Monthly Archives: December 2007

Onwards to Sydney…

After the humiliating loss in the 1st Test, the Indian and Australian teams move to Sydney, usher in the New Year and play the next Test match, starting 2 January 2008.

Already there are signs of tension in the Indian camp with reports suggesting that the team was unhappy with the performance, the approach as well as the attitude of Yuvraj Singh! And this, even though Yuvraj Singh was accommodated to stuff up two other well-established senior pros in the team — namely, Rahul Dravid and V. V. S. Laxman!

Lalchand Rajput initially seemed to come out openly stating that he would have a face-to-face talk with Yuvraj Singh. Then, perhaps on instructions from the BCCI, these statements were retracted by the team with a more official statement from the teams’ media manager. Not all is well, it seems.

These are probably early signals that Yuvraj Singh will develop some mysterious illness over the next few days — “sore neck” and “mild fever” are early front runners — and will sit out the Sydney Test match!

At this stage, it is perhaps unlikely for any other Team India member to develop any further mysterious illnesses!

With this out of the way, in my opinion, the team can then chose from either one of Irfan Pathan or Virender Sehwag to open the batting in Sydney! Yes, that wasn’t a ptyo… Oops! Typo! I am indeed suggesting that one of Irfan Pathan or Virender Sehwag could open the batting in Sydney.

Virender Sehwag for Yuvraj Singh is a bat-for-bat swap that should have happened in Melbourne itself. It ought to happen for Sydney, espcially since Yuvraj Singh will develop a series of inexplicable medical complications!

Although Anil Kumble lay the blame for the loss in Melbourne on the batsmen, I believe he papered over the performance of the bowlers. The bowling wasn’t all that great in my view.

  • R. P. Singh had a problem all through the match with his line, length, attitude, temparament and form!
  • Zaheer Khan bowled far too many gimme balls and demonstrated a chronic noball problem!
  • Apart from, probably, two spells (one to Hogg in the 1st innings and the other to Hayden and Ponting in the 2nd dig) Harbhajan Singh tended to spear the ball down. He will not make a dent in Sydney if he continues to bowl in this manner!
  • Even Anil Kumble bowled badly to Matthew Hayden in the 1st innings. His second innings effort could be best described as average!

So, to exonerate the bowlers was a bit rich, in my view!

With this in mind, I also feel that the bowling needs tinkering/bolstering. I may have been tempted to straight-swap R. P. Singh for Irfan Pathan. However, I am not sure if Irfan Pathan’s bowling form is right up there. With that in mind, bolstering the bowling ranks may not be a terribly bad idea, in my view. The only way that can happen is if Irfan Pathan replaces a batsman. The only one he could replace would be Wasim Jaffer. Irfan Pathan has opened for India before. I believe he has a sound technique to play against the Australians. With Sehwag at the other end, he need not worry about scoring runs at a healthy clip. I may be tempted to play him in Sydney!

So, my team for Sydney would be:

Wasim Jaffer / Irfan Pathan
Virender Sehwag
Rahul Dravid
Sachin Tendulkar
V. V. S. Laxman
Sourav Ganguly
M. S. Dhoni
Anil Kumble
Harbhajan Singh
Zaheer Khan
R. P. Singh

— Mohan

Send Yuvraj to Boarding School

During one stage of the game, my cousin remarked to me, ” Would they have asked Ricky Ponting to open the innings when Langer threw in the towel?”. He was furious with India’s decision to sacrifice Dravid (once again!) in order to accomodate “baby” Yuvraj. I thought the anger was thoroughly understandable. Compare this to Australia, when Phil Jacques was provided a chance he seized it and delivered. Maybe Yuvraj was done in by a bad decision in the first outing, but his brief stay did not in any way indicate that he is ready for real test cricket. His attitude and arrogance in both the innings only made things look worse. He needs to be sent to boarding school (I am currently under the spell of Aamir Khan’s latest, Taare Zameen Par) to gain some discipline. It is okay to have an attitude, I guess, if you have delivere

 I harp so much on the “accomodation” decision because I thought it cost us the match. You cannot go into a test match against Australia with accomodations and compromises. If Sehwag was taken on the tour (an original mistake), he should have played the first test. You simply cannot treat one of the world’s best no.3 batsman like a sacrificial lamb.

Now by bringing Sehwag in for the Sydney test as a reactive measure, you are setting expectations for him and that does not work either. Sehwag has to be provided with the license to kill. A boxing day test would have been the ideal situation for that.

I am hoping for a sensible strategy as far as team selection is concerned for the Sydney test. Is it asking for too much?

 Cheers,

Srikanth

Australia v India :: Boxing Day Test :: Day-4

Australia maul India…

As I had said in my blog post yesterday, at the end of day-3 of the Boxing Day Test, the Indian batsmen needed to show some courage, grit, pride and purpose in this, the 4th day of play in the Boxing Day Test match. Thanks to terrible, we-only-smell-money, planning by the BCCI and also to some strange selection decisions, coupled with an almost inevitable insipid 1st innings batting display, India found herself in a terrible position on this day. The fight back from here was going to call on all the reserves of the batsmen. Either way, this was going to be a day of reckoning for Indian cricket.

India started well. They batted with some purpose and commitment. Brad Hogg commenced proceedings to enable Stuart Clark and Brett Lee to change ends. Wasim Jaffer and Rahul Dravid started positively, rotating the strike and middling the ball. This seemed to suggest that the 1st innings cobwebs in Dravid’s mind had disappeared. The batsmen were middling the ball well and stealing the occassional single. But for the brilliant Australian fielding, the score may well have sported a healthier look.

Just when hopes were raised of a smart opening stand, Wasim Jaffer received a brute of a delivery which he appeared to nick to Adam Gilchrist; later, replays suggested that it went off his shoulder. It would not have mattered as this was off a no-ball. One hoped that Jaffer would make best use of this “reprieve”. However, instead of capitalising on it — as Andrew Symonds had the day before — two balls later, Jaffer attempted a lazy waft at a ball outside off stump, to be caught by Gilchrist behind the stumps.

This brought V. V. S. Laxman to the crease and what we saw was the slow crawl from both Dravid as well as Laxman. This just enabled Ricky Ponting to choke the batsmen. Three slips went down to two and then to one! There were fielders in front of the batsmen at short cover, at short mid-wicket, short square-leg and short mid-on. Good fielding, along with a lack of urgency meant that India had sunk back into their 1st innings habits! Every run was being applauded by the sparse Saturday crowd.

And this was fine by me. The batsmen seemed to suggest that they were settling in for the long haul. They seemed to be passing on a message to the Australians that read “Mates we are here to stay on this hot and humid day. We are not here to win. If you want to win, get us out“. I have no problems with this strategy, but one needs tremendous mental resolve to pull it off. One needs to be strong — mentally and physically. I personally do not subscribe to the Channel-9-commentary-team-philosophy that suggests that the only way you can show positive aggression is by trying to tonk each ball. In my books, even stolid defence is a form of aggression and together, Dravid and Laxman was following that plan!

In the 29th over of the innings (the 21st of the day) bowled by Andrew Symonds, a cracking boundary to long-on was followed by a splendid cover drive hit on the up! Two things stood out in these shots. In the straight-driven four, despite the slow outfield, Laxman just ran a single and watched and waited at the non-strikers’ end as the ball trickled over the fence. His message was that runs were unimportant. He and Dravid were there to deny the Australians victory. They were not interested in victory as an option. This was a brave strategy, especially with Brad Hogg in operation. Two balls later, Laxman hit a ball on the up in a spectacular off drive. This said to me that he had a measure of the pitch.

Soon after, Rahul Dravid reached his personal 100! A hundred balls that is! He had made 16 runs off these 100 balls.

