Seventy-eight days later
First sighting of the Gabbatoir. Vulture Street has one-way traffic. Just off a freeway. Two days before a match, not a soul at the Gabba. Walk around the ground. Stands overhang the streets around. Good shelter from rain and sun. Try entering through each of 12 gates without luck. Like prison doors, all locked. Finally get in through a small entrance near the players' area. Easily the best press box in Australia. Not too high. Right behind the wicket. Leave laptop inside before walking out for a break. Locked out by automatic gates. It's a prison, really.
Rusi Surti at the Gabba. Played 26 Tests for India. Lives in Australia. Makes it a point to visit India nets. Not many India cricketers recognise him. Sachin Tendulkar not one of them. Has toured Brisbane before. Surti introduces self to Zaheer Khan, who respectfully stands and listens. Suresh Raina passes, shakes Surti's hand and walks in. Raina's reaction more that of a young man being respectful to an older one, not of one who recognises Surti.
Australia batter India after India's good start in the field. For the second time on the tour, MS Dhoni plays four quicks. For the second time on the tour, he ends up with a ban for a slow over rate. Sachin Tendulkar early into a Brett Lee bouncer and is hit on the head. Doesn't show any pain even though helmet has cracked and a bump on forehead been earned. Shaky, for the first time on the tour, after the blow. Ends with a scratchy 3, full of premeditated strokes.
Another legend, Ricky Ponting, scores 7 - the first time in his ODI career that he has collected a string of five single-figure scores in a row - but captains Australia to a crucial victory. Says later he is open for selection for coming matches, and also for the West Indies ODIs. Next game at Hobart, home ground of sorts.
Brisbane unlike other Australian cities. More tall buildings here than in all the rest put together. Public transport expensive: A$5.50 on bus for distance that costs $12 in cab. Roads go high too, one on top of another on top of another. Don't warm to Brisbane; only such city in Australia.
Ponting sacked for remainder of tri-series. Calls a press conference at the SCG the next day.
Ponting refuses to retire but accepts his ODI career might be over. Will continue playing domestic one-dayers. His next assignment: domestic one-day final for Tasmania, against South Australia. Ideal situation. No drama about retirement. Nobody forces anybody to retire. Performance not good, out you go. Player accepts verdict but vows to play on and push way back through domestic cricket. No shame in it. After all it's a game you love.
R Ashwin mankads Lahiru Thirimanne at the Gabba, but Virender Sehwag retracts appeal fearing spirit-of-cricket merchants. Umpires at fault too, for asking India to reconsider appeal. Has to be something wrong with a game that puts pressure of guilt on sides acting against unfair play. Moral police want clear warning before such acts. Never seen a keeper warn batsmen before stumping them. Thirimanne continues backing up unchecked.
India would have lost regardless. Team broken in spirit and in oneness of purpose. Face early exit. Will only do them good.
Another early-morning flight. Sydney again. Learn of another dissent-ridden team. Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, both from ruling Labour Party. Gillard party favourite, Rudd people's favourite. Rudd announces resignation as foreign minister in Washington, says the party needs to decide who is best placed to defeat Tony Abbott in next election. Gillard retaliates by calling for show of support. Channel 7 plays U2's "With or Without You" in the background. Entertainment gold.
Pay visit to empty SCG. Will host in three days its last match before going into renovation. Bradman, Noble and Messenger stands to start going down the day after India play Australia on the 26th. Amazing how Australia not sentimental about these things. Sydney Hill no more either. Everything, from chairs to phones to fridges to TVs to desks numbered now. It will soon be all over at the SCG. Reminder that it will soon be all over for this tour.
Work outside a pub in Sydney. This is what other patrons see: bearded man, wearing New Zealand beige, WACA hat, with a laptop and two phones on table, talking about cricket on phone in between, with a Sri Lanka-Australia game on TV inside. Soon everybody is asking for betting tips and leads. Tell one person to expect first wicket in seventh over. It falls in the eighth.
Exchange cricket tips for racing tips with one man. Tell him to expect a collapse, and thus defeat, from Sri Lanka in chase of 281 in Hobart. He advises safe bet on horse named Trusting the next day.
Sri Lanka collapsed but pulled off a thrilling win. Run into same man at same pub again. Tell him hope he didn't bet on Sri Lanka. Thankfully he didn't. How did Trusting go?
"Oh you didn't bet on the race?"
"No I didn't."
"Good. The tip didn't come through."
All fine in the bookie world.
Tendulkar legitimately run out. Brett Lee in his way with his back to the action, but batsman's duty to get around bowler. However, to stretch an argument, the batsman less culpable here than mankading victims. Australia not asked to reconsider appeal. Shane Watson jokes, "I think he was more agitated at Gambhir's call." And then and smiles at those laughing loudest in press conference.
India lose again. Almost sure now to not make finals. Sit outside in the stands on a chilly night to take in one last time the SCG as we know it. Yabba's statue at other end still shouting at somebody. The many clocks tick along. Demolition tomorrow morning.
Tasmania, you beauty. Bellerive Oval right up there with the most beautiful cricket grounds visited: Basin Reserve, Newlands, Centurion. Flanked by the Derwent River on three sides. No stands to block view. Come out of ground and walk along river to Bellerive village and Bellerive Bluff. Half of the river is salt water, thus behaving like sea. Other half quiet. Charles Darwin walked this way in 1836. Envious of those who have houses overlooking river. What else needed in life?
