Tag Archives: Ishant Sharma

India Vs Australia :: 2nd Test :: Mohali :: Day-3

Epilogue as Prologue:

Unlike other days, I don’t think the first session of day-4 should matter too much! Even if India lose a few quick wickets, there are enough runs in the bag now and India will not be forced to go into a shell. It will need a bagful of wickets by the Australians for India’s intent to dramatically change. India are in front and will look to press home the advantage in the first session of play on day-4. If Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir are still together at the end of the first hour, I will not be surprised to see M. S. Dhoni walk in at the fall of the 1st wicket! I think India will look to play steady cricket for the first hour before putting their foot on the accelerator.

Declaration target:

To me, it is the middle session of day-4 (and not the 1st session) that will be important. I believe that that is the session when declaration calculations will come into play.

Without getting too far ahead of myself, I feel India should set Australia a target of about 500-520 runs in 125 overs. In other words, I think India should bat about 50 overs on day-4 to score about 200-220 additional runs. If Australia makes the 520 runs (at somewhere between 4 rpo and 4.15 rpo) in the 4th innings here, they absolutely deserve the victory and more!

Defensive mindset:

I have been maintaining since the start of this series that Australia’s defensive mindset, more than anything else, could prove its downfall in this competitive series against India. Nothing proved this more than day-2 of the 2nd Test at Mohali. Australia adopted a defensive mentality right through the day and ended up in a somewhat ordinary position. Yet, despite Michael Clarke’s departure off the last ball of the day, the situation was still recoverable. After all, India had recovered from 163-4 to make 469, thanks to a positive mindset! Australia had ended the day at 102-4 and still had Michael Hussey and a batting order that ran deep.

Session-1:

However, Australia started somewhat tentatively and paid the price for it. It didn’t help matters that Ishant Sharma and Zaheer Khan bowled brilliantly. Sharma, in particular, was making the ball “talk” on a placid pitch!

Soon after Michael Hussey compiled his half-century he got a terrific delivery that moved just a bit after pitching outside off-stump. Hussey poked at it and the resulting edge sped past Rahul Dravid to the 3rd man fence. Ishant Sharma has developed this habit of making new opportunities immediately after he has had a catch dropped or a plumb LBW denied — as he demonstrated in the Ponting dismissal the previous evening! After being denied a plumb LBW by Rudi Koertzen, he produced a slightly better delivery to remove the Australian captain just 2 balls later! This is probably why Ishant Sharma is referred to as “Instant Karma“! This time, after an edge had gone for a boundary, Sharma bowled the next ball just slightly back of a length and just inches outside off stump. Hussey had to play/poke at it and the resulting edge was gleefully accepted by M. S. Dhoni.

Once again, reverse swing was the main “weapon” that Ishant Sharma and Zaheer Khan were harnessing. Right from the 10th over of the innings, the ball had been “reversing” and here, Ishant Sharma and Zaheer Khan were giving nothing away.

This wasn’t the start that Australia wanted on day-3! India were suddenly looking at lead margins, especially after Harbhajan Singh bowled an absolute ripper to have Brad Haddin clean bowled! That was a stunning ball from the turbaned finger spinner. It spun a proverbial mile, had terrific loop and crashed into the stumps.

We soon had a double spin-attack when Amit Mishra was brought on. Mishra was getting a fair bit of purchase from the pitch. This was understandable. He is a wrist spinner, in the Shane Warne mode. Unlike Harbhajan Singh, the finger spinner bowling at the other end, Mishra does give the ball a fair tweak. His lack of height also helps in him being able to lob the ball way above his eye-line. He bowled several balls at 78 kmph mark and allowed the pitch to do the rest.

Cameron White was in a shell. He made 5 runs off 23 balls when he was deceived by flight, loop and the googly from Mishra, his opposite number in the Indian team. White, a fellow leg spinner, did not pick the wrong ‘un, which sneaked past between bat and outstretched pad, to clang into the leg stump. This was an absolutely beautiful piece of bowling by the young leg spinner.

Australia went to lunch on 174-7 in 66 overs with Watson on 32 and Brett Lee on 5. This was clearly India’s session and the SBS score read [India 5.25, Australia 1.75]. India was way in front at this stage and it would need something special from the Australians to get back into the game.

Session-2:

Indeed, Australia did put on something quite special after lunch. Shane Watson has been a bridesmaid in Australian cricket for long. In all the time that his prowess has been trumpeted, he hasn’t actually delivered much at all. It didn’t help that he kept breaking down every time the wind speed picked up!

But here, he played a terrific hand and in Brett Lee, he had a willing and able ally. The thing, however, that was most in their favour, was the positive intent. Unlike their more illustrious batting colleagues, Watson and Lee played their shots and did not allow the situation to get on top of them. So much so that, at one stage, one thought that they could pull off a Harbhajan-Zaheer type miracle for Australia! They played with terrific ease and nothing seemed to rattle them.

During the afternoon, Zaheer Khan indulged in a bit of banter with Brett Lee. Soon after, Brett Lee exchanged air-kisses with Ishant Sharma after taking an excellent Sharma bouncer on his back. It was all pretty competitive and good-natured.

Of course, our friend Malcolm Conn at “The Australian” saw it through a radically different lens and wrote this piece of prose about that passage in play:

…the pair brought up their 50 partnership, Zaheer Khan failed to gather a defensive shot from Lee at the first attempt and went to throw before having words with the Australian.

Lee smiled broadly and both batsmen laughed when Zaheer, who was storming about the pitch, turned his attention to Watson.

Then Singh aimed up at Watson for a concerted conversation as the mid-afternoon drinks break arrived.

Immediately after drinks Lee continued to smile broadly when the first delivery with the second new ball, from Ishant Sharma, was short and struck Lee in the back as he turned away.

By the end of the over it appeared that umpires Rudi Koertzen and Asad Rauf had heard enough. They stood mid-pitch with the batsmen and waited for Dhoni to run past.

As he did Koertzen pointed to the stand-in skipper and spoke to him before Dhoni and Watson had another chat as the keeper took his position behind the stumps.

Zaheer was at the centre of a spat while batting in the first Test, twice confronting wicket-keeper Brad Haddin and then complaining to captain Ricky Ponting after the gloveman disagreed with Zaheer about the drizzly, murky weather.

Shane Watson, one of the players that shared the “spat” stage with Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma hosed down any suggestions of a violent spat between the teams and said,

“There was actually a lot of extremely friendly banter I thought. Obviously it was challenging but me and Brett were having a great time out there. The quicks were having a good crack and the umpires just came together and said ‘we don’t want this getting out of hand.’ It was never going to get out of hand. It was friendly banter and there should always be that in any sport, especially Test cricket when everyone is challenging each other. It makes things pretty enjoyable. You don’t want to be out there and it’s really dull and boring and no one says anything. You want a bit going on to keep everything going.”

So much for Malcolm Conn’s wild theories about World War III about to break out!

When Shane Watson was on 44, I thought the umpire Rudi Koertzen made the worst mistake I have seen any umpire make — and I mean, even grade cricket umpires!

Ishant Sharma bowled a beauty off the first ball of a new spell to Shane Watson. The ball jagged back from a good length spot and hit Watson on the pad, about half way between knee-roll and shoe. When ball hit pad, Watson was bang in front of middle-and-off-stump. The ball was certainly going to hit one of the stumps about half-way. Unfortunately, this stump that the ball would have hit was neither off stump or leg stump! In other words, I have not seen an LBW shout that was more convincing than this one! Yet Rudi Koertzen pursed his lips, almost chided Ishant Sharma for appealing, and said, “Not out”!

Unfortunately, though not surprisingly — given the hate-filled and bitterness-colured lens that he possibly watches his cricket through — this incident did not make Malcolm Conn’s report on the days’ play!

The new ball did not make much of a dent in Australia’s progress. Slowly, yet steadily, Shane Watson and Brett Lee ate into the lead. This was impressive batting, to say the least.

Just before the Tea break though, Harbhajan Singh bowled a beauty – a doosra — to have Brett Lee caught by Rahul Dravid in the slips.

Australia went to Tea on 249-8 off 93.0 overs with Watson on 66 and Mitchell Johnson on 2. This was Australia’s session, thanks to the positive mindset displayed by Watson and Lee. Perhaps the other Australian batsmen can take a leaf out of the books of these two?

The SBS score read [India 5.25, Australia 2.75].

