Australia v India, 1st Test, Brisbane December 3, 2003

Merv Hughes kebabs

Brisbane, according to the bus driver who took us into the centre, is the biggest city (area-wise) in the Southern Hemisphere



The fun and games are about to end for the Indians ... © Getty

Brisbane, according to the bus driver who took us into the centre, is the biggest city (area-wise) in the Southern Hemisphere. As the plane descended from an early-morning sky touched with grey and orange, it was easy to see why, with signs of habitation stretching out as far as the eye could see.

There were also a disproportionate number of swimming pools, which should surprise no-one aware of Australia's tradition for aquatic excellence. We tried hard to spot the 'Gabba from the air, but only managed to see Suncorp Stadium - which hosted some Rugby World Cup matches - and a few others which weren't quite big enough to be the Woolloongabba.

The official at immigration perked up when he learnt that I was there for the cricket. "I'd like to wish you luck, mate," he said with a smile, "but ..." The incomplete sentence said enough. Teams usually arrive here with fighting talk and high hopes, but leave with battered egos and tails between legs.

The portions of food they serve you also aren't for the faint-hearted. The large lamb kebab I ordered for dinner turned out to be larger-than-large, Merv Hughes proportions rather than David Boon. The sidewalk-restaurant owner smiled broadly, and said I could take as much time as I wanted, perhaps suggesting that a Trevor Bailey-like effort was required.

There isn't much excitement surrounding the series, one of the downsides of Australia's recent uninterrupted dominance. Everyone you meet is cocksure that India are there for the taking, Tendulkar or no Tendulkar. The Indian shop-owner who sold me an adaptor - no round pins here, only little slit-like things - shot me a sympathetic look when I told him I was down for the cricket. "Oh, you have to write about it too?" he asked, with an expression that had sympathy for the masochist written all over it.

Not everyone's given up though. Australia's Inside Edge magazine has a special edition out for this series, and the editorial suggests that India would well make a match of it, despite the unkindness of a schedule that could "see them 2-0 down before the jetlag wears off".

Meanwhile Inside Sport, the winner of Australia's Walkley Award for journalistic excellence - no mean feat for a publication that's famed for its multiple swimsuit/bikini spreads - went so far as to say, "Now this is a Test series. Test matches between India and Australia are always interesting affairs, but this summer's will be hotter than usual: we haven't played quality opposition since God knows when ..." - enough to make English and South African fans cry some more into spilt milk.

The biggest talking-point over the next few days, though, could be the weather. It was pouring down when I started my trek to the stadium. By the time I got there, 30 minutes later, the sun was out and beating down relentlessly.

It's only when you get really up close and personal that you see the words Brisbane Cricket Ground painted into the façade. From far away, the only words that stand out are Brisbane Lions, the Aussie Rules team that calls the Gabba home. Once inside, you can make your way to the middle without being impeded by ten million self-important officials.

Bruce Reid is hard to miss when the Indians train, his lanky figure having filled out in the years following retirement from the game. Both he and Frank Tyson, who lives just a few hours away on the Gold Coast, have been helping out India's bowlers here, which begs the question as to why the BCCI waits for Apocalypse Now before sending for the cavalry. Long-term planning isn't for the we-are-like-this-only types.

On my way back, I get directions from a sunburnt local who offers impromptu reasons for Australia's dominance. "You blokes take your cricket too seriously ... burning players' effigies and all that. We love our sport here, but know where to draw the line. End of the day, it's just 11 normal guys out there, trying their best."

That's a simplistic theory at best, because if India had champion swimmers, tennis players, footballers, hockey players and ironman triathletes to share the burden of a nation's hope, Tendulkar would have a much easier life. Or would he? Don Bradman certainly didn't ... and he wasn't Indian, was he?

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