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November 26, 1999


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Tendulkar rocks at the Gabba

Murali Krishnan

We were holidaying in the Gold Coast, and had driven down to Brisbane to visit relatives.

When we heard that in the tour game against the Queensland 'Bulls' (all state teams in Australia have team names these days, another offshoot of commercialisation), we went over to the Gabba, reaching there around 2 pm local time.

At the time, India were 120-something for 3, with Laxman and Sachin at the crease. Laxman was batting with a lot of caution, and seemed to be giving the spinner, Anderson, extra respect. It was copybook stuff, the batsman checking his shots, pushing rather than driving freely, with the result that his shots were for the most part not piercing the field.

At that point, the Queenslanders had set the field well up to stop the singles, without too much cover on the boundary lines -- not a major worry, since Laxman wasn't looking for the big hits anyway. When he got to 93, the right hander finally dragged a pull shot off a short one from Anderson to the midwicket boundary, and that seemed to break his own self-imposed shackles. The next ball was lifted over mid off, and the third, cover driven in style. From this point on, he began playing freely -- it looked like the ton, in his first tour game, had done good for his confidence.

When we got to the ground, Sachin was on 12. Initially, he was taking them in twos, and threes -- and as far as the crowd went, even a Sachin two was greeted with the kind of applause a big six would get. And then, once Laxman went past his 100, Sachin changed gears. In the previous over, Bichel had tested him with some short stuff, which the batsman ignored (interestingly, Steve Waugh recently made a remark in the Oz press that he felt Sachin could be had on the short-pitched stuff, Waugh's point being that Sachin's heavier bats might work in the sub-continent but here, where the ball comes on quicker, he could get in trouble). In the next over, Bichel was at it again, pitching short. Sachin began with a cut through the gully region. Four. The next one was cover-driven -- a super shot, four more -- a typical Sachin shot, that, he seemed to just come forward and push, and not a fielder moved as the ball screamed to the boundary.

The interesting thing was that Sachin seemed to be moving his feet very well -- it was the first time he was out in the middle after the New Zealand tour ended, but it looked like he had been batting for the last two days, his feet movement was that fluid.

And noticeably, when Sachin starts batting freely, he inspires his partner as well. Laxman looked a lot more relaxed once Sachin broke loose. But that brings up a tangential point -- barring Sachin, the other Indian batsmen, without exception, looked tense out in the middle. It was almost as if they had allowed the whole situation -- touring Australia -- to get to them in a big way. And this could be the real danger when things start getting serious -- instead of playing against the Australians, it was like they were playing against themselves, out there.

Vijay Bharadwaj, for instance, seemed to be searching for his timing, and his off stump -- a lot of hesitation, a lot of pushing and prodding, all the signs of a batsman who has not yet found either form, or confidence. MSK Prasad, I thought, got a rather bad decision going against him, and Kumble fell to a superb catch by Hayden.

Scott Muller stood out among the bowlers. Dropped from the Oz team for the third Test against Pakistan after none too impressive performances in the first two, the Queensland quick was on song here, and a highlight was the faster one with which he got Sachin's wicket at a time when the Indian captain looked in prime form. Muller here got three good wickets, and that was as good a reply as any to his critics.

In passing, a word on the ground -- I found the Gabba very picturesque. There were around 1500 people in attendance -- and Muller seemed to have a lot of supporters around, there was a lot of cheering every time he came on to bowl. The crowd had a fair number of school kids, all in the Queensland Bulls colours, all carrying little bats for collecting autographs on.

I chatted a few of them up, asked them if they were enjoying the game and the response was, "We are fascinated by Tendulkar's batting, he is a genius." In fact, one of them then asked me whether I play cricket for India!

It was good to see the kids turn out in such numbers -- and interestingly, their school cricket coach was with them as well. This is something for the Indians to pick up on, I would think. There was also a small Indian contingent, waving the tri-colour and generally enjoying the Tendulkar fireworks.

Editor's Note: This eyewitness report came from a Rediff reader. We welcome more such contributions, from fans Down Under.

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