Australia continue to dominate…
At the end of the third days’ play, India had another 493 runs to make to win the game with all of its wickets in hand. It is an uphill task. The best that India can perhaps hope for is to salvage some pride by batting well in the second innings with a view to the Sydney Test match. But to even do that, the Indians will need to bat with self-belief and pride — something that not many of the batsmen showed in the first innings. Given that Rahul Dravid, V. V. S. Laxman and Anil Kumble will (almost certainly) not be a part of the one-day team in the pyjama series, it could be their last appearance for India at the MCG. They will want to give a good showing on their farewell Test Match on this ground. This will also be the last Test match that Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly play at this ground. At the team talk this evening, Anil Kumble should ask for his entire team to lift itself and play with pride — enough to take something into the Sydney Test that starts almost immediately.
India started the day badly. R. P. Singh started the day as he ended day-2. Day-2 saw Australia in the drivers’ seat with a session-by-session score of 4-2. The hosts were firmly in the drivers’ seat. What was needed was some disciplined bowling from the Indian seamers. Instead, what we got was some bad bowling from R. P. Singh and some indiffirent stuff from Zaheer Khan. Australia raced away and stretched the lead past 200.
Matthew Hayden was being a bully against Zaheer Khan and R. P. Singh. He walked down the pitch a few times to Zaheer Khan and got a few boundaries with this method. It was clear that Hayden wanted to not just dominate, but crush the opposition. Right time to bring Harbhajan Singh in, I thought. And that’s exactly what happened.
Anil Kumble had to turn to Harbhajan Singh. After being punched down the ground for a few, Hayden charged a flighted delivery from Harbhajan Singh and holed out to Sourav Ganguly who was placed deep for just that shot!
Although he wasn’t getting much spin, Harbhajan Singh was bowling quite well. While he speared balls in at speeds between 85 kmph and 95 kmph in the first innings, he bowled slower and with more flight in this spell. His bowling speed was in the low 80 kpmh.
In the landmark 2001 series in India, Harbhajan Singh got Ponting out 5 times in a total of about 18 deliveries or so. Here, Ponting was out to the very first ball he faced from Harbhajan Singh! Clearly the offie has the wood on the Australian captain who poked at a well flighted delivery from Harbhajan Singh, not sure if it was an over spinner or an off spinner or a doosra. Ponting just poked hard at the ball and the resulting nick lodged itself in Rahul Dravids’ waiting hands.
India were clawing itself back into the game slowly, but there was a mountain to climb. Soon, there was a double spin attack with Anil Kumble bringing himself on. The fielders appeared to have a spring in their step.
Mike Hussey needed to be tied down and taken early. But for some inexplicable reason, Harbhajan Singh started to spear the balls in! He had cranked up his ball speed again! And this was totally inexplicable! Runs were still coming thick and fast though! Although the batsmen were under some sort of pressure, they kept scoreboard ticking. This was smart cricket.
Zaheer Khan came on at this point from the City End and one felt that the ball was starting to reverse-swing just a little bit. Meanwhile, Harbhajan Singh had slipped totally into his 1st innings habits of spearing them in.
In the end, the first session was perhaps an even session with Australia scoring 103 runs off 29 overs while losing 2 wickets. I felt that the India bowlers squandered the early advantage they had in that session, when they secured those two quick wickets. Another wicket and it may have been India’s session. And even though Australia had lost 2 wickets, they scored at 3.5 an over and the lead was already 282! At lunch Australia was still firmly in the drivers’ seat.
On the second over after lunch, Anil Kumble held one slightly back to Phil Jaques, who had just reached his second half century of the match off the previous ball! Jaques tried to close the face of the bat on the ball to send it on to the legside. All he could do was to spoon a return catch to the bowler.
The fielding continued to be bad right through. Although Zaheer Khan, Sourav Ganguly and R. P. Singh were the worst offenders, their collective bad display seemed to rub off on even good fielders like Yuvraj Singh.
