Daily Archives: 9 November 2008

India Vs Australia :: Test 4 :: Nagpur :: Day-4

After playing adventurous and bravado-laden, aggressive cricket on day-1 and day-2, India had choked Australia almost out of the game on day-3 of this intriguing Test match. In a strange manner, India played the “new age cricket” that Australia was threatening to play all along in this series. Up until day-3 Australia had failed to execute that brand of cricket. And on day-3 when they were faced with an opposition that played new age cricket, they had no answers!

India had a hand on the Border-Gavaskar Trophy and needed a few sessions more of good cricket to get both hands on it!

The 1st Session went to plan for India. Virender Sehwag and debutant M. Vijay played sensibly and countered everything that Ricky Ponting threw at them. Ponting was caught between two lands. He could not afford to over-attack. He could not afford to defend either. It is not often that Australia finds itself in this position. And today, I am not sure they got their tactics right. Jason Krejza was bowling impressively. But the Indian openers had no fears. They played him and Brett Lee, Mitchell Johnson and Shane Watson with much ease. I am not sure why we didn’t see Simon Katich!

The over rate wasn’t great either.

India went into lunch on 98-0 off 27 overs. Only 26 overs had been bowled in the mornings’ session. Was Australia the team that was supposed to be “making the running” in this match? I wasn’t sure. The run rate was hovering around 3.6 rpo. Virender Sehwag had reached his half century and Vijay was playing with much composure and tightness.

An early thought: Why not include Vijay and Gambhir as openers against England and allow Sehwag to drop in at #3 as Ganguly’s replacement?

The SBS Score reads: India-5.5, Australia-4.5;

The second session of the days’ play was a disaster for India. Of course, the Australians bowled exceedingly well and to tight lines. However, what really happened was a mindset issue.

India started after lunch in brilliant manner. Virender Sehwag was batting positively and treated Jason Krejza with disdain.

But then Shane Watson was getting some reverse swing and got M. Vijay LBW of a ball that dipped in. And this set the trend for the rest of the afternoon. At this stage, India was completely on top.

Immediately after this, Dhoni made his first major error. He sent in Dravid ahead of Laxman.

Laxman was the in-form batsman and he should have gone out to bat. Instead, we had Dravid and frankly, he made the bowlers look better than they actually were. Dravid is tentative and unsure. He needs time off in the Ranji Trophy to get his game fixed. But here, he ought to have batted at #5 or #6. India needed to carry the momentum. Instead, Dravid played right into Australia’s hands. Of course, he got out for not much.

Immediately after that Sehwag was out caught down the legside for the second time in the series. And this set the rot.

Tendulkar and Laxman batted as if they were rabbits caught in the headlights. Instead of keeping the scoreboard ticking, they slipped into a defensive mindset. The momentum had shifted.

Laxman got out to a beauty from Jason Krejza that bounced, turned and crashed into his leg stump. A brilliant ball by an enterprising bowler. Australia had a hero.

He became a bigger hero when he got Ganguly caught and bowled for a first ball duck! On his last appearance for India, Ganguly, who had received an ovation from each and every Australian cricketer on the field, was out for a first ball duck!

The man who had drama follow him all his life, had created his own drama to join the ranks of Don Bradman, who also got a duck off his last Test innings!

The last nail in the coffin was hammered by a freakish run out of Tendulkar off the last ball before Tea.

This was a nightmare session for India and, from an unenviable winning position, India was just 252 runs ahead. India had made 68 runs in the session and lost 6 wickets! I am convinced that this was triggered as much by good bowling as it was by the Dhoni decision to send Dravid in at #3.

The problem that was commenced by the decision to send Dravid in at #3 was compounded by the fact that Laxman and Tendulkar were caught in an intensely negative mindset. The just didn’t take the singles and just didn’t keep the scoreboard moving.

The SBS Score reads: India-5.5, Australia-5.5;

Indeed, at this stage, Australia looks odds-on favourite to win the match!

Was the good work over the entire series by the Indians being undone by one terrible session here at Nagpur? Was the somewhat lacklustre showing by the Indians in this last session the lifeline that this champion team from Australia looking for? Will the Australians grab it and run all over the Indians?

Time will tell. An important 3rd Session was coming up for both teams.

As much as the Indians had played badly, it is true that Jason Krejza bowled excellently well. Here was a star that was born for Australia. It is a huge call to make, but I am reasonably that, along with Ajantha Mendis, we had seen the birth of another spinning star in world cricket.

