Tag Archives: Jaffer

The show must go on…

Television, Radios, print media and the blogosphere reporting on cricket have all been running full steam on umpiring decisions, the game being played in the right spirit, racial slurs, bans and the lot after the Sydney test. I thought I’d break the monotony with a post on actual cricket.

Australia lead the series 2-0 and the focus now shifts to the Perth test which starts in a week. The Australians dominated the MCG test and were the clear winners. It was a different story at the SCG. Although they won the SCG test, the match was very much in the open till the 5th day morning. To the credit of Hussey and Symonds, they batted India out of the game and by lunch time, only 2 results were possible – either an Australian win or a tame draw. If it hadn’t been for bad umpiring decisions through out the game and an Indian batting collapse on the final day, we could have had a very different result and the Indians can take some consolation from that.

For starters, the fab four – Dravid, Laxman, Tendulkar and Ganguly were amongst the runs. Even more heartening was the fact that in Dravid’s second innings, he seemed to have lost the shackles that tied him down in the first innings and the first test. In the bowling department, RP Singh excelled in the first innings and troubled the batsmen even in the second. Ishant was a bit unlucky, but we really missed Zaheer Khan. Kumble as always was reliable and Harbhajan bowled much much better than the MCG test.

Ok – those were the positives;  what about the negatives? Wasim Jaffer has been really disappointing so far and in my opinion should make way for Sehwag. Yuvraj Singh is also completely out of sorts. He needs to make way for Pathan, which will give us the extra fast bowling option in Perth (I can’t even imagine going to Perth with just 2 fast bowlers!) If I were a selector, I wouldn’t pick Harbhajan Singh for Perth – but that is unlikely to happen (Apparently he is allowed to play until the appeal is hear). I also think it is unlikely that Pankaj Singh or VRV Singh will replace Ishant Sharma in the playing XI. We managed to take 17 Australian wickets but at a cost of 864 runs. Unless we get all twenty wickets at a much lower cost, India don’t stand a chance. The batsmen – particularly the big 4 will have to play well again. My guess is that Pathan, Pankaj Singh, VRV Singh and Sehwag will be given a chance to play in the 2-day tour game in Canberra, which starts tomorrow.

Of course, Australia start as the overwhelming favourites. The bouncy wickets of WACA will be a challenge to the Indians and let us hope they put up a good fight like they did in Sydney. If the match does not have a clear winner on the morning of day 5, I’ll be a happy man.

Most likely team –

  • Sehwag
  • Dravid
  • Laxman
  • Tendulkar
  • Ganguly
  • Dhoni
  • Pathan
  • Kumble
  • Harbhajan Singh
  • RP Singh
  • VRV Singh/Ishant Sharma

-Mahesh-

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Australia v India :: Test 2 :: Day 1

Australia-1, India-1, Umpires-1

Posting at 11.00am, AEST

India started the day badly on four counts: (a) They lost Zaheer Khan to an injury, (b) India selected Ishant Sharma for Zaheer Khan, (c) Anil Kumble lost the toss and Ricky Ponting chose to bat, thereby having last use of a pitch that would take spin, (d) India went in with an unchanged side (but for a change forced by injury).

There was no need to plunge into a full-scale panic after the thrashing that India received in the 1st Test against Australia at the MCG. However, I felt that there was a change or two that may have been needed. As it happened, the only change was a forced one! It was nice to hear Anil Kumble deflect the pressure off Rahul Dravid saying “He is too good a player to be worried by a poor performance in the 1st Test“, and stuff like that. However, I’d have thought that there were a few questions that needed to be asked of the batsmen; if nothing, the batting order. However, the only change that India made was a forced one! It was a blow to India that Zaheer Khan was ruled out, after a fitness test, with about 30 minutes to go to the start of play! In his absence, the right thing to do may have been to bolster the bowling (and obliquely, the batting) with both Irfan Pathan and Ishant Sharma. Ishant Sharma for Zaheer Khan was not a like-for-like replacement in my books, especially given the indifferent bowling form of R. P. Singh. An already weak bowling group suddenly looked even weaker. Having said that, I have no problem with the choice of Ishant Sharma — as I said in my 1st days’ report in the Boxing Day Test match, Ishant Sharma should have been part of the make up for the 1st Test itself!

It was nice to see Anil Kumble support his batting group. He seemed to say to the batsmen, “Same batsmen. Same batting order. Different batting“.

India started well in the bowling department. Both R. P. Singh and Ishant Sharma started with maiden overs. The order of play was somewhat similar to proceedings at the MCG where the Australians batted cautiously and where the Indian bowlers beat the bat often.

Unlike the MCG though where the Australian opening batsmen played and missed for much of the first 45 minutes, local boy, Phil Jaques top-edged one from R. P. Singh to M. S. Dhoni in the 3rd over and Australia were 0 for 1 wicket. R. P. Singh and Ishant Sharma had begun proceedings well. They were making the Australians play. Not much was left alone and there weren’t too many balls on the pads. There weren’t too many gimme balls either. This was good bowling by the Indians early on.

This bought Ricky Ponting to the crease. With all the pre-match talk from Harbhajan Singh and Ricky Ponting, one almost expected Harbhajan Singh to bowl the 4th over of the match!

Harbhajan had joked at the MCG that he hadn’t seen enough of Ricky Ponting to have a plan for the Australian batsmen on this tour! Not many of the Australians liked this statement! They seemed to think that Harbhajan Singh gets constantly under the skin of the Aussies! To Ricky Pontings’ credit, he acknowledged that there was a serious problem. He said, “He’s got a great record in Tests against me. It was lean last week, I had almost as many catches as runs. But I had a good net, I’m coming off a couple of hundreds in the ODIs [against New Zealand] and I’m feeling good to go.

Ricky Ponting started positively though! He wasn’t ‘falling over’ as he tends to do early on in his innings. This was a good sign for Australia and not a good sign for India. Rickey Ponting, who has 5 hundreds in 12 Tests (1226 runs at an average of 81.73, with a highest score of 207), looked set for many more runs here!

At the time of posting, after 6 overs, Australia was 16/1.

Posting at 12.00, AEST

Things were going swimmingly for Australia despite the loss of Jaques. Australia were scoring somewhat freely and easily. They were taking the singles and the occassional boundary. Yuvraj Singh seemed to carry his ordinary fielding form from the MCG to the SCG.

Then, against the run of play, R. P. Singh brought one in to Matthew Hayden who proceeded to edge the ball to the slips cordon! This was a most unusual dismissal. One would have thought that a top-class batsman would not outside-edge a ball that was coming in to him! But that was exactly what happened. The catch travelled between M. S. Dhoni, the wicket-keeper, and Sachin Tendulkar, the 1st slip fielder. In normal circumstances, M. S. Dhoni would have caught it. However, given that the ball was dipping in to Matthew Hayden, Dhoni’s balance was towards his right. Sachin Tendulkar proceeded to take a smart catch to get Hayden out. Australia were 27 for 2 and Hayden was out for 13!

With Michael Hussey and Ricky Ponting at the crease, scoring suddenly seemed to accelerate. Hussey seemed to be a man in a hurry! At the end of the 11th over, Australia were 42 for 2! Despite the loss of 2 wickets, Australia were still scoring at about 4 an over!

The 12th over saw Sourav Ganguly come on to bowl. Ganguly had bowled well against Pakistan in India and, with Zaheer Khan injured, he needed to bowl well.

In the 14th over of the match, all the Indians went up in a huge appeal off Ricky Ponting, who tickled a ball floating down the legside to the hands of M. S. Dhoni. The Indians were already celebrating before they noticed that the umpire had turned down the appeal.

