Welcome to the Gabba.It’s a marvellloush morning here.” With those iconic words, said in his rasping sandpaper-like voice, the legendary Richie Benaud would welcome the whole world to the Australian Test summer. Year after year. It meant a summer of exciting cricket played on billiards table like outfields, seagulls starting their run-up and taking flight simultaneously as the fast bowler and a lot more of Benaud.
For visiting teams, however, those were never very comforting words. They stood for a baptism by fire. A painful and fearsome initiation with fast bowlers steaming in and the ball flying past their noses. And for 25 years, the Australian cricket team have ensured that the reception at the Gabba is anything but marvelloush. (Also Read: Australia make three changes for 2nd Test)
If anything it’s a rude welcome. Menacing, intimidating and like England and James Anderson found out last year, inclusive of threats for broken arms. It’s here that they soften up their visitors. It’s here that they grab the 1-0 lead in the series and set the tone for the rest of the summer. This time around, however, the Aussies come to Brisbane already having secured that lead, and pushed the Indians onto the back-foot. And there will be no Benaud leading the welcome-party for a change.
The Gabba is a cauldron. It’s designed to be one. The venue itself is built like a Colosseum, and what adds to the ominous setting are the distinctly coloured seats around it. While they represent the colours of Queensland cricket, the maroon, cyan and yellow are arranged haphazardly so as to make it look like the stadium is filled to the rafters at all times, like the Indian team found out on Monday morning.
While the likes of MS Dhoni & Co didn’t make much of a fuss about it, many of the first-time visitors couldn’t help but look around them in awe. And as they finished their warm-ups, the entire team, including the support staff got into a huddle with the Gabba looming over them. They had come close in Adelaide before being thwarted by the persistence of Nathan Lyon. Not to forget his guile.
The Gabbatoir, as it’s referred to for the effect it has on visiting teams, has always been about pace, bounce and menace.
India have not played in whites here since their then captain Sourav Ganguly scored a career-defining century in a rain-affected affair, back in 2003. The Indians had then taken the confidence of having survived here and gone on to win in Adelaide. This time around, they come from Adelaide having lost a Test but not their pride with their incumbent skipper back at the reins.
While the closed setting of the Gabba, as well as the inherent humidity of Brisbane, has always made it conducive to swing bowling, the extra bounce here has ensured that it’s the fast-men who rule the roost. Take Mitchell Johnson. In five Tests, he’s collected 26 scalps at 21.07. But it was here that he transformed from an erratic tearaway to a fear-inducing Dr Doom of cricket with a nine-wicket haul against England last year.
The Indians might not have felt his wrath to a great extent in the first Test for more reasons than one. But Johnson is now loose and towards the end of the match looked to have found his rhythm too. His final victim in Adelaide was Varun Aaron, leg before by a ball that nipped back in sharply and at rapid pace.
That was a sign that he was back in business. And for all his resilience and solidity, this will be Murali Vijay’s biggest test of the tour. Like it will be for every single Indian batsman who will take strike, including Virat Kohli, despite his twin centuries.
Johnson will not be the only threat though. It is likely that the Australians will bench one of Peter Siddle or Ryan Harris and bring in the strapping Josh Hazlewood to add to the intimidation quotient of their pace-attack. Hazlewood had looked as quick as Johnson during the Australian team’s practice at the Park 25 ground in Adelaide. His towering frame will only make matters worse for the Indians.
It will be an equally unique challenge for the Indian fast bowlers as well. Many have arrived at the Gabba, gotten excited by the opulence of assistance from the pitch and frittered away the excesses by bowling too short and boosting their egos rather than trying to bruise those of the batsmen. No wonder then that Ravi Shastri, the team director and someone who’s experienced the Gabba, spent close to half-hour with Aaron, India’s pace hope, driving home one singular point: bowl it full and let it swing.
But it takes more than skill to overcome the Gabba. There’s a reason Australia haven’t lost here since going down to the mighty West Indies in November 1988. Since then, they have won 18 out of 25 Tests, with the other seven drawn. Those 18 include six innings defeats and two 10-wicket wins. All the rest-excluding a nine-wicket win over New Zealand two years ago-were won by over a 100 runs. Thrice they routed their visitors by over 300 runs.
It’s called the Gabbatoir for a reason.