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Ganguly gives Waugh food for thought

Ashish Shukla | December 09, 2003 15:58 IST

Sourav Ganguly's little technical adjustment may have involved only six inches but it has the potential to roll back years of Australia's dominance and mar Steve Waugh's farewell series.

The Indian captain's rendezvous with Greg Chappell in Adelaide in August involved clearing of mental cobwebs and his methods at the crease.

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Don't look out for bouncers' was mental. 'Try and move your back-foot to middle stump and look to play forward all the time' was technical.

When Ganguly put that advice into practice at the Gabba, he could move better towards his off-stump to the slanted deliveries which caused slip catches in the past. And by looking to play forward, he had more space on the backfoot to essay pull shots.

It resulted in an innings of 144, which was never been played by a visiting captain in the first Test of a series on Australian soil. More than numbers, Ganguly also avoided the "mental disintegration" which the Aussies have turned into an art form.

"There is a long list of touring captains whose careers have been cut short after being brutalised in Australia. Visiting captains find it hard to cop it," said a noted Australian journalist, Robert Craddock.

"You can almost see the maze -- their eyes become redder, the voice has pain... Nasser Hussain was a total mess on the last tour," he said.

"Teams usually play so when it is the last Test of the summer and there is nothing to lose. That Ganguly could do it in the first innings of the series was a real bonus. Australia really went hard but what Ganguly has done is heroic," Craddock said.

Indeed very few captains survive a tour of Australia. Jeff Crowe of New Zealand could not do it, neither could Mohammad Azharuddin (India), Shaun Pollock (Australia), Wasim Akram (Pakistan), Courtney Walsh or Jimmy Adams (West Indies).

Even the great Sachin Tendulkar lost his heart for captaincy after the 1999-2000 series.

Visiting captains have always approached Australia with apprehension. The local media sets up the mental trap. Unforgiving conditions and ruthless opponents then clinically pull the noose. No captain in living memory has avoided the doomed fate.

Ganguly did receive his share of 'music'. He was mercilessly hacked by media for leaving the field early on a meaningless final day's play against Queensland Academy of Sports. Then Shane Warne predicted Ganguly would be washed up by the fast bowlers. He was then seen as weak-kneed for choosing to field on winning the toss at the Gabba. It is now apparent he is having the last laugh.

"What they do [the local media] is nothing new. It always happens in Australia," said Ganguly. "But fortunately or unfortunately, my hotel doesn't slip in the newspaper under my door."

But Waugh surely is aware of what is being written and there is enough to worry him. One, India could avoid the pitfall at Gabba, which has been the bane of visiting teams.

Two, Ganguly could rediscover his touch when Rahul Dravid and Tendulkar made only one run between them. Three, the spectre of the 2000-2001 series in India could now return to haunt Waugh in his farewell series. India could not be beaten at home; now, potentially, the team can do it in Australia too.

Australia must be revising their game plan, as it is still not late. Ganguly has tasted blood with his best Test innings ever and now that his aggression has paid off, he is unlikely to abandon his methods.

A captain sound in heart and mind is nearly always inspiring. It will not only inspire the younger blokes but even the likes of Dravid and Tendulkar, who both want to leave a stamp of immortality against one of history's best sides ever.

The Australians, in the last two decades, have always relied on their fast bowlers to rock opponents before the batsmen deliver the final blow. They knew the lesson in the seventies, re-learnt it through the West Indies' pack of wolves of the eighties and from then on there

has always been a couple of bowlers who fire in the thunderbolts for support actors to pick up on the wounded prey.

The McDermotts, McGraths, Gillespies and Aldermans nearly always had Damien Flemings and Paul Reiffels to do the cleaning-up act.

Those in know of things say Australia will now surely go after the Indian bowlers to put pressure back on visitors' batting. In particular, they will target Zaheer Khan.

Waugh does not want to miss out on the trick. Ganguly too wants to cover all his bases. It is in the realms of reality that we could have a repeat of epic 2001 series.

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