Australia v India, 1st Test, Brisbane, 3rd day

Nostalgia time

Rainy days are for reunions, memories and joyful banter

Roving Reporter by Sambit Bal at the Gabba

December 6, 2003

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Groundsmen get busy with mop-up operations on another rainy day
© Getty Images

Rainy days are for reunions, memories and joyful banter. Even the wonderful underground drainage system at the Gabba - below the green turf, there is a layer of sand held together by a wire mesh, providing the ground an enormous capacity to absorb water pretty quickly - has struggled to cope with the unseasonal showers, but no-one was complaining about the nostalgia that has kept flooding in for two days.

Compared to the size of the grounds, the press boxes are small in Australia. The one at the Gabba holds only 36. Any spillover is accommodated in the member areas out in the open, which isn't a bad idea at all because although the modern press boxes provide you with all the conveniences - television sets, power-points for laptops and a kitchenette for coffee, the glass barricades deprive you of the most elementary thrill of watching cricket at the ground: the sound of the ball hitting the bat.

At Brisbane, the press box is sandwiched between television and radio commentary boxes. To our left sit Richie Benaud, Ian Chappell, Bill Lawry, Mark Taylor, Ian Healy and Shane Warne in the Channel 9 box. To the right, in the ESPN-Star box, there's Sunil Gavaskar, Geoffrey Boycott, Ravi Shastri and Greg Chappell, the channel's recruit for India's tour of Australia. Wasim Akram is due to arrive at any moment.

There's a long and narrow corridor running behind the boxes, leading to corporate suites and dining areas. There's easy access to the ground and the indoor practice areas, although the players' rooms are strictly cordoned off. The rain-breaks are terribly frustrating from the cricket point of view, but they are hardly dull. The doors open up and the corridors resonate with wisdom, mirth and plain tomfoolery. Gavaskar is either mimicking board officials or trying to fool Boycott - "You better not make fun of Srikkanth, Geoff, he's got six Test hundreds (Srikkanth got only two)"; Boycott is handing out wisdom generously; the Chappell brothers are engaged in joyful public banter - Greg to Taylor: "Ask Ian about slip catching, he never caught one off my bowling." Ian: "You could never get a bloody edge." Greg: "Oh no, I was too fast for you"; Warne and Steve Waugh ribbing Bruce Reid for betraying the Australian cause; Benaud, looking sage and speaking gently, is giving the benefit of his advice to a young cricketer; Mike Procter, the match referee, bursts out of his cabin occasionally, and Lawry is often seen strolling up and down, looking phlegmatic as ever.

Steve Waugh's hit-wicket yesterday - after handling the ball in his previous Test against India at Chennai, he now has the distinction of being dismissed in every possible way barring timed out and obstructing a fielder - brought back memories of other famous hit-wickets at this ground. Don Bradman was out hit-wicket here for the only time in his career, also against India, in 1947-48, to Lala Amarnath - but only after he had scored 185. Gavaskar narrated how Srikkanth had survived in 1985-86 after dislodging a bail in a manner so bizarre that it could only have been achieved by Srikkanth. Playing one of the Australian quicks, he went forward, shouldered arms and swivelled the bat over his left shoulder, flicking off the left bail. Dean Jones spotted the missing bail, but there was no television referral in those days and the umpires, who hadn't seen it, could hardly imagine a batsman knocking off a bail while playing on the front foot. After the appeal had been turned down, Srikkanth picked up the bail, settled it down on the stumps and squared up to face the next ball, all with a nonchalance only he could summon.

Yashpal Sharma had a less memorable experience in 1981-82, while turning his attention to things other than cricket. In a tour match against Queensland, Gavaskar and Chetan Chauhan were being seriously tested by Jeff Thomson, who was trying to make a comeback on a greenish pitch, when a few of his team-mates spotted Yashpal training his binoculars on some of the attractions in the stands. They then managed to co-opt a local policeman, who went up to Yashpal to inform him sternly that it was against the law of the land to point binoculars at any objects away from the cricket field. When Yashpal persisted, the policeman, keeping up the act expertly, threatened to confiscate the binoculars and even put Yashpal behind bars. A huge argument ensued and the rest of the team broke into such loud laughter that Gavaskar could hear it in the middle. He had just managed to evade a snorter from Thomson in an awkward manner and thought that the laugh was on him. Within minutes, Yashpal was threatening to shoot the team-mate who had played the prank on him, and an angry Gavsakar returned to the dressing-room with a glare.

The news from the weather bureau is that the skies are clearing and we can expect some serious cricket in the next two days. That will be welcome, but despite only 19.2 overs of play instead of the scheduled 180, the last couple of days have been well spent.

Sambit Bal, the editor of Wisden Asia Cricket magazine and Wisden Cricinfo in India, will be following the Indian team throughout this Test series.

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Sambit Bal Editor-in-chief Sambit Bal took to journalism at the age of 19 after realising that he wasn't fit for anything else, and to cricket journalism 14 years later when it dawned on him that it provided the perfect excuse to watch cricket in the office. Among other things he has bowled legspin, occasionally landing the ball in front of the batsman; laid out the comics page of a newspaper; covered crime, urban development and politics; and edited Gentleman, a monthly features magazine. He joined Wisden in 2001 and edited Wisden Asia Cricket and Cricinfo Magazine. He still spends his spare time watching cricket.
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