In the next over off Symonds, we saw a spectacular back hand attempt from Ricky Ponting. He was standing at short mid off and the straight drive travelled like a rocket to him. He snapped up the ball and back handed the ball; he broke the non-strikers’ stumps, without even looking at the stumps! This was certainly a fielding champion on the park.

The very next ball, Laxman hit a ball slightly to the right of Ponting, who dived over it in an attempt to stop it. His attempt was in vain. Just a few yards behind him, Brad Hogg dived over the ball too and the result was a few runs to Laxman.

I guess if we were as irresponsible as Peter Lalor, we would have said, “If Ponting and Brad Hogg could, they would have sub-contracted the fielding to a back-office operation in India, because he would not be able to find servants to do his dirty work in Australia“!

But then, I’d like to think that we at i3j3Cricket are a bit more responsible! We call it as we see it. We have no hidden agendas!

In the 35th over of the innings, Laxman did not pick a Brad Hogg googly. The ball spun, took the edge and the resulting hard chance was dropped by Hayden at first slip. Perhaps he needed to sub-contract his fielding too? 🙂

In the very next over, the last over before lunch, Andrew Symonds was called on to bowl off spin. Up until then, he had been bowling his seam-up stuff! One assumed that he was bowling off-spin mainly so that the Australians could squeeze in another over before lunch! The time was 12:26 then! He spun one sharply into Dravid. The ball kept low and trapped Dravid in front. Dravid had made 16 off 114 and just as he was looking set to go to lunch undefeated, he got out! Even in the 1st innings, he got out just before lunch after putting in the hard yards in the lead up to the luncheon break!

If Dravid hadn’t got out, I may have been tempted to call it an even session or even perhaps a session to India. But with that wicket, I’d give the session to Australia, thus making the session score 5-2 in favour of Australia.

Australia started their post-lunch proceedings with Brett Lee from the Southern Stand End and Andrew Symonds from the Members’ Stand End.

Sachin Tendulkar was perhaps listening to the Channel-9 commentary a bit too much. Instead of grinding it out, he tried to smash every ball out of the park. Although I didn’t see the game on TV, I heard that the Channel-9 comms were getting stuck into the Indians for their slow approach. While I completely disagreed with Rahul Dravid’s go-slow approach in the 1st innings, a block approach (or “dokku” approach) in the second innings seemed to make sense. As I said earlier, this was as much a form of aggression as is a “bang every ball for a four” approach, provided one has the skill and the mental fortitude to carry it off! Especially when you consider that the Indians had 6 sessions to bat out, “to grind it out” was a totally valid strategy — especially on a very Indian pitch! It seemed to me that Sachin Tendulkar had come out with a wrong mental framework. A quickfire 50 or a 100 studded with 20 fours would not have mattered a toss if the series scoreboard still read 1-0 at the end of the match!

I don’t believe I have ever criticised Sachin Tendulkar during his career. However, on this occassion, I felt that he let his personal ambition (to dominate the bowling) ahead of the teams’ need (occupation of the crease).

After making a few attractive runs, Sachin Tendulkar was back in the hut. The team and the situation had demanded much more from him and he hadn’t delivered.

Sourav Ganguly came on and suffered an immediate sledge from Brett Lee. Soon after there was a spectacular fielding effort. Ganguly hit the ball to long on and charged off for 3 runs. Bradd Hogg slid at the ropes and threw down the non-strikers’ wicket from about 100 yards out. Ganguly appeared to be in the crease — he had just reached the crease. Brett Lee the bowler grabbed hold of the rebound and in one action, threw down the stumps at the other end! Both batsmen were in, but one couldn’t help admire the clinical efficiency of the Australian fielding outfit. It seemed like a well-oiled military operation!

When the score had crossed 100, Ganguly smashed the ball to deep point and sauntered off for a non-existant single. Andrew Symonds grabbed hold of the ball and threw it back to the stumps when there was no need. Ganguly was inside his crease anyway! The resulting overthrow went for 3 runs.

