The first session of the days’ play turned out to be attritional cricket at its very best. It was like two heavy weights sizing each other up before delivering a punch. Neither team wanted to land a blow and expose themselves to an upper cut or a hook. This is how the morning was played out.
India bowled Ishant Sharma and Zaheer Khan for much of the session. And almost all of what they bowled was at least a foot outside the off stump of the two left-handers: Mike Hussey and Simon Katich! For almost the entire morning, they bowled to an 8-1 off-side field!
India had decided that the runs had leaked the previous day and wanted Australia to make the running in this innings from here on in.
This was a test to see whether Australia could indeed make the running. We saw Australia adopt such — outside off-stump — tactics for much of this series when behind the eight-ball. Now it was the turn of Australia to make the running.
This tactic required a shedding of the ego. Dhoni was basically admitting that his strike bowler, Harbhajan Singh, was not capable of getting the sharp turn that Jason Krejza got. This took a lot of courage. It could also bomb badly in Dhoni’s face, but it was certainly a different tactic.
Australia did not take the bait and played safe cricket instead. The two left handers left most of the balls alone. Some of the balls closer to the stump were played straight to a fielder.
For the whole of the morning, just 24 overs had been bowled! This was really a bad over rate. Interestingly, it was the first time in the series we saw Mark Waugh frothing at the mouth about over-rates! It was also the first time that India had really offended on this count. The over-rate was really terrible and several times one wondered what the conversations were that several Indian players were having!
But India wanted to slow the game right down. And it did. Just 42 runs were scored by Australia in the 24 overs! Harbhajan Singh bowled just a few overs before lunch. Australia’s Innings scoring rate had dropped to 3.5 rpo.
One could assume that India had given up on the game — when we hadn’t yet reached the half-way stage of the game! However, another way to interpret it would be that India, with a 1-0 series lead, was asking Australia to make the running if it dared and if it wanted to! It was akin to a soccer team playing defensive, protecting a 1-0 lead. This wasn’t a strategy that one could scoff at. It was a valid one. However, for Dhoni’s sake, I do hope it does not bomb on him.
Simon Katich was dropped by Rahul Dravid in the slips off the second over of the morning off the bowling of Ishant Sharma.
Just before lunch, Zaheer Khan was getting some reverse swing and it was through that that he trapped Simon Katich LBW for a well made 102 off 189 balls. Remembering that he had made his 100 off 139 balls, his last 2 runs had taken a painful 50 balls!
But I do think that the dropped catch of Katich actually worked in India’s favour! Remember that Katich was on 92 off 120 balls at the end of the 2nd days’ play! He was dropped after facing only 5 balls today. Off the dropped catch he took a single to move to 95 off 126 balls. In other words, Katich scored just 7 runs more after the dropped catch, but ate up 63 balls for it!
It was hard to understand Australia’s tactics! Yes, they could not afford to take risks and thrash the ball around, but for a well-set batsman to take 63 balls to make 8 runs was a bit hard to understand even though the Indian bowlers were bowling an off-side line to an 8-1 field.
Australia went to lunch at 231-3 in 73.0 overs. Although Australia had only made 42 runs and lost a wicket, I give this as an even session. The SBS Score reads India-2.5, Australia-4.5;
After lunch, India continued with Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan. They were bowling to a left-right combination. This would make India’s defensive tactics that much harder.
A half hour after lunch, we hadn’t seen Amit Mishra or Virender Sehwag have a bowl in the day!
Harbhajan Singh was bowling flat and fast. There wasn’t a doosra in sight and unlike Jason Krejza, he was bowling far too straight for any grip off the foot marks.
When the 80th over was being bowled, Ishant Sharma was in the middle of a spell. Clearly the nw ball wasn’t going to be taken. At the other end, Harbhajan Singh continued to bowl. And there was still no sign of Amit Mishra, Virender Sehwag or the new ball!
Just before the post-lunch drinks’ break, Ishant Sharma bowled a truly wonderful delivery to square Michael Hussey up. The resulting edge was pouched by Dhoni and the score was 255-4. Clarke was gone for a painful 8 off 43 balls. Hussey was still there on 81 from 210 balls!
This got Shane Watson to the crease. It would be interesting to see his approach to the game. There was an opportunity for him to play the style of attacking play that he can and does play regularly.
At the post-lunch drinks break, Australia was 259-4 off 87 overs at a rate of 2.97 rpo. In that session, 14 overs had been bowled for 28 runs with the loss of 1 terrific wicket.
At the half-way stage in the Test match, Australia was 182 runs behind.
There was still a long way to go for Australia in this game. If Australia wanted to win this game, they had to play more brave cricket. This wasn’t, in my view, a win approach. Australia have to try and bat only once in this match. The match was delicately balanced.
This was gripping Test match cricket being played here. The sparring continued between these two proud competitors.
Karma struck again just after the drinks’ break! And the man that Karma struck down was Michael Hussey, the first Australian to admit that the Australians would be happy to see Gautam Gambhir rubbed out of this game!
Hussey tapped a ball from Harbhajan Singh to forward short leg and set off for a run. M. Vijay leapt to his right, grabbed the ball and threw it to Dhoni off balance. Dhoni gathered the ball and broke the stumps. Hussey was gone, run out, for 84 off 216 balls with 8 4s. Australia was 265-5 off 90 overs, still 176 runs behind.
Whatever happens from here, this was already India’s session. It was just top cricket from the Indians. After choking the Australians in the 1st Session, India was right back in the game. Ironically, it was through pace bowling and ground fielding! Who would have thought, especially after Jason Krejza’s 8-fer in India’s 1st Innings!
Immediately after, Shane Watson played on to an over-spun ball that bounced from Harbhajan Singh and it was 265-6! Watson was gone for 2 off 22 balls! Australia had lost 3 wickets for 11 runs in 6 overs!
The ball was 93 overs old and although Virender Sehwag had bowled 1 over up until then on day-3, there was no sign of Amit Mishra! The commentators were ruing Dhoni’s defensive strategy in the mornings’ play. The results were starting to make the commentators look a bit sheepish!
As I’d written in the morning itself, these were brave tactics from India. Now, if they would only tighten up the over rate!
After 47 overs had been bowled in the day, Amit Mishra came in for a bowl.
Brad Haddin was off the mark of the 25th delivery he faced. At the other end, White was on 4 off 20 balls!
In the last session, White and Haddin continued to bat well to frustrate the Indians. Haddin put on 50 runs with White before he was caught freakishly at slips by Dravid off Mishra. The remaining tail-enders put on a few more runs before Australia was wrapped up for 355. White batted well for his 46.
But truth be told. This was an amazing performance by India. It was ugly cricket all right. But in this heavy weight boxing bout, Australia had lost its way. India made sure that it shadow boxed and shadow boxed till it was given an opportunity by an opponent that had seemingly lost the ability to punch. When that opportunity was presented, India slowly but surely crept up on the champion side to come away with an 86 run lead. In the context of this game, this could be plenty.
Australia had scored just 166 runs in the day, from 86 overs, scoring at 1.93 rpo. The innings run rate was just 2.62 rpo. Australia had played into India’s hands today. Jason Krejza’s brilliant debut performance was wiped away by strange tactics from Australia’s batsmen.
This The last session belonged to India too. The SBS Score reads India-4.5, Australia-4.5;
My SBS Score reveals that the match is evenly poised. But of course, it does not take into account the future scenario that Australia will have to bat last on this pitch. Nor does it take into account the fact that Australia has to win this match, while India does not have to!
India will look to play steady and minimal-histrionics cricket for the first two sessions on day-4. Australia has its work cut out. Australia will need an exceptional 1st Session of play to claw its way back into the game. It is possible. You can never write off this Australian side although, on today’s evidence, I am not convinced that this Australian side really wants to win this match!
An exciting day’s cricket awaits us tomorrow.