Tag Archives: Gambhir

India Vs Australia :: Test 3 :: Delhi :: Day-5

At the end of my abridged day-4 report, I wrote: “I was disappointed by Australia’s approach. Australia batted on till it got to 39 runs behind India’s tour.With just 13 overs left in the days’ play, there was no way India was going to make the running on a pitch that was offering nothing much to the bowlers even on day-4. I thought Australia should have declared at least 100 behind. This would have forced India to make the running in this match. Remember, India does not need to win this match, although India would like to. Australia has to win this match although, by drawing this match, it keeps its hopes alive in the series. So the attacking ploy for Australia would have been to declare about 100 runs behind India’s total. Unfortunately, that was not to be. What we saw was the initiation of a defensive ploy from Australia and a continuation of this ploy by India.

I gave the 2nd session as well as the 3rd session of day-4 to Australia and so, the SBS Score reads: India 5.5, Australia 6.5!”

Overnight, Gautam Gambhir was called a “serial pest” by Chloe Saltau!

India played badly on day-4. But Australia too, I thought missed a trick on day-4. Unless India play horribly to collapse in a manner reminiscent of India teams from 10 years ago (or English teams that play in Adelaide), the 5th day isn’t going to have much fun for either teams I believe.

India could probably use the day to get Rahul Dravid, their only out-of-runs batsmen in this series, into a good score ahead of the Nagpur Test. Although Dravid has been batting well, he hasn’t been making the big scores and here was his opportunity. India may also look to keep the Australians in the field for a long time ahead of Nagpur.

There was nothing in the Kotla pitch unless one pitches it in the ‘rough’ — and provided the fielders take the catches, of course! The curator had promised a “present for Kumble”! His pitch was akin to ordering a bouquet of roses for Valentines Day only to be delivered a wreath by the florist!

The Australian bowlers have nothing to lose really. They can go all out and attack relentlessly without the need for a gun license! If the Indians collapse, the Australian bowlers would come out on top. If the Indians bat through a grinding innings, the bowlers will have no reason for shame. So the match is really set up well for the Australians.

Session-1:

The game started along predictable lines. Balls outside off stump — and there were plenty of those — were left alone by the Indian batsmen, who played with much discipline and alacrity. Gambhir even had the temerity to advance once to Stuart Clark! There were no dangers in this pitch.

I have received a few emails saying that I was wrong to criticise Australia for not forcing the pace in this match.

There is another reason for me saying this. Australia would have known that without Harbhajan Singh and without Anil Kumble being 100% fit, the bowling attack was somewhat weakened. So, batting in the 4th innings on day-5 would not hold too many fears on this pitch! With this in mind, I am quite convinced that Australia should have declared way behind to force the pace in this game. They didn’t. India do not have to make the pace. The result is an inexorable march towards a draw!

But the breakthrough that Australia (and the game) needed, came with India on 53-2. A fuller ball from Brett Lee found the inside-edge of Rahul Dravid’s off-drive and crashed into the base of the stumps. Rahul Dravid’s misery continued. He continues to bat well, but gets out to inside-edges and silly shots.

Australia was playing an attractive brand of cricket. It was an attacking brand of cricket too; one that I have grown to like and enjoy over the years (one that was also absent in Bengaluru and Mohali). Stuart Clark kept things very tight at one end bowling wide of off stump. Brett Lee bowled an attacking line at the other end. I would imagine that the roles would be much the same with the Watson-Mitchell bowling partnership — with the former bowling tight lines and the latter, attacking. This was good stuff from the Australians. As a result of this approach, India was reigned in and not allowed to get away with the scoring; not that there was much danger of India running away, given the defensive ‘mindset’ that the Indians had appeared to adopt!

At the drinks’ break, India had reached 71-3. Australia had bowled 13 overs! This from a team that was trying to win the game? The lead for India was 107.

Michael Clarke was into the attack after the drinks’ break. Not a bad move, if he can eschew the “flat and fired-in” stuff and seek turn off the ‘rough’.

The pitch was so easy to play on even on day-5 that Gambhir and Tendulkar were able to play easily off the back foot and off he pitch! The turn was slow, if there was any at all! The odd ball was kicking up from the ‘rough’. Other than that, there wasn’t much in the pitch. The only way anything would happen would be if the batsmen played a needlessly aggressive shot — like Dravid attempted to do.