Again, Peter Lalor might have said that Symonds needed to go to get a servant from India — there are none here, I presume — or something derogatory like that. But to do that I’d need to hate Symonds and Australia and since I don’t either, I will desist!

India were soon 118 for 4 when Laxman drove a slower ball from Stuart Clark straight to Michael Clarke at cover. Again, this was a silly positive shot when it just wasn’t necessary. Laxman had once again promised much to not deliver in the end. He was out for a well made 42.

And when Yuvraj Singh was out LBW to a faster flipper from Brad Hogg, without giving the scorers too much of a headache, it appeared as though the innings would fold even before tea on day-4! Once again, even after he had just been reprieved by Match Referee Mike Proctor the previous night (for showing dissent in the 1st innings), Yuvraj Singh hung around for a while, seeming to suggest that that ball was speared down the leg side. Indeed, replays did suggest that the ball was heading down legside. For the second time in the match Yuvraj Singh had received a rough call, but he needs to understand that he should just cop it on the chin and walk.

The batting was turning out to be a disappointment once again. The on-paper champions were on the mat and the Australians — the true champions — had their legs pressed on the throats of the paper tigers. It was a mind game at this stage. The Aussies knew that they had a mountain of runs behind them and could keep attacking. The Indians had no answers.

The second session clearly belonged to the Aussies.

Post-tea proceedings commenced with Stuart Clark (Southern Stand End) and Brad Hogg (Members Stand End). Batting was still looking easy. There were no demons in the pitch. Dhoni, who was unable to read Hogg’s googly effectively off the hand, seemed to have enough time to play it off the pitch! The demons were all in the Indian batsmens’ heads!

And this resulted in a total collapse after tea time. The wheels fell right off the Indian bus. Dhoni was out flashing at a ball wide of off stump. Kumble was caught poking at a ball on the offside from Mitchell Johnson. Harbhajan Singh was called for a run and then sent back by Sourav Ganguly. Harbhajan Singh could not get back to the crease in time. Ganguly was struck on the pads as he stretched well forward. Umpire Benson lifted his finger to send him packing even before the appeal commenced — perhaps he too wanted to escape to the cool confines of the dressing room! One saw many such LBW appeals being denied the Indians on day-3. But then none of that would have mattered anyway, as a much superior opposition was in the process of crushing out a capable, but under-cooked opposition.

Soon, it was all over and Australia had won its 15th Test match without losing a game!

India were under-cooked and under-prepared. It did not help that they had the wrong team on the park! And they were made to pay for all of these silly goof ups by a champion team.

In just 3 days’ time, it starts again in Sydney. India need to lift themselves off the floor, dust themselves off and move on to the challenges ahead. And along the way, some hard decisions need to be taken — more of that in a later post!

— Mohan

Was Peter Lalor watching the match?

The fielding effort that the Indians put in in the Australian second innings earned Peter Lalor’s special attention — or should we say contempt — in an article in The Australian today. Agreed the fielding was ordinary. We pointed this out in our article yesterday too, in our article at the end of the days’ play. Agreed, the fielding effort wasn’t even perhaps to international standard. Ok. Let’s even agree — just to make Peter Lalor feel good about himself and his lot in life — that any under 14 team in Australian provincial cricket would have fielded better than the Indians did at the ‘G’.

However, the manner in which Peter Lalor went hammer and tongs at the Indians was suggestive of an attitude that can only be reserved for a people that you hate with a passion. I am as one-eyed as they get, but even I reserve an ounce of empathy and objectivity in every 9 ounces of emotional chest-beating fundamentalist-like fervour! Lalor’s article did not just ooze contempt. It wasn’t merely hate-ridden. It was actually factually incorrect. Let us repeat that. His article was factually inaccurate. I am convinced that a pen in this mans’ hand is a weapon of mass vilification.

The reason that we arrived at this conclusion is because of his spew on Yuvraj Singh. Agreed Yuvraj had a lapse (read: one lapse) in the field in the morning’s session of play. Lalor records this moment in his article as:

Yuvraj Singh was, at times yesterday, totally incompetent, letting numerous balls through on the soft, slow, falt-as-a-French-crepe outfield

Numerous?

Was Lalor even watching the match? We are convinced that Lalor was asleep on the wheel. He has done a disservice to Yuvraj Singh as well as Lalors’ own readers. Those who watched the game will, we hope, consign him to the “wierdo” bin or “this man has an axe to grind” bin!

Every champion has an off moment. Tiger Woods has an off moment or an off day. So does Roger Federer. To not acknowledge that is to either not know the topic you are writing about — and it is possible that Lalor does not know his cricket. Or, it is to ignore that Yuvraj Singh is indeed a champion fielder; perhaps even one of the best in world cricket today! It is all the more galling because Yuvraj Singh had one (read: one) lapse in the field yesterday! To paint him as a mug in the field who wants his servants to do his fielding for him suggests Lalor is simultaneously contemptuous, ignorant, arrogant, biased and blind.

We may have accepted his diatribe if Lalor had also pointed out Brad Hogg’s shocking misfield (once) and Andrew Symonds’ laziness (once) when India batted.

We have no doubt that the Australians set different standards in the field. India is nowhere near that class or standard. However, it is this singular lack of objectivity that makes us think that Lalor has marked out Yuvraj Singh (here) just as he did Sree Santh.

Australia v India :: Boxing Day Test :: Day-3

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!!

— Mohan

Australia v India :: Boxing Day Test :: Day-2

Indian sluggishness destroys a good bowling effort…

At the start of the day, I said to my friend that, after India’s excellent showing on day-1 of the ongoing Test, day-2 would present a significant opportunity for Indian cricket to take a bold and convincing step forward into a new era. Such dreams were shattered by an inept batting display that let down the hopes of a nation.

The last time India visited Australia in 2003, a good Boxing Day was followed by a “normal programming resumes” day! This time around, after India’s bowlers had done all the hard yards on day-1 of this episode of the Boxing Day Test match, the batsmen squandered the advantage on day-2!

Agreed, the Australian bowlers bowled spelindldly. However, cricket is played as much in the mind as it is on the park! When Rahul Dravid and Wasim Jaffer walked in to bat on this lovely summer morning, they played as though they were playing in a warfield in Southern Iraq that had randomly placed landmines in it! Such was their tentativeness and such was their negative approach. The Australians, on the other hand, looked purposeful and looked like they wanted to defend a low “on or slightly below par” score.

Rahul Dravid took forever to get off the mark and faced every ball in Mitchell Johnston’s initial spell of seven overs! It was as if he had forgotten that singles were possible — not that he was striking boundaries by the truckload! His painful 66-ball stay yielded just 5 runs! Along the way, he survived a close LBW shout, a catch attempt at gully as well as a catch at slip off a no-ball!

It is not as if one should pin India’s bad day at the office on Rahul Dravid alone! All the batsmen should put their hand up and accept collective responsibility. However, a start is so very important in Australia — as Akash Chopra and Virender Sehwag so aptly demonstrated on the last visit by India to these shores. One can’t help but ask why Virender Sehwag was cooling his heels in the pavillion. Instead, we had an accommodation that stuffed up two players! Yuvraj Singh was accommodated at #6 and this pushed Rahul Dravid up to open (wrong move #1) and V. V. S. Laxman to #3 (wrong move #2). As I said in my previous post, India should have opened with Virender Sehwag and made the hard, difficult and painful decision of dropping Yuvraj Singh.

Rahul Dravid is not an opener and was sacrificed in todays’ game. The advantage that the bowlers had dealt was blown. The mindset was negative from the outset and this mood was perhaps transferred onto the rest of the team. Batting is all about momentum and Rahul Dravid combined well with Wasim Jaffer to shift the momentum to Australia. The later batsmen struggled to shove crap uphill after that.

