Monthly Archives: October 2008

India Vs Australia :: Test 3 :: Delhi :: Day-3

After putting on a mammoth score in the 1st Innings, India are most probably safe in this match. With three days left, unless India do a very bad “Australia’s 2nd Innings in Adelaide in 2003” (all out 196 in 56 overs), an India loss could (perhaps should) be ruled out at this stage.

Australia has its work cut out to save this game. For this, Australia’s 1st Innings will be crucial. This is because the pitch will get worse and worse to bat on as the match progresses. If Australia bats well in the 1st Innings, there will be a case for a draw. Of course, as they say, “funnier things have happened in cricket”!

With that in mind, the 1st Session of day-3 becomes crucial for Australia.

Australia started off well after India played grinding cricket. Cricinfo has called it khadoos cricket with a view to shutting Australia out of the game; in much the same manner as Australia played in the 2nd Innings at Sydney, 2008. In Australia’s 1st Innings, after a mammoth effort in the field, Matthew Hayden and Simon Katich started well and played the 15 remaining overs competently. However, there were danger signs as Amit Mishra and Anil Kumble turned a few balls in viciously into the left-handed openers after hitting the rough outside the left-handers’ off stump.

This could be a very interesting days’ play.

What will be interesting will be the captaincy today. Ricky Ponting made some strange decisions on the field. Peter Roebuck talks about just that including a reference to throwing out the new-age strategy as well as its author out of the Australian dressing room! Anil Kumble will find it easier to captain a team that has made 613. Yet, it will be interesting to see what Anil Kumble does.

Session-1:

Zaheer Khan came out fresh and strong. He bowled two terrific bouncers that had Matthew Hayden hopping around. There was a bit of a haze about that may have made the ball move around just a little bit. Anil Kumble started off with a somewhat defensive field with four players spread out on the off-side to prevent a big shot being played! This was more khadoos cricket perhaps! It had Sunil Gavaskar wild and angry in the commentary box (pointer to those that think that Gavaskar can find no wrong with the Indian team or her tactics)!

The second over was bowled by Anil Kumble and, although the turn out of the ‘rough’ was slow into the left handers, it provided a blue-print for the rest of the day. There was spin in this pitch and it would get sharper and faster as the game progressed.

Hayden and Katich were playing sensibly. There was none of the mindless aggression that we saw in Mohali. They played sensibly to good balls and put the bad balls away. This was good, steady — and more importantly, ego-free — batting by the Australians.

One or two of Anil Kumble’s balls hit the ‘rough’ and spat/stung. One of these balls went right through the flayed bat and Dhoni’s gloves for 4 byes. This was good Test match cricket and the Australian batsmen were proving equal to the task.

Katich reached his 50 off 91 balls with 8 fours. Australia had reached 88-0 at this stage off 24.3 overs.

Ishant Sharma was brought into the attack, but he could not make much of a dent either. The Australians had pitched their tents for the long stay on this pitch. Despite the odd ball kicking from the rough, Kumble wasn’t really bowling all that well. He had gone over 70 overs without picking up a wicket in Test cricket and the signs of frustration were there for all to see. He seemed to be rushing things through rather than let the ball do the work off the pitch. So it wasn’t surprising to see Amit Mishra being brought in. However, with two left-handers at the crease it was surprising not to see Virender Sehwag in operation.

Soon, Amit Mishra came on to bowl instead of Kumble. In his very first over, Matthew Hayden hit a huge six to bring up the Australian 100. Australia had moved to 105-0 off 29 overs in the first over when drinks were called. India had bowled 14 overs in the first hour — better than the Australian 13, but only just! The Australians were looking quite assured and this was a worrying sign for India.

Neither Hayden nor Katich were being either overly-defensive or overly-offensive. They were playing focussed cricket and were hungry for runs. They were also not bothered about the huge mountain that had to be climbed. They were playing over-by-over cricket. This was good, responsible batting by the Australians. Ishant Sharma and Amit Mishra were not making much of a difference. It won’t be long, I thought, before we saw Ishant Sharma bowling an outside off-stump line with the spinners attacking at the other end.

It would be good to see Sourav Ganguly and Virender Sehwag have a bowl, remembering (a) the impact Ganguly had in the match against Pakistan here at the Kotla last year, (b) we had two left-handers in the middle.

But it was Amit Mishra who broke through first. He got it through between an advancing Simon Katich’s bat and pad to bowl the advancing batsman off the ‘rough’ for a well made 64 off 115 balls. Australia was 123-1 off 34.1 overs and Ricky Ponting came to the middle with Ishant Sharma in the middle of a good spell of bowling.

This was a good bit of bowling by Mishra. He had got Katich out bowled for the second time off the ‘rough’ (the 1st innings at Mohali was Mishra’s first wicket in Test cricket) — although in Mohali, the ball hit the stumps off Katich’s bat, glove, pad, helmet, pad, elbow, shirt pocket, helmet visor, and anything else that the ball wished to be introduced to!

However, it was a terrible piece of batting by Simon Katich. He closed the face of the bat to eke out a single to mid-wicket when what he ought to have done, once he reached the pitch of the ball, was to either play it with a straight bat or even pad up to it!

Hayden soon reached his half-century. This was a terrifically controlled innings by Hayden. He had 53 off 96 balls with 9 4s and a six in an Australian score of 143-1 off 37.2 overs.

The somewhat worrying thing for the Australians was that there were edges flying off the edge of the bat. The worrying thing for the Indians was that the field placing did not mean that the right fielders were in the right place to take these edges! Kumble was perhaps too absorbed with this conservative “choking” cricket that he is sold on.

Anil Kumble came in for Ishant Sharma at this stage, with a few minutes to go for lunch! Virender Sehwag came in for a bowl for the last over before lunch and immediately, he was getting purchase and turn form the pitch. It was an excellent over by Sehwag to Hayden. India had missed a trick by not bowling him earlier on in the session.

Lunch was called with Australia on 151-1. Despite the loss of the wicket, I make this Australia’s session; one in which 101 runs had been scored. The over rate was a worry, since only 12 overs had been bowled in the second hour!

Perhaps the Match Referee will wake up today to the over-rate negligence? The odds are that he will suddenly wake up because India has offended, especially since news also filtered through at this stage that Gautam Gambhir has been banned for 1 Test match!

Bring in more Asian Match Referees I say!

The SBS score reads: India 3.75, Australia 3.25! As you can see, by my reckoning, Australia aren’t really too far behind the 8-ball!

Session-2:

The Gautam Gambhir verdict had been handed down by Chris Broad prior to the start of the game. It is likely that the Indians were disheartened by the verdict. The players did look flat on the field and even the wicket of Katich did not fire them up as much as it may have on another day. They need to re-group and focus on the task on hand. Gambhir has a day to appeal the verdict handed down by Chris Broad. I personally think that Gambhir ought to have been fined. However, there is no point in doing this mid-way through a Test match. What point does it serve anyway?

In general, the ICC, I think needs to review the entire Match Referee thing. I am not sure why the ICC can’t go for a yellow-card, green-card, red-card deal with the umpires and 3rd umpire? This Match Referee thing is a bit of a joke, in my view. But that’s another debate for another day.

Right after the lunch break, when just two balls had been bowled, a swarm of bees attacked the ground. Players lay flat on the ground covering their faces in the expectation that the bees would fly away. Apart from giving Conn another opportunity to get stuck in, and apart from delaying the game by 2 minutes, all was well and the game commenced. Ponting commenced with a 4 off Kumble.

