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)!
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.
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!
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.