TV replays showed that Ponting was indeed quite lucky to still be there. India could feel hard-done by. Australia would have been 45 for 3 if the decision had gone India’s way!

Ishant Sharma came back for a second spell. The long-haired Ishant Sharma — perhaps India’s answer to Jason Dizzy Gillespie — seemed to be growing in strength and was bowling a good line and length. However, the Australians kept the scoreboard busy and got to 59 for 2 off 18 overs.

Lunch: Posting at 12.30, AEST

The not-out decision against Ricky Ponting could cost India a lot in this game. Was the match result going to hinge on this one bad decision by umpire Mark Benson? I would be willing to bet that Benson would have given an Indian out. Not because he is biased, but most umpires tend to get swayed by the vociferousness of appeals by Australian teams. Ricky Ponting was on 17 at that time, and he was already making that reprieve count.

Signs from India were that the team was looking down after not getting that appeal in their favour. Ishant Sharma got taken to the cleaners in one over by Ricky Ponting and Ganguly looked ineffective after that over.

There was much excitement in the air when Harbhajan Singh came on to bowl the 20th over of the match. He did not get to bowl to Ricky Ponting in that over, but with all the pre-match talk, one couldn’t wait to see these two have a go at each other! In his second over, Harbhajan Singh did induce a false stroke from Ponting. The wily Indian offie bowled a flighted delivery down legside. Ponting missed it. The resulting stumping chance was not completed by M. S. Dhoni. And so, Ricky Ponting commenced his 3rd (virtual) innings in the same dig! This could be a very costly miss for India, who continued to look flat in the field after being turned down by the umpire.

It was upto the captain to pull things together for his team. Anil Kumble came on to bowl the last two overs prior to lunch. Not much happened and so, Australia went to lunch on 2 for 95 off 25 overs. If India had got that 3rd wicket I may have given that session to India. But given the rate at which the Australians scored, it should be scored as an even session.

India looked more alive on the field. Both the pacemen looked good and solid. It was nice to see R. P. Singh bowl with much more purpose and zeal. The Indian in-fielding looked good, if not sharp. Harbhajan Singh bowled more slowly and did give the ball more flight than he normally does. But the Australians batted with purpose and did not let the situation bog them down. All in all, this was an interesting session of Test match cricket.

Posting at 13:37, AEST

Proceedings after the lunch break commenced with R. P. Singh and Harbhajan Singh. They were bowling to a Micheal Hussey and Ricky Ponting who seemed intent on stealing every single possible. This was positive-intent batting at its best. The batsmen created pressure on the fielders with Dinesh Karthik (fielding substitute) and Yuvraj Singh — the two best fielders in the Indian lineup — respectively, over running the ball and approaching the ball lethargically. The odd ball was smashed for a boundary too.

The SCG outfield was much better for Test match cricket than the MCG outfield. The batsmen got maximum value for their power shots. This is how a Test match outfield should behave. The MCG outfield was, in my view, way below standard for Test match cricket.

Ponting raced to 50 off 66 balls; this was starting to get dangerous for India. The fielding was starting to look ragged at this stage. This was epitomised by a skied ball from Ricky Ponting to deep square-leg. This would have been a catch to a Dinesh Karthik or a Yuvraj Singh. Rahul Dravid was slow to get to it, missed the catch opportunity and the ball spun past him to the boundary for four! In that over, R. P. Singh bowled short and wide and non-sense. A few questions need to be asked. Why was R. P. Singh bowling short and wide to a set and positive batsman? Why was Rahul Dravid fielding at dee square leg?

Immediately after that, Harbhajan Singh got his man again! Ponting was out LBW to Harbhajan Singh for 55! Justice seemed to be served because Ricky Ponting had got an inside edge to that ball! He had been given out — when he was not out — 38 runs after he was out (but given not out, when he was on 17)! Harbhajan Singh bowled the doosra and got the Australian captain out — again! Australia was 119 for 3! Harbhajan Singh had backed up his pre-match smart-talk with some good work on the field. He had his ‘bunny’ again!

However, this certainly was an inside edge by Ricky Ponting who stood and glared at the umpire, Mark Benson on being declared out! I would be totally disappointed if umpire Mike Proctor does not pull the Australian captain for showing dissent/disbelief! Like Yuvraj Singh had done in Melbourne, I did not quite see Ponting glare at the umpire in a hostile manner when he was given not out on 17 when he had edged one to the ‘keeper! So, I did not see the reason for him to glare (and even say a few words) after he had made 38 bonus runs! As I said, it would certainly be interesting to see what Mike Proctor does at the end of the days’ play.

Suddenly 119 for 3 became 119 for 4 after Mike Hussey edged to Sachin Tendulkar in the slips cordon! Hussey played a one-day shot to that ball. He opened his bat-face to a ball that was marginally outside off stump to guide it to Sachin Tendulkar. At this stage, R. P. Singh was bowling defensively to a 7-2 off-side field!

After an ordinary post-lunch start, India had bounced back into the game by removing two well-set batsmen.

Posting at 13:45, AEST

119-4 became 121-5 when Micheal Clarke did not play a shot at an off beak from Harbhajan Singh. The Australians had the wobbles suddenly and the pressure was starting to tell. Michael Clarke too glared at umpire Mark Benson! Will he too need to introduce himself to Mike Proctor at the end of days’ play?

Either way, this was an extraordinarily bad shot from Michael Clarke, a batsman who had made a smart fifty in the previous innings! Harbhajan Singh is a bowler who normally takes a clutch of wickets when he takes one! He was bowling really well at this stage.

Posting at 13:56, AEST

R. P. Singh took his 4th wicket and Sachin Tendulkar took his 3rd catch of the innings when Adam Gilchrist edged to the slips cordon! I just couldn’t believe what was happening here. Australia seemed to be blowing its advantage here. They had won the toss and were not making it count. Australia were on the mat at 134 for 6. Australia had lost 4 wickets in 15 runs after lunch and the wobble was starting to look like a fall. Time would tell if this would become a free-fall.

The two Singhs — Harbhajan and R. P. — had got India back into the match in a huge manner.

Harbhajan Singh was bowling brilliantly. Harbhajan Singh was bowling as well as I have seen him bowl. There was guile in his bowling. He had loop, bounce and spin and was extracting whatever juice there was in the 1st day pitch.

R. P. Singh was bowling with maturity and temparament that defied his age. He had gone for a few, but he kept coming back — thanks also to some lose and listless batting from the Australians! R. P. Singh, as leader of the pace bowlers group, had put his hand up and was stepping up to the plate. His bowling figures at this stage read 12-2-50-4. Suddenly the Australians looked tentative. Where they may have taken two runs, they only took a single. There was cautious play with a lot more intent on innings-rebuilding.

What was heartening for India was that the best two bowlers in the 1st Test (Anil Kumble and Zaheer Khan) had hardly had a bowl in this innings and Australia were already 6 wickets down with not much on the board!

Posting at 15:10, AEST –Tea Time

In the 47th over of the match, I saw what was the worst ever decision on a cricket pitch by an umpire. Andrew Symonds got a healthy edge after hanging his bat out to a ball from Ishant Sharma. The resulting healthy edge was taken by M. S. Dhoni. The Indian fielders converged after what was a regulation, lip-service appeal. Symonds immediately looked back at the wicket keeper to see if it was caught. He even took a half step forward to mark his walk to the pavillion! All ducks were pointing to a raised finger to uphold the appeal. Unfortunately, umpire Steve Bucknor did not lift his finger. I am not sure what he thought the ball hit? The ball was away from the forearm or shirt sleeve! The edge was healthy and the sound was obvious for everyone to hear! Bucknor was asleep on the job! For the second time in the day, the Indians were done in by the umpires!