India started with Sehwag who had bowled a splendid over just prior to lunch. Ponting was already on 22 of 32 balls with 5 boundary hits.

I wasn’t totally comfortable with Kumble’s bowling at this stage. He was bowling too flat and just back of a length. The ‘rough’ outside Hayden’s off stump was hardly being exploited. This was a sign that Kumble was trying just that little bit harder than necessary. There was a lot of pressure on him to take wickets. My feeling was that if he took his first wicket, we’d see a very different Kumble.

The Indian energy on the field was lacking. I could be wrong, but my feeling was that they were stung by the Chris Broad verdict. The team needed to lift from that and get on with it as big boys must!

Having said that, Ponting and Hayden were playing exceedingly well. They just didn’t look like getting out. Ponting, in particular, wasn’t committing too early to his stroke and was playing late, off the pitch. What’s more important was that the two batsmen had, through their confident playing, spread out the field to all parts. The score had moved to 173-1 with Ponting on 29 off 43 balls (6 fours) and Hayden on 66 off 128 balls. Their 50 partnership between Ponting and Hayden was brought up at that score. India needed to do something different.

With the score on 174-1, Hayden had a bit of a reprieve. What seemed like a bat-pad off Anil Kumble lobbed up to Rahul Dravid at 1st slip. Dravid caught it cleanly. But umpire Billy Bowden was unmoved. It was a tough call, because the ball seemed to hit the back of the bat after hitting pad first. Anil Kumble, who had had dreadful luck with his appeals in Bangalore, continued to rue his decision-misfortunes. One another day, he may have got that decision. But when one’s luck is down, it rarely rains; it pours! So, Kumble continued to search for that elusive first wicket; and also continued to drag the ball down!

After bowling 4 overs after lunch, Amit Mishra came in to bowl, replacing Virender Sehwag. Immediately, there was more flight, more bite and more spite. But the well-set batsmen were able to negotiate him, despite Ponting having a wild hoik falling in desolate territory.

At this stage, India needed a few tight overs and this is where Harbhajan Singh would have been handy. Instead we had two attacking leg-spinners in action. On this pitch, the batsmen were able to push the ball for singles and put the bad ball away for a boundary.

At 187-1, Kumble dived full length at short mid-wicket to a fierce drive from Matthew Hayden off Amit Mishra. He stopped the ball like an 18-year-old soccer goal keeper, stopped the ball and lunged again to make a second attempt to catch the ball. Unfortunately, he dropped the catch after a valiant effort. In the process, he acquired an injury on the little finger of his left hand. As a result, Kumble had to leave the field. India was a bowler short, but had gained an aggressive captain instead! Matthew Hayden lived to fight another day!

In general, even though batting was somewhat easy, the two batsmen were making it look easier. This was a top effort from Ponting and Hayden. Let’s put this in context! Although the score was 197-1, Australia was still 417 in arrears! So although the pitch was easy-ish to bat on, to put the arrears out of your mind can’t have been easy for the Australian batsmen. Yet, they put it all away and slowly accumulated the runs in a bid to run down the mammoth India total. This despite the odd edge flying through and the odd ball kicking up from a length — including a Hayden edge off the bowling of Sehwag just falling short of Dravid in the slip area.

At the drinks berak, Australia had moved to 199-1 off 57.0 overs. This meant that 16 overs had been bowled in the hour from Lunch to drinks — and that with about 2 minutes lost to bees! Unfortunately, this would mean that Chris Broad may have to look for other work to do until India offends in some manner again!

Immediately after the drinks break, Sehwag bowled a beauty to have Matthew Hayden trapped in front of the stumps for 83 off 153 balls with 13 4s and 1 huge six. Australia was 202-2 off 57.2 overs and the partnership between Hayden and Ponting was worth 79 runs off 23.1 at a rate of 3.41 rpo (of which Hayden had made 35 and Ponting 40). Sehwag had made a very important breakthrough; one that would bring a new batsman to the crease on a pitch that was staring to play a few tricks. Moreover, it would provide the Indians just the lift they were looking for on the field.

The new batsman, however, was Michael Hussey — and they don’t make cricketers more consistent that this man!

Hayden, like Katich was looking to close the face on a ball that was sliding on to him. Perhaps not the best shot selection there.

At 222-2, Ponting survived a huge shout for caught-behind. Ponting had stretched forward and the ball seemed to kiss the outside edge to lodge in Dhoni’s gloves. Aleem Dar did not see it and Ponting lived to fight another day. Perhaps Dhoni’s mistake was in taking off the bails simultaneously — possibly an auto-reflex reaction. The umpires may have thought that the Indian acting captain was making a bet-each-way appeal and turned him down! Later on, Snickometer showed nothing at all.

Interestingly umpire Billy Bowden had an unusually lengthy conversation with M. S. Dhoni after that appeal.

Ponting soon reached his 50. It was a gritting/fighting innings. The Australian score was 226-2

Ishant Shrma replaced Virender Sehwag, who had analysis of 12-2-37-1. Top figures for a part-timer. Ishant Sharma bowled as well as he has bowled all series. His length and lines were immediately spot on and he was getting just a hint of reverse swing going. It was as if he had been bowling all day. It is fair to say that, in him, India had unearthed a terrific bowler!

At the other end, Sachin Tendulkar came on for Amit Mishra with some 9 minutes to go for Tea.

Australia went to Tea on 237-2 off 70 overs. Ponting was on 61 off 116 balls and Michael Hussey was on 13 off 39 balls. 55 overs had been bowled in the day thus far — still some 5 overs short of where India needed to be. 86 runs came in that session off 29 overs. Australia was still 376 runs short of India’s total. Given that Australia lost a really well-set and that really important cog-in-the-wheel Matthew Hayden, I give this as an even and the SBS score reads: India 4.25, Australia 3.75!

Session-3:

The BCCI has decided to appeal Gautam Gambhir’s 1-Test ban. The ban judge will be appointed by the ICC in 2 days and the hearing will be conducted some 7 days later. This will mean that Gambhir will play the next Test against Australia. In all likelihood, this heavy-handed ban will be over-turned.

After Tea, Australia — no, Ricky Ponting — survived a hostile spell of accurate pace bowling from Ishant Sharma and Zaheer Khan. Unlike the Australian bowlers, who mainly bowled wide of off-stump for much of their spells, these two Indian spearheads, attacked the stumps and were making Ponting in particular jump and hop around. However, Ponting was up to the task and motored along.

Inshat Sharma and Zaheer Khan were getting some reverse-swing. Ishant Sharma was making the ball jag back in sharply as he had at Mohali. Somehow Ponting survived this spell and hung in there. Sespite his mounting score, you could say that Ponting survived, at best. Unlike, Hayden, who looked very much in control till he got out, Ponting appeared to just hang in there, until he lost control.

He had made an 82-run partnership with Hussey when he stepped out to a Virender Sehwag delivery to be bowled by a ball that spun viciously after pitching.

The new ball was taken by Ishant Sharma only after 98.1 overs. Interestingly, Sehwag bowled at the other end and in his second over with the new ball, had Hussey clean bowled to a flighted ball that pitched on Hussey’s middle-and-leg stump and turned sharply to break the off stump! Australia was 326-4 at that stage with Hussey gone for a carefully constructed 53 off 146 balls (7 4s). In the very next over, Mishra should have had Watson out LBW. That ball was going on to hit the stumps before it hit anything else! But the umpire thought otherwise.

