First Test

Australia v India

At Brisbane, December 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 2003. Drawn. Toss: India. Test debut: N. W. Bracken.

The record books will show this Test as a rain-hit draw, but rarely do three days of play contain as much drama without a conclusion. Right from the toss the match twisted and turned, sprouted controversies, sprung surprises and, in hindsight, set the tone for the series. That India, notoriously slow starters, did not lose was a gain in itself.

Despite play being limited to 16 overs on the second day and just 38 balls on the third, the cricket was rarely uneventful. The unheralded Indian swing bowlers had rocked Australia on the fragmentary second day, triggering a sensational collapse - from 262 for two to 323 for nine - but an hour into the fourth, the match was winding down to a familiar script. After a resolute start, India had lost three wickets, including Dravid and Tendulkar in the space of four balls from Gillespie, and suddenly the follow-on mark, a mere 62 runs away, seemed miles distant. In walked Ganguly, carrying a history of grief against the quick stuff, to face the test of his life.

His first scoring shot was an edged three to third man, and he swished and missed once against Gillespie a couple of overs later. But for the next few hours he lorded it with a majesty that seemed to have deserted him in recent years. A few months before, he had sought advice from Greg Chappell; instead of talking technique, Chappell had talked mind. At Brisbane, Ganguly seemed powered as much by a renewal of selfbelief as by his innate ability.

He added 65 with the steadfast Chopra, who was playing his first Test abroad, 146 at more than a run a minute with Laxman, who carried on from where he had left off against Australia in 2000-01, and a further 56 with Patel. There were fours hit all around the wicket, there were sizzling drives and cuts, neat deflections to the leg, and swivelled pulls to balls that were dug into his ribs. It was a gutsy, stirring, emotion- filled hundred, which took the Australians by surprise. Ganguly had been identified as a soft target but, when he was sixth out, India led by six runs and the entire stadium rose to salute him.

On the first morning, Ganguly had braved putting Australia in on a greenish pitch under overcast conditions, and his bowlers had made him look stupid. The atmosphere offered swing and the pitch afforded movement, yet Australia hit a string of boundaries off loose balls and scored more than four an over on a rain-shortened day. While the strokemakers had fun, the hero was Langer, who ground out a hundred. Langer is underrated in Australia - some people are riled that he has more Test hundreds than Ian Chappell or Bill Lawry - but he is a gritty character who rarely fails to put away the bad ball. He was troubled by a few that cut back in to him, but never missed a chance to force the ball to the square boundaries when width was offered. Without him, Australia could have been in deep trouble.

Less than six overs were possible before lunch on the second day; sensationally, Australia lost three wickets in the last eight balls. These included Martyn, who punched Zaheer Khan to the covers and seemed happy with two until he saw Waugh charge down for the third, and sacrificed himself to save his captain - who trod on his own wicket two balls later. Martyn's gesture was an un-Australian thing to do, and Waugh bore the brunt of criticism for the mix-up for a whole week, during which reporters and commentators dug up statistics to show his sense of self-preservation in run-out situations. Waugh was vexed enough to hit back in the post-match press conference, but he did admit the fanfare over his farewell had been a distraction.

Play did not resume until late afternoon, but ten overs were enough for Zaheer and Agarkar to wangle four more wickets by bowling a fuller length, and Agarkar concluded the innings with one ball in the little play possible on the third day. But even 323 seemed a winning score until Ganguly and Laxman got together to make the match safe for India.

Australia trailed by 86, but Hayden fought back until he was caught on the boundary seeking what would have been a 98-ball hundred. He had already become the first man to score 1,000 Test runs in three consecutive calendar years. Waugh injected some excitement with a late declaration that left India a target of 199 in 23 overs. When both openers went cheaply to the debutant left-armer, Nathan Bracken, the move seemed to have paid off, at least as a psychological ploy. But Dravid turned it to his advantage, chalking up an unbeaten 43, his highest Test score to date in Australia. Though Ganguly would not claim a moral victory, India went to the next Test with a swagger and not a familiar limp.

Man of the Match: S. C. Ganguly. Attendance: 52,905.

© John Wisden & Co