This is where I feel that the “appeals process” must come into play. With umpires as incompetent as this, I am sure we will soon see technology take the place of umpires.

With some attractive and positive batting and with some help from the umpires, Australia had moved to 204 for 6 off 49 overs! Brad Hogg and Andrew Symonds had put on 69 runs off 14.0 overs and were starting the rebuilding process with positive batting. In the previous passage of play, Ishant Sharma dropped a skied catch off Brad Hogg. Had that catch been taken and had the umpire been competent, India would have been well and truly on top here! But as it turned out, the game was running a bit away from India.

To make matters worse, Ishant Sharma disappeared into the pavillion. It seemed like he had injured his ankle, coming in to bowl to Andrew Symonds in anger after the caught behind appeal had been turned down! Youthful zest and immaturity perhaps from a 19-year-old!

But the proceedings were certainly wierd and that too for a team that had lost 6 wickets. Australia had made 213 for 6 off 52 overs at a run rate of 4.11! Australia had scored 119 runs in the session — a session in which they had lost 4 wickets! Hogg and Symonds had scored 80 runs in 17 overs at a run rate of 4.66 runs an over! Hogg was batting on an aggressive 48 off 56 balls and Symonds was on 39 off 64 (at a strike rate of 60.93)! In a strange twist, Hogg was the aggressor and Symonds provided the support role!

So, despite the loss of wickets, Australia was still batting in a positive and aggressive manner.

Despite the recovery, I give the Lunch-Tea session to India. India had taken four very important wickets — Ponting, Hussey, Clarke and Gilchrist. Any team that takes those four wickets in one session deserves the session regardles of how many runs are scored! The Session By Session (SBS) score, in my view, was 1.5 to India and 0.5 to Australia.

Posting at 16:00, AEST –Tea Time

R. P. Singh and Anil Kumble commenced proceedings after Tea. Brad Hogg continued his positive batting with two fours off the first two balls after Tea! Hogg and Symonds were batting attacking and positive cricket. But there was good news for the Indian batsmen too. Clearly the pitch was easing and batsmen could get value for their shots. Hogg hit some across the line and some on the up too. So, the Indian batsmen could play well too.

Hogg and Symonds recorded a 100 partnership off just 19.0 overs at a run rate of 5.26. Brad Hogg had made 58 runs and Symonds made 42!This was top batting from the Australians.

At 238 for 6, Kumble bowled a slow flighted delivery to Andrew Symonds. Symonds stretched forward, reached for the ball and Dhoni whipped the bails. The resulting appeal went to the 3rd umpire. The Channel-9 commentary team ruled Symonds out! There was daylight — albeit, a very thin ray of light — between his raised foot and the crease when the bails were whipped off. Dhoni had committed a smart stumping to have his man, one thought, although I will be the first to admit that there was some doubt. Perhaps this was a line-ball decision, but it looked totally out to me! Symonds was ruled not-out by the 3rd umpire! Like Ricky Ponting earlier on in the day, Andrew Symonds was on his third innings in the same dig!

Posting at 16:45, AEST

Australia had moved to an imposing (and seemingly improbable) 294 for 6! This was thanks to some inspired batting, some really, really poor umpiring, some somewhat ordinary bowling and a pitch that was easing. The last factor is, to me, the most telling. The second is infuriating.

The Indian batsmen will take heart from the fact that the pitch was easing. However, what was most infuriating for me was the terrible quality of the umpiring. I would most certainly like to see an appeals process in play in Test cricket to nullify such incompetence. The most galling of these was the caught behind that Bucknor slept through!

Australia, thanks to a splendid batting effort were starting to look healthy at this stage! The partnership recorded 160 runs off 33.3 overs at an improbable run rate of 4.77 with Hogg on 77 and Symonds on 83. Just before the drinks break, Symonds hit a ball that seemed to bounce just before it hit the top of the boundary rope! This was ruled as a six! Now, if a batsman can get the benefit of doubt in lineball calls, I wonder why bowlers can’t get a benefit of doubt on line ball six and boundary calls when the third umpire gets called in? The two extra runs may not count in the end analysis. However, the imbalance struck me as odd!

Soon afterwards, Andrew Symonds notched up his century. He made 100 off 128 deliveries with 11 4s and 2 6s at a tremendous strike rate of 78.12. The two Australian allrounders were pulling things back for their country. Australia reached 307 for 6! Indian shoulders were drooping.

Posting at 17:00, AEST

Soon after I posted by last update, after having made 79 in a partnership worth 173 runs, Brad Hogg jabbed one from Anil Kumble to Rahul Dravid at slip. The specialist slipper caught it sharply. The ball spun, bit and bounced and Hogg just poked at it. Hogg had batted sensibly, with energy and with purpose. He always looked in control and what’s more, he looked to be enjoying himself thoroughly! From a terrible position of 134 for 6, these two warriors — well one (Western) Warrior and one (Queensland) Bull — got Australia to 307 for 7, a position of near strength!

Brett Lee was out first ball, in my view. He stretched forward fully and was wrapped on his legs, adjacent to the stumps! Why the umpire did not give it out, I would not know. This was yet another bad call from the umpires who were having a horror day! My only hope is that the umpires continue to wake up on the wrong side of their hotel beds on the remaining days of this match!

Sachin Tendulkar, who had caught 3 smart catches in the slips, was now bowling at the other end. Harbhajan Singh who started the day so brilliantly, had started to spear them in, thanks to the fact the Symonds and Hogg never really let him settle down! This had been a display of very aggressive batting from these two Australian allrounders.

In the very next over, Andrew Symonds started his 4th innings of the matrch — in my view! He stretched forward to a fastish Anil Kumble ball and was wrapped on the pads. If that ball wasn’t going to hit the stumps, I just don’t know what it would have hit! However, umpire Benson must have seen something that everyone else could not see!

Posting at 17:15, AEST

The Indian bowling rate was terribly slow, but improving. The first session saw 25 overs bowled. The second session saw 27 overs bowled. And, with 15 minutes to go, India had already bowled 27 overs in the final session. The Channel-9 commentry team was getting stuck into the slow Indian bowling rate. And yes, it was slow! I would have taken the Channel-9 commentary team seriously if they got similarly stuck in to Australian team on day-2 of the MCG Test. At 5.30pm, the scheduled close time, the Australians were a good 8 overs behind the bowling rate on the second day of the 1st Test match. It is this one-eyed behaviour from the Channel-9 commentary team that makes me want to switch off.

The Indian team was starting to flag in the field and they needed something inspirational — a good fielding effort or a good catch. Sachin Tendulkar was bowling well and so was Anil Kumble. They just had to remove the remaining batsmen with not much more damage. The tactic seemed to be to give Symonds the easy single and then to attack Brett Lee. I am never a fan of this strategy at the best of times. On an easing pitch –like this one at the SCG — this strategy may come to haunt the Indian team!

At 17:15, India still had 10 overs to bowl in 15 minutes of play! They weren’t going to get there before the end of the days’ play, but they sure as hell bowled as fast (in terms of over rates), if not faster than the Australians did at the MCG!

Brett Lee was starting to settle in as well. And there were danger signs for India here! He was playing well and hitting the odd 4 too. He had moved on to 9 runs!Andrew Symonds, at the other end, was on 116 off 154 balls! The score was 7 for 337.

The run rate was a mind-boggling and situation-defying 4.2 runs per over!

The second new ball was now due!

Posting at 18:02, AEST — Close of days’ Play

R. P. Singh came on to bowl the 81st over of the day. Every indication was that Anil Kumble would take the new ball. But the batting indication was that they would go after the bowling. The first ball was cracked for a 4 through the covers and the new ball was taken immediately!

