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Indian fans having a party

Neena Bhandari | January 04, 2004 18:32 IST

It has been days of sheer delight for the Indian fans who had booked their tickets for the fourth Test being played at the Sydney Cricket Ground at Sydney way back in August although they hardly expected their team to throw up a challenge to world champions Australia.

"The best seats had been sold out as early as August and booking the tickets then, I had never expected to be part of history and records being created on the SCG by India," says Christine D'mello, a former Mumbai-based journalist now living in Sydney.

However, the windfall for the Indian fans has turned out to be agony for the home crowd which had been waiting to celebrate their loved skipper Steve Waugh's farewell in a fitting fashion ever since the announcement of retirement by Australia's most successful captain ever.

In the sweltering sun at the SCG, almost 90,000 fans have paid more than over two million dollars over the first two days to watch Waugh but it was not to be.

Dignitaries including Australian Prime Minister John Howard and the Waugh family also waited for a fitting moment as it was generally expected that the captain would get to bat at least on the second day.

In the stands, while the Australian fans booed and even threw plastic cups after tea on the ground yesterday, frustrated by their team's poor fielding and dropped catches, they were also generous with loud applause at every classic shot and records set by the Indian batsmen.

As this correspondent was driving out of the ground, a  group of youth clad in the Australian national colours stopped to give thumbs up saying, "Sachin (Tendulkar) is the king. He  is great".

For some Australian-Indians, it has been a tough match "emotionally".

"While I want India to do well, I also want Steve to have a great farewell innings. One feels torn apart between loyalty to the home country and the adopted country," says Rekha  Bhattacharjee, who migrated to Australia over 30 years ago.

The mixed emotions were expressed by many as the historic Indian innings unfolded.

A Cricket Australia accredited coach and umpire Yogendra Bhatnagar, who moved to Sydney from Roorkee 14 years ago, says, "My feelings are with India and watching this match has been certainly my best experience in any sport.

"When they came here, Indians were the underdogs. I always cheer for them as it is easier to relate to the Indian  culture than the cut-throat, aggressive psyche of the Australians."

The Australian media was replete with headlines like, "Indian pair puts torch to fairytale", "Steve's show, but Sachin pulls strings", "Fans lament as Waugh story defies the script", "It wasn't meant to be like this" and "Magician maintains batting spell".

Trevor Marshallsea writes in the Sun Herald, "Steve Waugh's hopes of a winning swan song were as slim as the bats of Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman were broad after the pair went on a record-smashing run to turn the Australian captain's farewell into a match of misery."

"(VVS) Laxman's 'wagon wheel' resembled the Ashok Chakra in the middle of India's flag, with as many spokes as there were places on the field," said the writer.

Laxman, who made a solid 178 in India's first innings, came in for more praise by the Sun Herald.

"Far less dominant against the rest of the world, Laxman is something akin to a sub continental Don Bradman when he takes on Australia," said the respected daily.

Eminent sports journalist Peter Roebuck wrote in his column in the same paper: "An enormous change has come over Indian batting in the past few years.

"Previously strong players like Vijay Hazare, Sunil Gavaskar and the immortal Vishy stood out because they held their ground against fast bowling and scored runs around the world. Others were bewildered by green pitches and balls flying around their turbans.

"Sourav Ganguly's team is altogether more worldly wise than most of its predecessors and arrived with a resolute outlook and several men at the peak of their powers. The Indians have run between wickets better than any team from the region, an indication of a changed state of mind."

Roebuck continues: "previously, Virender Sehwag, the cavalier, and Rahul Dravid, the immovable object, had led the way in a batting order that, like The Beatles, is brilliant both in its parts and as a whole."

Now Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman made telling contributions as they wore down an attack lacking penetration, a quartet containing an undue allocation of New South Welshmen," Roebuck wrote.

He also heaped praise on Tendulkar, who notched up his highest Test score.

"Even then he was not at his most fluent. Still, he swept fine, pulled off his hip, drove on the rise and put the Australians firmly in their place. This was a mature innings, the work of a batsman with a strong mind and a deeply rooted game. Tendulkar's second career is underway."

Roebuck hailed Laxman as a "batsman of substance and a competitor to be respected."

"Laxman was magnificent. Often brittleness is detected in those whose contributions please the eye.

"He plays wonderful shots; flicks through mid-wicket played with a panache that contrasts with his dignified bearing, drives through cover executed with modest flourish and cuts played with a swordsman's flash of the hand. But these strokes were merely the icing on the proverbial cake.

"Laxman is also a fine craftsman. He did not hit a ball in the air, lose patience, play across the line or make an error of judgement."

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