A special Australia v India feature by Venkatesh Govindarajan 01/12/03
The wounded Indian tigers are set to begin their campaign in Brisbane on December 4 during their tour of Roo-Land to salvage some of the pride associated with their passage to the Finals of the 2003 Cricket World Cup in which the Aussie Juggernaut ripped the claws from the Indian team.
The ‘Tigers at Home’ label has also come off their backs, after what transpired in October-November this year against the Aussies and Kiwis in the one day series.
So, in anticipation of what is to come, let us embark on an imaginary tour Downunder – the largest cricket-playing nation in terms of area (if Canada can be kept out of reckoning) - to picture the scene that is before the Indians over 8000 kms away from the comfort of home pitches.
Australia, hold your breath, houses over 220 major cricket grounds. (A ratio of one per 100,000 citizens! Not of the ilk of the Gandhi Maidans and Azad Maidans of Mumbai, but full-fledged, decently-equipped venues for first-class matches.) A good percentage of these are located in the port cities of Sydney in New South Wales (the largest and the most-populated city Downunder), Melbourne in Victoria, Adelaide in South Australia, Hobart in ‘Ponting-country’ Tasmania, Perth in Western Australia and Brisbane in Queensland.
But, the Indians will be taking over the Aussies and the Zimbabweans later on in the Tri-series Tournament, in just half-a-dozen venues. Brisbane-Melbourne-Sydney-Adelaide-Hobart not in that order though, would not entail much travel time, or adjustment to changing weather patterns. These five are all port cities situated below the Tropic of Capricorn and the Southern-Hemisphere summers cast uniformly-warm sunshine during the daytime over the eastern part of Australia. However, there is one match at Perth, far away from these five, on the west coast of the country, on the coastal fringe of the Great Australian Desert, which would test the endurance of the Indians, as summers there are well, really hot, if not torrid and its pitch at the WACA ground is known to be the most ferocious and bounciest in world cricket. Fortunately for the Indians, they won’t have to meet the Aussies on this pitch, but will come up against the Zimbaweans the one day seriers. This “horror” of a pitch is one where Aussie Captain Steve “Tugga” Waugh regularly predicts injuries to opposing teams with a guarantee that the “blood will flow.”
Test Number One to Test Number Four, India would be progressively moving southward from Brisbane to Adelaide to Melbourne and then up North to Sydney. For the one-dayers, apart from the above four, Hobart and Perth also figure in the itinerary. The stadiums need no introduction, except for a couple of them – Bellerive Oval in Hobart and the Allan Border Field in Albion, Brisbane; the latter having ben used for staging a warm-up match for the Indians against Queensland XI. A brief overview of all these however, will not be totally unwarranted.
Open with Brisbane Cricket Ground or the Gabba (Woolloongabba actually) as it is better known, with a seating capacity of 36,000, where the bowlers would be bowling from the Stanley Street End and the Vulture Street End. Next in the queue is the Adelaide Oval. As big as the Gabba ground, this can seat over 30,000 spectators and the pitch is oriented between the City End and the Cathedral End. The MCG or the Melbourne Cricket Ground, which holds the enviable distinction of having staged both the First Test Match in March 1887 and the First One-Day International Match in January 1971, is all set to best the Eden Gardens of Kolkata by upgrading its total seating capacity from 70,000 to over 100,000 in due course of time. Another feather in the crown – this ground is also the largest in the world, as far as the playing area is concerned. Let us see how many of ‘our boys’ can use the aerial route to get a six, here. The “G” as it is commonly called by the Aussies, regularly hosted crowds in excess of 100,000 until recent renovations temporarily reduced this capacity.
The Sydney Cricket Association Ground (SCG), with a seating capacity of 45,000, has been a haven for Indian run-getters (Gavaskar, Srikanth, Mohinder Amarnath earlier and VVS Laxman of late). The bowling ends are the Paddington End and the Randwick End. At the Western Australian Cricket Association Ground in Perth, a maximum of 26,000 spectators will be watching Sehwag taking strike at either the Members End or the Prindville Stand End, to the Zimbabwean captain Heath Streak.
Bellerive Oval and Allan Border Field can accommodate about 16,000 and 5000 spectators respectively. At the Hobart Ground, Zaheer and Balaji may be sharing the new ball from the Church Street End and the River End, in four possible combinations.
It remains to be seen if the Indians manage to save themselves from sliding further down, Downunder. McGrath, Lee and Gillespie will be back, and of course Bichel, Williams and Bracken will also be pegging away. Shane Warne will be sorely missed, but Stuart MacGill will more than makes amends for his absence. Watch out for Big Matty Hayden who will no doubt flail the Indian bowling, especially on his home ground the Gabba. And do not remind him of one Sergei Bubka!