The first over with the new ball went for 3 fours — well, 2 fours with the new ball and 1 with the old ball. This wasn’t the kind of start India needed. But then, R. P. Singh was bowling to a well-set and positive batsman who was on his 4th innings!

Brett Lee smashed the 1st ball that he faced from Ishant Sharma for a 4 through point, indicating the dangers that lay ahead! A quick 50 runs off the remaining 10 overs could well demoralise the Indians. The partnership was already worth 47 runs off 62 balls with Lee making 18 off 34 balls! The run rate for the day was already 4.33! It seemed likely , at this stage, that Australia might make 400 in the days’ play!

There were 4s raining everywhere with some due to good batting and some due to poor fielding. Yuvraj Singh, on the mid wicket boundary, converted an easy single to a four as he let one through his legs.

It was unbelievable that, after being on the mat at 135-6, Australia would end the day on almost 400, scoring at a rate of nearly 4.5 runs an over! This was phenomenal cricket from this champion team.

R. P. Singh was bowling from around the wicket to Brett Lee. Only he will know why! He was bowling at Lee’s pads and all the bowler had to do was tuck it away. It would make sense if R. P. Singh took the ball away or got it to straighten. None of that was happening either!

Yuvraj Singh, meanwhile, was having a tough time in the outfield. He looked ragged and haggard. His dives were not going anywhere and he let a couple go through his legs!

Ishant Sharma was also having terrible problems with his run up. He was bowling into the end from which the wind was blowing in. He had 4 attempts to bowl the 4th ball of that over. The cause was probably the tunnel-effect that was as a result of the Doug Walters stand reconstruction. The redevelopment was causing a gusty wind to bowl through the park and straight in the path of the young Ishant Sharma. The unruly and jingoistic Sydney crowd gave Ishant Sharma the slow clap and the howl but the young lad somehow completed his over!

Sourav Ganguly came on for the next over and bowled a steady over. Harbhajan Singh bowled the 89th over of the match and was able to get good drift when he tossed it up. The Doug Waters stand reconstruction was certainly causing some problems for the bowlers as well as the batsmen! Sourav Ganguly finished off proceedings for the day with a steady over that went for not much!

The match finished at 18.02, 32 minutes past the scheduled close time! It will be interesting to see the Australian bowling rates as this match progresses.

I’d score the last session to Australia, thereby giving a SBS score of 1.5 to India and 1.5 to Australia. This is perhaps not a true reflection and if I were to look at the day as a whole, I’d probably give it to Australia for the amazing recovery that they made from being on the mat! But given that I was scoring the sessions as the game progressed, I will stick with calling it an even day!

India could look at an easing pitch. Traditionally, day-2 is the easiest for batting at the SCG. If they can get the remaining three Australian batsmen for not much, they can look to bat long and put on a decent score here.

Australia ended the day at a strong 376 for 7 at a scoring rate of 4.22 per over! Phenomenal, considering where they were at one stage. The Indians finished the day looking ragged and out of sorts. But they can take heart from the fact that they had the champion team on the mat. They cantake heart from the knoweledge that the pitch will ease. They have to pray that the umpires contine to remain as incompetent as they were today!

Ultimately for me though, this day was marked by terrific batting from Symonds and Hogg but it was thorughly ruined by the utter incompetence of the umpires. The last thing that a team needs when facing up to a champion team is to be up against the umpires too. But unfortunately, that is exactly what happened and the result was that an excellent day was turned into an ordinary day for the Indians. I can’t wait for the day when the ICC will implement an appeals process whereby captains can appeal two decisions per session in much the same way as tennis players can appeal two rulings per set. Bring it on, I say, to keep incompetence at bay!

— Mohan

Onwards to Sydney…

After the humiliating loss in the 1st Test, the Indian and Australian teams move to Sydney, usher in the New Year and play the next Test match, starting 2 January 2008.

Already there are signs of tension in the Indian camp with reports suggesting that the team was unhappy with the performance, the approach as well as the attitude of Yuvraj Singh! And this, even though Yuvraj Singh was accommodated to stuff up two other well-established senior pros in the team — namely, Rahul Dravid and V. V. S. Laxman!

Lalchand Rajput initially seemed to come out openly stating that he would have a face-to-face talk with Yuvraj Singh. Then, perhaps on instructions from the BCCI, these statements were retracted by the team with a more official statement from the teams’ media manager. Not all is well, it seems.

These are probably early signals that Yuvraj Singh will develop some mysterious illness over the next few days — “sore neck” and “mild fever” are early front runners — and will sit out the Sydney Test match!

At this stage, it is perhaps unlikely for any other Team India member to develop any further mysterious illnesses!

With this out of the way, in my opinion, the team can then chose from either one of Irfan Pathan or Virender Sehwag to open the batting in Sydney! Yes, that wasn’t a ptyo… Oops! Typo! I am indeed suggesting that one of Irfan Pathan or Virender Sehwag could open the batting in Sydney.

Virender Sehwag for Yuvraj Singh is a bat-for-bat swap that should have happened in Melbourne itself. It ought to happen for Sydney, espcially since Yuvraj Singh will develop a series of inexplicable medical complications!

Although Anil Kumble lay the blame for the loss in Melbourne on the batsmen, I believe he papered over the performance of the bowlers. The bowling wasn’t all that great in my view.

  • R. P. Singh had a problem all through the match with his line, length, attitude, temparament and form!
  • Zaheer Khan bowled far too many gimme balls and demonstrated a chronic noball problem!
  • Apart from, probably, two spells (one to Hogg in the 1st innings and the other to Hayden and Ponting in the 2nd dig) Harbhajan Singh tended to spear the ball down. He will not make a dent in Sydney if he continues to bowl in this manner!
  • Even Anil Kumble bowled badly to Matthew Hayden in the 1st innings. His second innings effort could be best described as average!

So, to exonerate the bowlers was a bit rich, in my view!

With this in mind, I also feel that the bowling needs tinkering/bolstering. I may have been tempted to straight-swap R. P. Singh for Irfan Pathan. However, I am not sure if Irfan Pathan’s bowling form is right up there. With that in mind, bolstering the bowling ranks may not be a terribly bad idea, in my view. The only way that can happen is if Irfan Pathan replaces a batsman. The only one he could replace would be Wasim Jaffer. Irfan Pathan has opened for India before. I believe he has a sound technique to play against the Australians. With Sehwag at the other end, he need not worry about scoring runs at a healthy clip. I may be tempted to play him in Sydney!

So, my team for Sydney would be:

Wasim Jaffer / Irfan Pathan
Virender Sehwag
Rahul Dravid
Sachin Tendulkar
V. V. S. Laxman
Sourav Ganguly
M. S. Dhoni
Anil Kumble
Harbhajan Singh
Zaheer Khan
R. P. Singh

— Mohan

Australia v India :: Boxing Day Test :: Day-4

Australia maul India…

As I had said in my blog post yesterday, at the end of day-3 of the Boxing Day Test, the Indian batsmen needed to show some courage, grit, pride and purpose in this, the 4th day of play in the Boxing Day Test match. Thanks to terrible, we-only-smell-money, planning by the BCCI and also to some strange selection decisions, coupled with an almost inevitable insipid 1st innings batting display, India found herself in a terrible position on this day. The fight back from here was going to call on all the reserves of the batsmen. Either way, this was going to be a day of reckoning for Indian cricket.

India started well. They batted with some purpose and commitment. Brad Hogg commenced proceedings to enable Stuart Clark and Brett Lee to change ends. Wasim Jaffer and Rahul Dravid started positively, rotating the strike and middling the ball. This seemed to suggest that the 1st innings cobwebs in Dravid’s mind had disappeared. The batsmen were middling the ball well and stealing the occassional single. But for the brilliant Australian fielding, the score may well have sported a healthier look.

