Tag Archives: Kumble

India regain the Border Gavaskar Trophy

India regained the Border-Gavaskar Trophy on day-5 of the Nagpur Test. Just around Tea time on day-5 of the Test a crazy day mirrored the somewhat crazy days that had preceded that moment when a crazy LBW decision went in favour of India. This meant that the Test and the series went to India.

Australia started the series with a conditioning camp at the Rajasthan Cricket Academy. Australia ended the series with a Cricket Australia enquiry into the craziness that enveloped the post-Tea session on day-4 of this Test match. James Sutherland, the CEO of Cricket Australia has indicated that he wishes to conduct an enquiry into Ricky Ponting’s decisions in this 4th Test match.

Australian media, in a bid to search for excuses, will blame the 3 lost tosses, and perhaps even the pitches. The captain has already alluded to the toss-losses as being significant.

But really, Australia got it wrong with their “new age cricket” strategy. This cost the team the Bangalore Test match and then, the series! Moreover, Australia had a wrong team balance. I really do not know what Cameron White was doing in the team! It was only in the last Test that Jason Krejza had a bowl. And more than batting well and taking wickets, Australia was more interested in the verbals. It is batting and bowling that win matches.

One can’t really blame the toss. Every team learns to deal with it. And as for pitches, I certainly hope India continues to have spinning pitches. You do not travel to Sydney to expect to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa! If you do, you really need to visit a psychiatrist really soon!

India started the last day with a somewhat confused strategy. They attacked and then defended and then attacked and then defended and then attacked again. In the middle there was some ordinary fielding, excellent fielding, ordinary catching and excellent catching too.

The bottom line is that India has a long way to go before becoming a champion team. It is not there yet. But all of that is not quite relevant now. India won the Border Gavaskar Trophy 2-0.

Ishant Sharma was Man of the Series and Jason Krejza was Man of the Match. I think this was about the only thing Chris Broad got right in this series! The most exciting fast bowler in world cricket and the most exciting spinner in world cricket (behind Ajanta Mendis) were recognised!

M. S. Dhoni has had a wonderful initiation to Test cricket. He has won the first 3 Test matches that he has captained! And these weren’t easy oppositions! He has beaten South Africa, Australia and Australia! Admittedly, these were all in India. However, this is not to be scoffed at.

M. S. Dhoni is a man who is, in my view, mature beyond his years. When the 9th wicket fell, he dragged Sourav Ganguly to one side and then handed over the captaincy to the retiring Ganguly. What a wonderful gesture that was? And then, when it came to accepting the trophy, he called over Anil Kumble to the dais to accept the Border-Gavaskar Trophy with him! This was a sign of respect. It was a celebration of two glorious careers.

And in all of this, Gary Kirsten was nowhere to be seen.

India had a mature captain and a coach that did not need to be in the drivers’ seat!

Well done Dhoni. Well done Kirsten. The future of Indian cricket is certainly in good hands.

— Mohan

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Anil Kumble: A legend of our times…

When Anil Kumble announced his retirement from all forms of cricket — that’s right, not just cricket, but from all forms of cricket — I was immediately reminded of Adam Gilchrist’s shock retirement during the Adelaide Test match against India. There was a parallel of sorts in the retirements of these two contemporary greats of modern cricket. Adam Gilchrist had, earlier, indicated that the tense Sydney Test was what prompted his retirement thoughts. Anil Kumble too indicated that the tour of Australia, and particularly the Sydney Test match, was what prompted him to think about the rigours of playing mentally and physically tough cricket constantly. Already, the fractious Sydney Test match had claimed its first victim in Andrew Symonds who was disenchanted with the circus that surrounded the game; the circus that emanated (in my view) from the actions that he must claim some responsibility for. Now, that Sydney Test had claimed its third victim in Anil Kumble!

However, it was that Sydney Test that defined for me one of the most dignified players of our generation. Through the morass of Sydney, he alone stood tall, with poise, empathy, alacrity, simplicity and integrity.

In the words of Harsha Bhogle: “In course of time, like with the legends, we will remember Kumble by his numbers. They are extraordinary but the picture they paint is beautiful and incomplete. They will not tell you of the dignity with which he played the game, of the integrity he stood for and of the extraordinary respect he carried in the cricketing world; as a bowler but even more so, as a man.”

In reality, although the Anil Kumble retirement was coming and one sensed that it was around the corner, I thought Kumble would continue till after the two-Test series against England in December 2008. However, Kumble had other plans and got out of the road of Amit Mishra’s progress the moment he acquired a crushing injury to the little finger of his left hand. Anil Kumble felt that his body had taken a beating after 18 years — and a few shoulder operations. Moreover, he felt comfortable that he was handing over the spinners’ baton as well as the captaincy mantle to able soldiers.

Indeed, Kumble is probably leaving Indian cricket in a better shape today than it was when he took over the reigns as captain.

When Kumble took over the captaincy reign in 2007, Rahul Dravid had suddenly resigned. The tour of England left Dravid with few friends in (and little support from) the establishment. Rahul Dravid, the captain was disenchanted and disgruntled. The team had no coach and had to make do with Chandu Borde as “coach” on the tour of England. While the establishment wanted the decks cleared in the shorter versions of the game, the clarion calls for the retirement of the “Fab Five” were getting shriller. What was needed was a stabilising force and a cool head. The establishment was unwilling to risk Dhoni as the Test captain. Sachin Tendulkar, after showing some initial interest, had turned down the job. To give the captaincy to Sourav Ganguly would be a retrogressive step. The selectors turned to Anil Kumble. We at i3j3Cricket predicted the choice of Kumble as captain. It was a wise move especially since there were two important tours against Pakistan and Australia coming up.

In walked Anil Kumble.

A year later, the team has a more stable look to it.

India has a coach who prefers the obscurity of the last seat of the bus rather than the one closest to both the steering wheel as well as any microphone!

Harbhajan Singh has stepped up and accepted his role as the senior spinner in the game. Without anyone quite realising it, he stands on the cusp of getting his 300th wicket in Test cricket! And in Amit Mishra and Piyush Chawla, India has two reasonably good spinners. India also has Pragyan Ojha with his brand of left-arm spin. This time last year, there were a few question marks on India’s spin talent.

Although the fast bowling bench strength has sported a healthy look, it is only in the last year that we have seen the emergence of Ishant Sharma as an exciting talent on the world stage. Along with Zaheer Khan, the Indian fast bowling option sports a healthy look. It is quite likely that Ishant Sharma, with his flowing locks and exciting action, will be the most exciting pace bowler in the world today!

And with pace bowlers like Munaf Patel, R. P. Singh, Irfan Pathan, Sree Santh, Praveen Kumar, Manpreet Gony, Pankaj Singh, Siddharth Trivedi, Ashok Dinda and Pradeep Sangwan, India can boast of a healthy look to its fast bowling stable.

Batting has always been India’s strength. But it looks like there are players that are able and willing to step into the large shoes of the batting ‘Fab Four’ when they leave the world stage. Gautam Gambhir has made enormous strides in the last year under Dhoni and Kumble. In the middle-order, there are players like S. Badrinath, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Yuvraj Singh and Cheteshwar Pujara to look forward to a future when players like Sourav Ganguly (in five days’ time), Rahul Dravid (perhaps in a 9-months’ time from now), V. V. S. Laxman (perhaps in 18 months’ time from now) and Sachin Tendulkar (perhaps in 36 months from now) leave the arena.

And finally, we have a captain-in-waiting who is able, young, lively, energetic and hungry for success.

We are witnessing the start of the end of an era in Indian cricket. But there is a future that doesn’t quite look as bleak as it possibly did a year ago.

And Anil Kumble can claim some credit for this transformation. He is certainly leaving the place better than he found it.

It started with him developing a “vision” statement for Indian cricket. It is his blueprint that is being implemented today. He wanted to beat Australia in Australia and wanted to regain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. His efforts at beating Australia in Australia was achieved spectacularly at Perth with an against-all-odds victory. He may be successful in helping India regain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy if India plays another five days of good cricket at Nagpur.

Before his first Test match as captain, he handed his “vision” document to his team. He had no coach like John Buchanan or Greg Chappell or Tom Moody or John Wright to craft it for him. It was his vision. It was simple and yet deep.

He wanted the his wards to “Play fearless cricket in a team where team goals come first.”

What’s more? He insisted that the BCCI percolate this “vision” to the Under-15 level.

Here was a cricketer who had the health and well-being of Indian cricket pumping in his every heart beat.

Who can ever forget his bowling spell in Antigua when he bowled 15 overs with a badly fractured jaw? Kumble had been struck on the jaw by Mervyn Dillon while batting. The jaw was splintered into position although a few teeth were moving!

Viv Richards, the West Indian batting legend, has surely seen many a brave deed on the cricket field. But that one event compelled Sir Viv Richards to say “It was one of the bravest things I have ever seen on a cricket field”! Kumble bowled his heart (and his jaw) out to strain for an Indian victory. It didn’t quite happen. He returned home to get the jaw fixed but not before saying, “At least I can now go home with the thought that I tried my best.”

And it was not just his cricket either.

He carried himself with dignity and humility. His words and actions after the Sydney Test match made the world sit up and take notice. He did not need to beat his chest. He did not need to thump tables. There were others that were doing enough of that. He got about his job quietly and impressively. He said what he had to with poise, alacrity and dignity. The world noticed and were dumbstruck by the severity as well as the simplicity of his message.

There is something about cricketers from Bangalore. Right from the times of the off-spinning gentle colossus Prasanna, who was once referred to by Ian Chappell as the best spinner he had ever faced, we have had players like Chandrashekar, Gundappa Vishwanath, Anil Kumble, Javagal Srinath, Rahul Dravid, Venkatesh Prasad, et al. The one word that captures all of these players is perhaps “dignity”. There is a certain lack of brashness and arrogance. There is a certain poise, humility and dignity about all of the players in that list. They are gentlemen first. Almost all of them are all well read. They are soft spoken (Robin Uthappa is a strange exception to this rule, I hasten to add). They go about their business in a quiet, compelling and committed manner. And yet, they leave their mark and their impact in a significant manner.

But in this of greats from Bangalore, none, in my view, will be greater than Anil Kumble. Like Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble depended on 3 D’s: “Determination, discipline, dedication”.

These are the qualities that made the MCC recruit Anil Kumble and Rahul Dravid into its World Cricket Committee. The committee includes, Mike Atherton, Mike Brearley, Geoffrey Boycott, Martin Crowe, Tony Dodemaide, Rahul Dravid, Andy Flower, Mike Gatting, Majid Khan, Barry Richards, David Shepherd, Alec Stewart, Courtney Walsh and Steve Waugh.

To put things into perspective:

  • Anil Kumble played 132 Test matches (bowled 40850 balls), gave 18355 runs for his 619 wickets (at an average of 29.65 and a strike rate of 65.9).
  • Bishen Bedi played 67 Tests (bowled 21364 balls), gave 7637 runs for his 266 wickets (at 28.71 and at a strike rate of 80.3).
  • Chandrashekar played 58 Tests (bowled 15963 balls), gave 7199 runs for his 242 wickets (at 29.74 and a strike rate of 65.9). Interesting to note that Chandra’s strike rate and Kumble’s strike rate are identical!
  • Prasanna played 49 Tests (bowled 14353 balls), gave 5742 runs for his 189 wickets (at 30.38 and a strike rate of 75.9).
  • Kapil Dev, generally regarded India’s best bowlerr ever, played one less Test match than Anil Kumble for his 434 wickets! Kapil Dev played 131 Tests (bowled 27740) balls, gave away 12867 runs for his 434 wickets (at an average of 29.64 and strike rate of 63.9)

In other words, Kumble has bowled 4/5ths of the total number of balls bowled by the Prasanna-Bedi-Chandra spin trinity who bowled a total of 51680 balls, giving away a total of 20578 runs for their 697 wickets (at an average of 29.52). In other words, Kumble has taken almost as many wickets as India’s spin-trinity. Surely, that is the work load for a warrior!

Suresh Menon writes, “[Kumble] bowled India to more victories than the entire spin quartet of the 1970s, yet he was condemned to being defined by negatives. The pundits told us he did not spin the ball, that he did not have the classic legspinner’s loop, that he did not bowl slowly enough to get the ball to bite. Kumble was described by what he did not do rather than by what he did.”

Dileep Premachandran called it best, I thought, when he write, “After all was said and done and the match called off, he came back out to be chaired around the ground, part of the way on the shoulders of the man who will succeed him as captain. For someone who scaled the greatest heights, it was one of the very few occasions during the 18 years when his feet actually left the ground.”

Towards the end of his career though, Kumble did show his irritation with the media in India. In the face of stinging criticism after the two defeats in Sri Lanka and amidst the growing shrillness of the tone in the Indian media over the continued inclusion of the “Fab Five” in the Test team, Kumble lashed out at the unjustified criticism and, more particularly, the unjustified and uncharitable comments . He deplored the trend for sensationalism in the Indian media that led to wild speculation around the existence of a voluntary retirement scheme that was offered to the ‘seniors’ by the BCCI!

However, in the end, Kumble left the game on his own terms. He arrived fighting for a credible spot in the team. There were many that questioned his ability, his uncharacteristic action, his studiousness as well as his desire. He fought all of that to become a quiet warrior and a dignified champion.

He left on his own terms too and that, to me, was a complete picture.

In his retirement, one hopes that he will continue to serve Indian cricket as he did when he was a player. Indian cricket needs players like him: Players who have Indian cricket’s hopes and fortunes in their every heart beat. Players who have achieved a lot in their playing time. Players who created an impact. Players who left the game better than they found it. And more importantly, players who played the game with integrity and with dignity.

— Mohan

Positives and Negatives from the 3rd Test

At the end of each Test of this series, we scored positives and negatives from the Test just Match concluded. At the end of the 1st Test in Bangalore, we scored India just marginally ahead, with 13-12. Mohali was a match in which India-dominated everything and ended up 25-0.

After the conclusion of the 3rd Test, which ended in a draw, both Australia and India can take some positives. I’d like to think that Australia came out of the Test match with their noses in front… just! Both teams need to dwell on a few negatives too.

For each of the dimensions below, I distributed 5 points between the two teams.

The result: India 2.0, Australia 3.0

In my books, both teams came out even from this Test match. Unlike the 1st Test in Bangalore, where Australia may have won had it pressed on with greater urgency — particularly in the timing of the 2nd Innings declaration — there was nothing here in the Delhi pitch to suggest that a result would be possible even if the teams had played on for another day or two! However, after facing a huge mountain, Australia played exceedingly well to come within spitting distance — had to use that term as a tribute to Big Merv, who is there in India at the moment — of the Indian total! Not many teams would have been able to put up such a creditable backs-to-the-wall effort. Australia did, and full marks to them for having done so.

India played 1 bad days’ cricket in 10 days and that basically cost the team. If the Indian team had held its catches, it is remotely likely that India may have gone into the 4th Test 2-0 up! Instead the teams go to Nagpur with a draw sufficient for India to regain Border-Gavaskar Trophy (BGT). Australia needs to win to draw the series and to retain the BGT. Australia will need to make all the running at Nagpur.

India, however, can be satisfied in the continuance of a recent trend (albeit, bucked by the tour of Sri Lanka). Often, India’s famous wins have been immediately followed by an embarrassing loss. Adelaide 2003 and Johannesburg, December 2006 are painful examples. To erase this blot was an important step that India needed to make in order to make that move from being a good team to a very good team.

Consistent performance is what great teams, like Australia, are able to bring to the table. More recently, however, India has been putting in performances like The Oval, 2007 (although I still feel that India should have gone for a victory there) and Adelaide, 2008. And there are other recent examples. Although Colombo 2008 bucked this trend, I do feel that India is slowly turning the corner when it comes to consistency of performance pressure. From that point of view, a draw is something that India will take gladly out of the Kotla game.

A draw was, of course, a terrific result Australia. It keeps Australia in the series. But, unlike Bengaluru (where Australia won 14 of the 15 sessions of the Test match and still drew!), at Kotla, the SBS Score Card at the end of the game read 7.5-7.5! This was an even Test match.

Hence the 2-3 score to Australia on this dimension.

Overall bowling effort: India 3.5, Australia 1.5

I start this by noting that India is the only team that has taken 20 wickets in a Test in this series! At the Kotla, although neither team looked likely to take 20 wickets, only India made something happen with the ball. Even in the 2nd Innings it was more through batting laziness and batting sloppiness that Australia got the four Indian wickets (I am not counting Ishant Sharma’s night-watchman wicket here).

The Australian pacemen were bowling up-and-down stuff and the spinners didn’t do much at all. A concern is that Stuart Clark has just taken 2 wickets in this series thus far — and one of them is Ishant Sharma!

That wasn’t quite the case with the Indian bowlers though. The new ball bowlers made something happen. Amit Mishra, playing in only his second Test match will have learned a lot from the Kotla experience. And Virender Sehwag was a total revelation. