Ganguly, the Gabba and Grace Under Pressure

A throwback photograph of Sourav Ganguly. ( Source X)

In The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway defined courage as ‘grace under pressure’. As far as Indian cricket is concerned, no one epitomised that better than Sourav Ganguly in the years following the turn of the millennium. And there was no better example than the first Test at the Gabba in Brisbane in Steve Waugh’s farewell series in 2003-04.

India arrived in Australia eight months after a 125-run shellacking in the World Cup final in Johannesburg. By then, Australia weren’t just the best team in the world. They had redefined cricket dominance by stitching together a 16-match winning run in Test cricket, and winning back-to-back World Cups. The team that ended that Test streak? Ganguly’s India at Eden Gardens in March, 2001.

‘The Gabbatoir’ was another matter, a venue where teams went to get slaughtered. Australia had last lost a Test there in 1988, and the lively pitch expected to greet India led to plenty of queries about ‘chin music’ at Ganguly’s pre-match media interaction. Despite Waugh’s own past struggles against the short ball, the narrative had already been set by the Australian media. Even if Australia were missing Glenn McGrath (and Shane Warne), the pace pack led by Jason Gillespie would ensure that India’s captain was a sitting duck.

Ganguly didn’t respond to any of the thinly veiled barbs, answering most questions with a wry smile. He wasn’t about to give any hack a headline. Nor was there a murmur from the Indian camp when the local Courier Mail came up with an ‘Indian summer over?’ headline after an opening day that saw Australia pile up 262-2.

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In a game ruined by inclement weather, Ganguly finally arrived at the crease with his side listing at 62-3. The Waving-the-Flag group in the stands, with their Boxing-Kangaroo banners and loud chants, greeted him with jeers and wisecracks. There was plenty of encouragement shouted down towards Andy Bichel, the local hero. ‘Knock ’im over, Bicks’ was the shared refrain.

Over the course of the next 291 minutes, Ganguly took Bichel and his Aussie teammates to a beautiful launderette. When they dropped short, he pulled with power and precision. Any width was seized on and cut to ribbons. By the time he was sixth man out with India already six runs in front, Ganguly had struck 18 fours in a 196-ball 144. Even the hardcore Aussie fans stood to applaud as walked off raising his bat to every corner.

‘Bicks’ finished with 1-130 in 28 overs. He would play only one more Test. As for Ganguly, even in what was a glittering career filled with graceful batsmanship, that innings stands out. It sent out a loud message that India would no longer be easy-beats away from home, that they could scrap with the best of teams.

In every sense, that is Ganguly’s biggest legacy.

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