More than the century itself, it was the backdrop to Sourav Ganguly’s knock at the Gabba in Brisbane, that is still just as fascinating today as it was then.
From a few months in the lead up, Ganguly had been talking about how challenging the series would be.
There were even reports in the newspapers that the India skipper, during the off-season, had worked really hard on his fitness. But most were dismissed as just that: reports. After all, it’s one thing to say and quite another to do that. The off-season, for the Indian teams of that era, was a time when most players chose to really put up their feet.
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All of that changed when news broke that Ganguly, under the pretext of shooting an advertising feature in Australia, was training under Greg Chappell in a bid to sort out his problems against short, rising deliveries.
Incidentally, it was this stint with Chappell that played a huge role in Ganguly recommending him for the position of India coach but more on that on another day.
Ganguly, as a player, had never been short of confidence but for him to acknowledge the problem and do something about it showed how he had matured as a leader. Aussie teams in the past would always focus their attack on the skipper. Knock the skipper off his perch and his decision-making would be affected and that would have a trickle-down effect on the entire team.
But Ganguly, after living in denial for most of 2001-2002, finally admitted he had a problem and worked on it. It showed how badly he wanted to win in Australia. It showed how badly India wanted to win there too.
His reconnaissance for the four-Test series had also involved picking Ricky Ponting’s brains on how to cope with the extra bounce on the pitches Down Under.
He had gone the extra yard but would it help? Would it work?
In the first Test at Brisbane, Australia put 323 runs on the board after being put in to bat first. A decent enough total given that the wicket had something for pacers.
It looked like India were headed for trouble after crashing to 62/3 (Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar, rather controversially, back in the hut). In walked Ganguly with all the attention still on Steve Bucknor’s horrendous decision.
And the pre-tour work paid rich dividends almost immediately. It had to. Ganguly countered with a majestic innings of 144 that showed that India would not be bullied on this tour.
It, of course, helped that Australia’s attack was missing Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee and Shane Warne. But still, it was a hundred when India needed it most and arguably one of Ganguly’s finest moments as Test skipper.
He started off with some wonderful hits through cover and then as he gained confidence, he dominated the bowling before eventually being dismissed just six short of 150. He had needed just 196 balls to reach that score and his knock was studded with 18 fours.
The first Test ended in a draw but it was clear to all watching that India would not take a step back. In the remaining five innings on that tour, Ganguly scored just 140 runs but the Brisbane hundred was worth its weight in gold for the manner in which it set the tone for the series.
At that time, it was the highest ever Test score by a visiting Indian captain in Australia, and the fifth highest of all time. (The Indian record is now held by Virat Kohli).
That it came at a fortress for Australia only added to the magic of it. Since 1990 at the venue, Australia had only drawn three out of the 13 matches at Gabba, winning the rest.
And in the 11 Tests he played against Australia Down Under, it proved to be the only time Ganguly reached the century mark. But it was one that no Indian cricket fan can forget.
You can watch the highlights from the sublime knock below:
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