In the lunch-tea session, there was a ball tampering incident that may get the match referee, Chris Broad quite interested. Cameron White was shown plucking leather off the scuffed up side of the ball. This was just before the ball started reverse-swinging. Although Cameron White wasn’t picking at the seam, he certainly did pick at the leather. It is fair to say that he did alter the condition of the ball.

Will Chris Broad have the guts to ping an Australian though?

At Tea, just 50 overs had been bowled in the day and there was nary a breath from Mark Waugh and Nick McCrdle on this issue! Australia was 10 overs short at this stage and let’s remember that Australia was the team that had to force the pace in this match?

Is this the second issue for the Chris Brad to contend with in the days’ play?

Will Chris Broad have the guts to ping the Australian captain though?

Australia started off the post-Tea session with Jason Krejza at one end and with Cameron White and then Michael Hussey! Clearly, Australia wanted to get a move on on the over-rate! Perhaps Chris Broad had warned these Saintly Australians that he may have no choice but to suspend the Australian captain for a Test match for their over-rate recalcitrance!

With Cameron White and Michael Hussey bowling, the foot had been lifted off the pedal, it seemed. Both White and Hussey had allowed the two Indian batsmen to settle in! Gone was the reverse swing! Gone was the pressure at the other end!

But given the Australian bowling over-rate recalcitrance right through this series, was winning this Test match and retaining the Border-Gavaskar Trophy more important than saving the captain from a suspension?

Australia had clearly lost the plot after Tea! Australia had been sloppy in the first two sessions of the day (as they have been for well over a year now)! How they could be sloppy when they were supposed to be making the running in the game, only Ricky Ponting and the Australia Team will know. However, to compound one unprofessional mistake with the bowling of White (first) and then Hussey was just sheer unprofessional cricket from these Australians.

Someone needs to stick a Diwali firecracker up their collective backsides!

Instead of going for the jugular, they let the pressure off the Indians. About 52 minutes after Tea, India was nearly 300 runs ahead (298 to be precise). At this stage, Australia had 27 overs left to be bowled in the day, with just 70 minutes left in the days’ play. The partnership between Dhoni and Harbhajan Singh was already worth 50 runs.

This was sloppy, unprofessional cricket that was totally unbecoming of a champion side.

India consolidated its position slowly and steadily. Thanks to some poor over rates and poor bowling pair in operation as a result of this, with 40 minutes to go in the days’ play, 19 overs were left in the days’ play and the partnership was already worth 82 off 128 balls!

Once again, when it mattered most, Australia had not been able to step up to the plate in this series!

With an hour to go to the extended days’ play, Australia needed to bowl 17 overs in the day. The partnership was worth 101 between Harbhajan Singh and Dhoni. The wheels had come off the Australians carriage. Partly through their own unprofessionalism. But partly through some courageous and positive-mindset batting from Dhoni and Harbhajan Singh. The 100 partnership came off just 150 balls.

It was unfortunate for Jason Krejza really. He was bowling splendidly. But, instead of pressure at the other end, after Tea, he had Cameron White, Michael Hussey and Michael Clarke as his bowling partners! This just wasn’t good enough from the Australians. They had completely lost the plot. From a match-saving mode, India was now in target-setting mode! And it all happened in one hour of extremely sloppy play from Australia.

I think Australia lost the series in that one hour of terrible cricket post-Tea.

Finally, Shane Watson was back in the attack with 45 minutes to go to the extended days’ play and with 15 overs still left in the days’ play!

So what did the hand-off-the-jugular achieve from Australia? I just don’t know.

Against the run of play, suddenly Dhoni was out for 55 off 81 balls. He tried to sweep a Jason Krejza ball from off to leg as he had been doing all innings. The ball seemed to bounce off his boot to be cleanly and wonderfully caught by Michael Hussey. The score was 274-7. The partnership was worth 108 runs from 27.2 overs at a rate of 3.95 rpo. Krejza had his 3rd wicket for the innings. The Indian lead was worth 360 runs now.

Perhaps this match was beyond Australia’s reach now? It would need a Herculean effort from Ausralia to make it from this position. Another way to look at it would be that IF Australia make a victory from this position, they absolutely deserve to win and to retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.

At this stage, Krejza had conceded 354 runs for 11 wickets in the game! Only the West Indian Scott had conceded more runs in a Test with 374 runs for 9 wickets.

Soon, Harbhajan Singh had scored his half century. Once again, he was a thorn in the Australian Team’s side.

On a day when both Andrew Symonds and Ricky Ponting had their well-timed pre-Christmas book releases that touched on the “Monkeygate” episode, Harbhajan Singh had responded with the bat rather than the pen.

And what matters most is responses with ball and bat.

India’s 8th wicket was down to a freakish caught behind by Haddin off Krejza, who now had his 4th wicket for the Innings. Zaheer Khan had to go after an attempted sweep caught his glove. The resulting lob was pouched on the 3rd attempt by Haddin. The score was 286 for 8 and the lead was 372.

Immediately afterwards, Harbhajan Singh was bowled for 52 off 94 balls by Shane Watson. It was the end of a superb hand from this feisty Sikh who has taken an immense liking for the Australians of late!

This wicket begged the question: Why could Shane Watson have not continued bowling after Tea? What’s the worst that could have happened? A Ricky Ponting suspension? Was Ponting’s suspension worth more than the teams’ chances in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy?

These are questions that just have to be asked.

With half an hour left in the days’ play, Australia still had 12 overs to bowl! The White-Hussey-Clarke experiment had pulled things back a bit for Australia — but not much! Still the team was in the dog house. No two ways about it!

I’d really like to know what the Match Referee does with Cameron White (ball tampering) and Ricky Ponting (bowling over-rate sloppiness).

My sense is that Chris Broad will let both of these offenders off.

India was all out for 295 with Shane Watson getting the last wicket to fall. Watson had got 4 wickets.

Australia needed 382 for a win and 13 of these were wiped off in the very first over from Zaheer Khan! I do think that the plan for India would be to keep it tight at one end and attack from the other end.

With 4 balls left in the days’ play, light was offered to Australia and Hayden accepted the light!

When India sent in a night watchman in Delhi, Mark Waugh, Malcolm Conn and Chloe Saltau went into paroxysms, describing it as a ‘negative’ move. It will be interesting to see what their reaction is to this offering from Australia!

But more than anything else, I will be interested in seeing what the Match Referee does today.

Added later:

India had a wonderful last session of play. This was more due to Ricky Ponting’s strange and bizarre tactics. Of course, Dhoni and Harbhajan Singh played sensationally well. But Ponting’s tactics contributed immensely to the free spirit with which they played.

That last session belonged to India. The SBS Score reads: India-6.5, Australia-5.5;

— Mohan

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Strategists fail at their own strategy

“I think we can create an intensity in the field which at certain stages might make their old blokes look like they’re past their use-by date.”

That was what Ricky Ponting said at the start of the series!

At the start of the series, the visitors made public their blueprint for success in their series in India. The visitors had even coined a phrase that captured this strategy: “New Age Cricket” they called it. This strategy was based on a fundamental hypothesis that the Indians were “fat, lazy, aging, weak and slow”.

At one level this was an arrogant strategy. But it was also a bold admission at another level. Since the Australians were also admitting through this strategy that they could not get the Indians out with the bowling resources that it had and so, had to resort to a defensive ‘choking’ mindset.

The strategy consisted of bowling to choking fields which would deny the “fat, lazy, aging, weak and slow Indians” (FLAWSIs) boundary hits. The FLAWSIs would, therefore, need to either run hard for singles — and thereby tire their weak and unconditioned bones out. Either that or the FLAWSIs would need to invent rash strokes in a bid to remove the hand that was attempting to choke them for runs. While batting, this strategy consisted of pushing hard for singles so that the FLAWSIs would be energy sapped on the field.

All good. But so far in this series, this strategy had failed the Australians… Miserably.

Interestingly, the only time that India adopted the strategy on day-3 of the ongoing Test at Nagpur, the Australians failed at overcoming their own strategy. Indeed, they even ably assisted the hand that was attempting to choke them!

The strategists had failed at the strategy that they had penned.

Karma can sometimes be a cruel script-writer, as the Australians had already found out in this Test match!

Australia was completely throttled by India’s 8-1 off-side plan on day-3 of the Nagpur Test. This was necessary because India had played overly aggressive — bordering on arrogant cricket — for 2 days of this Test match. Almost all the batsmen had played aggressive cricket at some stage in their innings. Many of them had been felled by somewhat rash strokes. When bowling, India had thrown the kitchen sink in a bid to over-attack. India opened the bowling with Harbhajan Singh! Runs leaked. Something needed to be done.

Dhoni, the captain had authored — nay, borrowed — the strategy overnight and communicated it to all his players. Each player had a role. As I said in the match report as it evolved, the strategy required the players to swallow their collective egos and be bloody-minded about it. India played like Australia would have, in the past.

