Australia v India, 2nd Test, Adelaide December 10, 2003

Cricket's Helen of Troy

No picture postcard or TV image can prepare you for the beauty of the Adelaide Oval



The Adelaide Oval: picturesque beyond compare
© Getty Images


No picture postcard or TV image can prepare you for the beauty of the Adelaide Oval. The picturesque ground by the side of the River Torrens is the Helen of Troy of international cricket grounds, beyond compare. The walk up from King William Street prepares you well, with the river - and couples pedal-boating in the mid-morning sunshine - winding beneath you as you cross the bridge.

When you reach the Victor Richardson Gates, you stop for a while and breathe it all in. Through the railings, you can see the square, and also the new canopy-like constructions opposite the Giffen Stand. The gate has a plaque which details the considerable sporting prowess of Victor York Richardson, grandfather of the Chappell brothers - a cricketer, football player (Aussie rules) and lacrosse player of undoubted skill, who also led the men in baggy green in five Tests before Sir Donald Bradman took charge.

Once inside, the Bradman Stand dominates the view. From the upper reaches of it, the view is magnificent ... you can take in the entire oval, the antique scoreboard nestling next to the giant TV screen, the grassy knoll where you could conceivably lounge about with a schooner of VB, and the cathedral that forms the backdrop. There are also trees everywhere you look.

Earlier in the day, Matthew Hayden told me, "This is such a beautiful ground. These days, we mostly play in the middle of concrete jungles. Here, you can see all those trees, the flags fluttering, the cathedral ..." His customary meditation session on the pitch is scheduled for tomorrow, and in surroundings such as this, he'd have to be strong-willed not to be mesmerised.

The net session takes place on four pitches outside, each as green as the next, without the trampoline bounce that you associate with the Gabba, or Perth in its previous incarnation. There's quite a crowd gathered, most there to observe two men who share the same initials. Stephen Rodger Waugh obliges them in the morning, and Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar follows suit in the afternoon, and each whiplash of bat on ball is followed by excited whispering behind the cages.

Tendulkar spent almost an hour bowling his spin assortments to Deep Dasgupta and Parthiv Patel, who took turns batting with a twig while the other kept. Several times, Tendulkar knocked the stumps over instead of taking the edge, exclaiming, "It never happened during the match, it's happening now!" The ripped legbreaks, wrong'un and quicker delivery kept both keepers on their toes, with the swishing twig testing their powers of concentration to the utmost.

Later, with MRF wand in hand, Tendulkar drove the ball with a fluency that would have intimidated those likely to come up against him in two days' time. One straight-drive travelled so hard and fast that a net bowler sitting on a crate of cold drinks had to dive out of harm's way. Another lofted shot, late in the session, thumped into the side of a truck ... no damages were claimed.

One Australian fan, who waited patiently for over two hours on the benches behind the nets for his autograph on a bat, spoke to me of Tendulkar's knock here four years ago. "Scratched around one evening, and batted like God the next morning till he got that dodgy decision," he recounted, without going into details of the infamous Shoulder Before Wicket.

But why this special veneration of Tendulkar in these parts? "Well, regardless of what you guys think, we're the best team in the world, by a long way. And Tendulkar's possibly the only bloke who's made us look second-rate at times. In my book, that makes him special," he said with a smile.

In a place like this, you can understand why cricket eventually outgrew its pastoral beginnings, and embraced the world at large. The sound of leather on willow, the parkland scenery and the great men who dot the canvas ... it doesn't get much better than that. And some lucky blokes actually get paid to watch it.

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