Which is why I feel more and more that Australia screwed up by not declaring 100 runs behind. If they had, the Indian batsmen may have forced the pace and maybe, in the process, got out. They would have had no option but to force the pace from about 100-120 ahead.

Anyway, that’s spilt milk.

Against the run of play, just when everything was looking steady and solid, Mitchell Johnson got a ball to swing way down leg-side. The resulting appeal for LBW — I am presuming that the appeal was for LBW and not for relief from boredom — was upheld. The only conclusion I could reach was that Aleem Dar was bored and wanted some action out there in the middle, especially since it appeared that he started raising his hand even before the appeal was made! That was a shocking decision and Gautam Gambhir was given a spanking and set off to the dressing room.

This was certainly Aleem Dar’s present to Mitchell Johnson on the bowlers’ 27th birthday.

At this stage, India was 93-4 and India lead by 129 runs.

Mitchell Johnson was bowling with his tail up on his birthday after having lapped up Aleem Dar’s present! He proceeded to get stuck into V. V. S. Laxman, the new batsman and one didn’t need a course in lip-reading to know that, several times, the ‘F’ word was used by Mitchell Johnson. Laxman smiled at this the first time and then replied back the second and the third times. The umpires got into the game at this stage and had a word with Ricky Ponting.

I am surprised that the Match Referees and Umpires only get into the game when the one who is provoked takes an extreme retaliatory action to the abuse that is copped on the field. Gavaskar wants the abuser to be nipped in the bud. I agree wholeheartedly.

Despite Chloe Saltau’s (potentially) and Mark Waugh’s attempts to describe Mitchell Johnson as the genial and gentle pace bowler who just used the verbal stoushes to pump himself up, there is a serious point here to be made. The man at the other end who got pumped up enough to respond to Mitchell Johnsons’ foul mouthed spray is the gentlest of gentle giants? Is Chloe Saltau now going to embarrass herself in public yet again and term Laxman an “aggressive lout and a spoilt brat for having the temerity to talk back at Mitchell Johnson”?

Predictably, instead of responding to Sunil Gavaskar’s point about the “instigator being docked before the provoked is” and “what’s the need for a string of ‘F’ words on the cricket pitch”, Mark Waugh said, “Yes, this was the man who wanted to walk off the pitch at the MCG”. To which Nick McCardle whipped out the exact date on which Gavaskar attempted to walk out of the MCG.

What this had to do with the price of fish only Nick McCardle and Mark Waugh will know.

But since we are delving into the realm of utter irrationality, wasn’t Mark Waugh the guy that took money from a certain John for a pitch report? Would this not mean that we discard anything that this goose says?

At lunch, India was 99-4 (135 runs ahead with 63 overs left in the days’ play). The session belonged to Australia. No doubt about that. The SBS Score reads: India 5.5, Australia 7.5.

Session-2:

I had little doubt in my mind that the Australian attitude and mindset, which was absent for much of the series up until now, had Australia in the position that she was in. Similarly, it was the Indian “defensive mindset” that had the team in the position it was in.

To me, however, it was nice to see Australia attack the way the team has. Australia played with self-belief and aggression. It had nothing to lose and everything to gain. Australia had fought back from the brink and that was great to see.

If the team could only stamp out the on-field nonsense, it would be even better for me.

I suspect, however, that the team plays to a different audience and to different standards. For example, at the drinks’ break, Mark Waugh, talking in the Foxtel studios, chided V. V. S. Laxman for talking back to Mitchell Johnson and thereby, making a “big deal out of it”. Someone tell me Mark Waugh didn’t see the theatrics of Matthew Hayden (Mohali) and Shane Watson (Kotla)!

My gripe with Indian players is that they haven’t reacted like sorry soccer players each time a string of expletives is thrown at them! If they did, more Australians would be reported too more often, would they not?

Australia started after the break with Michael Clarke and Mitchell Johnson. Clarke was bowling from around the stumps and to a good line. It was surprising to me that we didn’t see Simon Katich yet!

India was 109-4, a few overs after lunch, with 59 overs left in the days’ play. India only had a very ordinary, low-intensity day in the field on day-4 to blame for this situation.

But I was comfortable with this grit-situation that India was presented with, for two reasons:

  • After the heady success of Mohali and a huge 1st Innings lead, India had relaxed completely. Complacency had set in a manner that only Indians seem to muster. There is nothing better than a situation like this to shake the team out of its collective sluggish contentment.
  • India has a terrible win-one-lose-one-immediately record in Test matches. This backs-to-the-wall effort could not have come at a better time, especially after the mammoth score that India had put up in the 1st Innings!

Both of the above points mean that a backs-to-the-wall effort here would do this team good — the equivalent of a kick-up-the-backside wake-up-call.

Although Michael Clarke was flighting the odd ball, most of his balls were fired in at between 86 and 90 kmph from around the wickets. As a result, he wasn’t getting much bite and purchase from the pitch. It was time to get Katich in, I’d have thought! Indeed, I’d have got Katich in ahead of Michael Clarke. A finger spinner would be a better option, I’d have thought.

But it was Cameron White that came onto bowl and he immediately proceeded to leak runs and ease the pressure. I wasn’t sure about this decision. I’d have liked to see Katich on this pitch. I’d be willing to bet that he would get some purchase here. At the other end, though, we had Shane Watson come in for a bowl. His first ball want for 4! Suddenly, it appeared as if the pressure valve had been lifted.

This was strange captaincy by Ricky Ponting! With a fit and fighting set of alternatives like Stuart Clark, Brett Lee and Simon Katich, I just could not understand this Watson-White strategy!

In the 2nd over from Watson, Aleem Dar perhaps ought to have given Tendulkar out LBW! I could not believe that Aleem Dar would not give this out when he gave Gautam Gambhir out for one that was clearly sliding down leg! Perhaps he had decided that Shane Watson did not deserve a birthday gift when it wasn’t his birthday! At this stage, India was 140-4 (176 ahead with about 45 overs to play). The decision won’t have made a difference, as India was taking this match into a draw situation. But the inconsistency of decision making seemed a bit strange!

I was proved wrong a few overs later when Sachin Tendulkar poked at a Cameron White delivery to be caught by Matthew Hayden at slips for 47! But in all seriousness, this was a nothing shot to a nothing delivery; a soft dismissal. India had reached 145-5, 181 runs ahead with about 43 overs for Australia to get it if India was all out in the over that was being bowled. It was already becoming a hard ask.

It may not be a bad ploy, I’d have thought for Ganguly and Dhoni to indulge in a flurry of strokes in a bid to set Australia target of about 210 off 37 or so overs.

Michael Clarke replaced Cameron White. This was a reasonable move. Ganguly had a recent history of outs to left armers. Having said that, these were more to left arm Chinamen bowlers (Brad Hogg and Simon Katich). So again, Katich’s absence from bowling duties was a bit strange — unless of course, he was injured.

The match was drifting towards a draw. It would be good if India — 207 runs ahead with 37 overs to make it in — would declare. If nothing, to regain psychological ascendancy. Australia would need to make these runs at 5.6 rpo. Almost impossible, I’d have thought. It would be good, nevertheless, for India to throw the gauntlet at the Australians and have a crack at the visitors!

India went to Tea on 193-5 from 69 overs. At this stage India led by 229 runs. If India declared at Tea, Australia would need to score 230 runs from 31 overs (at 7.4 rpo).

I give this session to India and this makes the SBS Score India 6.5, Australia 7.5.

Session-3:

The only interest from here on in was how and when the captains would call the game off. Was there enough time for Laxman to get a century? Sidelights like this dominated thoughts at the Tea Break. This match, which had promised so much, was tailing off into a draw.

After Tea, Australia started with Brett Lee and Michael Clarke; still no sign of Simon Katich!

About 20 minutes after the Tea break, news filtered through that Anil Kumble had decided to retire from Test cricket after the current Test match.

After 18 years of terrific contributions (I hate the word ‘service’) to Indian cricket, this great cricketer, and wonderful competitor had decided to retire… He was a thorough gentleman of the game when several of the competitors that he played against were anything but! He retired from the game with not a blot or a blemish against his name. He played cricket within the rules and always gave 120% to everything that he did in the game. World cricket was losing a warrior and a gentleman.

It would make more sense, therefore, for India to declare and for Anil Kumble to retire “on the field”, perhaps with an additional, last wicket too!

