| Australian captain Steve Waugh inspects the pitch as Matthew Hayden concentrates in Adelaide on Thursday. (AP)
Adelaide: The city’s most revered icon, Sir Donald Bradman, is no more but Sachin Tendulkar is very much around. Reason enough for the aficionados to pack The Oval. Actually, there’s one more: The second Test will be the much-hailed Steve Waugh’s farewell appearance here.
With all of Australia reacting as if Steve is headed for another planet after January 6 (when the series ends), nobody wants to do without a piece of him — or, at least, his autograph. A photograph, understandably, is more treasured.
As for Sachin, he has been in an exclusive league ever since Sir Don spoke about his batting being akin to his own. That was back in the summer of 1996, five years before he passed away, but no Adelaidean has forgotten what he said. So, for a different reason, everybody in these parts wants a piece of Sachin as well.
Incidentally, during Thursday’s workout, Sachin got the bowlers to throw from about 16 yards. And, while he pulled and drove, dozens stood mesmerised behind the nets. It made for an incredible sight.
Clearly, Steve and Sachin have already made a huge impression even before a single ball has been bowled.
The Australian captain, though, isn’t content with that. “This Test could well be the highlight of my career... We’ll be lifting our intensity and won’t play below our best,” he promised at the pre-match Media briefing. Obviously, the words were directed at Team India.
It’s not that Sourav Ganguly isn’t prepared for a furious response to the draw at the Gabba. “We know the Australians will come hard... Moreover, tomorrow will be a new day and we’ll have to start from scratch... We’re clear about what lies ahead...” he acknowledged.
The Indian captain, however, has had to redraw strategy owing to the in-form Zaheer Khan’s left hamstring injury. The quick looked fit when the Indians left for the workout but, soon enough, was back at the hotel. Zaheer’s place will go either to Lakshmipathy Balaji or the uncapped Irfan Pathan.
According to The Telegraph’s sources, both Balaji and Pathan have ‘support’ within the team management, but it won’t surprise if experience is given weightage on a distinctly batsman-friendly wicket.
Harbhajan Singh too isn’t fit. Only, he wouldn’t have played even if he wasn’t in pain because of a damaged ligament in his right index finger. The sole spinner’s slot, therefore, is going to the seasoned Anil Kumble. “He will add experience and quality to the line-up,” is how Sourav put it.
Murali Kartik, added to the touring party as there’s a question mark over Harbhajan continuing to stay, arrived late at night (less than 12 hours before the Test). For now, though, he will have to remain among the Deep Dasguptas. It’s another matter that many feel he ought to have been in Australia from Day I.
“I’m happy to be here... I was asked to take the first flight out of New Delhi and, well, I’ve arrived... I don’t know what is in store but, then, it’s always good to be with the Indian team... Of course, destiny has a role everywhere,” Kartik remarked exclusively, moments after checking into the Hyatt Regency.
For the record, Kartik flew from Delhi to Kuala Lumpur and, then, connected to Perth before landing in Adelaide. Till the other day, he was doing India A duty versus Sri Lanka A.
To return to Harbhajan, while he insisted “abhi kuch pata nahin kya hoga,” he may quickly head for Melbourne to determine if surgery is required. Such a course was recommended earlier this year, but Harbhajan opted to wait. It’s to be seen just how costly that has turned out.
The Australians, by the way, are looking to play Brad Williams.