After Ricky Ponting had claimed overnight that he was insulted by Virender Sehwag’s comments about the captain’s pact and the Sydney Test, Ponting won the toss and elected to bat. If there was drama off the pitch overnight, there was drama on the pitch in the first over itself.
Ponting said overnight, “That’s fairly insulting. In the first innings [at the SCG] I didn’t claim a catch because I wasn’t 100% sure. It’s amazing how they’ve picked out a lot of negatives from that game and don’t seem to be speaking about the Perth Test [the third match of that series, which Australia lost], where we probably had the same things happen to us. Not one member of the Australian team has spoken about it. We go about our cricket in different ways.”
A few things to seek clarifications on: Firstly, the issue I always have with Australian cricket is about how they play when the chips are down and they have their backs to the wall. So, Ponting’s 1st innings call-back in Sydney just doesn’t rate, in my view. Secondly, what happened at the Perth Test where Ponting had the “same things happen to” Australia? Is he dreaming up stuff? Or was there a Test match in Perth that I missed? And thirdly, what is it about Australian cricket that gets Ponting to say “We go about our cricket in different ways.” Is he referring to that piece of paper called the spirit of cricket (or some such nonsense) that Australian cricketers signed up and seem to tear up the moment they cross the white line?
The last time Australia toured India, the series started with a loud shout for LBW. There was little doubt in the minds of the TV commentators at that time that Justin Langer was out LBW off Irfan Pathan’s first ball of the series. Who knows what would have happened to the series had that decision gone India’s way!
So, there was drama on the field in the very first over and then again in the 9th over. Off the very 3rd ball of the innings, Matthew Hayden jabbed at a ball from Zaheer Khan that moved away a fraction. As he jabbed at the ball, his bat clipped his pad. The ball slipped past very close to bat and umpire Asad Rauf gave him out. Snickometer suggested that if we had had a referral system in play for this Test match, Hayden would have been given not out.
Ishant Sharma continued his duel with Ricky Ponting. He bowled splendidly really. Off the 1st ball of the 9th over, Ricky Ponting did not offer a stroke to a beauty that came in sharply from outside off stump. It looked very very close and indeed, Hawk Eye showed that umpire Rudi Koertzen would have been over-ruled if we had had a referral system in place. So make the Bad Decision Score (BDS) 1-1 in the bad decision stakes!
Harbhajan Singh was introduced in the 13th over, just before the drinks break. After spearing in his first ball at 96.3kmph, he bowled a beauty to Simon Katich that was almost a bat-pad catch at forward short leg! At the drinks break, Katich and Ponting had pulled Australia to 34-1 off 13 overs.
But there weren’t really any gremlins in the pitch. It seemed to me to be a flat track. So as long as the Australians settled down into a nice rhythm, one could see several of them make big scores here. The best bet for Australia would be to make a huge 1st innings total.
Off the second ball of the 21st over, Simon Katich came charging down the wicket and padded up to a faster one from Kumble. Now, I am not sure why Rudi Koertzen is reluctant to give padded-up deliveries out. Although Katich was well advanced down the pitch, that ball was going to be intercepted by the middle stump and nothing else! The BDS reads 2-1 in favour of Australia.
Despite losing that early wicket, Australia played with intent and desperation to finish strongly. At lunch, Australia were 75-1 off 27 overs with Ponting on 41 and Katich on 28. Ponting was playing really well and was looking set for a big score here. I’d give the Session-by-Session Score (SBS Score) to Australia. With Cameron White batting at #8 and with the pitch being a flat and stone cold wicket, I’d put Australia in the drivers’ seat!
Which brings me to an important question: Given that many Indian curators are easily able to produce a flat, dead wicket, do we need a Kiwi in Bangalore to do the same? What’s the point? Will someone tell me please? We have seen many pitches like this in India in the past. Why get a Kiwi in as curator to produce exactly that kind of pitch again?
There were some ominous signs. The last time Australia played in India in 2004, the tour commenced at Bangalore. Australia was 70-1 off 26 overs at lunch on day-1 with Hayden out and with Langer 27* and Katich 9*! The parallels here are eerily similar!
Ponting and Katich commenced from where they left off and batted confidently. Ponting got his half century — a carefully and very well compiled 50 it was too.
At 94-1, Katich survived a huge LBW shout off Anil Kumble. Umpire Asad Rauf gave him not out and under a referral system, he would have had to walk. This then makes the BDS score 3-1 in Australia’s favour! Clearly a referral system would change the dynamic of any match and I can’t wait for it to be introduced in all Test matches.
Australia, meanwhile moved on steadily to 99-1. There was nothing flashy about the Australian approach. The usual flamboyance was eschewed and, in its place, was a staid and solid approach on a flat and mostly dead pitch. It didn’t help that both Kumble and Harbhajan Singh were bowling a bit flat. They were both firing and spearing it in.
A sign of Ricky Ponting’s growing assurance and confidence was a hoik over cow-corner for a huge six that he played against Harbhajan Singh, the moment Singh came around the wicket to bowl to him. This six helped take Australia to a score of 104-1 and also took Ponting to a score of 60, equalling his best ever effort in India — made in 1998 in Kolkata.
Australia kept going from strength to strength and moved to 166-1. Katich was playing some glorious off drives and Ponting was looking quite assured in his batting. Suddenly Ishant Sharma bowled a beauty to get Katich caught behind. The ball moved just slightly off the pitch and Katich played an aggressive off-drive to be caught behind quite well. Australia was 166-2 with Ponting on a superbly compiled 94. This bought Michael Hussey to the crease.