And on 208-5 with a lead of 244 and with 23 overs left in the days’ play, India declared. This was a sentimental move; one that took Australia by surprise too.

It will be interesting to see how Australia take this. Australia would have to score at 10.5 rpo. Would Australia go hell for leather and make a game of it?

Anil Kumble even took the new ball for India! This was now a Twenty20 game! What an exciting end to a game that looked like it was petering towards a draw! But instead of sending out Shane Watson and Matthew Hayden, for example, to open the Australian innings, Australia went down the normal Test match route and opened with Matthew Hayden and Simon Katich!

At the other end, India opened with Virender Sehwag! Off the very first ball, he got sharp turn! Katich got off strike with a false stroke.

After just 2 overs, Amit Mishra — Kumble’s heir apparent — replaced Virender Sehwag. However, there wasn’t much happening though.

Anil Kumble bowled his last over for India — the 16th of the innings — and brought to an end a glorious chapter in Indian cricket. The next over was bowled by Amit Mishra and at the end of that, the curtains came down on a Test match and a career.

To complete the SBS scoring, I give this session to India for having ensured that the game ended in a draw without much by way of panic. This makes the SBS Score India 7.5, Australia 7.5.

Not surprisingly, the match ended in a draw!

— Mohan

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Adjective watch: “Recalcitrant Gambhir”

This is not a joke!

Now, Gautam Gambhir has the honour of being termed “recalcitrant” by Chloe Saltau from the The Age!

The use of an offensive adjective like this would have been totally expected from the pen of Malcolm Conn (‘The Australian’). Indeed, I would have been surprised had Conn resorted to anything less abhorrent or ghastly. However, the use of “recalcitrant” a harsh, punitive and callous invective to describe Gautam Gambhir by Chloe Saltau is, I must say, most depressing! Moreover, I thought “recalcitrant” is an adjective that is totally reserved for describing a former Malaysian Prime Minister by Australians in high office!

Regular visitors to i3j3Cricket may know that we commenced i3j3’s “Adjective Watch” Department. This was our own response to the Australian Labour Government’s Fuel Watch, Carbon Watch, Government Watch, Price-Fixing Watch and other random “Watch” strategies!

Anyway, “Adjective Watch” confirms that in recent days one did read Chloe Saltau’s clarion calls for stiffer penalties to be imposed on Gautam Gambhir. We can confirm that ‘The Age’ and ‘The Australian’ are available online in Indian Hotels. Chris Broad probably delayed his judgment on Gambhir so that he could digest the Salt(au) and be Conned!

“Adjective Watch” also confirmed that Saltau yelped in what could be best described as “expressing extreme mortification” that Saint Watson was fined 10% of his match fee for what was a polite enquiry from a thorough gentleman of this world! Saltau said, “Watson appeared to do nothing more than express his displeasure to Gambhir and implore the umpire to look at a replay, but was charged with breaching the same clause as the Indian, albeit for a lower offence carrying only a fine.”

We at “Adjective Watch” can only sigh and conclude that the heat and dust of India does funny things to rational thinking to those people that are not used to it, especially when their beloved team is not doing that well! If these guys lived in India for longer, they would get used to both — the heat/dust as well as regular losses — and get on with life with a karma-tic shrug, rather than resorting for the need to yearn for blood.

Ps:

If Gambhir’s appeal, made by the BCCI, is accepted by the ICC, it will take at least 2 days for the ICC to appoint an appeals judge. An appeal is a right for anyone charged with a Level-2 offense. It could then take anything up to 4-7 days for the appeal to be heard. By then the 4th Test between Australia and India will have commenced. So Gambhir can play that Test match (remember that Harbhajan Singh could have played at Perth if the Indians wanted him to play). In that case, Gambhir, if found guilty in the appeals hearing could miss either 1 Test or 2 ODIs. In all likelihood, Gambhir could miss the 1st ODI against England on Nov 14 (Rajkot) and the 2nd ODI against England on Nov 17 (at Indore). If the appeal is unsuccessful, Gambhir will have to bear the cost of the appeal — loose change, I’d have thought!

— Mohan

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

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

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

India Vs Australia :: 2nd Test :: Mohali :: Day-4

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.

1st Session:

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].

Session-2:

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].

Session-3:

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.

— Mohan