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!