the slip cordon (61 for 1). Hayden wrapped his hands gratefully around the ball, and ended Sehwag's breezy 45.
Soon after, Gillespie imposed himself on the game. He tricked Rahul Dravid (1) into poking at a delivery that swung, seamed away and kissed the edge on the way to Hayden at slip (62 for 2). In the same over came the moment that Steve Bucknor will be reminded about by every Indian supporter he comes across in the rest of his life.
That controversial moment: Jason Gillespie appeals successfully against Sachin Tendulkar
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Gillespie let rip a quick one on the stumps. Tendulkar picked up the length of the ball early and shouldered arms in the firm knowledge that the ball would clear the stumps. As the ball thudded into pad, Gillespie, wild mullet flapping in the wind and fire in the eyes, went up in appeal. Bucknor looked back blankly till Gillespie gave up hope, and then raised his finger. Tendulkar gone for a duck, 63 for 3, and suddenly talk about the follow-on target of 124 seemed valid.
But Ganguly did not entertain any such negative thoughts. He hit the crease running, and drove through the off side with the panache that once prompted Dravid to say, "in the off side there is God, and then there is Ganguly." He leaned into the line of ball, not necessarily moving his feet in exaggerated fashion, and stroked, nay caressed, the ball to the fence. The timing was spot on, and soon the placement matched it.
Even the fall of Chopra, in the first over after lunch, for a well-made 36, once again to the firm of Hayden and Gillespie (127 for 4) did not slow down Ganguly. For that, much credit must go to Laxman. When Laxman played a characteristic swivel-pull, that left square leg dead in his place, for four, it seemed as though he was batting on a hundred. There were several more gorgeous shots, fit for a king. There was the flick off the hips, the on-drive and the backfoot punch through covers.
When Ganguly brought up his century with a sweep off Stuart MacGill, a well of emotion poured forth. Under pressure, against the best side in the world in their backyard, the captain of India had come good. It sent out a strong signal and did much to set up the series.
Laxman, another man who has been under needless pressure in recent times, was out in the middle to share the moment with his captain. Sadly, even though he himself looked good enough for a hundred, Laxman gave his wicket away, completely against the grain of play. He sliced a short, slightly wide delivery from MacGill straight to Simon Katich at point (273 for 5). Laxman had made an elegant 75, laced with 11 delectable boundaries.
Unfazed, Ganguly carried on in the company of Parthiv Patel (37 not out) and racked up 144, with 18 boundaries, before he holed out to Gillespie off MacGill (329 for 6). By this stage, India had taken the lead, and stretched it to 39 when play was called off due to bad light.
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.