An air of unfulfillment
Sachin Tendulkar: the man they came to watch
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When Andy Bichel hit Sourav Ganguly on the shoulder shortly before lunch, a cry went out in the crowd: "Give him out now." It was loaded with sarcasm, and the voice was Australian. After two washed-out days, and a tragedy for Steve Waugh, Sachin Tendulkar being administered an unfair blow wasn't what the spectators needed. Two batsmen that all of Australia wants to watch have so far played seven balls between them, and not scored a run. Tendulkar didn't even put bat to ball today.
This is a country full of reverence for Tendulkar. It has a lot to do with his record against Australia, but the stamp of approval from Don Bradman is also a factor. "Bradman said he liked watching him, and that's a good enough reason for me to want to watch him," says Pat, a granddad of 86, who watched Bradman make 187 at this ground against England in 1946. He has missed only two Tests at the Gabba since, and seen the ground grow from a modestly charming stadium to an impressively modern concrete block.
The playing area used to be much smaller here, with a dog-track running around the boundary ropes. The track was raised, and it used to be lit in the nights. The players had to go across it and climb down on to the ground. The players' balcony was part of the stands and they sat out in the open, watching the game with the rest of the spectators. On Friday evenings, there used to be a barbeque for the players and the press was welcome to join in.
The dog tracks are gone and it is a much bigger ground now. With the addition of grandstands a couple of years ago, the Gabba now has a capacity of 37,000, roughly the same as the Sydney Cricket Ground. Oldtimers accept the changes grudgingly, but the players are not too enamoured with the coloured bucket chairs - maroon, blue and yellow -- because fielders tend to lose the ball in the background.
This Test has not seen a full day yet, and the weather has a lot to do with it. All of 22,000 people turned up on the first day and local cricket authorities are actually grateful for the thinner attendance on days two and three. Under the local rules, the buying spectators are entitled to a complete refund if less than 25 overs are bowled in a day and by the estimates of a local newspaper, the organizers might end up paying back 5,00,000 Australian dollars.
Back to Tendulkar. The Gabba hasn't been a great ground for him. His highest score here has been 16. Pat says that in 1999 he traveled to Sydney only to watch Tendulkar bat, but he failed there too. It was hard for him to take Bucknor's decision today. "Didn't he turn down two straightforward appeals against the Australian batsmen on the first day? Don't they call him a batsman's umpire?" he asked disconsolately. To that the man on the next seat hollered: "Hey mate, we came to watch Tendulkar bat, not Bucknor wag his finger."
The sky burst open with sunlight as the day wore on and crowd sought joy in little things. They cheered when Waugh ran in to bowl a few overs before lunch and egged him on as he peppered Akash Chopra with bouncers. The sublime batting of Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman in the afternoon was also cheered, by a crowd that, however partisan, knows its cricket. But still the air of unfulfillment hadn't lifted completely. Waugh might have a second chance still. But for a Tendulkar hundred, the Queenslander will have to wait a few more years.
Sambit Bal, the editor of Wisden Asia Cricket magazine and Wisden Cricinfo in India, will be following the Indian team throughout this Test series.