THE BATTLE OF EQUALS: A TOUR DOWN UNDER

We don’t live on IST, mate.

A few months short of his 40th birthday, Sourav Ganguly- a fulltime commentator and a part-time cricketer nowadays- scored his 33rd first-class ton against a shell-shocked Haryana side in the Ranji super-league.  That it comes on the eve of an Indian tour Down Under- a tour that propelled Dada into the league of extraordinary gentlemen in 2004 after a caliber-defining innings of 143 at Brisbane- is surely mere coincidence. Or is it? 

I think not.
He may not be part of the International scheme of things anymore, but the very prospect of an Indian team- any Indian team for that matter- going Down Under for another crack at our very own version of ‘The Final Frontier’….you can almost sense the Bengal Southpaw licking his lips, dreaming of the very distinct possibility of keeping one of the Australian commentators waiting while he wears his microphone with monk-like precision. 
Shutting Shop
 
After all, he is the face of battle for Team India. He is the man that started it all, on a gloomy December in 2004- with an innings that refused to roll out a red carpet for Steve Waugh’s final act. That his partner-in-crime for a decade Rahul Dravid decided to come good in true Australian fashion, and his magician extraordinaire VVS Laxman continued from where he had left off a few years ago- was clearly the aftermath of a statement whose first word was handwritten by none other than Ganguly himself. Sachin Tendulkar joined the party soon after with a solitary innings that re-defined the craft of Test batsmanship, a bit too late in the series maybe, but the psychological damage on the Aussies was worth the 1-1 scoreline: a full blown picture of the sheer carnage orchestrated by the famed Fantastic Four of the Indian batting order at their very peak. There were merry footnotes like premature guile of Irfan Pathan and flawed adequateness of young Parthiv Patel, but none as melodious and sweet as the tormented face of Adam Gilchrist and the clueless wonder writ large on Stuart Macgill’s brow. 
Der Untergang
 
Nevertheless, the flashback exists partly due to the pale shadows of the world-class sides that produced a series to remember- the sides of 2011- struggling, forever in transition, and no more the best two teams in the world.
The survivor list from 2004, for Australia reads: Ricky Ponting. Justin Langer, technically, even though he’s only batting coach to a side desperately in need of more than just one. 
The survivor list for India, though, reads impressively- a sure sign of the Indian selector’s growing tolerance towards bad phases, injuries and comebacks: Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Virender Sehwag, Zaheer Khan and….Sourav Ganguly. He is not just a commentator, and the Aussies know that more than anyone. So what if they cunningly conspired to destroy Indian cricket with a well-concealed secret plan of sending a spy that would put Russian Anna Chapman to shame? In his defense though- Greg Chappell, it could be argued, is the man responsible for young firebrands like Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Ishant Sharma and MS Dhoni making the team- leave alone leading it. 
The Indian Test Squad to Australia throws up little surprise: Suresh Raina’s Houdini Test-career act has been cut short once and for all. That gives 18-year old Cummins 8 less wickets for the series. Rohit Sharma might contemplate resembling Mumbai teammate Ajit Agarkar (and his disappearing act from Cuttack) if he does not make his Test Debut in Australia. Pragyan Ojha demonstrates the importance of a second-wind. And of course, Ishant Sharma returns to the land where he first made his mark in 2008. Ricky Ponting, though, might not be around to cheer him up this time.
SydneyGate, Spirited Away.
 
Bring on 2011- The Agneepath series (Seriously, now?). There are no favorites. The Australian bowling attack is as alien to Indian fans as genuine swing is to the Indian bowling attack. There is no Harbhajan Singh, there is no Andrew Symonds. But there is Michael Clarke, the sneaky little kid who started it all at Sydney in 2008- a trick that prompted Anil Kumble to make his most famous statement yet. And what’s more- Clarke is Captain.

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