Session-3:

The moment Brett Lee went, one could sense that the end of the Australian innings was near. And indeed, the end came swiftly. Exactly 7 overs after Tea, Amit Mishra took the last two wickets (Shane Watson was out LBW and Peter Siddle was stumped by M. S. Dhoni) to secure a 5-fer on debut. This was an impressive performance by the young lad on a pitch that didn’t really afford too much assistance to the spinners. I’d like to believe that he could be quite a handful on a turning pitch.

Australia was all out for 268 (India had a lead of 201) off 101.4 overs in 454 minutes of batting. Australia made its runs at 2.63 rpo. The Indians bowled their overs at about 13.5 overs per hour (Note that the Australians had bowled at 13 overs per hour).

India came out swinging. There were no second-innings shackles to hold down Virender Sehwag who came out in a belligerent mood. He played sensibly in the company of the company of the aggressive Gautam Gambhir to get India off to a rollicking start.

The two India batsmen were ably assisted by a overly defensive Ricky Ponting! Ponting should have tried to get Sehwag out! Instead he spread the field from the very first over and that allowed the Indians to pick up singles almost at will. The bad ball was spanked to the boundary. The defensive tactic did not actually pay off! By the end of the days’ play, India were travelling at about 4.34 runs per over! So the sense of that ploy wasn’t actually clear to me!

India finished the day on 100 off 23 overs (at 4.34 rpo). The SBS Score reads [India 6.25, Australia 2.75]

End points:

It was a pleasure to watch Harbhajan Singh and Amit Mishra bowl yesterday on a placid pitch. The deliveries that got Cameron White and Brad Haddin bowled were particularly pleasing. Amit Mishra may cherish the wicket of Michael Clarke as perhaps his best ever, but I liked the way he teased Cameron White out with a ball that had flight, dip and zip off the pitch. Similarly, the ball that Harbhajan Singh bowled to Brad Haddin was a corker. Not many batsmen would have been able to keep that away from the stumps. The pitch was not conducive to spin bowling — particularly finger spin. There wasn’t much bounce and although there was some turn, it was quite slow. Yet, the two Indian spinners bowled well in tandem. But one thing worked in favour of the Indian spinners. They bowled attackingly. They asked questions constantly and continually. They pressed for wickets. They played with a positive mindset.

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

As is normal in India-Australia games these days, most commentators and writers concluded their overnight reports with the following statement, “The first hour and the first session in tomorrow’s game will be crucial to the fortunes of both teams.” More than being just an oft-repeated cliche, which it is, this statement goes to the heart of why India-Australia series are such gripping contests lately. If, for all five days of a Test match “the first hour is crucial”, clearly there is some good cricket being played; clearly both teams are playing fighting cricket; clearly, both teams are in it to get something out of it right until the last day!

Session-1:

India started the day at 311-5, perhaps slightly ahead of the Australians. India needed the night-watchman, Ishant Sharma to stay and make things difficult for the Australians. The long-haired lad, playfully referred to as, “Instant Karma” by my friends’ son, did just that! He didn’t score particularly quickly. Indeed, he didn’t score much at all. But he presented a straight bat and hung around while his partner, Sourav Ganguly, settled in for the long haul. When he got out much of the morning juice was gone from the wicket too. It brought in a fresh, eager and combative M. S. Dhoni to the crease.

Dhoni commenced his scoring with a hooked 4 and a breathtaking hooked 6! He didn’t look back from there. He mixed caution and aggression and, at times, bravado, to keep the scoreboard ticking. Ishant Sharma had been thought out of the crease by a Peter Siddle bouncer. And Dhoni had hooked his first two run-scoring balls. These two may have prompted the Australians to go down the dig-the-ball-in route. It was a strange route to take on what was a placid pitch. It also played right into Dhoni’s hands. He met the bumper-challenge head-on. He trusted the bounce on the pitch and either came forward or rocked back with time and panache. He looked supremely confident and followed up his confidence with bold strokes.

Dhoni’s aggressive strategy could have back-fired. But Dhoni is not the kind of guy that takes a backward step. Self-doubts do not enter his mind at the time of execution. He bases his moves on his self-belief and once he makes a decision, he does not back down from it. This reflected in his batting too. It was free-flowing and attractive. Captaincy did not seem to burden him. Indeed, as I wrote in my Day-1 review, captaincy seems to lift his game. He digs deeper and then, seems to express himself more freely.

Soon, the bowl-it-short strategy was discarded by the Australians.

Sourav Ganguly, at the other end, collected his runs in singles. He knew that his partner was batting really well, and aggressively. So, like the previous evening, when the run-scoring pressure was off his own shoulders, the old pro just rotated the strike.

At lunch, India was 401/6 in 111.0, with Ganguly on 91 and M. S. Dhoni on 45. There was no doubt that this was India’s session and the SBS score reads [India 2.75, Australia 1.25].

Session-2:

The way Ganguly and Dhoni were batting, it looked as if a score of 500 was quite easily possible. Indeed, that may have been the target that the Indians were aiming for during the lunch break.

Soon after lunch, Ganguly got his century. It was a well-deserved, gritty century by the old-fox. The Australians call him a “serial offender”. Well, unfortunately for them, he had “offended” again. The Australians would have liked him to cower down and disappear quietly from the scene! But Ganguly had other plans! He always has other plans, when it comes to the Australians! They bring out the fighter in him! Australian media often say: “he has had this habit, right through his career, to get under the skins of the Australians.” Why? Because he scores runs? Because he was better at “mental disintegration” than Steve Waugh was? I can never quite understand it. But here he was again. Making a century on his farewell tour against his favourite opponent — something that Steve Waugh couldn’t script!

Ganguly made his century off 219 balls with just 8 4s. Quite unusual for a Ganguly century becuase of the low percentage of boundary shots. He had run the singles hard and fought his way to this century. It may not have been the most attractive of his 16 tons. But it was useful and it showed that the old pony still had a few tricks left in him. As Will Swanton says in The Age, “His biggest accomplishment has been getting up the noses of a team which succeeded in getting up the noses of everyone else — Australia.”

The romantics in the press gallery may have wanted Ganguly to take back his retirement decision. However, after the game, he made it clear that there was no way he would turn back the clock! He indicated that he is committed to his pre-series retirement announcement.

In a bid to up the scoring rate, just after reaching his century, Ganguly gave it all away — as he so often does — and swatted a Cameron White ball down Brett Lee’s throat at long on. He departed for a well-made 102. If he had hung around for longer, an India score of around 500 may have been possible. Although Dhoni found a higher gear to improve the scoring rate, Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan were unable to hang around and be a menace, as they had, in Bengaluru! Dhoni started taking the aerial route in a spread-out defensive field. And it was working. He had moved to 92 and was looking good for a well-compiled century.

But Dhoni’s plans were cut adrift by a wayward umpire. Rudi Koertzen, who did not refer a close Ganguly stumping call ‘upstairs’ on day-1, decided that it was time to bring the Indian innings to a close. With Dhoni just 8 short of what would have been a fighting hundred, Rudi Koertzen declared that Dhoni was out LBW. Even if one ignored the inside-edge, the ball was sliding down the leg-side!

India had closed their innings at 469 off 129 overs at 3.64 runs per over — and in 594 mins at an over-rate of 13.03 overs per hour! This is really a terrible over-rate and I am truly surprised that the Match Referee has done nothing about it this far in the match.

Australia needed a strong start. But that was not to be! Once again, Zaheer Khan breached Matthew Hayden’s defence in the first over itself! Make that Zaheer-3, Hayden-0! Zaheer Khan had backed up his pre-match talk with on-field excellence. Matthew Hayden is an important cog in this Australian wheel. A free-scoring Hayden rubs off on the Australian team. A Hayden in self-doubt (Ashes 2005, for example) passes it on these doubts the rest of the team! On this tour, Hayden has made scores of 0, 13 and 0! It may not be time to press the panic button yet, but with Hayden’s early departure here at Mohali, Australia was in trouble and it showed in the scoring rate. That initial loss pushed them into a defensive mindset. And the moment that happens, the opposition is already on top. Australia went to Tea at 13-1 in 6 overs.

Had Australia not lost a wicket, I’d have been tempted to call that an Australia session. But with the loss of Hayden’s wicket, I called this an even session. The SBS score reads [India 3.25, Australia 1.75].

Last Session:

If there was some doubt in awarding the 2nd session of the day to either team, there was no doubt in this 3rd session. This was India’s session all the way. Once again, given Australia’s terrible over-rate earlier in the day, play had had to be extended beyond the normal curtains-down-time for the day.

First to go was Ricky Ponting. He was out LBW to his emerging nemesis, Ishant Sharma for 5 off 23 balls. Simon Katich was next to go, bowled by the leg-spinning debutant, Amit Mishra. Mishra got the ball to hit the edge of the pad, bounce off Katich’s body and clang into the stumps. There was a fair amount of rip in that delivery to cause the damage.

Things may have been worse for Australia had Dhoni latched on to a difficult catch off the edge of Michael Hussey’s bat off Harbhajan Singh’s bowling. But that wasn’t to be. Harbhajan Singh was getting some turn although he tended to look for bounce more than turn, in my view. Amit Mishra was bowling well too.

But what was most surprising was the amount of reverse swing Zaheer Khan was getting. The only thing that the Australian bowlers had swung in India’s first innings was their hips! But here, Zaheer Khan was getting a fair amount of swing.

It is Australia’s mindset that was most un-Australian. As I have said on a few occasions in the past, once Australia loses that dominance-mindset, much more than just runs are lost. Other teams can sense an opportunity and start moving in; closing the gap. With Haddin, White and Watson to follow, Australian teams of the past will not have allowed the field to gradually move further and further in to take control of the game. This Australian team seems intent on “new age cricket” and what they got again was to put themselves into “defensive mindset”!

Australia had made 102-3 off 40.4 overs (at 2.49 rpo) when Michael Clarke was LBW off the last ball of the day. Amit Mishra went around the stumps and got a ball to just straighten a bit. As he had in Bangalore, when he fell off the last ball of the day, Clarke went again in Mohali. At 102-4 Australia are not totally out of it, but they are in trouble.

At the end of the day, the SBS Score reads [India 4.25, Australia 1.75].

End points:

If India can grab a few quick wickets on day-3, much of the debate will turn to whether or not India can/will enforce the follow-on! But Australia are not out of it yet. Australia bats deep and will be looking first at Brad Haddin, Shane Watson and Cameron White to make some big scores. Haddin is a good player of spin and played well in Bengaluru. Australia will also look to the lower order to contribute strongly as India’s lower-order had, in Bengaluru. And Michael Hussey is… Michael Hussey!

Clearly, the first session of the day is going to be crucial for both teams!!

— Mohan

India Vs Australia :: 1st Test :: Bangalore :: Day-4

India started the day at 313 for 8, still well behind the Aussie total of 430. The Aussies still had upper hand in the game, but the situation could have been a lot worse if it hadn’t been for the efforts of the Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan on day 3. India’s game plan would have been to occupy as much time at the crease as possible, add another 30-40 runs, and get Australia out for under 200 runs to have any remote chance of winning the game. Even if everything fell into place, it would be a tall order for a 5th day pitch.

Pre-lunch session

The first part of India’s plan went according to plan. They occupied the crease for another 18 overs and added a further 47 runs bringing the lead down to just 70 runs. Considering the fact that when Ganguly – the last recognized batsman, was out when the score was 232, it was great rear guard fight back. But for the last 3 wickets adding 128 runs, India would have been a lot worse. Zaheer Khan was  not out on 57, making him the highest scorer in the Indian camp to nicely go with his five wicket haul in the Australian first innings.

The Aussies were left with 6 overs to negotiate before the lunch break and there were a few nervous moments for the Aussies including a first over LBW shout of the bowling of Zaheer Khan. The Aussies went in with their score on 9 for no loss.

Post-lunch session

The Indian skipper didn’t take the field before the lunch session and he was again a notable absentee on the field. Dhoni was captaining the team and he started the session with Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh. My initial thoughts were that he should have started the session again with Zaheer and Ishant, but in Harbhajan’s defense, he did bowl a lot better than he did in the first innings.

The over cautious, slow Aussie approach before the lunch break was understandable, but they continued in the same vein after lunch. The scoring rate by Australian standards was appalling. May be it had something to do with their “New Age Cricket” approach. Or may be it was the pitch. Or may be it was the Indian bowling. Or may be, it was a combination of all three as the scoring rate dipped to around 1.96 in the 26th over (51 runs).

But by that time, India had already scalped the two vital wickets of Hayden and Ponting. Zaheer had Hayden dismissed LBW for 13, while Ishant Sharma had Ponting caught at mid wicket for 17. Ponting’s dismissal was a beauty as he was outfoxed by a slower delivery from Ishant and ended up offering a low catch to Laxman.

