Australia v India, 1st Test, Brisbane, 4th day December 7, 2003

Must be the masala

"Come on, Bicks, get `im this over," was the yell from the stands



So much for chin music
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"Come on, Bicks, get `im this over," was the yell from the stands. Andy Bichel turned at his mark, sprinted in, and was promptly creamed through the off side by Sourav Ganguly. "So much for chin music," shouted a tricolour-waving Indian fan with a big grin, referring to Australia's extensively documented plan to target Ganguly with short-pitched deliveries.

By then, the decent-sized Indian contingent at the Gabba were in good cheer, having recovered from the gloom induced by Steve Bucknor's momentary lapse of reason. Much of the talk in the stands centred around Bucknor, and his various gaffes in this game. One wag had seated his son on his lap, and was telling him, "If you appeal today, son, Mr Bucknor might give the batter out tomorrow," much to the amusement of Indian fans seated nearby.

As VVS Laxman set about Stuart MacGill, Simon Katich and Bichel, Naunihal Singh - who runs the Taj Mahal restaurant on Brunswick Street with his wife - watched with an air of satisfaction. Laxman, along with several other members of the Indian team, had eaten there last night and he lapped it up when one of the boys shouted, "Must be your masala, mate. Good stuff."

Haven sampled their hospitality myself last night, I could understand why the team were frequent visitors - Anil Kumble having made no less than four trips in a week. And Mr Singh was most anxious to assure me that none of the boys had been pigging out on butter chicken. "No alcohol, no rich sauces. Only vegetable curries, and glasses of lassi." If it helps him to time the ball as sweetly as he did today, Laxman would do well to stick to Taj Mahal saag and roti all tour.

Just behind where I'd borrowed a seat - just to the right of the players' viewing area - was the most vociferous section of the Australian support. Shaven-headed Luke never let up in his words of encouragement for Bichel, not even when the scoreboard showed that he'd gone for 93 in 16 overs. "They'd be throwing chappals [slippers] at him if he was an Indian bowler playing in India," said the guy sat next to me.

But instead of chappals and abuse, the local hero got unstinting support. "Come on, Andy," squealed a tot in Irish green, his tiny voice epitomising the forlorn nature of Australia's afternoon.

Mark, also known as Buffy, had waved his Boxing Kangaroo flag with considerable animation earlier in the day. But approaching tea, with Ganguly sauntering to a hundred and VVS elegantly easing past 50, the standard started to droop. Two superb shots off Nathan Bracken took Ganguly to touching distance of three figures, prompting the Indian kid in front of me to wave his flag so violently that he almost took his neighbour's eye out.

A paddle sweep for two later, Little India erupted. To be fair though, even the Aussie fans were on their feet to applaud a truly special innings from a captain under siege. And the fact that he raced to the mark in 135 balls, as opposed to making stodgy hesitant progress, made it all the sweeter for those watching. Ganguly had borrowed Australia's own blueprint, made his modifications, added a touch of languid grace and emerged a winner.

"What d'you think?" I asked Mark as everyone rushed to get their cups of tea. "Not bad at all, mate, not bad at all" was the reply. "Bloody good innings." Considering his popularity, or lack of it, in these parts, you'd forgive Ganguly for thinking that squeezing blood from stones isn't that hard after all. All it takes is an innings of grace, hauteur and the slice of luck that everyone needs.

Dileep Premachandran is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo in India. He will be following India throughout the course of this Test series.