In all interviews I heard since the end of day-3, talk has been about Australia trying hard to save the game. Even Matthew Hayden, in his post-match interview, talked only about Australia saving the game. He said (and I am paraphrasing), “We know we can’t win, so we have our backs to the wall.”
I find this strange. Thanks to a superb batting display on day-3, Australia are in a position where they can win the game too! I know that this is a slim possibility, but it is probable!
Australia is only 275 behind.
If Australia bat all day today and make 350 runs (say), they will be 75 runs ahead at the end of days’ play. Another 75 runs tomorrow might mean that India will have to play last on this pitch!
Another scenario is that if Australia are all out after scoring say 50 more runs, Dhoni will need to make a choice as to whether or not to enforce the follow on (with tired bowlers in his ranks) or play on for a while and unleash a fresh set of bowlers on the Australians batting last. He may not want to give the bat-last advantage to the Australians by enforcing the follow on.
Moreover, if Australia avoid the follow-on, India will have to set a target. The target will depend on the extent of the lead and also on India’s aggressive intent. This won’t be easy.
So, I am a bit puzzled by the negative Australian attitude. They must think more than just “saving the game”, I feel. The game is still a bit open — although favouring the Indians slightly — in my view.
The absence of Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble has hurt the Indians a lot in this Test match. But them’s the breaks.
The first session will be vital for both teams. Australia cannot afford to lose early wickets. Indian heads will droop if Australia bats out the first session without losing a wicket. Australias’ approach will be to bat out and see out the 1st session.
After 8 days of pressure-less cricket, the pressure is on the Indians for the first time since the Bengaluru Test. India will be looking to wrap the series in Delhi. The Indians will not want to go into the Nagpur Test just 1-0 up in the series. If India go into Nagpur either 1-0 (or worse, 1-1), the momentum could shift completely to Australia. As I maintained, in a back-to-back situation, the draw at Bangalore worked in India’s favour. So will a draw here in Delhi. The momentum will have shifted in Australia’s favour.
So the Indians will be desperate to win here at Delhi to maximise its chances of regaining the Border-Gavaskar-Trophy.
After a happy-birthday-tune to celebrate V. V. S. Laxman’s birthday, proceedings got underway with the talented Zaheer Khan bowling to an aggressive and recently-fined Shane Watson.
Off the 4th over of the morning, Michael Clarke was dropped at mid off by a leaping Ishant Sharma off the bowling of Amit Mishra. These catches ought to be taken. India could well pay dearly for this lapse. Mishra had the measure of Michael Clarke in yesterdays’ session and had started in pretty much the same vein this morning. However, for success, bowlers need to depend on fielders unless of course you are Virender Sehwag (two clean bowled and 1 LBW)!
The morning was going Australia’s way. The partnership between Clarke and Watson was developing well. Watson was starting to play his shots and look more confident with each ball. Mishra continued to bowl a hit-me ball every over. The dropped catch seemed to have dropped shoulders just that little bit on the field. After 8 overs, Australia had scored 31 runs with not much fuss — apart from that dropped catch — and the deficit was only 244 runs!
Ishant Sharma, the culprit of the catch let-off, came on to bowl. But with him and Mishra bowling a hit-me ball every over, Australia started to slowly but irrevocably draw closer to their first target for the day — avoiding the follow-on. Something needed to happen for India.. and soon. Watson, in particular, was batting quite well, despite the odd edgy stroke past the thinly populated slips area.
I thought Dhoni missed a trick here in not starting with Virender Sehwag, the best of the three spinners on view yesterday. Mishra was more inexperienced than Sehwag, who would have kept it tight as well.
Sehwag ultimately came in for Mishra in the 11th over of the morning. He started off with a maiden over! For India, the way to do this would have been for Ishant Sharma to swallow his ego and bowl a line outside slightly wide of the off-stump and attack with Sehwag and Mishra from the other end. However, Ishant Sharma continued to bowl and attacking line and leaked runs.
After another Sehwag maiden over, drinks was called. At drinks break, Australia had scored 57 runs from 14 overs. This was just what the doctor had ordered for Australia. Australia had reached 395-4.
Interestingly, Anil Kumble came in for a bowl after the drinks’ break! Here was a warrior striding in for his team after 11 stitches to the little finger of his left hand, with 2 of his fingers taped together, a few cortisone injections and perhaps even a plastic plate inserted to protect the left hand.
I was surprised that Kumble was allowed to bowl. Isn’t there a requirement that he had to spend as much time on the field as he did off it before he could bowl?
With Kumble and Sehwag on, the bowling was tighter and runs were harder to come by. I thought that Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma and Amit Mishra bowled quite badly this morning. For the first time in the series, the Indian bowling looked insipid and lazy — somewhat like the Australian bowling has looked this series (with due apologies to fans of the Australian team who visit this blog)!
And the tightness of the bowling caused Sehwag to bowl Shane Watson. Sehwag seems to have made up his mind to not depend on the fielders in this match! He has 3 clean bowleds and 1 LBW thus far in this game. This ball pitched well outside off stump, spun sharply and clipped the top of Watson’s leg stump. I have little doubt that the tightness of the Kumble-Sehwag bowling was what caused this wicket to fall.
