After the drawn Test in Bengaluru, much was said and written in the three-day gap to send bloggers, TV reporters and print media into a bit of a spin. From Anil Kumble, who retorted angrily to uncharitable comments written against him to “The Australian” who write as only “The Australian” can, everyone chipped in to claim psychological victories, despite empty couches at psychiatric clinics!
Thankfully, the match commenced to put an end to speculations and barbs.
As expected, Anil Kumble did the right thing and sat out the Test match. He said that he would not play if he was 100% fit and that’s what the thorough gentleman did.
I sometimes think that players like Anil Kumble and Rahul Dravid are misfits in India. Despite playing with a fractured jaw at times and despite always doing the right thing over 20 years or more in the cricket spotlight with nary a black spot on their proud record, they are still come up against the Dilip Vengsarkars of this world. While it is understandable that the Vengsarkars of this world are there to create ink-space on paper when there would be vacuum otherwise, I am sure they could do it without knocking their own! Politics of envy does run deep in India. Unfortunately, their vile feeds off and affects independent thinkers too, like some who contribute to this blog! Anil Kumble was termed a show pony by one gentleman. Another blamed him for carrying an injury into the Bangalore Test. Sigh!
Amit Mishra was chosen ahead of Munaf Patel as Kumble’s replacement in the team. At first I thought that this was a somewhat strange move for three reasons. (a) Mishra would be making his debut and hence, perhaps this would not make for a strong bowling combination, (b) Munaf Patel is really at the top of his game these days, (c) Mohali does offer something to the pace bowlers. However, after having seen the 1st Day’s play, I think the option of having a leg spinner is not such a bad option. Mishra is an orthodox give-it-plenty-of-flight type bowler and could trouble the Australians on a 4th day pitch with some bounce.
Meanwhile, Australia’s injury-woes continue. After Bryce McGain, Phil Jaques has succumbed to his back injuries and will be flying back to Sydney. His replacements have not been named, but the names David Hussey, Brad Hodge and Shaun Marsh appear to be doing the rounds!
M. S. Dhoni, Team India captain, won the toss and had no hesitation in batting first. If there was any movement on this track, that was extinguished in the first ball of the Test match! After that, it was pretty much up-and-down stuff. So this was a crucial toss to win, especially since Dhoni said his reading of the pitch was that it would take spin as the match progresses.
The idea would have been to occupy the crease, bat positively and bat once! The only way the Indians could get out on this track would be through laziness, bad-strokes or bad-luck. And that is pretty much what happened during the day! A combination of laziness (Gambhir), bad-stroke (Dravid) and bad luck (Sehwag, Laxman) and a stunning catch by Matthew Hayden (Tendulkar) meant that India finished the day 5 wickets down.
The Indians started off with terrific intent and without taking too many risks, had moved to 70 before Virender Sehwag fell to a faint tickle down the leg side. This was the first of two thin edges during the day. Brad Haddin, who kept well on what was more of a true-bounce Australia-style pitch, pouched both of these catches.
Gautam Gambhir, who has this wonderful ability to rotate the strike in the short form of the game, should re-think his approach to Test cricket. In the first half of the first session, runs flowed off his bat quite freely. He scored some spectacular boundaries, particularly on the off-side. Several of his off-drives would have sent the current owner of that stroke, Sourav Ganguly, back to the nets to correct technical flaws! He was in cracking form. Yet, when the field spread, Gambhir seemed to struggle to pick up the singles and twos.
Gambhir has made 1052 runs in his 18 Test matches. Indeed, on a day of landmarks and milestones, the fact that he had crossed a 1000 runs in Tests may have been missed by commentators! His milestone would have added to the milestones of Tendulkar (crossing Lara’s tally, scoring his 50th half-century and crossing 12,000 runs) and Ganguly (crossing 7000 runs). And if that wasn’t enough, Ishant Sharma crossed 100 runs in Tests too!
Gambhir’s 1052 runs have come at a somewhat disappointing, but acceptable average, of 36.27. However, the pain point is that it contains only one century — and that against Bangladesh! Since he forced his way back into the Test side, on the back of his superlative ODI form, Gautam Gambhir has been in cracking form. He has been at the very top of his game. In 5 Tests this year he has scored 427 runs at 47.44 with a high-score of 74. Somehow, Gambhir needs to find that switch inside him that enables him to convert these terrific starts into big ones. All he needs to do is walk down the pitch and talk to Virender Sehwag!