Just when hopes were raised of a smart opening stand, Wasim Jaffer received a brute of a delivery which he appeared to nick to Adam Gilchrist; later, replays suggested that it went off his shoulder. It would not have mattered as this was off a no-ball. One hoped that Jaffer would make best use of this “reprieve”. However, instead of capitalising on it — as Andrew Symonds had the day before — two balls later, Jaffer attempted a lazy waft at a ball outside off stump, to be caught by Gilchrist behind the stumps.

This brought V. V. S. Laxman to the crease and what we saw was the slow crawl from both Dravid as well as Laxman. This just enabled Ricky Ponting to choke the batsmen. Three slips went down to two and then to one! There were fielders in front of the batsmen at short cover, at short mid-wicket, short square-leg and short mid-on. Good fielding, along with a lack of urgency meant that India had sunk back into their 1st innings habits! Every run was being applauded by the sparse Saturday crowd.

And this was fine by me. The batsmen seemed to suggest that they were settling in for the long haul. They seemed to be passing on a message to the Australians that read “Mates we are here to stay on this hot and humid day. We are not here to win. If you want to win, get us out“. I have no problems with this strategy, but one needs tremendous mental resolve to pull it off. One needs to be strong — mentally and physically. I personally do not subscribe to the Channel-9-commentary-team-philosophy that suggests that the only way you can show positive aggression is by trying to tonk each ball. In my books, even stolid defence is a form of aggression and together, Dravid and Laxman was following that plan!

In the 29th over of the innings (the 21st of the day) bowled by Andrew Symonds, a cracking boundary to long-on was followed by a splendid cover drive hit on the up! Two things stood out in these shots. In the straight-driven four, despite the slow outfield, Laxman just ran a single and watched and waited at the non-strikers’ end as the ball trickled over the fence. His message was that runs were unimportant. He and Dravid were there to deny the Australians victory. They were not interested in victory as an option. This was a brave strategy, especially with Brad Hogg in operation. Two balls later, Laxman hit a ball on the up in a spectacular off drive. This said to me that he had a measure of the pitch.

Soon after, Rahul Dravid reached his personal 100! A hundred balls that is! He had made 16 runs off these 100 balls.

In the next over off Symonds, we saw a spectacular back hand attempt from Ricky Ponting. He was standing at short mid off and the straight drive travelled like a rocket to him. He snapped up the ball and back handed the ball; he broke the non-strikers’ stumps, without even looking at the stumps! This was certainly a fielding champion on the park.

The very next ball, Laxman hit a ball slightly to the right of Ponting, who dived over it in an attempt to stop it. His attempt was in vain. Just a few yards behind him, Brad Hogg dived over the ball too and the result was a few runs to Laxman.

I guess if we were as irresponsible as Peter Lalor, we would have said, “If Ponting and Brad Hogg could, they would have sub-contracted the fielding to a back-office operation in India, because he would not be able to find servants to do his dirty work in Australia“!

But then, I’d like to think that we at i3j3Cricket are a bit more responsible! We call it as we see it. We have no hidden agendas!

In the 35th over of the innings, Laxman did not pick a Brad Hogg googly. The ball spun, took the edge and the resulting hard chance was dropped by Hayden at first slip. Perhaps he needed to sub-contract his fielding too? 🙂

In the very next over, the last over before lunch, Andrew Symonds was called on to bowl off spin. Up until then, he had been bowling his seam-up stuff! One assumed that he was bowling off-spin mainly so that the Australians could squeeze in another over before lunch! The time was 12:26 then! He spun one sharply into Dravid. The ball kept low and trapped Dravid in front. Dravid had made 16 off 114 and just as he was looking set to go to lunch undefeated, he got out! Even in the 1st innings, he got out just before lunch after putting in the hard yards in the lead up to the luncheon break!

If Dravid hadn’t got out, I may have been tempted to call it an even session or even perhaps a session to India. But with that wicket, I’d give the session to Australia, thus making the session score 5-2 in favour of Australia.

Australia started their post-lunch proceedings with Brett Lee from the Southern Stand End and Andrew Symonds from the Members’ Stand End.

Sachin Tendulkar was perhaps listening to the Channel-9 commentary a bit too much. Instead of grinding it out, he tried to smash every ball out of the park. Although I didn’t see the game on TV, I heard that the Channel-9 comms were getting stuck into the Indians for their slow approach. While I completely disagreed with Rahul Dravid’s go-slow approach in the 1st innings, a block approach (or “dokku” approach) in the second innings seemed to make sense. As I said earlier, this was as much a form of aggression as is a “bang every ball for a four” approach, provided one has the skill and the mental fortitude to carry it off! Especially when you consider that the Indians had 6 sessions to bat out, “to grind it out” was a totally valid strategy — especially on a very Indian pitch! It seemed to me that Sachin Tendulkar had come out with a wrong mental framework. A quickfire 50 or a 100 studded with 20 fours would not have mattered a toss if the series scoreboard still read 1-0 at the end of the match!

I don’t believe I have ever criticised Sachin Tendulkar during his career. However, on this occassion, I felt that he let his personal ambition (to dominate the bowling) ahead of the teams’ need (occupation of the crease).

After making a few attractive runs, Sachin Tendulkar was back in the hut. The team and the situation had demanded much more from him and he hadn’t delivered.

Sourav Ganguly came on and suffered an immediate sledge from Brett Lee. Soon after there was a spectacular fielding effort. Ganguly hit the ball to long on and charged off for 3 runs. Bradd Hogg slid at the ropes and threw down the non-strikers’ wicket from about 100 yards out. Ganguly appeared to be in the crease — he had just reached the crease. Brett Lee the bowler grabbed hold of the rebound and in one action, threw down the stumps at the other end! Both batsmen were in, but one couldn’t help admire the clinical efficiency of the Australian fielding outfit. It seemed like a well-oiled military operation!

When the score had crossed 100, Ganguly smashed the ball to deep point and sauntered off for a non-existant single. Andrew Symonds grabbed hold of the ball and threw it back to the stumps when there was no need. Ganguly was inside his crease anyway! The resulting overthrow went for 3 runs.

Again, Peter Lalor might have said that Symonds needed to go to get a servant from India — there are none here, I presume — or something derogatory like that. But to do that I’d need to hate Symonds and Australia and since I don’t either, I will desist!

India were soon 118 for 4 when Laxman drove a slower ball from Stuart Clark straight to Michael Clarke at cover. Again, this was a silly positive shot when it just wasn’t necessary. Laxman had once again promised much to not deliver in the end. He was out for a well made 42.

And when Yuvraj Singh was out LBW to a faster flipper from Brad Hogg, without giving the scorers too much of a headache, it appeared as though the innings would fold even before tea on day-4! Once again, even after he had just been reprieved by Match Referee Mike Proctor the previous night (for showing dissent in the 1st innings), Yuvraj Singh hung around for a while, seeming to suggest that that ball was speared down the leg side. Indeed, replays did suggest that the ball was heading down legside. For the second time in the match Yuvraj Singh had received a rough call, but he needs to understand that he should just cop it on the chin and walk.

The batting was turning out to be a disappointment once again. The on-paper champions were on the mat and the Australians — the true champions — had their legs pressed on the throats of the paper tigers. It was a mind game at this stage. The Aussies knew that they had a mountain of runs behind them and could keep attacking. The Indians had no answers.

The second session clearly belonged to the Aussies.

Post-tea proceedings commenced with Stuart Clark (Southern Stand End) and Brad Hogg (Members Stand End). Batting was still looking easy. There were no demons in the pitch. Dhoni, who was unable to read Hogg’s googly effectively off the hand, seemed to have enough time to play it off the pitch! The demons were all in the Indian batsmens’ heads!