After lunch, R. P. Singh started to bowl well. He bowled the first 3 overs of this spell with much control of his line and length and also his temperament. However, the singles and twos kept coming. Then against the run of play, Mike Hussey got out in much the same manner as Michael Clarke got out in the first innings. He swatted at a ball wide of off stump to be caught at first slip by Sachin Tendulkar. In the very next R. P. Singh over, Michael Clarke swatted a wide ball outside off for the ball to squirt through a vacant 3rd slip! At the first drinks’ break after the lunch break, R. P. Singh had bowled 7 overs, giving away 16 runs for his 1 wicket. At one stage he bowled to an 8-1 offside field! He bowled with control and patience and was also getting some reverse swing going!
Unfortunately, what R. P. Singh seems to lack is consistency. Moreover, he seemed to be losing one trait of his that I have admired most in the last year or so — his calm demeanour and his temerament! I have always admired his cool and calm, even in the face of an onslaught. But here, he seemed to repeatedly lose it! Then again, a champion side like Australia makes the best of them lose it. So, a young learner like R. P. Singh should take a lot away from this tour!
Immediately after the drinks break, Zaheer Khan bowled a beauty from around the stumps to bowl Andrew Symonds. Alas! It was off a no ball! Zaheer Khan, at this stage, had bowled 10 no balls in the innings! He was bowling like a poor man on a spending spree mistakenly thinking he had won the lottery!
After lunch one felt that the opposite of the 1st innings was happening. Anil Kumble was actually over-bowling himself! He had bowled 10 overs non-stop after lunch. Harbhajan Singh, who had bowled his 10 overs for 2 wickets, was cooling his heels in the field!
Harbhajan Singh came on soon after and his first ball was banished for a brutal 6 by Andrew Symonds. The two right handed batsmen — Clarke and Symonds — were batting very sensibly. They had faced some good bowling, but kept the scoreboard ticking through singles, twos and the occassional boundary! At this stage, the partnership was worth 65 from 86 balls! Just amazing batting from these Australians! One just hopes that the Indian batsmen were watching. The difference between the Australian bowlers and the Indian bowlers was quite clear though. Every over by the Indians — Anil Kumble included — contained a few ‘single’ (tap-and-run) balls plus a lose delivery. One got the feeling that the Indian bowlers were just trying too much.
I shudder as I write this because of the incredulousness of the statement, but it almost seemed as if India needed an R. P. Singh like post-lunch spell. The team needed someone to keep it tight and simple.
Zaheer Khan continued to bowl around the wicket and after inducing an edge that went between the ‘keeper and 1st slip for a 4, he got his man. A late inswinger got Symonds LBW.
The no-ball indiscipline continued from Zaheer Khan though.
With that wicket of Andrew Symonds, perhaps India could just claim that lunch-tea session in which 3 wickets fell. But, given the number of runs Australia scored, I’d make that an even session too. So at this stage, the session-by-session count continued to remain at 4-2 in Australia’s favour. India were fighting to remain in the game by picking up these wickets, but then each and every Australian batsman was playing positively and to a plan. They just refused to let the Indian bowlers get on top. It was indeed turing out to be a masterly display of 2nd innings batting. Michael Clarke, whose second innings average (at about 65) is much better than his first innings average (of about 43), was giving a master class in why this was so! He was a picture of concentration, class and confidence!
At Tea on the 3rd day, Australia was 395 runs ahead with 5 wickets still remaining in the second innings. This looked like an improbable situation for India. Michael Clarke was already on 52. And with Adam Gilchrist at the crease, one could expect a few fireworks. India were already staring down the gun at a 500+ chase to win!
Zaheer Khan, despite his gimme balls every over, and his no-ball indiscipline, was actually bowling well. He commenced proceedings after the tea break and was trying to get the ball to squeeze between Gilchrists’ bat and pad in much the same way as Andrew Flintoff did in the 2005 Ashes series. Clearly, the Indians had watched the videos and were bowling to some sort of a plan. But the Australian players are champions and despite the good bowling, the brilliant Aussie bowling on day-2 meant that the batsmen were able to continue to play positive cricket.