And this is where the silly idea of having just one practice game prior to the Boxing Day Test match was most rudely exposed. If the Indians had more than a match, the batsmen could have got their bearings. The team itself could have tried a few options, particularly in the all-important opening slot.

The Australian bowlers bowled excellently and to a plan. They bowled on or outside the off stump. They hardly bowled on the legs of the Indian batsmen, allowing them the luxury to whip the ball to leg!

Fours were hard to come by and this is more because of the slow outfield. Good shots stopped short of the boundary ropes. I think this was pathetic for a quality Test match and hopefully Cricket Australia will do something about this. Having said that, both teams get the same ground to bat on. So one should not complain too much. However, it is perhaps common knowledge that Indian players are more boundary hitters than sharp-single-runners! And here, beacuse of the pathetic nature of the MCG outfield, they were at a disadvantage.

Where Ricky Ponting erred, in my view, was by over-bowling Brad Hogg. One just could not understand why this somewhat ordinary Chinaman bowler got to bowl 21 overs! At the other end, Brett Lee and Stuart Clark were causing mayhem and picking up wickets at regular intervals. Unless Ponting wanted Hogg to have an extended bowling spell and thereby, bowl the spinner into form in the lead up to the second innings and then, the Sydney Test, this extended spell made no sense to me at all. Although Hogg did pick up two wickets, I am not sure I would agree that these wickets could be credited to good bowling!

Apart from Sachin Tendulkar and to some extent Sourav Ganguly, the rest of the Indian batsmen seemed to be batting on another pitch altogether! Tendulkar was magical. From the moment he walked in, every shot he played had class and magical stamped all over it. But just when his partnership with Laxman was starting to find its bearings, Laxman got a lifter from Brett Lee that he could only poke at to the slips area in an ugly manner. And just when Tendulkar’s partnership with Ganguly started to flower, Tendulkar bottom edged a short wide-of-off ball onto his stumps — he has got out to this type of shot quite a bit in the recent past, including last week, against the Victorians! Yuvraj Singh came and went and so did M. S. Dhoni. Yuvraj Singh stodd his ground for a long time, giving one the impression that he was done in by the umpire! But replays were inconclusive. Ganguly was bowled by a ball that kept extremely low — even Trevor Chappell may have struggled to get that low height on a ball bowling underam to the New Zealanders!! The Indian innings was just falling apart. And soon enough, it did. The fact that the score almost touched 200 was thanks to a gutsy effort by the indefatigable Anil Kumble.

In the end, Australia came back to bat and rattled up a quick 32 runs in 8 overs! R. P. Singh was torn apart in an over and the normally cool-headed youngster seemed to be losing the plot here.

I can’t see a way out for the Indians here. One bad day at the office has perhaps set the tone for the entire summer! The weather looks good for the next few days. So the possibility of a Lords’-like escape is somewhat remote. This is certainly a backs-to-the-wall fight that will test the character of Anil Kumble and his men.

— Mohan

Australia v India :: Boxing Day Test :: Day-1

Australian arrogance destroys a good start…

While the Indian bowling was good mostly, it wasn’t that great to suggest a score of 337 for 9! Any Indian fan — and perhaps even a Team India cricket player or two — would have gladly taken a score of 337-9 at the end of Day-1 of an MCG Test Match faster than a magician can shuffle a card deck! If anyone had suggested to any Indian at lunch time — when the score board read 111-0 — that the closing score would be 337-9, they would have recommended a visit to a shrink! But that is precisely how the day ended. And it can be put down to Australian arrogance.

There is a thin line between confidence and arrogance. The Australians crossed that line today and paid the price for it. As Rahul Dravid said so eloquently in 2003 after the stunning win in Adelaide, “the best way to [beat Australia] is to, in a sense, play to their arrogance“! Today, on Day-1 of the Boxing Day Test match, Australia shot itself it the foot by playing arrogant cricket.