Australia completed the day on 338-4 off 105 overs. Clarke was unbeaten on 21 off 45 balls and Watson was on 4. In the 90 overs bowled in the day, Australia had made 288 runs (at 3.2 rpo).

Incidentally, 90 overs had been bowled in the day, perhaps for the first time in this match. The Match Referee is perhaps disappointed that India completed its quota of overs for the day — he must be disappointed that he could not ping and Asian player/team today!

Even though India were without the services of Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble, Amit Mishra and Virender Sehwag had shown plenty of guile and mustard to have Inida slightly in the drivers’ seat. India has its hand on the steering wheel last night. Tonight, while India is still in the drivers’ seat, its hand is not quite on the steering wheel.

It was an absorbing days’ cricket. Australia are still 275 runs behind with 6 wickets in hand.

I gave India the last session, just marginally because of the two wickets (Ponting and Hussey) that had fallen. The SBS score reads: India 5.0, Australia 4.0!

— Mohan

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Watson charged, Gambhir will be!

Shane Watson was found guilty of breaching the ICC Code of Conduct and was fined 10% of his match fee. Watson was found guilty of “verbally engaging with Gambhir in a manner that was not in keeping with the spirit of cricket”.

Yesterday, we wrote here about how Gautam Gambhir was not the new-hate in Australian media circles!

Watson pleaded not guilty to the offense during his hearing but Chris Broad, the Match Referee, ruled against him and found him in breach on a Level-1 offense. There is no right of appeal for Level 1 offenses and the Match Referee’s decision is final.

Both sides, Australia and India, have been involved in escalating the seriousness of the incident.

While the two teams did not involve themselves in any scandalous behind-the-scenes maneuvers to get the charges laid (or upgraded), the Australian media team has been busy, trying to get Gautam Gambhir’s charge upgraded. Michael Brown, CA’s operations manager, denied any attempts by Cricket Australia to get Gambhir’s charge upgraded.

Meanwhile, Sunil Gavaskar doing commentary, tried to put the case forward for the provoker as well as the provoked to be charged and found. I have extreme sympathy with this position.

Gambhir does have a prior in this regard. Shahid Afridi and Gautam Gambhir clashed famously in an India-Pakistan ODI at Kanpur. The incident was similar to the Watson-Gambhir incident in the sense that there was niggle in the lead up between the main actors. Words were spoken before, during and after the incident and then there was the mid-pitch collision itself to contend with.

Gautam Gambhir’s hearing has been adjourned until Friday morning so that match referee Chris Broad can review the evidence. I fully expect Gambhir to be found guilty of a Level 2 offense which states that players “shall at all times conduct play within the spirit of the game as well as within the laws of cricket”. Gambhir has claimed that the reflex action on his part was an accident.

Interestingly, he has pleaded “guilty” to the charge; an act that might get him off lightly. If found guilty of the Level 2 offense, the Match Referee could impose a penalty ranging from a fine of more than half of his match fee (upto 100%) to a two-game (ODIs) suspension.

I expect Gambhir to get at least 80% of his match fee docked. Given that Chris Broad has requested additional time to review the evidence, he may even receive a suspension. Either way, he must cop it on the chin and learn to deal with it.

— Mohan

Very Very Special Birthdays

In a series that has already seen a few birthdays, tomorrow (1 November) will be a very very special birthday of a special batsman — V. V. S. Laxman. He is the youngest of the Fab Four — I think Peter Roebuck has termed him Ringo to Ganguly’s Paul, Dravid’s George and Tendulkar’s John! Laxman turns 34 on 1 November 2008.

This series has seen a few birthdays from both teams. Interestingly, most birthdays on this tour so far have been of the over-30s club (if we count players who turned 30 as belonging to the 30s club).

  • Virender Sehwag turned 30 on the last day of the Mohali Test (21 Oct).
  • Anil Kumble turned 38 on the 1st day of the Mohali test (Oct 17).
  • Matthew Hayden turned 37 on the 1st day of the Delhi Test (Oct 29).
  • Zaheer Khan celebrated his 30th birthday a couple of days prior to the start of the Bangalore Test (Oct 7).
  • Stuart Clark celebrated his 33rd birthday on the last day of the Australians’ tour game against Rajasthan (Sept 28).
  • Brad Haddin turned 31 two days after the conclusion of the Mohali Test match (Oct 23).
  • Brett Lee will celebrate his 32nd birthday during the Nagpur Test match (Nov 8).

There are two players that break the over-30s ring to the birthday honours list for this tour:

  • Mitchell Johnson will celebrate his 27th birthday on the last day of the Delhi Test match (Nov 2).
  • Gautam Gambhir celebrated his 27th birthday the day after the Bangalore Test concluded (Oct 4).

I stumbled on all of this when looking up the ages of the Fab Five of Indian cricket. Anil Kumble turned 38 on OCt 17 2009; Rahul Dravid will be 36 on Jan 11 2009; Sourav Ganguly already turned 36 on July 8 2008; Sachin Tendulkar will turn 36 on April 24 2009; Laxman will turn 34 on Nov 1 2008.

While Ganguly has already announced his retirement at the end of the ongoing series against Australia, it is conceivable that Anil Kumble will not be around for long. Kumble will, in all likelihood, be the next “cab off the Fab Five Rank”, especially since India has a captain-in-waiting in (M. S. Dhoni) and also a legspinner-in-waiting (Amit Mishra and two, if you count Piyush Chawla). Anil Kumble can leave the grand stage comfortably, knowing that his art as well as his leadership philosophies are in extremely good hands. Through a combination of luck, opportunity-seizing and design, there appears to be a succession plan in place for his departure with no sudden and gaping holes. What is now required is for Kumble to make his call on when he wishes to step down. I have a feeling that the two Tests against England in December this year will be his last. The thought of packing his bags for a trip to Pakistan early next year (2009) and another one to New Zealand soon after that will be enough to provide that proverbial last straw in a weary camels’ back!

— Mohan

India Vs Australia :: Test 3 :: Delhi :: Day-2

Honours were even on the first day till that point when the battler, Gautam Gambhir and the magician, V. V. S. Laxman started their act. Up until then, serial-spitter Ricky Ponting, embattled Brett Lee, talent-limited-and-yet-overly-talkative Shane Watson, offensively-aggressive Simon Katich, tour-passenger Cameron White and weed-killer Matthew Hayden seemed to have the measure of the Indians.

Two early wickets of the batting wizard Sehwag and the Zen-like Dravid meant that the burly and unruly Australian hunting-pack saw a door open. After the mauling that this pack had received to their collective backsides at Mohali, it was fascinating to see this hunting-pack once again circling, like vultures eyeing a dead animal. However, that door was shut initially by the mercurial and saintly Tendulkar. Once the battler Gambhir and the magician Laxman got together though, the key to that door had been lost by the confused, haggard and paralysed, yet defiant and aggressive Australian pack who continued to hunt for their prey as only hunting dogs can.

Phew! I can’t keep up this act any longer! It is hard working being a Conn, I tell you! The above paragraphs are in reference to an earlier article on this blog.

I’ll return to normal programming now!

The 2nd days’ play of the Delhi Test match is a few hours away yet. It should be a fascinating days’ play. Unlike some reports that have India way out in front, I believe that this match has many a twist left in it yet. The only disadvantage Australia has, at this stage, is that it does not have a quality spinner in its midst. Leaving out Jason Krejza and then bowling Cameron White, the preferred first-choice spinner just 4 overs was a folly, in my view.