At Tea, the Aussies were 74/2 in the 33 overs they had faced and the session clearly belonged to India.

Post-tea session

Earlier, in the post lunch session, Gambhir had dropped Katich of the bowling of Harbhajan Singh. After Tea, Harbhajan eventually got his man when Katich just prodded at a a flighted delivery that bounced a bit and lobbed a simple catch to silly point. He had occupied the crease a fair bit (140 balls), but had only scored 34 runs. His dismissal brought in Clarke who hit the very first ball for a boundary. I was starting to think that maybe having Katich at the crease was probably a good thing 🙂

But Ishant Sharma again bowled a slower delivery to Clarke and suckered him into driving straight into the hands of Sehwag. Australia at that stage were 115/4.

A few overs later, it was the turn of Hussey to go as he shoulderd arms to a ball pitched outside his off stump, only to see it turn in to hit his stump. It hit a crack on the way and turned like a Warnie leg break to have the Aussies reeling at 128/5 in the 51st over.

With the over all lead at just under 200 and the top order back in the pavilion, the Indians were seeing a glimmer of hope. But the pair of Haddin and Watson had other plans. There were quite a few dropped chances and streaky shots, but they managed to score runs and do it fast. At the end of the day, they had stretched the lead to 263.

Ponting must be hoping to score some quick runs in the first hour or so of play tomorrow before he declares leaving the Indians a score of around 330.

72 overs were enough for Ponting to claim the 10 Indian wickets for victory on the final day at Sydney last summer, but he was also criticized for being too cautious and delaying his declaration. He will have that on his mind before he does his declaration tomorrow, but then the Bangalore wicket is quite different to the Sydney one and the cracks in the pitch are also widening up. And just as India was a bowler short for most of the day (Kumble was off the field for a major portion of the day and is bowling with an injury), the Aussies may be short of a full strength bowling attack as Stuart Clark is apparently carrying an injury too.

At this stage though, only 2 results seem likely – either an Australian victory or a draw. Unless the Indians pull a rabbit out of the hat…

-Mahesh-

India Vs Australia :: 1st Test :: Bangalore :: Day-1

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!

Pre-Lunch Session:

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!

Post-Lunch Session:

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.

Post-Tea Session:

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!

— Mohan

Team India for ODIs in Sri Lanka and Champions Trophy

As expected, MS Dhoni has returned from a self-inflicted “rest” and has been selected as captain of the Team India ODI side to take on Sri Lanka after the conclusion of the Test series.

Ishant Sharma has been “rested” for the Sri Lanka ODIs, but will return for the Champions Trophy. Munaf Patel, who has been picked for the Sri Lanka tour, will only play in Sri Lanka.

Parthiv Patel has been included as MS Dhoni’s understudy for the Sri Lanka tour. However, Parthiv Patel will return to India after the Sri Lanka ODIs and will not take part in the Champions Trophy.

Is this then and indicator to Parthiv Patel playing instead of Dinesh Karthik in the 3rd and final Test between Sri Lanka and India? Time will tell.

As expected, Sachin Tendulkar comes back into the side that played the Asia Cup. He will most likely open the innings with Virender Sehwag, with Gautam Gambhir at #3. The Gambhir-Sehwag combination will need to wait a while before exploding in ODIs!

Interestingly, no vice-captain has been announced!

Sachin Tendulkar
Virender Sehwag
Gautam Gambhir
Suresh Raina / Virat Kohli
Rohit Sharma
Yuvraj Singh
Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt)
Irfan Pathan
Harbhajan Singh / Pragyan Ojha
Praveen Kumar / Munaf Patel
Zaheer Khan / RP Singh

with

Parthiv Patel (drinks!)

Yusuf Pathan gets the flick! It is unfortunate, but perhaps understandable! He did not really set the ground alight. But the man has enough potential to bounce back into reckoning.

Piyush Chawla has also been shown the door. Now, Chawla, who bowled quite brilliantly in the ODIs in England last year and in Australia earlier in 2008, was quite rudely exposed when bowling to Pakistan and Sri Lanka in the Asia Cup. He would probably benefit from refining his trade. With Harbhajan Singh returning to the fold like the prodigal son, and with Pragyan Ojha seizing his Asia Cup opportunities, it is appropriate, perhaps, that Chawla cools his heels a bit.