The day started nice and early. Vish, Mahesh, Paddy and I (all i3j3Cricket Contributors) got to the ground at 0800 for a 1030 start! We did not want to miss any of the action at all. We saw the Indians and Aussies go through their fielding drills.

In the lead up to this day, one observation we made was that the Aussie Press, which normally goes to town on visiting teams, stayed mostly muted or appreciative of the visitors. Whether this would have been the case if Sree Santh had also been on the team is a moot point. Perhaps this muted response was a result of this somewhat crazy split-summer of cricket in Australia. However, the press was noticably quiet against the visitors in the lead up to Boxing Day. On the contrary we had Shane Warne and Ian Chappell getting stuck into the Australian establishment! So much so that Adam Gilchrist had to issue a plea to former Australian cricketers to tone down their criticism! This was, indeed, turning out to be a wierd season!

I think India missed a trick by selecting Harbhajan Singh ahead of Irfan Pathan or Ishant Sharma. To have Sourav Ganguly as the 1st change bowler in Austraian conditions was perhaps a wrong decision. This decision would have worked best if India had won the toss and elected to bat. With a team composition that included Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble, India had to have last bowl on the pitch. As it turned out, Ricky Ponting chose to bat after winning the toss. As expected, India went with Rahul Dravid as opener.

The Indian bowlers started inconsistently. While Zaheer Khan was bowling strongly, beating the bat constantly, R. P. Singh was constantly bowling outside offstump. After 6 overs, Australia was 5 for no loss! The Australian method was perhaps to see out the early juice in the wicket.

Phil Jaques clearly rode his luck early. Zaheer Khan struck him on the pads a few times and at least one of them looked very adjacent. Billy Bowden wasn’t interested though!

The wicket appeared to ease off after the first half hour. R. P. Singh did not help by bowling a few half trackers wide outside off stump. This enabled Australia to reach 48-0 at the end of 12 overs!

Soon after the first drinks break, India had Sourav Ganguly and Harbhajan Singh bowling in tandem. While both of them started off with maiden overs, the bowling was largely harmless. Early indications were that the pitch did not have any spin in it. After 21 overs, Australia was 89-0. This segment of play already included an ungainly Sydney Harbour Bridge fielding effort from Ganguly that let the ball through for a four!

It was, at this stage, begining to look like a long and painful summer for the Indians and Team India fans!

R. P. Singh was brought in for another spell of bowling. I was quite amazed that Anil Kumble held himself back! Perhaps Kumble the captain was unable to manage Kumble the bowler quite so well as other captains might have!

Australia went to lunch on 111-0 after 27 overs.

After lunch, Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh commenced proceedings. This was also somewhat strange! One could not understand why Kumble was holding himself back. At the end of 31 overs, Harbhajan Singh had bowled 9 overs and Anil Kumble had bowled 2! Something was surely amiss here! This stupidity was exposed when Kumble came on for Harbhajan Singh. He immediately got Phil Jaques out to a smart stumping by M. S. Dhoni for 66. Soon afterwards, Anil Kumble dropped a tough chance at gully off Zaheer Khan. Another wicket at that stage would have provided a tremendous boost to India’s morale.

India continued to be be ugly in the field though, with Sourav Ganguly, R. P. Singh and Zaheer Khan being the worst offenders.

The key to success would be to get Ricky Ponting early. However, Ponting started off reasonably well. He was middling the ball and Matthew Hayden was making batting look so easy.

Suddenly, Zaheer Khan produced a beauty — perhaps even the ball of the day — that straightened when he bowled from around the wicket to bowl Ricky Ponting. Immediately after, Mike Hussey was out LBW to Kumble for a duck! India were squeezing themselves back into the game, thanks to Anil Kumble who had been cooling his heels pretty much until lunch time. India’s best bowlers were bowling in tandem for the first time in the match and it wasn’t a surprise India was doing well in this little post-lunch spell. In the first hour after lunch, Australia had hit 62 runs and lost 3 wickets in 14 overs!