We had a new man, Brad Haddin, at the crease and suddenly things were happening. There was more in the pitch, it seemed. Sehwag (at 66-4) had his best figures in a Test match. Since his introduction, Sehwag had bowled 3 maidens and had taken a wicket! Watson had departed for a well-made 36 in a partnership of 73 runs off 20.1 overs with Michael Clarke.
In the next over from Kumble, Clarke danced down the wicket to hit it over the top. The boundary gave Clarke his half-century and also brought up Australia’s 400.
In Kumble’s next over, he hit Haddin bang in front of the stumps. Hadding was a foot down the pitch, but wasn’t playing a shot at the ball, which struck him in front of middle stump! Umpires are loathe to give these balls out even though the batsman does not offer a stroke to it. I find this a strange policy.
Soon after, the follow-on target was avoided. The first target had been achieved for Australia. It was a mammoth effort from a team that had had 8 days of Test cricket under the pump and behind the 8-ball. Although they were helped by an easy pitch and by the absence of Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble yesterday, this was a great backs-to-the-wall effort. The fact that all top five batsmen made a half century (with none of them, yet, going on to make a century) was an indicator of the superlative team-effort that Australia had put in.
I felt that although Kumble was bowling tight and although it was fabulous stuff from a committed Indian warrior, he missed a trick by not bowling from around the wicket and into the ‘rough’.
Sehwag was bowling brilliantly. He was showing us a complete repertoire. The top spinner, the slow spinner, flight, the one that goes straight and the faster one. It just showed how badly under-used this talented cricketer is in India.
And then, after some 85 overs since his last wicket in Test cricket, Anil Kumble bowled a slow-through-the-air googly to get Brad Haddin stumped brilliantly by Dhoni. The indefatigable warrior had struck for India. Australia was 426-6.
Haddin was gone for 17 off 35 balls with 1 four and a six.
In the very next over, Gambhir almost created a a half-chance at forward short-leg as Michael Clarke poked at a Sehwag delivery. It was a hard one to convert to a catch. The fact that Gambhir almost made it into a catch should augur well for India’s close-fielding stables.
At lunch, Australia had reached 436-6. India had bowled 31 overs and Australia had made 98 runs, losing 2 wickets. Australia had made the runs at 3.16 rpo.
In the pre-lunch session, India had bowled 31 overs. This is how teams should approach their cricket. Not in the recalcitrant, unprofessional, lazy and sloppy manner in which Australia treats the viewing spectator. And while Australia thumbs its lazy nose at the ICC establishment, the ICC goes around finding the next Asian to ping for a wrong-doing when the wrongdoers are right under its nose. What I struggle most with is the manner in which Match Referees allow and encourage such recalcitrance from Australia, the world champion team when it comes to over rates.
Australia will be happy to wipe off the deficit and reach the follow-on target. India will rue the missed catch and also the bad bowling from Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma and Mishra that they started off with.
Given that Australia lost two important wickets, I call this an even session too. The SBS Score reads: India 5.5, Australia 4.5!
Surprisingly, India started with Zaheer Khan bowling after lunch. Given that Kumble and Sehwag did all the pre-lunch damage, this decision was somewhat surprising, unless Kumble wanted to change the end from which he was bowling.
Sehwag bowled from the end that Kumble was bowling pre-lunch. So it may be that Kumble was using Zaheer Khan to help him swap ends with Sehwag — not a bad ploy.
Australia will be looking to do a Zaheer-Harbhajan-Bengaluru in this session being about 170 behind India. The closer they could get to India’s total, the better it would be for them.
A few overs after lunch, Virender Sehwag became India’s one of the most employed bowler in this innings! At this stage, Sehwag had already bowled 35 overs, which was the same number of overs that Mishra had bowled! Given Kumble’s injury and Harbhajan Singh’s absence, this was a tremendous bonus for Anil Kumble and further underlined Sehwag’s value in this team.
Zaheer Khan continued to bowl. The tactic was somewhat unclear to me although Zaheer Khan was getting the ball to tail in to the right hander.
The folly of the Zaheer Khan strategy had become more obvious as the runs started to come quite freely. One of the advantages of Kumble bowling in tandem with Sehwag was that both ends offered little by way of release of pressure. There was hardly any venom in Zaheer Khan’s bowling for the batsmen to try anything silly off Sehwag’s bowling. India was missing a trick by not bowling either Mishra or Kumble here, I felt.
After three overs of the Zaheer Khan spell, Kumble brought himself on to bowl. Australia had moved to 465-6, only 148 runs behind. The complexion of the game was slowly starting to change. At the other end, Sehwag was changed for Amit Mishra.
Australia had developed a string of partnerships — with not a single player (yet) going on to make a century — and another one was developing between Cameron White and Michael Clarke. Their partnership had reached 50 runs and the danger signal for India was that they had done it really easily!
Mishra has upped his pace and was bowling with less flight and faster through the air to try and get some purchase from the pitch. Kumble was trying, in the meanwhile, to bowl a few tight overs.
[I could not write more last night. This piece is written more for completeness and has been written a day later.]
India continued to play ordinary cricket and let off Michael Clarke a few more times before they were able to wrap up the innings.
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!