If Australia can take a few quick wickets early on day-2 and get stuck into the Indian tail, it could be all over in a hurry. The ask would be for Australia to then bat long and hard and only once in this match! It is a hard ask. But it is certainly possible. If not, Australia would have to face quite a few overs of spin from Anil Kumble, Amit Mishra and Virender Sehwag and, on a pitch that is already offering some slow turn and variable bounce, the going will be tough for the Australians.

Its time to whip out that cliche again: The first session of day-2 is going to be crucial for both teams! The new ball is only 3 overs old and so the early morning seam could do the trick for the visitors. India, meanwhile, will be looking at a score of 400-420. Any 1st innings score in that range will be a good one on this pitch, I feel. This Kotla pitch looks very similar to the one Pakistan played in last year and in that match, 276 was the highest score in the match by either team!

Session-1:

Last night, I was thinking about the last time Australia played India at the Feroze Shah Kotla ground in Delhi. That was in 1996 in what was to be the first match of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. The inaugural edition of the BGT was a one-match series! If I remember correctly, Australia was on its way back home after a tour of Pakistan? I could be wrong here. Anyway, I thought about that match because India had a D. Johnson playing for it, just as Australia have an M. Johnson playing in the ongoing Test match at the Kotla!

The one thing that stays in my mind from that match, above all else, was the wild slash that Michael Slater had in the second innings to a wide ball from the Indian Johnson to be caught brilliantly by Mohammed Azharuddin in the slips. Yesterday, we had Dravid slashing wildly to a ball from the Australian Johnson to be brilliantly caught by Matthew Hayden in the slips. Although Slater had made an impressive 44 in the 1st innings of that Test match, that irresponsible second innings slash by Slater — when facing a huge 1st Innings deficit — was widely reported to be the start of the end for the talented Michael Slater. One hopes that a similar fate does not befall Rahul Dravid!

I just don’t know how that India team won that inaugural BGT with players like opener Vikram Rathour (with wicket-keeper Nayan Mongia for company, who, incidentally had a fabulous game with bat and gloves to be named Man of the Match), left-arm spinner Sunil Joshi, pace-man (debutant) David Johnson and off-spinner Ashish Kapoor against an Australian team that boasted several modern-day greats! Again, in that game, the weak Australian spinners let them down with Brad Hogg — on his debut, for Australia I think — and Peter McIntyre — perhaps on his 2nd or 3rd match. Both Ashish Kapoor (4 Tests) and David Johnson (2 Tests) would play only one more Test for India before being discarded. Yet, India won thanks to Anil Kumble!

Indeed, I remember reading at that time that an Australian player had one look at the pitch and said, “How come India is going in with only 3 spinners?“, to which an Indian journalist walking by said, “Actually one would do!

Peter Roebuck writes eloquently about that game.

Anyway, back to the game now…

Australia started with two slips and a gully for Brett Lee, who started by rapping Laxman on the pads and went on to complete a good maiden over! There was just a slight hint of movement here for the Australian bowlers to exploit. At the other end Lee’s bowling partner was Stuart Clark, who had impressive figures of 21-8-29-0 at the start of the days’ play!

In the second over of the day, Gautam Gambhir got his 150; a splendid effort from this young Indian battler. And soon after, India’s 300 was brought up by a Laxman tickle to the 3rd man fence and soon after, the 150 of the Gambhir-Laxman was brought up.

What was happening on day-2 was a repeat of day-1 by Gautam Gambhir and Laxman. Balls that were short of a good length and wide of off-stump were left alone — and there were plenty of those — while the straighter balls were played competently. In that sense, the new ball was being somewhat wasted by the Australians. In the 6th over of the days’ play, the fielders were already spread to all parts of the field. This wasn’t the start that the Australian doctor had ordered!

From a strategy point of view, what was more confusing was that instead of bowling it full and allowing for seam movement, the Australians moved to what they do best when under pressure — even shorter stuff. They used to call this “Chin Music” under an earlier Australian dressing-room phraseologist. This was, in my view, the wrong way to bowl at the Kotla, especially early on in the morning when the ball can seam a bit. I would not be totally surprised if the Indian bowlers use the conditions better.

The first hour had again yielded only 13 overs in which India had scored 46 runs without the loss of any wickets. Laxman was on 85 off 136 balls and Gambhir was on 161 off 322 balls. The partnership was worth 185 runs off 50.1 overs at a rate of 3.68. This was good going from the Indians. They seemed keen to grind out the new ball and that was just what was required.

After the drinks break, after a flurry of boundaries, Cameron White was introduced into the attack — not a bad move by Ponting, given that Laxman was on 92. What was not great captaincy though, was that White was bowling to defensive fields. There were plenty of singles on offer. White started off with a maiden over.

Soon the partnership was worth 200 runs of which Gambhir had made 99 and Laxman had made 94 off 148 balls. India had moved to 357-3 off 105.2 overs.

After a few overs of settling-in, Cameron White was starting to bowl well. There was loop and drift in his bowling and he was getting some bounce from the wicket.

Laxman moved closer to his century by crawling through the 90s. It was clear that Laxman wanted this century badly. His previous century was also against the Australians in Sydney (Jan 2008) some 8 months earlier, where he made 109. There was no walking down the track like Gambhir had, on day-1. He compiled the singles slowly and played out several maiden overs.

Australia’s tactic was to spray it wide of off stump to a packed off side field. It has been a long time since I have seen such negative tactics from the Australians. Stuart Clark and Mitchell Johnson had bowled a wide each. How often do you see Test match wides?

Laxman got his century off a glorious off drive, just before lunch. His century had come off 172 balls with 10 boundary hits. This was his 13th century (and 6th against Australia).

At lunch, India had moved to 393-3 off 115 overs (@ 3.41 rpo). Laxman had 104 off 174 balls and Gambhir had 191 off 362 balls. The session had yielded 97 runs off 26 overs at 3.73 rpo. The Gambhir-Laxman partnership was already worth 236 runs! There appeared to be more records there for the taking and it could get quite ugly for Australia, with Ganguly and Dhoni waiting in the wings.

This was clearly India’s session with the SBS Score reading: India 2.75, Australia 1.25!

Session-2:

I predict that this will be a go-slow session by Australia in which we could have a wide or two too. Captain and bowler would often consult in this session to perhaps discuss global hunger, the global stock market crisis, the latest Hollywood release and the price of wheat in the commodity markets! I won’t be surprised if Australia bowl less than 26 overs in this session!

India, meanwhile will look to accelerate and get to 500 as quickly as possible before Dhoni could be unleashed. This will, in all likelihood, be a cat-and-mouse session.

After starting with Stuart Clark and Brett Lee, Ricky Ponting brought himself on for a bowl — the 8th bowler used by the Australians! Gambhir was on 197 at this stage. So it wasn’t such a bad move by Ricky Ponting!

In the next over, Gautam Gambhir got his 200! The young lad had made a huge step up from a talented individual to a potentially great player. He had made his 200 off 375 balls with 25 4s and 1 huge six! At that stage, Gambhir had been batting for just over 9 hours! It was a mammoth effort from a young man who had finally arrived.

Now that Gambhir had made his double century, one could possibly expect some fireworks from the Indians. However, what we had was a tired chop onto the stumps by Gambhir. The bowler was Shane Watson, the man at the centre of the controversy the previous day! Gambhir had played excellently well to make 206 off 380 balls. Shane Watson had a wicket of his first over of the day! The partnership was worth 278 runs off 72.1 overs at a rate of 3.85 rpo with Laxman making 130 and Gambhir making 139 of these.