Somehow, Kumble wasn’t bowling all that well to Matthew Hayden. He either bowled the wrong line or bowled too short. In this period, Hayden seemed to hog the strike and kept Michael Clarke away from Kumble. We won’t know if this was a deliberate ploy by Hayden and Clarke, but in 9-10 overs that the pair played out there in the middle, Clarke had faced only 17 balls for his 3 runs! At this stage, Clarke was looking distinctly nervy and uncomfortable.

At this stage, R. P. Singh was bowling excellently. He bowled a terrific line to Michael Clarke from around the wicket. Instead of trying too hard, he bowled a steady line and length, denying Clarke easy runs. The idea was to frustrate the batsman.

Kumble continued to bowl somewhat badly to Hayden who continued to keep Clarke away from the wily Indian leggie. Australia went to tea only 3 wickets down for 213. They had scored 102 runs in that session and lost 3 wickets.

While the 1st session clearly belonged to Australia, perhaps India could claim the second session by claiming those 3 wickets…

India opened after the tea break with R. P. Singh and Zaheer Khan. Immediately after tea, R. P. Singh induced a silly stroke from Michael Clarke who was caught beautifully by V. V. S. Laxman in the slips. Clarke was out for an unconvincing 20 off 60 balls. Clarke’s dismissal was via a silly shot. He chased down a wide ball only to find it land in Lazmans’ hands!

Immediately afterwards India got another wicket. Matthew Hayden, who was batting like a king up until then, played a waft at ball that Zaheer Khan held back just a bit. The ball stopped a bit but Hayden went through with the shot. The resulting catch was taken comfortably by at mid wicket by Rahul Dravid. Another silly shot in an attempt to dominate the bowling — rather than play as the situation demanded!

Australia reached 250-5 off 65 overs and were still going at a healthy rate of 3.85 per over. Andrew Symonds and Adam Gilchrist were settling in to the task ahead.

With 24 overs to go, Harbhajan Singh, who was largely ineffective up until then, came on to bowl. He continued to bowl utter nonsense in this next spell thereby confirming my earlier suspicion that his was a bad choice for Melbourne. Perhaps Ishant Sharma should have played after all.

Then against the run of play, Sourav Ganguly contributed to the teams’ cause by heading to the pavillion. Dinesh Karthik came in his place and snapped up a smart catch at mid wicket off a short ball from Anil Kumble to send Andrew Symonds back in the pavillion. The ball wasn’t short enough for the pull and the situation perhaps demanded more respect from Symonds. At 281-6, perhaps one could say that India were in front. But then respect is perhaps not a word that sits well with the Australians! Arrogance fits the bill more…

The Australian batting arrogance continued through Adam Gilchrist who slogged at a flighted googly from Anil Kumble to be caught at cover point by Sachin Tendulkar. After being 135-0, Australia had squandered the advantage by losing 7 wickets.

Suddenly, Kumble had his 5th wicket when Brett Lee was out LBW. The Indians were truly on top and if there was another in-form spinner bowling at the other end, things just might have been sewn up by India.

Who would have thought that a spinner would get 5 wickets on Day-1 of an MCG Boxing Day Test match?

Meanwhile, the mood in the stands was distinctly Indian. The Australians in the crowd were silenced and numbed by all the mayhem!

Even a few streakers, each of whom would be lighter in the purse to the tune of $6,000, could not lift the Australian spirits!

The Indians in the crowd found more voice when Brad Hogg was caught in the slips by Rahul Dravid off the first ball that Zaheer Khan bowled with the new ball.

Interestingly, Anil Kumble bowled with the new ball. This wasn’t a particularly smart move in our view. Apart from his initial spell, R. P. Singh did bowl well. He may have been a better bet to share the new ball.

India ended the day 2-1 on a session-by-session count and can be pleased with a good days’ work at the office. They were, in my view, helped by an arrogant display by the Aussies…

— Mohan