And this resulted in a total collapse after tea time. The wheels fell right off the Indian bus. Dhoni was out flashing at a ball wide of off stump. Kumble was caught poking at a ball on the offside from Mitchell Johnson. Harbhajan Singh was called for a run and then sent back by Sourav Ganguly. Harbhajan Singh could not get back to the crease in time. Ganguly was struck on the pads as he stretched well forward. Umpire Benson lifted his finger to send him packing even before the appeal commenced — perhaps he too wanted to escape to the cool confines of the dressing room! One saw many such LBW appeals being denied the Indians on day-3. But then none of that would have mattered anyway, as a much superior opposition was in the process of crushing out a capable, but under-cooked opposition.

Soon, it was all over and Australia had won its 15th Test match without losing a game!

India were under-cooked and under-prepared. It did not help that they had the wrong team on the park! And they were made to pay for all of these silly goof ups by a champion team.

In just 3 days’ time, it starts again in Sydney. India need to lift themselves off the floor, dust themselves off and move on to the challenges ahead. And along the way, some hard decisions need to be taken — more of that in a later post!

— Mohan

Australia v India :: Boxing Day Test :: Day-3

Australia continue to dominate…

At the end of the third days’ play, India had another 493 runs to make to win the game with all of its wickets in hand. It is an uphill task. The best that India can perhaps hope for is to salvage some pride by batting well in the second innings with a view to the Sydney Test match. But to even do that, the Indians will need to bat with self-belief and pride — something that not many of the batsmen showed in the first innings. Given that Rahul Dravid, V. V. S. Laxman and Anil Kumble will (almost certainly) not be a part of the one-day team in the pyjama series, it could be their last appearance for India at the MCG. They will want to give a good showing on their farewell Test Match on this ground. This will also be the last Test match that Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly play at this ground. At the team talk this evening, Anil Kumble should ask for his entire team to lift itself and play with pride — enough to take something into the Sydney Test that starts almost immediately.

India started the day badly. R. P. Singh started the day as he ended day-2. Day-2 saw Australia in the drivers’ seat with a session-by-session score of 4-2. The hosts were firmly in the drivers’ seat. What was needed was some disciplined bowling from the Indian seamers. Instead, what we got was some bad bowling from R. P. Singh and some indiffirent stuff from Zaheer Khan. Australia raced away and stretched the lead past 200.

Matthew Hayden was being a bully against Zaheer Khan and R. P. Singh. He walked down the pitch a few times to Zaheer Khan and got a few boundaries with this method. It was clear that Hayden wanted to not just dominate, but crush the opposition. Right time to bring Harbhajan Singh in, I thought. And that’s exactly what happened.

Anil Kumble had to turn to Harbhajan Singh. After being punched down the ground for a few, Hayden charged a flighted delivery from Harbhajan Singh and holed out to Sourav Ganguly who was placed deep for just that shot!

Although he wasn’t getting much spin, Harbhajan Singh was bowling quite well. While he speared balls in at speeds between 85 kmph and 95 kmph in the first innings, he bowled slower and with more flight in this spell. His bowling speed was in the low 80 kpmh.

In the landmark 2001 series in India, Harbhajan Singh got Ponting out 5 times in a total of about 18 deliveries or so. Here, Ponting was out to the very first ball he faced from Harbhajan Singh! Clearly the offie has the wood on the Australian captain who poked at a well flighted delivery from Harbhajan Singh, not sure if it was an over spinner or an off spinner or a doosra. Ponting just poked hard at the ball and the resulting nick lodged itself in Rahul Dravids’ waiting hands.

India were clawing itself back into the game slowly, but there was a mountain to climb. Soon, there was a double spin attack with Anil Kumble bringing himself on. The fielders appeared to have a spring in their step.

Mike Hussey needed to be tied down and taken early. But for some inexplicable reason, Harbhajan Singh started to spear the balls in! He had cranked up his ball speed again! And this was totally inexplicable! Runs were still coming thick and fast though! Although the batsmen were under some sort of pressure, they kept scoreboard ticking. This was smart cricket.

Zaheer Khan came on at this point from the City End and one felt that the ball was starting to reverse-swing just a little bit. Meanwhile, Harbhajan Singh had slipped totally into his 1st innings habits of spearing them in.

In the end, the first session was perhaps an even session with Australia scoring 103 runs off 29 overs while losing 2 wickets. I felt that the India bowlers squandered the early advantage they had in that session, when they secured those two quick wickets. Another wicket and it may have been India’s session. And even though Australia had lost 2 wickets, they scored at 3.5 an over and the lead was already 282! At lunch Australia was still firmly in the drivers’ seat.

On the second over after lunch, Anil Kumble held one slightly back to Phil Jaques, who had just reached his second half century of the match off the previous ball! Jaques tried to close the face of the bat on the ball to send it on to the legside. All he could do was to spoon a return catch to the bowler.

The fielding continued to be bad right through. Although Zaheer Khan, Sourav Ganguly and R. P. Singh were the worst offenders, their collective bad display seemed to rub off on even good fielders like Yuvraj Singh.

After lunch, R. P. Singh started to bowl well. He bowled the first 3 overs of this spell with much control of his line and length and also his temperament. However, the singles and twos kept coming. Then against the run of play, Mike Hussey got out in much the same manner as Michael Clarke got out in the first innings. He swatted at a ball wide of off stump to be caught at first slip by Sachin Tendulkar. In the very next R. P. Singh over, Michael Clarke swatted a wide ball outside off for the ball to squirt through a vacant 3rd slip! At the first drinks’ break after the lunch break, R. P. Singh had bowled 7 overs, giving away 16 runs for his 1 wicket. At one stage he bowled to an 8-1 offside field! He bowled with control and patience and was also getting some reverse swing going!

Unfortunately, what R. P. Singh seems to lack is consistency. Moreover, he seemed to be losing one trait of his that I have admired most in the last year or so — his calm demeanour and his temerament! I have always admired his cool and calm, even in the face of an onslaught. But here, he seemed to repeatedly lose it! Then again, a champion side like Australia makes the best of them lose it. So, a young learner like R. P. Singh should take a lot away from this tour!

Immediately after the drinks break, Zaheer Khan bowled a beauty from around the stumps to bowl Andrew Symonds. Alas! It was off a no ball! Zaheer Khan, at this stage, had bowled 10 no balls in the innings! He was bowling like a poor man on a spending spree mistakenly thinking he had won the lottery!

After lunch one felt that the opposite of the 1st innings was happening. Anil Kumble was actually over-bowling himself! He had bowled 10 overs non-stop after lunch. Harbhajan Singh, who had bowled his 10 overs for 2 wickets, was cooling his heels in the field!

Harbhajan Singh came on soon after and his first ball was banished for a brutal 6 by Andrew Symonds. The two right handed batsmen — Clarke and Symonds — were batting very sensibly. They had faced some good bowling, but kept the scoreboard ticking through singles, twos and the occassional boundary! At this stage, the partnership was worth 65 from 86 balls! Just amazing batting from these Australians! One just hopes that the Indian batsmen were watching. The difference between the Australian bowlers and the Indian bowlers was quite clear though. Every over by the Indians — Anil Kumble included — contained a few ‘single’ (tap-and-run) balls plus a lose delivery. One got the feeling that the Indian bowlers were just trying too much.

I shudder as I write this because of the incredulousness of the statement, but it almost seemed as if India needed an R. P. Singh like post-lunch spell. The team needed someone to keep it tight and simple.