Harbhajan Singh continued to spear them in at 87 plus kmph! His best balls, even in this innings, were bowled at around 81 kmph! I just wonder what he was thinking — or not! And I just wonder what the Coach was telling him at the breaks? At the speeds that he was bowling at, one could not be blamed for thinking that he was playing in a Twenty20 match!
Anil Kumble continued to rotate his bowlers. Zaheer Khan was replaced by R. P. Singh at the Southern Stand end. Kumble seemed unwilling to bowl himself and Harbhajan Singh in tandem, for some reason though!
In this spell, Harbhajan Singh bowled like he did in the first innings — without purpose or plan. He tried to choke Gilchrist by bowling outside the left handers’ leg stump. Gilchrist, the champion batsman that he is, produced a reverse sweep to get a boundary.
Suddenly, at the other end, Anil Kumble showed the way by bowling a slow flighted googly that Michael Clarke mis-read to be stumped for 73. It was a wonderful innings from Clarke. It took a special delivery from a great bowler to get him out. But Clarke had shown the Indians how to bat on this pitch.
And these two overs — one from Harbhajan Singh and the other from Anil Kumble that got Clarke out — symbolised India’s bowling display! They did not develop bowling partnerships. If one bowler bowled a good spell or a good over, the other leaked runs at the other end. There was no costant pressure that was being maintained at both ends!
The spin-twins were bowling in tandem now. And this was an opportunity to turn the screws, especially with Brad Hogg at the crease. But like all the other batsmen, save Ponting, Hogg got stuck into the task on hand and refused India the luxury of getting a clutch of wickets. Australia had their foot on the pedal and just continued to grind the opposition as only Australia can.
It didn’t help that Silly Bowden wasn’t prepared to lift his crooked finger to several close LBW appeals. Anil Kumble had at least 10 appeals turned down; 9 by Bowden. At least one of them, against Brad Hogg, looked adjacent enough. Perhaps the Indians did not appeal as convincingly, jumping up and down like convincing yoyos as the Australians looked in the appeals against Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj Singh and Anil Kumble in the 1st innings — all line-ball decisions in my view. I have a real problem with the crooked (fingered) Bowden. While he gets most decisions right, I reckon he isn’t a great umpire; one gets the feeling that he goes as much by reputation as he does by correctness.
But them’s the breaks that one gets in international cricket and it would do the Indians no good to take a negative mindset into the 2nd innings. As it is, Yuvraj Singh has been hauled up by the referee, Mike Proctor for showing dissent on being given out in the 1st innings!
Meanwhile, Adam Gilchrist thwatted one from Harbhajan SIngh to be smartly caught at deep mid wicket off Harbhajan Singh.
With 11 overs to go in the days’ play, Ricky Ponting declared the Australian innings close leaving India to negotiate 8 overs in the days’ play. The ask for India was to make 499 off a maximum of 188 overs spread across 2 days and a bit!
Rahul Dravid and Wasim Jaffer strode out to negotiate the remaining 8 overs. India managed to keep out the 8 overs scoring 6 runs. Although Rahul Dravid did not take 41 balls to get off the mark, he looked tentative, especially in the last over of the day against Stuart Clark. Having said that, I think the Australian bowlers looked a bit flat and listless in the 8 overs they bowled. Perhaps Ricky Ponting had surprised them too with the timing of the declaration?
Given that India did not lose a wicket in that last session, and the resulting confidence that it will give the openers, I’d be tempted to score that as an even session too, giving a session-by-session score of 4-2 to the Australiajns.
The task ahead for India is mammoth. I do hoper that, even as they go down to the mighty Australians, they put on a good fight. They need to survive all three sessions tomorrow and score session points in at least 2 of them. They need this Test match to go into the last day. That should be the goal for Anil Kumble and his boys. It won’t be easy, but then Test cricket against Australia seldom is!!