It is one thing devising a plan. It is another to execute it to perfection. The pace bowlers had to bowl long (very long) spells. Harbhajan Singh had to bide his time. Amit Mishra was hardly to be seen. If it didn’t work, the team would be lampooned by everyone. Indeed, the team was besieged by the commentators even as the game was in progress.

It was a bold statement from a team that was hungry for success. Success at any cost? Yes, as long as it was within the rules of the game. It was within the rules. It wasn’t attractive, but effective.

It was effective because the architects stuck to their plan. It also worked because Australia, the original authors of this strategy had no answers.

John Eales, Australian rugby union footballer and arguably the most successful captain in the history of Australian Rugby, said once that his mantra was to maintain courage under fire and to never lose commitment to the goal. The Indians played in a manner that may have made John Eales proud. The team stuck to its goal of playing mean-minded cricket.

The Australian’s did not try a leg-side stroke till the 12th over — it didn’t come off. The team tapped a ball on the leg-side only in the 18th over. The first run on the leg-side came in the 21st over of the day! This was more than mean-minded bowling from the Indians. It was breath-sucking stuff. Highly impressive. As I have said, it is one thing to construct a strategy. It needs to be overseen by men who have shed their egos and it needs to be implemented.

But in reality, the authors who had penned the strategy against the FLAWSIs were found wanting. Australia did not make any efforts to combat this strategy. There was no attempt to reduce the angles that the pace bowlers were bowling at. It was strange cricket from the Australians indeed. In a rather empty and hollow manner, Australia had played directly into the hands of the very team that they decreed was fat, lazy, aging, weak and slow!

Peter Roebuck criticises this tactic in todays’ The Age. And perhaps with reason. It wasn’t attractive and it never will be. Ian Chappell has also criticised India’s tactics. He also wants law-makers to step in and change the law on 8-1 fields!

However, before law makers change anything, these two teams need to sit down and work things out.

In my view, Sydney changed everything between these two teams.

As Roebuck writes, “Unfortunately the mood changed in the last series, with bile and recrimination taking hold. Although the conduct of the teams has improved the bitterness persuaded both parties to go to any legitimate length to stop their opponent gaining ground.”

I agree. I do feel that both teams will go to any legitimate length to gain the ascension. India has acquired a steely edge to its game; an edge that was hitherto absent, but certainly an edge that one could see the foundations of even from a distance. It is my feeling that India does not have this bloody-minded edge when it plays England or South Africa or even Pakistan. After Sydney, there is a teeth-gritting determination to its game when it faces Australia. And this feeling is mutual between these two teams. Sydney had triggered two resignation-thoughts (Gilchrist and Kumble), had already claimed one talented individual (Symonds) and now, it was the basis for cut-throat competition between these two top teams in world cricket.

Interestingly, I did not see Roebuck criticise Australian tactics which were roughly the same at Mohali and Delhi. He has though, today! India implemented the tactics more clinically and in a more bloody-minded manner at Nagpur. Moreover, at Delhi, Gautam Gambhir often walked down the track to reduce the angles and Laxman routinely used his wrists to play balls from outside off to leg! The Australians just could not do so here at Nagpur.

More importantly, I did not see Roebuck and Ian Chappell jump up and down and criticise Nasser Hussain for asking Ashley Giles to bowl a foot outside leg-stump to Sachin Tendulkar and other Indian batsmen. The Indians took it on the chin and moved on.

Finally, I did not read Roebuck and Ian Chappell writing about the sheer arrogance that lay behind this pre-series statement from Ponting (Ironically, the article by Malcolm Conn is titled: “Insults will backfire” in yet another Karma-defined headline!):

“I think we can take them on when they’re in the field and play a new-age type of Test cricket that is going to make some of their older guys look a bit old and a bit slow,” Ponting said.

“This includes running between the wickets and our fielding if a couple of their batsmen like VVS Laxman and the retiring Sourav Ganguly happen to be in together.

“I think we can create an intensity in the field which at certain stages might make their old blokes look like they’re past their use-by date.”

Although Roebuck has criticised the new-age tactic in later articles, he did not call the arrogance that lay behind the FLAWSIs theory at the time it was expounded. Indeed, commentators commended the mean mindedness and the hard edge of the Australians. Wasn’t day-3 just that? A mean-minded and hard-edged Indian team?

So what has changed now for Roebuck and Ian Chappell to chastise it? Is it because they are not used to mean-minded and hard-edged stuff coming from the Indians?

At Sydney, Australia adopted a win-at-all costs attitude. I did not see Nagpur as anything other than that. I do believe that Sydney changed everything between these two teams with a proud history and tradition. It will require something quite extraordinary to repair the damage of Sydney.

— Mohan