Wonder how players are not distracted by such beautiful surroundings. Reminded of Tendulkar interview where he says Table Mountain at Newlands doesn't matter once in the zone. Could be any other ground. Virat Kohli in the zone. Plays with free mind, helps India chase 321 in 36.4 overs; best chase of a 300-plus total in ODI history. Later a few Indian players, unsure still if they can make it to the finals, ride around the ground on segways, despite chilly winds blowing from Antarctic. First public sight of India truly enjoying their near-three-month-long stay in Australia.
Stay back in Hobart, and drive up to Mount Wellington. Originally called Table Mountain. Landmarks and milestones along the way few and far between. Australian cars obviously reliant more on GPS than street signs. Feel it takes a bit of fun out of wandering. Drive down and through to Port Arthur, former convict settlement, penal colony and scene of a mass murder, a killing spree by Martin Bryant in 1996. Place full of misfortune, but also great revenue through tourism. On the way, a beach with no people on it.
Tasmania really is a beauty. Pity India never travel to smaller venues. Missed on three previous full trips: Dunedin, Queenstown in New Zealand; Bloemfontein, East London, Paarl, Kimberley in South Africa; and Darwin in Australia.
Back to Brisbane, awaiting results in Melbourne. Dinner at a restaurant owned by Retd Col Mann from India. Was at the front in the 1971 war. Relates stories of how captured injured soldiers are tortured. Amputation, desecration, slow death can be part of entertainment. How East Pakistan was ravaged during the genocide. How you had to kill to survive. Just a cricket game the next day.
Sri Lanka win another thriller to book place in finals. Not long ago a team in crisis. New captain, new coach on this trip. Old captain still key player. Old coach sacked without reasons given. Lost first two games in hometown of deposed coach. Brilliant turnaround.
India, relying on a Sri Lanka defeat to advance in tournament, kept waiting till late in the night before packing up for early-morning flight, booked already for eventuality they might not make it. Will get a week with friends and family before flying out to Dhaka for Asia Cup. Everybody complains of too much cricket. Nobody wants to rest and run the risk of loss of place or IPL money. First choice of cricket to pull out of: anything that is not the IPL.
Wasim Akram has stopped making food jokes by now. Talks about how emotional his father was when he brought him to India, to the house where he grew up, before having to move during Partition. Chawinda Devi, the village, 12km from Amritsar, enjoyed a holiday that day, with a mela-like, festive atmosphere. They found the house, enjoyed the trip. Wasim then took his father to Mumbai. He wasn't impressed with Juhu beach. Not many are.
David Warner finally scores an ODI century. Been a long time coming. Makes it a big one by reaching 163, the eighth-highest maiden century in all ODIs. Sri Lanka are physically battered and tired, but from somewhere Upul Tharanga and Nuwan Kulasekara find a spark and give Australia a scare. Watson then produces a wicket out of nowhere. That's what he does. Somehow, from somewhere, Watson does that. Had Bob Willis been his team-mate, he would surely have been nicknamed Golden Bollocks.
Grace Emily Hotel in Adelaide. Nice little joint with live music on. Photo on the door to the men's toilet brings to mind one taken in the SCG photographers' room. Celebrating milestones on a whiteboard. Phil Hayward's milestone: head in bucket on New Year's Day nets in 2008. Steve Christo: most swear words ever at the SCG. Brett Costello: takes Gilchrist six on the shin (and cries). Gregg Porteous: had stamina (1989-1999), and in bed by 8.30pm every night (2000-2011). Hamish Blair: 113th Test, and 513 Milo cricket games. Crazy bunch, these photographers.
Playing their fourth match in eight days, Sri Lanka summon the spirit to chase 271 easily, the easiest chase of 270-plus against Australia, with 34 balls to spare. Along the way Mahela Jayawardene has a lengthy argument with umpires who call a no-ball for height only after batsman's insistence. Spirit-of-cricket merchants criticise Mahela; he feels it actually galvanised his team when things were going out of control. Cricket becoming too sanitised.
Cricket in Australia not all what it is cracked up to be. Adelaide sky at sunset not as red as seen on Channel 9. MCG could be any other ground, and not what you saw in the aerial shots from the 1992 World Cup final. Country a tough terrain too. Life not as easy as it may seem either. To be in Australia, though, is to realise that all that never has been the appeal of Australia. There is something honest and unpretentious about Australia. Despite being overly regulated, it is casual. Except for one bus driver who insisted on the use of "please" before issuing a ticket, there has been nobody you couldn't joke with. Bill Lawry stands by a coffee machine with limited choices and says, "Beggars can't be choosers." You can say "marvelloush piesh of memorabilia" within Richie Benaud's earshot without worrying about offending him. Ian Chappell is not a former cricketer, he is a colleague. Kiwi woman living here jokes with Aussies that she doesn't like Australia because there are too many Aussies here. Australia, you beauty.
After 78 days of the tour, Australia finally add the ODI title to their Test whitewash through a comeback after managing a lowly 231. At the crunch, it's Watson again, captaining the side in Michael Clarke's absence, who produces decisive breakthroughs.
Seventy-eight days well spent. Not the best cricket until Sri Lanka arrived. Life on tour completely different. Different pace, and excitement of newness every day. Got to get unused to it soon. Street names and bus route numbers committed to heart will have to be readjusted. Puts into perspective how difficult a decision it must have been for Rahul Dravid to retire.
To end it all, go with fellow travellers to the grass banks outside the Clem Hill Stand at Adelaide Oval, and shout in the dark: "Australia, you f***** beauty."
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo