Australia was in backtrack mode in this Test match. Everything had gone wrong for the Australians. India’s aim would be to (a) bat Australia out of the game, (b) give themselves enough opportunity to bowl Australia out on what is essentially sill a good batting pitch.
India started day-4 positively. The Indian batsmen were out in the middle a good minute before the Australians, for example! And the Indians continued as they concluded day-3 — on fire. Ricky Ponting commenced the day with the most unusual combination of Shane Watson and Cameron White. Like much of Ricky Ponting’s captaincy in this series, I didn’t quite understand this move! Brett Lee and Mitchell Johnson may have been better options! For one, they’d have taken longer to get through their overs than Cameron White!
Rather unsurprisingly, Cameron White was belted out of the attack in his very second over, when the Indian openers took him for 15 runs. He was off the attack and somewhat regular programming resumed. Mitchell Johnson and Peter Siddle took up the bowling responsibilities. Brett Lee wasn’t used in the first session. This was strange, unless of course Lee was injured.
Australia’s luck continued to be terrible: When it rains, it pours. Many run out opportunities went begging. The pings and under arm flicks just didn’t hit the stumps! Indeed, there was a run out opportunity off the very first ball of the day!
The Indian openers played brilliantly though. They kept the runs ticking through singles and the occasional boundary. There was urgency in the batting. And competence too. The India openers were going at over 5 runs an over. The spread out, defensive fields weren’t really working for Australia. It was all too easy for the Indians.
Birthday boy, Virender Sehwag, rode his luck. When he was on 88, he appeared to snick a ball from Mitchell Johnson to Brad Haddin. However, Asad Rauf did not hear the healthy nick. Sehwag stayed, much to the chagrin of the Australian players. Surely, they expected Sehwag to walk. Ricky Ponting smiled wryly and had a few animated conversations with Sehwag. Sehwag may have said to Ricky Ponting, “Ask Andrew Symonds what he may have done, mate.”
As Mark Nicholas said in the TV commentary at the time, “You make your bed, you ought to sleep in it!”
Sehwag reached 90 off 122 balls when he tickled a Peter Siddle delivery to Brad Haddin. This time, he walked! He may have got himself into the record books as the only Indian player to have scored a century on his birthday! However, that wasn’t to be. India was 182 for 1 off 32.1 overs at that stage. Sehwag would have loved a century, but he had done his job. He had also banished a few of his 2nd innings demons!
Given the steady start that India had made in the morning, M. S. Dhoni walked in as I had predicted.
Soon after Sehwag got out, we saw Michael Hussey into the attack! There was still no sign of Brett Lee in the attack! In his second over, Michael Hussey got warned by Asad Rauf for running onto the pitch. More than Asad Rauf, I think Ricky Ponting would have clipped Michael Hussey around the ears for running onto the danger area!
Meanwhile, M. S. Dhoni got on with the job of making runs. However, with Gautam Gambhir approaching his century, his scoring was mainly by way of nudges and singles! The scoring rate had started to dip despite Dhoni’s presence. This was fair enough, I guess. Gambhir had done all the hard work and perhaps deserved an opportunity to find his place in the sun! Eventually, Gambhir did flick Cameron White to square leg for a boundary to bring up his century off 136 balls with 7 boundaries and a six. India had reached 222 for 1 off 47.1 overs at a rate of 4.7 rpo at that stage.
Immediately on reaching his century, Gambhir danced down the wicket to Cameron White and holed out to Michael Hussey at mid off. India was 224 for 2 with Gambhir gone for 104. Just as Sourav Ganguly had thrown it away in the first innings, Gambhir had thrown it away too.
The fall of Gambhir brought Sourav Ganguly to the crease! Not Dravid or Tendulkar or Laxman, but Sourav Ganguly! Perhaps Dhoni wanted a left-right combination at the crease. This was a somewhat strange decision, mainly because much of the mornings’ play had been created by the Indians hustling the fielders for sharp singles. With Ganguly out in the middle, there was perhaps a run out waiting to happen! I’d have perhaps thought that Sachin Tendulkar or even Harbhajan Singh may have been better options!
At lunch, India was 230 for 2. In that session, 130 runs had come off 26 overs for the loss of 2 wickets. India had scored at 5 runs per over. A terrific session for India — just what the doctor had ordered! India was 431 runs ahead at this stage and everything was going according to plan. I had predicted yesterday that Dhoni would probably want to set a target of Australia about 500-520 runs off 125 overs! This was another India session and the SBS score reads: [India 7.25, Australia 2.75].
Brett Lee’s absence from the bowling card in the morning session made less sense to me when Ricky Ponting opened the post-lunch proceedings with Brett Lee! So, what was the deal with the treatment of Brett Lee in the morning session? Was this Ricky Ponting’s method of punishing a below-par passenger on the tour thus far? This was indeed strange captaincy from the Australian captain.
India started the session carefully. They collected the singles and the twos with great ease. There wasn’t anything frenetic and unorthodox in the batting either. Just as India had, in the first session, all the scoring was through proper and orthodox cricket shots. India did not show undue urgency, which seemed to suggest that India was looking at a score of about 500. Therefore, there was no need to do anything silly.
Soon, Dhoni reached his 50 off only 61 deliveries with only 3 fours. This also brought up 50 partnership between Ganguly and Dhoni from just 54 balls — that the partnership contained only 5 boundaries showed the kind of game India was keen to play. This was foot-on-the-pedal stuff that Australia normally play!
In the same over, Michael Hussey received his 2nd warning from Asad Rauf for running on the pitch. This was in Hussey’s 8th over (he had given 38 runs in these 8 overs). Asad Rauf was once again doing Ricky Ponting’s work for the Australian captain!
Cameron White came on in the next over. Dhoni was probably so bored that he tried what can best be described as a field-hockey scoop shot; not once, but twice! He tried to get his bat under the ball to scoop it over the ‘keepers’ head. The first time he tried it, he crashed the ball straight onto ‘keeper Brad Haddin’s chest. He missed the second ball completely.
These attempts said a story in its own right; perhaps India was batting time rather than total. The Indian lead had already stretched to 480 at that point! India had, I think, most certainly batted Australia out of the game. They were just hammering a few nails into the coffin prior to declaring. From here on in, it will be the Australian approach that would determine the game result. At this point in time, there was 53 overs remaining in the day. A declaration at this point would mean that Australia had 140 overs remaining. Too much perhaps?
Suddenly, Sourav Ganguly tried his first big hit of the innings off Brett Lee. The skied shot ended up down Michael Clarke’s throat at mid off. Ganguly departed for a well-compiled 27 off 37 balls. Dhoni was on 59 off 78 balls and India was on 290 for 3. THis got Sachin Tendulkar to the crease.
The next over saw the most interesting ball I’ve seen in a long time in a Test mach. Cameron White dragged a ball down in front of his nose. The ball scooted past the edge of the pitch and hurried to the fine leg fence for 5 wides! The over also saw a huge 6 from Dhoni off White to take the lead to 505 runs. A drinks’ break was called with India in the lead by 509. A declaration at this point would have made sense. If India had declared at this point, Australia would have needed 509 off 137 overs to win, at a rate of about 3.72 rpo. The fact that there was no declaration yet was as much a sign of the benign nature of the pitch or of the respect that the Indians have for Matthew Hayden. Just as the Australins fear the “Sehwag Factor”, I suspect the absence of a declaration must be due to the “Hayden Factor”!
When the Indian total reached 314-3, India declared. Australia needed 515 to win off about 136 overs. Australia would need to either bat out the 136 overs or score at about 3.78 per over. Dhoni remained not out on 68 off 84 balls and Tendulkar was on 10 off 12 balls. India had made the 314 runs at 4.83 runs per over. In my prediction from last night, I was about 5 runs off the declaration target! The only problem with India’s batting was the slowness of their approach to the target of 515 runs. Obviously Dhoni and the Indian leadership team had a combination of total (say 500+) and time (135 overs, say) and when these targets collided, the declaration came. However, I thought that Dhoni and Tendulkar may have showed a bit more urgency towards the end. In particular, I did not see the point of batting an additional over after the drinks’ break! Time will tell if this was an overly-conservative declaration.
Australia started positively, through Matthew Hayden. Although the first ball that he faced was a somewhat nervous hoik that could have had him caught at a deep mid-off position, Hayden settled down to make his intents very clear. He was going for the bowling with a view to dictating terms. His approach seemed to rub off on Simon Katich and they helped Australia to move to 49-0 off 7 overs! Now this was more the Australia that we have been used to.
With the going as good as it was, Dhoni had no option but to turn to Harbhajan Singh. With just the second ball of his spell, coming around the wicket, Harbhajan Singh had Hayden leg before for 29 off just 20 balls. Australia was 49-1.
The weed had poisoned the gardener!
More worryingly for Australia, Harbhajan Singh secured a wicket very early in his spell; that’s when Harbhajan Singh can be most dangerous.
And so it came to be! In the very same over, off the last ball of his over, Simon Katich drove Harbhajan Singh without getting to the pitch of the ball. The resulting catch was brilliantly taken by Sachin Tendulkar at a deep gully position. Katich disappeared for 20 off 26 balls and Australia went to Tea at 50-2. Harbhajan Singh had taken his 298th Test wicket. I’d be surprised if this Test — one for celebrating Indian milestones — does not get Harbhajan Singh an important milestone!
And so, what would have been perhaps an even session had suddenly become India’s session. The SBS Score now reads: [India 8.25, Australia 2.75].
At the Tea Break, Nick McCardle, the Foxtel anchor, when talking with Mark Waugh, the expert in the chair, said “I don’t like seeing Harbhajan Singh take so many quick wickets. He tends to get his tail up,” and on further promoting from Mark Waugh, McCardle said he did not like either the way Harbhajan Singh celebrates or the way he tends to bowl after taking early wickets!
Hmmm! Ok, so why don’t we send a message to Harbhajan Singh to request him to smear sandal paste on his forehead and prostrate with folded hands at departing Australian cricketers? And while he is at it, perhaps he can play some soothing Yoga music, garland the departing Australian cricketer, offer the cricketer a Kohinoor diamond and a shawl with a “Pleeeees to take”?
India started after the Tea break with Harbhajan Singh and Ishant Sharma bowling to Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey. Harbhajan Singh and Ishant Sharma are probably the last two people that Ponting may include in his Christmas card list, if they manage to get onto the list at all!
First, Harbhajan Singh had Michael Hussey plumb in front. Hussey tried to pull a back-of-a-length delivery from Harbhajan Singh. No prostrations were offered by Harbhajan Singh to the departing batsman!
In the very next over, Ishant Sharma flattened Ricky Ponting’s off stump with a peach of a delivery. What was most impressive was the way Ishant Sharma set Ponting up in that over. In the matter of a few overs, Australia had slumped from 49-0 to 52-4. Australia’s top-4 was in the hut!
Shane Watson and Michael Clarke set about doing the repair job against some accurate and penetrative bowling from Ishant Sharma. Amit Mishra, who had taken 5 wickets in the first innings didn’t look like getting a bowling opportunity in the 2nd Innings! This was good cricket from the Indians. At the end of the 16th over, Australia was 58-4. Ishant Sharma was bowling a testing spell to Michael Clarke, who had already been hit on the body twice by the tall Indian pace bowler. This was an important opportunity for Michael Clarke to get a long dig. He had had an ordinary tour thus far and had to use this opportunity in a losing cause to get some runs and batting-time under his belt.
The very next over, Ishant Sharma bowled another splendid ball to catch Shane Watson right in front for 2 off 22 balls. Australia was 58-5 and was falling apart like a pack of cards. Brad Haddin was welcomed to the crease with a bouncer that struck him on the visor. Ishant Sharma walked up to him to ask if he had paid his electricity bill prior to leaving Australia! This was terrific bowling from the young Indian bowler.
How was it that these two Indian bowlers were making the ball talk, when the Australians did nothing much at all with the ball?
After bowling a terrific spell after the Tea break, Amit Mishra, the first innings bowling hero was summoned to replace Ishant Sharma. The score was 70-5 off 20 overs. Ishant Sharma had bowled excellently well in a searching post-Tea spell of accurate, hostile and penetrative fast bowling.
The third ball of Mishra’s spell, bowled to Brad Haddin, was a perfect leg spinner. It had loop and dip and spun a lon way to beat Haddin’s out-stretched bat. It probably missed the off stump by just a few millimetres! This was the art of spinning at its very best! We now had the two Indian spinners bowling in tandem.
Australia was intent on shutting up shop. The batsmen were focussed on crease occupation and time accumulation. There was no way Australia could win this match, of course! And there was almost no possibility of Australia drawing the game. So the best option for Clarke and Haddin was to clock time!
While Amit Mishra was getting a terrific loop and spin going, Harbhajan Singh had resumed normal operations — he was intent on spearing them in at 90 kmph! He had bowled 9 overs on the trot after the Tea break and perhaps a break was called for! Australia went into the drinks break at 81-5 off 27 overs.
At this point, Harbhajan Singh’s bowling analysis read 10-2-12-3. He was searching for his 300th wicket! After just 4 overs, Mishra was changed for Virender Sehwag! Whether this was an end-change for Amit Mishra, time would tell. But the birthday-boy was in for a spell, perhaps.
Indeed, Mishra did swap ends. He bowled to a Michael Clarke who was batting quite well at this stage. Clarke, who had had a somewhat ordinary tour up until then, needed to spend time out there in the middle. And this was the best opportunity for him to do that. Soon, the Australia’s 100 came up. Brad Haddin had started to break out of the shackles that the spinners had tied around him. The partnership was worth 44 runs from 100 balls. The going was slow, but the run rate was hardly important. The Australians were playing for pride and frankly, the Indian spinners were suddenly looking very playable!
So it wasn’t surprising to see Zaheer Khan get a spell at the batsmen. This was still a great pitch to bat on. There was turn in the pitch; but it was slow turn. And any swing the pacemen were getting was mainly due to the skill of the two Indian bowlers than anything else! And truth be told, the two New South Welshmen were playing it quite well.
Harbhajan Singh was back in the attack, bowling to two well-set batsmen. He almost got through Brad Haddin with a replica of the delivery that got the Australian ‘keeper out in the first innings!
The session was slowly winding to a close. Despite the late Australian resistance from Michael Clarke and Brad Haddin, this was India’s session once again; a session in which the wickets of Ricky Ponting, Michael Hussey and Shane Watson just after Tea, had broken the back of the Australians. Australia ended the day at 141-5.
The SBS score now reads: [India 9.25, Australia 2.75].
Australia are out of it. It is a question of when and not if for India! The only headache would be for Chris Broad, the match referee, in adjudicating the Man of the Match! There are several contenders including Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, M. S. Dhoni, Gautam Gambhir, Amit Mishra, Ishant Sharma and Harbhajan Singh.