Zaheer Khan continued to bowl around the wicket and after inducing an edge that went between the ‘keeper and 1st slip for a 4, he got his man. A late inswinger got Symonds LBW.

The no-ball indiscipline continued from Zaheer Khan though.

With that wicket of Andrew Symonds, perhaps India could just claim that lunch-tea session in which 3 wickets fell. But, given the number of runs Australia scored, I’d make that an even session too. So at this stage, the session-by-session count continued to remain at 4-2 in Australia’s favour. India were fighting to remain in the game by picking up these wickets, but then each and every Australian batsman was playing positively and to a plan. They just refused to let the Indian bowlers get on top. It was indeed turing out to be a masterly display of 2nd innings batting. Michael Clarke, whose second innings average (at about 65) is much better than his first innings average (of about 43), was giving a master class in why this was so! He was a picture of concentration, class and confidence!

At Tea on the 3rd day, Australia was 395 runs ahead with 5 wickets still remaining in the second innings. This looked like an improbable situation for India. Michael Clarke was already on 52. And with Adam Gilchrist at the crease, one could expect a few fireworks. India were already staring down the gun at a 500+ chase to win!

Zaheer Khan, despite his gimme balls every over, and his no-ball indiscipline, was actually bowling well. He commenced proceedings after the tea break and was trying to get the ball to squeeze between Gilchrists’ bat and pad in much the same way as Andrew Flintoff did in the 2005 Ashes series. Clearly, the Indians had watched the videos and were bowling to some sort of a plan. But the Australian players are champions and despite the good bowling, the brilliant Aussie bowling on day-2 meant that the batsmen were able to continue to play positive cricket.

Harbhajan Singh continued to spear them in at 87 plus kmph! His best balls, even in this innings, were bowled at around 81 kmph! I just wonder what he was thinking — or not! And I just wonder what the Coach was telling him at the breaks? At the speeds that he was bowling at, one could not be blamed for thinking that he was playing in a Twenty20 match!

Anil Kumble continued to rotate his bowlers. Zaheer Khan was replaced by R. P. Singh at the Southern Stand end. Kumble seemed unwilling to bowl himself and Harbhajan Singh in tandem, for some reason though!

In this spell, Harbhajan Singh bowled like he did in the first innings — without purpose or plan. He tried to choke Gilchrist by bowling outside the left handers’ leg stump. Gilchrist, the champion batsman that he is, produced a reverse sweep to get a boundary.

Suddenly, at the other end, Anil Kumble showed the way by bowling a slow flighted googly that Michael Clarke mis-read to be stumped for 73. It was a wonderful innings from Clarke. It took a special delivery from a great bowler to get him out. But Clarke had shown the Indians how to bat on this pitch.

And these two overs — one from Harbhajan Singh and the other from Anil Kumble that got Clarke out — symbolised India’s bowling display! They did not develop bowling partnerships. If one bowler bowled a good spell or a good over, the other leaked runs at the other end. There was no costant pressure that was being maintained at both ends!

The spin-twins were bowling in tandem now. And this was an opportunity to turn the screws, especially with Brad Hogg at the crease. But like all the other batsmen, save Ponting, Hogg got stuck into the task on hand and refused India the luxury of getting a clutch of wickets. Australia had their foot on the pedal and just continued to grind the opposition as only Australia can.

It didn’t help that Silly Bowden wasn’t prepared to lift his crooked finger to several close LBW appeals. Anil Kumble had at least 10 appeals turned down; 9 by Bowden. At least one of them, against Brad Hogg, looked adjacent enough. Perhaps the Indians did not appeal as convincingly, jumping up and down like convincing yoyos as the Australians looked in the appeals against Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj Singh and Anil Kumble in the 1st innings — all line-ball decisions in my view. I have a real problem with the crooked (fingered) Bowden. While he gets most decisions right, I reckon he isn’t a great umpire; one gets the feeling that he goes as much by reputation as he does by correctness.

But them’s the breaks that one gets in international cricket and it would do the Indians no good to take a negative mindset into the 2nd innings. As it is, Yuvraj Singh has been hauled up by the referee, Mike Proctor for showing dissent on being given out in the 1st innings!

Meanwhile, Adam Gilchrist thwatted one from Harbhajan SIngh to be smartly caught at deep mid wicket off Harbhajan Singh.

With 11 overs to go in the days’ play, Ricky Ponting declared the Australian innings close leaving India to negotiate 8 overs in the days’ play. The ask for India was to make 499 off a maximum of 188 overs spread across 2 days and a bit!

Rahul Dravid and Wasim Jaffer strode out to negotiate the remaining 8 overs. India managed to keep out the 8 overs scoring 6 runs. Although Rahul Dravid did not take 41 balls to get off the mark, he looked tentative, especially in the last over of the day against Stuart Clark. Having said that, I think the Australian bowlers looked a bit flat and listless in the 8 overs they bowled. Perhaps Ricky Ponting had surprised them too with the timing of the declaration?

Given that India did not lose a wicket in that last session, and the resulting confidence that it will give the openers, I’d be tempted to score that as an even session too, giving a session-by-session score of 4-2 to the Australiajns.

The task ahead for India is mammoth. I do hoper that, even as they go down to the mighty Australians, they put on a good fight. They need to survive all three sessions tomorrow and score session points in at least 2 of them. They need this Test match to go into the last day. That should be the goal for Anil Kumble and his boys. It won’t be easy, but then Test cricket against Australia seldom is!!

— Mohan

Australia v India :: Boxing Day Test :: Day-2

Indian sluggishness destroys a good bowling effort…

At the start of the day, I said to my friend that, after India’s excellent showing on day-1 of the ongoing Test, day-2 would present a significant opportunity for Indian cricket to take a bold and convincing step forward into a new era. Such dreams were shattered by an inept batting display that let down the hopes of a nation.

The last time India visited Australia in 2003, a good Boxing Day was followed by a “normal programming resumes” day! This time around, after India’s bowlers had done all the hard yards on day-1 of this episode of the Boxing Day Test match, the batsmen squandered the advantage on day-2!

Agreed, the Australian bowlers bowled spelindldly. However, cricket is played as much in the mind as it is on the park! When Rahul Dravid and Wasim Jaffer walked in to bat on this lovely summer morning, they played as though they were playing in a warfield in Southern Iraq that had randomly placed landmines in it! Such was their tentativeness and such was their negative approach. The Australians, on the other hand, looked purposeful and looked like they wanted to defend a low “on or slightly below par” score.

Rahul Dravid took forever to get off the mark and faced every ball in Mitchell Johnston’s initial spell of seven overs! It was as if he had forgotten that singles were possible — not that he was striking boundaries by the truckload! His painful 66-ball stay yielded just 5 runs! Along the way, he survived a close LBW shout, a catch attempt at gully as well as a catch at slip off a no-ball!

It is not as if one should pin India’s bad day at the office on Rahul Dravid alone! All the batsmen should put their hand up and accept collective responsibility. However, a start is so very important in Australia — as Akash Chopra and Virender Sehwag so aptly demonstrated on the last visit by India to these shores. One can’t help but ask why Virender Sehwag was cooling his heels in the pavillion. Instead, we had an accommodation that stuffed up two players! Yuvraj Singh was accommodated at #6 and this pushed Rahul Dravid up to open (wrong move #1) and V. V. S. Laxman to #3 (wrong move #2). As I said in my previous post, India should have opened with Virender Sehwag and made the hard, difficult and painful decision of dropping Yuvraj Singh.

Rahul Dravid is not an opener and was sacrificed in todays’ game. The advantage that the bowlers had dealt was blown. The mindset was negative from the outset and this mood was perhaps transferred onto the rest of the team. Batting is all about momentum and Rahul Dravid combined well with Wasim Jaffer to shift the momentum to Australia. The later batsmen struggled to shove crap uphill after that.

And this is where the silly idea of having just one practice game prior to the Boxing Day Test match was most rudely exposed. If the Indians had more than a match, the batsmen could have got their bearings. The team itself could have tried a few options, particularly in the all-important opening slot.

The Australian bowlers bowled excellently and to a plan. They bowled on or outside the off stump. They hardly bowled on the legs of the Indian batsmen, allowing them the luxury to whip the ball to leg!

Fours were hard to come by and this is more because of the slow outfield. Good shots stopped short of the boundary ropes. I think this was pathetic for a quality Test match and hopefully Cricket Australia will do something about this. Having said that, both teams get the same ground to bat on. So one should not complain too much. However, it is perhaps common knowledge that Indian players are more boundary hitters than sharp-single-runners! And here, beacuse of the pathetic nature of the MCG outfield, they were at a disadvantage.

Where Ricky Ponting erred, in my view, was by over-bowling Brad Hogg. One just could not understand why this somewhat ordinary Chinaman bowler got to bowl 21 overs! At the other end, Brett Lee and Stuart Clark were causing mayhem and picking up wickets at regular intervals. Unless Ponting wanted Hogg to have an extended bowling spell and thereby, bowl the spinner into form in the lead up to the second innings and then, the Sydney Test, this extended spell made no sense to me at all. Although Hogg did pick up two wickets, I am not sure I would agree that these wickets could be credited to good bowling!

Apart from Sachin Tendulkar and to some extent Sourav Ganguly, the rest of the Indian batsmen seemed to be batting on another pitch altogether! Tendulkar was magical. From the moment he walked in, every shot he played had class and magical stamped all over it. But just when his partnership with Laxman was starting to find its bearings, Laxman got a lifter from Brett Lee that he could only poke at to the slips area in an ugly manner. And just when Tendulkar’s partnership with Ganguly started to flower, Tendulkar bottom edged a short wide-of-off ball onto his stumps — he has got out to this type of shot quite a bit in the recent past, including last week, against the Victorians! Yuvraj Singh came and went and so did M. S. Dhoni. Yuvraj Singh stodd his ground for a long time, giving one the impression that he was done in by the umpire! But replays were inconclusive. Ganguly was bowled by a ball that kept extremely low — even Trevor Chappell may have struggled to get that low height on a ball bowling underam to the New Zealanders!! The Indian innings was just falling apart. And soon enough, it did. The fact that the score almost touched 200 was thanks to a gutsy effort by the indefatigable Anil Kumble.

In the end, Australia came back to bat and rattled up a quick 32 runs in 8 overs! R. P. Singh was torn apart in an over and the normally cool-headed youngster seemed to be losing the plot here.

I can’t see a way out for the Indians here. One bad day at the office has perhaps set the tone for the entire summer! The weather looks good for the next few days. So the possibility of a Lords’-like escape is somewhat remote. This is certainly a backs-to-the-wall fight that will test the character of Anil Kumble and his men.

— Mohan

So who will play?

And so the Boxing Day Test match is now a day and a half away. Thanks to finaicial considerations and the (non)efforts of the BCCI, India came to Australia with only one pre-Test preparation match. And in this one tour match, only 48 overs were possible! So, despite the spin from the likes of Sachin Tendulkar and Anil Kumble, a badly-prepared Team India take on the might of the Australians in 2 days’ time. Their bowlers haven’t had a bowl in match conditions and the captain doesn’t even know how one of his bowlers, Pankaj Singh, bowls! While the Indian team can not be blamed for the weather — that is the hand that is dealt — the team must look disdainfully at the senior management that runs cricket in India and exclaim “What the ….?“. As with anything in Indian cricket, if the team does well in Australia, it will be despite the BCCI, which, in my view, has done everything it can to deny Team India a fair go at what is regarded as one of the toughest frontiers in World cricket!

Australia is a tough frontier to crack not because of hostile conditions. Most Indian players would perhaps like playing in Australia where they are away from the pressures and crowds that they are faced with in India and perhaps even in England. However, it is hostile because of the in-your-face cricket that the Australians play especially when they are at home. Moreover, the conditions, particulary in Brisbane and Perth are almost unlike anywhere else in the world. But like Australian quick, Stuart Clark says in The Age, India have a wonderful opportunity to make a good start in the series by playing the first three Tests of this series in Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide, respectively. Agreed India started its last tour well by drawing the first Test in Brisbane. However, weather did play a large part in that game and that helped India draw the match. No doubt, an inspiring century from a certain Sourav Ganguly helped in that match too. However, the bounce of the Gabba track was largely nullified by the weather on that tour.

On this tour, India have a wonderful opportunity by playing its first three games in tracks that could suit India’s game. According to Tony Ware, the chief groundsman at the MCG, the pitch is likely to be a slow turner rather than a green-top that seams around.

So, despite the BCCI, a few things are pointing India’s way after all!

Ian Chappell has said that the best route for India to take in this series would be to try and secure a draw in Melbourne. I tend to agree. This will then open up opportunities in Sydney and Adelaide.

One concern I had in the lead up was that India had not really batted under severe pressure in any of the Test matches in the lead up to Boxing Day. It is quite often the case that backs-to-the-wall batting efforts are required in Australia against the Australians. In my view, it was because of the early inroads and dents created by the likes of Glen McGrath and Brett Lee that a bowler like Shane Warne could show his wily wares to the later-order batsmen. A 50-4 situation is quite possible for many touring teams in Australia. Apart from Kumar Sangakkara, none of the other Sri Lankans were able to stage strong fightbacks in their recently concluded tour. However, that likely-scenario was provided in the Bangalore Test against Pakistan, where India batted out of a 61 for 4 situation to record a healthy score. India can expect similar backs-to-the-wall fights in Australia!

So, who will play in the Boxing Day Test then?

Of the 16 players, we can expect that Pankaj Singh and Harbhajan Singh will sit out the match! That leaves 14 players to chose from! Despite his good/gritty knocks in England, I suspect that Dinesh Karthik will sit out the match too. The singnal was clear when he was not played in the tour match against Victoria! That leaves 13 players.

The choice is clearly between Yuvraj Singh and Virender Sehwag and two bowlers from R. P. Singh, Ishant Sharma and Irfan Pathan.

Although I would like India to open with Wasim Jaffer and Virender Sehwag, I suspect India will go with Wasim Jaffer and Rahul Dravid, with Yuvraj Singh playing at #6.

Of the pace options, I think Ishant Sharma is certain to play. He is the only right-arm quick in the filtered list of 13 players and bowled brilliantly with the second new ball against Pakistan in Bangalore. He is a hit-the-deck-hard type of bowler and could be a handful in Australia, provided he gets his bearings right. Moreover, with a view to the Perth Test where he just has to play, it would be good to blood him here in Melbourne — I suspect that he might make way for Harbhajan Singh in the Sydney and Adelaide Test matches!

So, that leaves us with a choice of either R. P. Singh or Irfan Pathan for the last remaining spot. I’d like R. P. Singh to play. However, I believe Irfan Pathan will play more because he has played in these shores before.

So the probable team that could walk out to the park on Boxing Day could be:

01. Wasim Jaffer
02. Rahul Dravid
03. V. V. S. Laxman
04. Sachin Tendulkar
05. Sourav Ganguly
06. Yuvraj Singh
07. M. S. Dhoni
08. Irfan Pathan
09. Anil Kumble
10. Zaheer Khan
11. Ishant Sharma

It is interesting to note that, in this line-up, the first 9 batsmen have a Test century to their name!

The toss could be interesting. In my view this could be a good toss to lose for Anil Kumble!

— Mohan