Another player that has been shown the door is Robin Uthappa. Once again, the case could be made that he perhaps did not deliver on the many opportunities he has been afforded. In his place, Virat Kohli comes in, on the back of his U-19 exploits and his strong showing in the recently concluded Emerging Players Tournament in Brisbane. S. Badrinath, who also had a strong Emerging Players tournament, would be perhaps justified in feeling a bit desolate at being overlooked — again!

Given the combination that the team has gone with, unless one of Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma and Yuvraj Singh sit out (quite unlikely), India will go in with only 4 mainline bowlers — possibly Zaheer Khan, Praveen Kumar, Irfan Pathan and Harbhajan Singh! Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh will need to bowl out the 5th bowlers quota. This lack of balance has always been India’s weak suit — especially considering that Irfan Pathan is one of these 4 frontline bowlers! If any of these 4 bowlers has an an off day — and Irfan Pathan can have them easily — the bowling can get taken to the cleaners!

The tough alternative would be to replace Suresh Raina with a bowler. It is unlikely that the team would do that, particularly after Raina’s good showing in the Asia Cup!

Interesting days ahead…

— Mohan

Team for Asia Cup Hong Kong game

With a view to the long season of relentless cricket ahead, it would be nice if the team could rest some key players for the game against Hong Kong today (Wed 25 June) in India’s opener in the Asia Cup 2008. Irfan Pathan will be rested because he appears to be carrying a side-strain into the tournament. However, I do believe that a few other players ought to be rested including captain M. S. Dhoni! Radical, I know, but with Dhoni playing in both Tests as well as ODIs and Twenty20’s, his body has been taking a fair pounding in recent months. So much so that in several of Chennai’s T20 games in the IPL, he played but did not keep wickets!

With the amount of cricket that is being played these days, the main workload impact would be on the pace bowlers. Fortunately, India does have a bench strength in this department and it would be a good idea to test this out in games against the likes of Hong Kong!

Unfortunately, the team only has M. S. Dhoni as wicketkeeper. It would be interesting to throw Robin Unthappa in as ‘keeper and see how he goes — after all, he did start his career as a useful ‘keeper.

In the Kitply Cup finals against Pakistan, I thought Dhoni got his knickers in an awful twist through his obsession with left-right combinations. This made him switch batting positions of players with not much thought other than the left-right design. This policy ought to be junked in preference for a batting order that is dictated by the match-situation. All pre-match indications are that that would indeed be the case.

My team for the Hong Kong match would, therefore, be:

V Sehwag
G Gambhir
SK Raina
RG Sharma
Yuvraj Singh (captain)
RV Uthappa (‘keeper)
YK Pathan
PP Chawla
P Kumar
M Gony
RP Singh
12th man: PP Ojha

This will give Irfan Pathan, Ishant Sharma and M. S. Dhoni a rest.

However, this may be a bridge too far for the Indians who may, I think, go with M. S. Dhoni as ‘keeper for the game.

— Mohan

Welcome back, Mr. Kaif!

Sachin Tendulkar’s unfortunate pulling out of the Ahmedabad test due to a groin strain has come as a blessing in disguise for the captain of Uttar Pradesh. Mohd. Kaif has had a wonderful domestic season and deservedly gets called back into the test side. We at i3j3had earlier written to the effect that the Indian selectors should identify and show faith in a handful of batsmen as eventual replacements for the fab four and suggested Kaif as one of those. His fitness and fielding abilities should certainly bring some dynamism back to the Indian fielding routine which was quite abysmal in the Chennai test. While some may argue that India would have been better off introducing someone like S. Badrinath or even recalling Gautam Gambhir, I personally think bringing Mohd. Kaif back is a well-informed decision.

It would certainly be interesting to see if Mohd. Kaif does get included in the playing eleven especially with Yuvraj Singh in the fourteen. It is a tough call but my gut tells me that Kaif might just squeeze in. He is in good form, fresh and is carrying no baggage at the moment. Yuvraj might consider himself unlucky but may have to wait a bit longer to get back in the playing eleven. On the playing eleven itself, while there has been talk of playing three spinners, I do not think Piyush Chawla will make it. I think India will go with Ishant Sharma, Sreesanth/Irfan Pathan as the pacemen and retain the rest of the lineup.

Good luck, Mr. Kaif!!

– Srikanth