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!
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!
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!
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!