This got Sourav Ganguly to the crease. He had been waiting for 5 hours and 15 mins to walk into the middle! It also got Laxman and Ganguly together adding to the possibility of some interesting running between the wickets!

But soon after he came in, Ganguly played a lazy drive to be caught by Ponting in the covers off Simon Katich! The score read 444-5.

Even though Australia had captured 2 quick wickets, it appeared as if there was an air of resignation about the Australians. When Laxman was on 134, a slips catch went in between Haddin and Hayden. In normal circumstances, Haddin would have caught it. But the feet and the hands just weren’t moving. In the very next over, a firmly struck ball by Dhoni flew straight to Simon Katich, the bowler, who dropped that hard chance!

The interesting observation in all of this, from an Indian point of view, was that Shane Watson was getting some reverse swing and Simon Katich was getting spin!

Dhoni came in and played a little cameo. But after facing 29 balls for a hurriedly crafted 27, Dhoni edged one from Watson to Haddin who made no mistake this time! The India score was 481-6. The possibility of a declaration around the 550 mark was fast disappearing at this stage.

Kumble came and batted sensibly. He helped India bring up the 500 off 139 overs (3.6 rpo). The run rate was reasonably healthy. But the over-rate was quite pathetic. Even though we had two spinners — Cameron White and Simon Katich — in operation, Australia was still about 7 overs short of where it needed to be.

There were clear indications of urgency from the Indian batsmen though. And this was a good sign. The plan may be that they wanted to have about 20-25 overs at the Australians on day-2 itself.

At Tea, India was 515-6. Laxman was not out on 160 off 252 balls and Kumble was on 16 off 30 balls. That session had yielded 122 runs for 3 wickets (at a rate of 4.52 rpo) off 27 overs. Although Australia did claim the 3 wickets, I call this an even session, mainly because of the speed at which the runs came from India! The SBS Score now reads: India 3.25, Australia 1.75!

Session-3:

India came out after Tea with positive intent. Both Anil Kumble and Laxman were going for their shots. In no time at all, they brought up their 50 partnership off 78 balls. Interestingly, Kumble’s contribution to this partnership was 26 from 46 balls! The score had moved to 532-6.

India soon reached 550-6, but there was still no declaration in sight. With Laxman on 178*, perhaps his 200 was the declaration point?

Batting, however, was extremely easy. Even Anil Kumble was doing it easy. Having said that, Kumble is no mug with the bat. Yet, batting was easy here. The somewhat up-and-down insipid Australian bowling didn’t help the Australian cause. The bowling just lacked incisiveness.

At this stage, Australia had used 8 bowlers and Michael Clarke was coming in for another spell. One of the bowlers that hadn’t had a bowl yet was Michael Hussey; the bowler who bowled ahead of Brett Lee at Mohali! Figure that captaincy out, if you can!

Mitchell Johnson then got Anil Kumble out LBW for a really well made 45. The score at this time was 579-7. It was clear that a declaration was around the corner. Perhaps the target that the team had set itself was Laxman’s 200, Kumble’s 50 and the Laxman-Kumble century partnership. However, with Kumble out for 45 in a partnership total of 98 runs (from 22 overs at a rate of 4.45 rpo), all eyes were now trained on Laxman’s 200.

At this stage, Laxman was on 194. If Laxman did indeed get his 200, it would be the first time that two Indians had scored a double hundred in the same innings.

With the score on 584-7, I saw the strangest incident on a cricket field! Laxman tickled a ball to square leg and took off for a run. Billy Bowden declared that Laxman had run on the pitch and declared it a “dead ball”! Although well within the rules, that was a strange decision. More so because Laxman didn’t quite run in the danger area. To make matters worse, Billy Bowden declared the over closed when just 5 balls had been bowled! The declaration couldn’t come quicker for the Australians. But I had a feeling that Billy Bowden could do with a feet-up too! He was losing the plot here!

The batting massacre continued through Zaheer Khan who hit some lusty blows.

India finally declared the innings close at 613-7d (off 161 overs) when Laxman got his 200 off 301 balls with 21 boundary hits. Zaheer Khan had made a quick 28 off 21 balls (5 fours). The final partnership was worth 34 runs from just 5.2 overs of which Laxman just made 6 runs!

India had about 17 overs to bowl at the Australians and would possibly be looking to take a wicket or two in that time.

India started with a somewhat defensive field. Even when Ishant Sharma was bowling, India had only 2 slips and a gully! This was somewhat surprising given India had plenty of runs to play with. India started proceedings with two maiden overs.

Australia batted well to finish the day on 50-0 from 15 overs. Both Hayden and Katich played the pace bowlers competently and were watchful against the spinners. Ishant Sharma and Zaheer Khan — particularly the latter — did get some seam movement. However, the interesting observation was the both Anil Kumble and Amit Mishra got bite and turn from this pitch. This should make the 3rd days’ play an extremely absorbing day of cricket.

Again, in spite of extending the days’ play by half hour, the teams had bowled an over short. What was interesting, however, was that the Indian bowling rate was closer to 14 overs per hour, while the Australian over rate, despite the presence of Cameron White, Michael Clarke, Simon Katich and a brace from Ponting, was at or below 13 overs per hour. I doubt Chris Broad will do anything about it though.

Given the plunder of runs from the late order India batsmen, a score of over 600 and also the fact that Australia did not lose a wicket in the remaining time-period, I call this an “even” session. The SBS Score reads: India 3.75, Australia 2.25!

— Mohan

Now Gambhir is on the “hate-list”

Question: What do Sourav Ganguly, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Sree Santh, Robin Uthappa and now, Gautam Gambhir have in common? (And let us not forget Manoj Prabhakar).

Answer: Local Australian media use adjectives such as “controversial”, “offensive”, “serial offender”, “street-fighter”, “combative” or such normally-pejorative descriptions as a prefix to their names in media reports!

Meanwhile, Merv Hughes (he who spat), Glen McGrath (he who wanted to slit an opposition players’ throat), Steve Waugh (he who coined the term “mental disintegration”), Ricky Ponting (he who had a black eye in a bar brawl), Matthew Hayden (he of “obnoxious weed” fame), et al are prefixed with words such as “saint”, “great”, “former great”, “competitive”, “battler” or “legend”!

One might think that there is something amiss here.

But no! I think the real answer lies in a fear that these new-age Indians have mimicked what the Australians have been doing for 10 years or more. What’s more? Unlike the Fab Five and others before them, this new lot are giving it back as good as they get and are doing it just that little bit better by getting completely under the collective skins of the Australians! No wonder the media lot in Australia are so irked.

The day is not far off, I feel, when the likes of Malcolm Conn will start moving the ICC to stamp out the scourge of sledging from the game!

I do feel that these new-age Indians have a fair bit to go in their studies though! They need to learn (a) to get under the radar, (b) the art of cheap theatrics. They have to learn the art of sledging surreptitiously so that they fall under the radar of the Match Referee. They also need to go to a third-grade Bollywood acting school (or talk to any soccer player) so that the moment they are touched or sledged, they roll about on the floor, flail their arms and go into seizures as though they have been felled by a tornado. They just need to look at a replay of Shane Watson in Delhi or Matthew Hayden at Mohali!

Soon, the Match Referee will start using placative phrases like “you do not want to curb natural aggression in the game” when the Indians sledge too.

But more seriously, I do believe that the Australians can’t stomach the fact that these new-age Indians are giving it back. Nick McCardle and Mark Waugh, the Foxtel TV anchors, asked Alan Border and Brendan Julian, with a fair bit of incredulousness at the post-match interview about the niggle on the field in a manner that suggested that Australia had to have sole ownership of that property!