Rahul Dravid, meanwhile, left his slow-gear back in the dressing room! He walked out, at the fall of Sehwag’s wicket, with purpose and determination. The moment he commenced with a confident straight drive down the track for a well-hit boundary, I thought this was a different Dravid that we were seeing.
India finished the 1st Session at 104-1 off 25 overs! Yes, just 25 overs were bowled in the 1st Session which clearly belonged to India. I scored the SBS as [India 1.0, Australia 0.0].
This was a crazy session, if ever there was one. This was also a session in which Australia was gifted a return-to-the-game ticket by the Indians! And perhaps this is being a bit uncharitable to the Australians who really sweated and fought it out. Ricky Ponting set innovative fields and tried to choke the run-flow. The bowlers bowled to these fields. But with the pitch doing absolutely nothing, batsmen who did not kick on the make a big score ought to be kicking themselves. At least, I hope they are!
When the session commenced, Rahul Dravid was on fire. He played some exquisite leg-side flicks and on-drives. He was back to his very best. And before anyone realised, India was at 146-1. A score of about 500+ was definitely possible and the “bat long, bat once” theory was starting to take shape.
Suddenly, against the run of play, Dravid under-edged a delivery from Brett Lee that was too close to his body to cut! He was bowled off the inside edge for a well-made 39. A few balls later, with the India score still on 146, Gautam Gambhir, whose runs had somewhat dried up, played a tired shot to a delivery outside off stump for Brad Haddin to accept the nick!
That bought Sachin Tendulkar and V. V. S. Laxman to the crease. Both were looking somewhat composed and ready for a big score. When Laxman had made 12 off 19, he was the second thin-edge of the day to head back! Mitchell Johnson was almost embarassed to accept the wicket — this was his 3rd wicket for the day! The delivery was wide down the legside. Laxman didn’t need to play it. But the opportunity to get a boundary was there. So it was fair enough that he, like Sehwag earlier in the day, played at it. However, what resulted was a thin edge in both cases, and Brad Haddin did the rest. India was 163-4 and suddenly a score of 300 was looking good!
Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly had other ideas though. They settled things down and took India to Tea at 174-4 in 51 overs. Just 70 runs had been scored in that session. India lost 3 wickets. Australia had bowled just 26 overs.
This was clearly an Australia session. The SBS at this time was [India 1.0, Australia 1.0].
The stage was set for this to be the Sachin Tendulkar session! Tendulkar started the session just a few runs short of Brian Lara’s record for the most Test runs. Shortly after resumption, at 2.31 pm, to be precise, Sachin Tendulkar steered a Peter Siddle delivery to third-man for three runs. There was relief on his face and just as he was running his 3rd run, the fireworks went off at the Mohali stadium!
The fireworks didn’t stop for nearly 3 minutes! It looked like the Mohali organisers had taken control of the game and had held a gun to the games’ head! While it is ok to celebrate a milestone… 3 minutes of non-stop fireworks? The cricketers on the ground had a bored look on their faces! The umpires wore frowns. Even Sachin Tendulkar appeared to be embarassed — the game has always been bigger than the individual! Indeed, the fireworks could have distracted Tendulkar and Ganguly from a task that was much more important than the milestone that the organisers were intent on celebration. Tendulkar and Ganguly had to get India out of a slippery slope and instead we had the organisers taking center-stage in that midst of what was a tense Test cricket match! This was totally insane!
It turned out that the organisers had planned to have 11,954 crackers go off! In his post match interview, Tendulkar said, “The duration [of the fireworks] was bit worrying. Eventually I figured out it was 11,954 crackers or something like that.” I shake my head in dismay! Only in India!
Brian Lara’s record — he overtook Allan Border’s long-standing record at Adelaide — had stood for nearly three years (and stood for 2 years after Lara had played his last Test). In what was a milestone-break session, Tendulkar also scored his 50th half-century and he also became the first player to cross the 12,000-run mark. From here on in, he is in his own space in terms of aggregates and records! For a while, that is…
By my reckoning, unless catastrophe strikes, Ricky Ponting will overtake him one day. How long Tendulkar holds this record depends on how long he plays for and how long his body allows him to keep playing. Of the players in the 10,000+ Runs Club, only Rahul Dravid (10,341 from 127 Tests) and Ponting (10,239 from 121 Tests) are still playing. At the rate at which he is going right now, I do think that it will be a matter of time before Ricky Ponting catches up to Tendulkar.
In the session, Tendulkar also missed on on his 40th century in Tests! After crossing Brian Lara’s milestone, Tendulkar played more freely. Indeed, he played exquisitely in my view. There was timing, placement, power and art in his playing. Apart from one false stroke against Cameron White when he danced down the wicket to play a lofted shot that ought to have been caught in the deep, there was nothing wrong with his batting today. Here was a master at work. In my view, it was fitting that Tendulkar reached this milestone against Australia. Gavaskar crossed Boycott’s record against West Indies, the best team of that day. Lara and Tendulkar had created their records against Australia, the most dominant team of their times.
But records apart, there was a job to do for both Ganguly and Tendulkar. They focussed on that in the post-Tea session and played with alacrity and application. This was a flat track on which the bowlers had to toil.
Cameron White, who had been held back for much of the day — Ricky Ponting preferred to bowl Michael Clarke as his first-use spin bowler in what was perhaps Ponting’s only captaincy blemish of the day! The fields that Ponting had set right through the day were innovative and inventive. He led effectively and ran in the changes frequently. He did not let the game meander too much. But there were two question marks, in my view. One was the over-rate. The other was the under-utilisation of Cameron White (and the preference for Michael Clarke over Cameron White). More on the over-rates later.
Sourav Ganguly was somewhat lucky to still be there though! There was some doubt in a stumping appeal that Rudi Koertzen did not refer to the 3rd umpire. It was hard to say from replays whether Sourav Ganguly had brought his foot down before Brad Haddin had whipped the bails off. I’d like to believe that the 3rd umpire would have given the benefit of the doubt to the batsman. However, it does puzzle me to see umpires not using the video-umpire option more often in such close calls. We saw Steve Bucknor not refer what was a clear stumping decision in Sydney — we, of course, also saw one that was referred in Sydney that was out but not given by the Australian 3rd umpire on that day! But that is another story altogether. Close calls just have to be referred upstairs!
It seemed that Tendulkar was destined for a century. He had made 88 off 11 balls. With 3 overs left in the days’ play Tendulkar seemed to play late at a delivery from Peter Siddle that was just outside off-stump. Matthew Hayden swooped low to pull off a truly amazing slips catch. Just as Tendulkar had gifted Cameron White his first Test wicket at Bengaluru, here at Mohali, Tendulkar made another debutant Victorian bowler happy with his first Test scalp! India was 305-5 then. At the end of the days’ play, India reached 311-5 off 85 overs (at 3.65 rpo). Play had already been extended by the maximum allowable half hour at that point in time. Ishant Sharma, who had come in as night-watchman, was not out on 2 and Ganguly was not out on 54.
I score the last session as 0.75 in India’s favour because Tendulkar got out. So the SBS score reads [India 1.75, Australia 1.25].
I must say that India let opportunities slip on this opening day. After winning the toss, a score of 311-5 would be a bit of a disappointment with not much batting to come after Sourav Ganguly. M. S. Dhoni hasn’t done much with the bat in recent Test matches although captaincy does bring out the best in this young man. Although Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh did bat well in Bengaluru, I am not sure if we can expect the lower order to fire every time they go out to bat. Amit Mishra is no mug with the bat either (he has a highest score of 84 in first class matches). However, I can’t see India doing a “bat long, bat once” in this Test match. Australia is very much in the game. In that sense, Australia will consider themselves lucky. If Australia can take the remaining Indian wickets for 90 runs or so, they can bat long — they bat deep — and be the ones that have last use of this wicket!
Something must be done about the pathetic over rates that Australia bowl. To end the day 5 overs short even after play had been extended by half hour is a terribly poor show. All through the last summer, we at i3j3 carried stats on the pathetically poor over rates of Australia and compared this with the Indian over rates — after all Channel-9 seem to pick up only too readily Indian over rates when, if they could look beyond the end of their noses, they would see that there is a world out there! I do wish the match referee censures Ricky Ponting for this bad showing. Even considering the 5 minutes that was lost to the fireworks and celebrations, this is a poor show by a proud cricketing team.