What was surprising to me was the under-utilisation of Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly in the bowling. At Tea, all the bowling (57 overs) had been shared by Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble. It seemed to me that Kumble should have used at least Sehwag. His variety of off-spin may have found some spin on this somewhat dead track.
At tea, Australia was 166-2. I give this session to Australia too, thereby making the SBS Score 2-0 in Australia’s favour with Ricky Ponting leading the way.
Ponting was playing really brilliantly. He batted with soft-hands, few loose shots and waited for the ball, rather than lunge for it as he has in the past. As he said before the tour, India was one place where his CV had a rather desolate look to it. This innings was an attempt to redress that imbalance. He was taking this game slowly away from India and had Simon Katich for company.
The final session went the same way as Session-2. Anil Kumble did not pose any threats. Australia marched steadily and slowly. There were no heroics and no fears either. The run-rate hovered around the 3rpo mark which wasn’t great. The Australians continually rotated the strike and didn’t allow the Indian bowlers to get on top. About an hour into the final session, there still was no sign of Sehwag or Tendulkar. This first day pitch wasn’t doing anything at all for the regular bowlers and it may just have been a good idea to break up the monotony. Zaheer Khan and Kumble bowled the occasional good ball but there were no gremlins at all. Ponting had moved sedately to 110 off 214 balls and Hussey had, without any dramas, moved to 18 off 43 balls.
Suddenly, at 201-2, Anil Kumble shouted for a huge caught-and-bowled off Ricky Ponting. Amazingly, Rudi Koertzen said not out! To the naked eye, watching it on TV, one could not understand why Rudi Koertzen, who was having quite a nightmare day thus far, did not ‘go upstairs’! That was out and Boycott’s dead great grand mother would have called it from her grave! The commentary team indicated that Koertzen did not give him out because Kumble was the only one that appealed! Surely, that can’t be right! If that is the case, we may as well have people jump up and down like school kids all the time!
The BDS now read 4-1 in Australia’s favour! Once again, I ask why the ICC did not have a referral system in place for this series?
At drinks, Australia was 211-2 off 71 overs!
Kumble was having a particularly unlucky day. Apart from the bizarre caught-and-bowled decision that was not given, earlier in the post-tea session, Dhoni had dropped a tough catch off a faint edge. The bowler to suffer there was Kumble. Just after the drinks break, an outside edge off the bat of Hussey went screaming past a diving forward short leg. Things were just not happening for the Indians and a few heads were starting to droop.
At the other end, Harbhajan Singh was continuing to have an ordinary day at the office. He continued to toil manfully though. It was a tough pitch to bowl on and the Australians were playing with tight defence.
At 215-2 Kumble was to suffer again at the hands of his nemesis, Rudi Koertzen. A huge shout for LBW was once again turned down! Hawk Eye showed that the ball was hit in line and that it would have hit off stump. A frustrated Kumble appealed for what appeared for a second longer to which Umpire Koertzen pursed his lips and shook his head sternly like a firm school master! Well, this umpires’ nightmare day at the office was continuing. Of extreme worry for the Indians was that the Bad Decision Score (BDS) had mounted to 5-1 in Australia’s favour.
Ironically, it was a really doubtful decision that got Ricky Ponting out! It all started with Virender Sehwag coming into the bowling attack. This change was long overdue. Suddenly, Sehwag was finding more grip and purchase from the track. He put a seed of doubt in the mind of the batsmen. Hussey wasn’t playing particularly confidently.
At the other end, Harbhajan Singh pushed a fuller ball into Ponting, who tried to sweep it. Hawk Eye suggested that it may have hit Ricky Ponting slightly outside the line of the off stump! Moreover, the ball turned so much that it may have missed leg stump! Umpire Asad Rauf gave Ponting out when he should have been ruled in! The men in white continued their horror run and the BDS read 5-2 in Australia’s favour. Another marquee series was being ruined by officiating incompetence. Australia, wh weren’t really scoring with freedom and abandon was 226-3 off 79 overs. A team that regularly travels at 4 runs per over (or more) was suddenly travelling at about 2.85rpo. This was a gritty, stoic and very un-Australian like performance. Ricky Ponting had departed for a really well made 123 off 243 balls before getting out to Harbhajan Singh for the 9th time in Test matches!
Anil Kumble came on for just one over — in which he conceded 13 runs, the most expensive over of the innings — before continuing with Sehwag.
This was turning out to be a strange session. Australia hadn’t really pulled away with any authority. But for that one bad over from Kumble, they hadn’t really tried to dominate or dictate terms. So, in some sense, due to the slow, low score, Australia left India hovering in the game. One or two quick wickets would set the cat amongst the pigeons. So this was a somewhat strangely careful game that Australia was playing.
Suddenly, Harbhajan Singh was bowling better. He had slowed his delivery pace and was also tossing the occasional ball up in the air. He was prepared to come around the wickets to the left-handed Hussey, who had quietly moved to 40 runs off 107.
India took the new ball with three overs left in the days’ play. A few quick runs resulted and Australia moved to 254-3 off 89 overs.
Off the penultimate over, Michael Clarke took a quick single off the last ball of the over. Off the very second ball of the last over, Clarke was out LBW to a low shooter off Zaheer Khan. Clarke was out LBW for 11.
I was tempted to give that last session to Australia. However, because the Aussies did not press on and move on, and because of the last ball wicket of Michael Clarke, I call this an India session. The SBS score reads 2-1 in Australia’s favour.
It was a dull but eventful days’ cricket: Eventful because of the men-in-white. Dull, because of Australia’s over-cautious approach; dull because of the nonsense of a pitch that the Kiwi curator had prepared for the Bangalore public. If I were KSCA, the state association that owns the Bangalore ground, I’d be looking at the Kiwi curators’ employment contract!