I do believe that Australian media struggles to accept that the Indians can give back — and even initiate it. More power to the Indians. I personally would like sledging to be stamped out of the game completely — and have written on this before, lest someone accuses me of a “Conn Job”! However, I also believe that a person who throws a stone in an open drain must expect his clothes to get soiled. There are no rules here. I do not believe in either ‘lines’ or ‘sand’ in this game. If you belong to the mafia expect the head of a horse on your doorstep! Simple! You make a choice.

It is time for the Australian media to accept players like Sourav Ganguly, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Sree Santh, Robin Uthappa, Gautam Gambhir, et al (the new India players) as nothing other than good old “Aussie Battlers”. Not that these players are the first “Aussie Battlers” either! Players like Arjuna Ranatunga and Javed Miandad come to mind immediately! If these guys played for Australia, they would be celebrated as players who fought for their country with pride and didn’t give an inch on the field. Instead, what we have is this constant denigration through banal sequence of inflammatory adjectives by the media!

Having said all of this, I fully expect Gautam Gambhir to be hauled before the match referee. I expect him to even receive a hefty fine or a suspended sentence. However, if he does get docked, it would not be because of his folly, but because he wasn’t clever enough in his retort to Shane Watson!

Surely, that statement is a travesty in itself and makes a mockery of the game and its proud traditions!

— Mohan

The Stanford Tamasha Exposed!

I apologize for digressing from an enthralling cricket game in New Delhi but couldn’t resist from posting this report on cricinfo regarding ECB’s review of England’s participation in the Stanford parody. It is known that this guy is an egomaniac having desires to conquer the cricketing world much like a typical Bond movie villian. The ECB has realized that he is more like a hindi movie villian with cheaper desires that range from seeking blondes and wives of cricketers to micromanaging cricket games. This venture had all the making of a disaster from the get go and now the end of this fiasco seems all but there. It will not be too long before the ECB put “itself on its knees” in front of IPL and Lalit Modi.

The ICL tournament is going almost unnoticed and with, these recent round of events in the carribean, the IPL really does not have to put too much of fight to ensure that they rule the 20/20 world, atleast commercially.

– Srikanth

India Vs Australia :: Test 3 :: Delhi :: Day-1

After the Australian debacle of Mohali, it was a long wait before this Test commenced! There was a lot of talk in the intervening period from both teams and also a well-timed release of explosive excerpts from an autobiography which Tendulkar termed as “loose”! The marketing guys got great value from all of that drama! We had a crack here at i3j3Cricket too at writing Sachin Tendulkar’s yet-to-be-written biography! A lot of fun was had by all, including debates on whether or not Sachin Tendulkar lied at Sydney.

In my view, there is an obsessive interest in the pitch by the Australians when they tour India! If they went in with the attitude that they are hardly likely to get a spinners’ paradise in Perth, the Australians may actually grow to love the conditions in places like Delhi and Mohali. These places, especially with the early starts, afford early seam movement and late Irish movement, particularly given the dry and abrasive pitches.

The Australians also love to over-focus on the toss! Again, the focus shouldn’t be on the toss.

For example, at the Kotla in Delhi, of the toss wins, the bat-first choice has resulted in only 5 wins from 29 games! The bat-first decision resulted in 11 losses at the Kotla! So, the toss should be removed from the minds of the Australians.

In my preview of this game, I said that pace will do as well on the Kotla as spin would. Given that Stuart Clark comes into the side, I give Australia a slight edge in this game!

One other factor that I did not mention in my preview is that India rarely strings a consistent run of wins in any major series involving big teams. A huge win is almost immediately followed up with a poor loss. While Team India has lately begun to show signs of being good overseas travellers, the team will have to work hard to wipe that bad “win one match well but lose the next one immediately” record off its books. And the opportunity to commence this journey would be here at Delhi against the best team in the world at the moment.

Given that I had a migraine today — which, I can assure you wasn’t pre-arranged or pre-ordered — I was lucky to get home early. After a quick sleep, even though the migraine continued unabated, I managed to watch the game through one eye closed (and I realise I leave myself wide open saying this)!

Session-1:

India won the toss and elected to bat. It was quite unusual for Kumble to win the toss, given his general bad toss-luck. But he did win the toss this time! Harbhajan Singh sat out the game with a bruised toe and this enabled Amit Mishra to get his second Test game! As expected Stuart Clark came into the Australian side. This wasn’t a bad move for Australia I thought. With the morning haze and the greenish top, Clark and a fired-up Lee would be able to get a fair bit of seam, I’d have thought.

Indeed, Brett Lee struck very early. In his very second over, Lee got one to nip back in sharply and got Sehwag plumb in front of the wicket. India was 5-1 before the Australians had broken into a sweat.

What I liked about the Australian approach was aggressive intent. Of course, it helped that Australia got the early wicket of Virender Sehwag. But we did see more attacking slips in place and we did see catching positions. This caused doubts to creep into the minds of the batsmen. The going was tough on a pitch that was already showing signs of offering low bounce.

Brett Lee was bowling it at 148 kmph and yet Brad Haddin was collecting it around his knees! An excellent bouncer from Brett Lee struck Rahul Dravid on his chest as he ducked. This was certainly going to be an interesting deck as the match progresses. From that point of view, India would be disappointed at losing local-man Virender Sehwag early. Another local-man, Gautam Gambhir, however, was batting well against two opening bowlers who were bowling well.

The good thing for India, however, was that despite the accurate in-the-corridor bowling by Stuart Clark and Brett Lee, the two batsmen — Gambhir and Dravid — were batting well. Brett Lee, in particular, was bowling more accurately and with more fire than he did at Bangalore or Mohali. The break appeared to have done the Australians a whole lot of good. Early signs were that the scars of Mohali were behind the Australians!

At the end of 10 overs, the India score was 22-1. It did appear as though this would be one of those typical grind-it-out type Tests; one that mimicked last years India Vs Pakistan Test match in which the scoring rate was around the 3 rpo mark for much of the game. At this stage, Stuart Clark had figures of 5-2-4-0! Mitchell Johson was brought in for Brett Lee.

Dravid was actually playing quite well at this stage and had all but pitched his tent on the pitch for a long stay there when, against the run of play, he drove at a Mitchell Johnson ball that was travelling straight to Matthew Hayden at slips. A thick edge meant that the ball travelled to birthday boy, Matthew Hayden, just a bit earlier than Hayden may have expected it! The resulting catch was snapped up and India was 27-2! Dravid had no reason to play at that ball other than the fact, perhaps, that he wasn’t getting any free runs at the other end from Stuart Clark!

At the drinks break, India was 37-2 off 13 overs!

After bowling 7 overs for 5 runs (7-3-5-0), Stuart Clark was replaced by Shane Watson. I didn’t quite understand this move because Clark was bowling very well. His line was immaculate and his length was superb. Another over or two Stuart Clark overs may have been good, I thought.

Gambhir was batting sensibly and Tendulkar was looking quite solid. Mitchell Johnson was bowling to a 7-2 off-side field and one of the 2 leg-side man was a short gully. Mitchell Johnson was sliding it wide off the off stump. After an early play-and-miss, these offers from Johnson weren’t being accepted by Tendulkar. This was good cat-and-mouse stuff from both teams.

I particularly liked the way Gambhir was playing balls outside the off stump. He was leaving it all alone and was comfortable playing the patience game.

It looked as if the Australians had studied Gambhir’s game really well in the break between Tests. He was being presented with several balls outside his off-stump. And he was having none of that! It was also interesting to see the number of Australians that wanted to wish him “good morning” and enquire about his “dinner plans”! If I were Gambhir, I’d feel quite proud of the fact that the Australians had studied his game intensely and the fact that they were all suddenly interested in his dinner plans! This is, to me, a sure sign of respect!

Brett Lee came in for a last burst before the lunch break. Right from word go, Lee was bowling well. The intensity and the speed were back, it seemed. But he was bowling to a Sachin Tendulkar and a Gauram Gambhir that were both playing sensibly.

Shane Watson had, at this stage, bowled 4-2-7-0. It seemed that Shane Watson and Stuart Clark were bowling in a containing role, while Brett Lee and Mitchell Johnson attacked.

The last Brett Lee over before lunch saw the bowler bowl to a very innovative field. Just 1 slip oversaw proceedings. However, there was a ring of fielders on the leg-side. Ponting was constantly attacking with inventive fields. It didn’t achieve anything, but it showed to me that this was a team that wanted to make the running in this Test match. The captain wasn’t prepared to wait for the batsman to make a mistake. These were good signs for an Australian fan.

At lunch, India had moved to 67-2 off 26 overs, with Gautam Gambhir on 25 off 80 balls and Sachin Tendulkar on 26 off 45 balls. Shane Watson had figures of 6-3-8-0 although, to be honest, about 30 of the 36 balls were bowled wide off the off-stump and left alone!

The first session, in my books, was Australia’s with the Session-by-Session (SBS) score reading India-0, Australia-1.

Session-2:

The post-lunch session started with Brett Lee bowl to Sachin Tendulkar with just the one slip and a ring of fielders on the leg-side. The over produced a sensational up-and-under cut over the slips cordon to the 3rd-man fence! This was an awesome shot that was manufactured after a late adjustment to an off-stump bouncer. I have only seen Tendulkar and Sehwag play this shot with any semblance of authority and control. I also feel that this shot is also a good indicator that Tendulkar is on top of his game.

Stuart Clark shared the post-lunch attack with Brett Lee. The Australians continued their positive intent after the lunch break. The fields were attacking and, more importantly, there was no deep-point and leg-side sweeper either. When the Australians set fields like this, it is a sure sign that they are playing attacking cricket. The mindset is more important to me than anything else.

Hopefully, the Australian new-age-cricket strategy as well as its author have been thrown out of the Australian dressing room!

At this stage, Tendulkar started to open out and play his shots. Even then, it was good to see the Australians bowl attacking lines to the Little Master. Although the field did spread out a bit, thanks to a flurry of boundaries from Tendulkar’s blade, the Australian intensity wasn’t diminished. Stuart Clark, in particular, continued to bowl superbly to Tendulkar. He was giving nothing away and even bowled a maiden over to a man who appeared to be in superb nick. Tendulkar had moved to 44 off 68 balls at this stage.

The bowling plan was beginning to emerge. Ricky Ponting was going to use Brett Lee and Mitchell Johnson in short attacking bursts with Stuart Clark and Shane Watson bowling a defensive, chocking lines. This was not a particularly bad ploy. Mitchell Johnson was offering either enticing sliding slingers outside off stump or cross-seam slower-balls outside off stump. Johnson replaced Brett Lee whose first post-lunch spell was somewhat ordinary. India moved to 102-2 off 35 overs.

Soon after,Tendulkar played a delectable late-cut off Stuart Clark to bring up his 50 off 79 balls. His half-century was vintage Tendulkar and contained 8 boundary hits. He seemed to have a measure of the pitch as well as the bowling. While his 88 at Mohali was made against a somewhat ordinary bowling attack bowling to somewhat defensive fields and on a batting pitch, this half century was against a strong Australian attack that was bowling to intelligent fields.

In this mode, I felt that the only way Tendulkar would get out would be if he got either bored or over-confident. The Australian plan of attack to Tendulkar was somewhat obvious. Stuart Clark was bowling outside off-stump to a 7-2 off-side loaded field. The Australians wanted to choke Tendulkar’s run-scoring opportunities. They nearly had Tendulkar when the batsman tried a paddle sweep off Stuart Clark that rapped him on the pads. Containment was the name of the game!

At the Drinks break, India was on 108-2 off 40 overs at 2.7 rpo. This was tight bowling from Australia and there weren’t too many runs for the taking. The batsmen had dug in for the long haul. Gambhir had moved to 40 off 117 balls and Tendulkar was on 50 off 92. The wicket had flattened out a bit by now. The interesting piece of data at this point was that the partnership had reached 81 runs off 29.2 overs at a run rate of 2.76. In this, Tendulkar had made 50 while Gambhir had made only 25! His role was to keep one end up; an unusual role for him!

Just after the drinks’ break, Cameron White bowled the first bad over of the day; the expensive of the game thus far. The Indians milked him for 11 runs and, in the process, Gautam Gambhir brought up his half century off 120 balls. Soon the century partnership was brought up. The partnership came off 201 balls with Gautam Gambhir scoring 39 of these and Tendulkar making 56 of the runs. The Indians were batting brilliantly at this stage and one sensed a momentum shift in the game. I felt that the foot had come off the pedal the moment Cameron White was brought on. The pressure valve had been irrevocably released.

Not surprisingly, Stuart Clark was rested after a 9-over spell. His figures read 16-5-26-0. Sensational and tight stuff from the big man. Mitchell Johnson came on and I wouldn’t have been surprised if Cameron White would be changed at the other end too. But no, White continued after giving away 25 runs in 3 overs! A wide ball resulted in 3 byes too as Brad Haddin’s horror tour (with the gloves) continued.

Not surprisingly, Shane Watson came back into the attack, perhaps an over or two too late. One would think that he would continue the holding job that Stuart Clark had carried out.

Unfortunately for the Australians, there was nothing in the pitch in this session. So a defensive ploy, achieved through bowling tight lines to a defensive field, was perhaps appropriate at this stage with the hope that the ball will reverse swing in the last session.

The 51st over of the day say an interesting exchange between Gambhir and Watson. All morning, Watson had been repeatedly asking Gambhir about his “post-match dinner plans”. It was all getting a bit tiring, really. Then, when going for the first run of a brace, Watson appeared to show his elbow at Gambhir. On the return journey Gambhir expressed a keen interest to show Watson “I have an elbow too” (in the words of Ravi Shastri, the commentator at the time).

Then just on the stroke of Tea, Sachin Tendulkar nicked one to Brad Haddin to take a good catch low to his right. Tendulkar was gone for 68 and India was 157-3. Again, after putting in the hard work, Tendulkar had departed. On this occasion, admittedly, it was to a very good ball from Mitchell Johnson. Maybe the ball might have been left alone? The partnership was worth 130 runs from 41.1 overs at a run rate of 3.15 — Tendulkar had made 68 off 125 balls with 11 boundary hits (Gambhir had made 52 runs in that partnership). I feel Tendulkar was playing for the Tea break, just as he was perhaps looking for the close of play at Mohali! The fact that he was choked a bit may have contributed to his hang-the-bat-out shot to a good ball from Mitchell Johnson.

A ball later, which enabled V. V. S. Laxman to get off the mark, Tea was called. There was an irony there! India went to Tea at 158-3 with Gambhir on 67 off 155 balls. In that session, 91 runs had come off 26 overs at 3.5 rpo. At this stage, Australia had bowled just 52 overs in the day — and that means they are 8 overs (some 35 minutes short of where they ought to be). I personally believe the viewing public is being short-changed by this sheer incompetence and negligence on Australia’s part. I am hoping that Chris Broad, the Match Referee is going to do something about this pathetically deplorable over rate.

Because of that Sachin Tendulkar wicket on the stroke of Tea, what would have been, undeniably, an India session became a somewhat even session. I would not score this completely even and am forced to go into two decimal places! The SBS score reads: India 0.75, Australia 1.25!

Session-3:

The India batsmen started off positively after Tea against Mitchell Johnson and Shane Watson. In particular, Gautam Gambhir was batting splendidly with some wonderfully times strokes on both sides of the wicket. Without too much effort and with somewhat consummate ease, the partnership between Gambhir and Laxman yielded 32 runs from 6.1 overs at a run rate of 5.18!

From nowhere, it seemed, Shane Watson produced a bouncer on off-stump. It had Gambhir fending in an ugly manner. Off his gloves and shoulder the ball flew between the ‘keeper and a really wide 1st slip for a boundary. A regular 1st slip would have caught that comfortably! Gambhir moved to 91 with that stroke but not before reconfirming his post-match dinner plans with Shane Watson!

It seemed that everyone in the Australian team wanted to have dinner with the local Delhi-lad, Gautam Gambhir! In the very next over, perhaps in fear of feeling somewhat lonely at the end of the 1st days’ play and the post-match dinner party plans, Mitchell Johnson bowled a bouncer and enquired in a rather agitated manner about Gambhir’s post-match dinner plans!

The 50 partnership between Gambhir and Laxman came from an elegant front foot cover drive on the up by Laxman. The 50 came off just 51 balls with Laxman having made 17 of these off just 19 balls.

In the same over, Gambhir danced down the wicket to a Shane Watson delivery and smashed the ball for a towering 6! This was a terrific manner to bring up his century! Perhaps he was totally upset and worried at having to spend his entire match fee, shouting dinner for the Australians who all seemed keen join him for dinner that night!

Now while the century at Mohali against the Australians was an excellent one, I feel that this one at Delhi was even better! There wasn’t much pressure on the Indian batsmen in the 2nd Innings at Mohali. Here, there was. India had made a rather ordinary start here at Kotla and the Australians were bowling with a lot of fire initially, at Tendulkar and Gambhir. He weathered the storm in the first session, played steadily in the second session and then, opened out really smartly in the post-Tea session. He had paced his innings beautifully and hit some glorious strokes along the way. The real question for me was one of whether Gautam Gambhir would be able to step it beyond the low 100s and make a really big century. For me, this ability marks out a great player from a good player. Gambhir, by scoring consecutive centuries against a world-class team, has shown that he ought to be considered in the books as a good player. He had to now step up a notch and get a big innings in, especially since he had already worked very hard to “get his eye in”!

Michael Clarke was brought in — perhaps in a bid to repair the over rate, which was going somewhat pear-shaped for Ricky Ponting. One could see that the pitch was offering slow turn for Clarke. Both batsmen were batting well and Ponting was forced to bowl Michael Clarke. If only the Australians had bowled with greater urgency and discipline in the earlier part of the day, Ponting needn’t have gone for the Michael Clarke option in a bid to give the over-rate a hurry along. The Australian sloppiness and tardiness early in the day made for this unprofessional situation. These are the small things that make me feel that this Australian team has a lot of work to do yet on this tour!

As I been saying since the 2007 summer here in Australia, I do hope the Match Referee does something about the appalling over rates of the Australians, in particular.

India’s 250 soon came up from 70 overs at 3.57 rpo. The partnership between Gambhir and Laxman reached 100 runs from 19.2 overs (116 balls) at a rate of 5.17 rpo, of which, Laxman had made 36 and Gambhir 63! This was an impressive partnership, mainly because of the impressive near-Australia-like scoring rate it had been made in. Gambhir was playing majestically at this stage and Laxman was steady — his 36 had come off just 45 balls with minimal fuss!

With a half hour to go to the official close of days’ play, Australia still had 18 overs to bowl. Australia’s over-rate graph was beyond pear-shaped at this stage. In a bid to ensure that his backside wasn’t whipped by the Match Referee even before the end of the days’ play, Ponting brought Simon Katich in to bowl. Now, most Indian fans will remember Simon Katich getting Virender Sehwag out for 194 at the MCG towards the end of the 1st days’ play in 2003! Here at the Kotla, Simon Katich was getting some bite from the pitch and some slow turn. These were good signs for the Indian spinners! And when Gambhir danced down the pitch to hit him for a boundary, Katich also booked himself into Gambhirs’ post-match dinner-party! Gambhir’s party was the place to be it seemed and, with this pleading request from Katich, it appeared as though all XI Australians were booked in on the Gambhir post-days’-play dinner party! Gambhir must have thought to himself, “Such a nice and friendly bunch, this Australian lot, but don’t they have their own things to do?”

In Katich’s next over, he seemed to indicate to Gambhir that he wanted the post-match dinner party to commence even before the days’ play was concluded! It all emanated from Gambhir being blocked from going for a run by the bowler, Katich. In fact, as a result, he had to send Laxman back. He seemed to enquire what the problem was with Katich and this upset the bowler! Katich was perhaps upset that Gambhir did not take the run for, perhaps if he had taken that run, Katich may have scored a choice Diwali sweet off the dinner menu as a present! It was clear to me that this Australian team was run ragged at this stage!

In the next over, Laxman brought up his half century off 70 balls. This was a steady half-century from Laxman; one that contained 3 4s.

Right on the dot at 4.30pm in Delhi (10pm AEST), India had reached 285-3 off 81 overs. This implied that Australia was 9 overs short of its bowling quota at the scheduled close of play — on a day when just 3 wickets had fallen and on a day when there was precious little by way of interruptions! This was an absolute travesty by Australia and needs serious looking-into! Australia was thumbing its nose at the establishment through its bowling-rate recalcitrance.

With 20 minutes to go to the end of days’ play, it appeared as though India was attempting to pull down the shutters. The batsmen started to play cautiously for time. It is at this time, when dusk sets in, that things can happen in India — especially if the batsmen are tired at the end of (an extended) days’ play.

Soon, we had Brett Lee and Stuart Clark bowling in tandem in light that wasn’t quite improving. In the 86th over, the new ball was taken. Brett Lee took the new ball with 5 overs to go to the end of play. There was a little seam movement for Brett Lee and this was encouraging. The Australian bowlers were straining at the leash to get that breakthrough which would bring them back into the session. If things stood this way, this would be India’s session.

When the end of days’ play was called, India had reached 296-3 off 89 overs a a run rate of 3.32. After extending play by half hour, Australia was still an over short of the days’ bowling quota. Gambhir was not out on 149 and Laxman was 54 not out. The partnership between Gambhir and Laxman was already worth 139 runs off 37.1 overs at a rate of 3.73!

The last session belonged to India and the SBS score was: India 1.75, Australia 1.25!

This was Gautam Gambhir’s day though! And the fact that he had the entire Australian team crashing in on his post-match dinner party meant that he had earned the respect of this Australian team; one that doesn’t bother asking after an opposition players’ health or dinner-plans unless they see that player as a ‘danger’! It was great to see Sachin Tendulkar bat brilliantly and it was wonderful to see Laxman play the way he did — poetry in motion. But this was Gambhir’s day and he has some unfinished business to complete tomorrow.

— Mohan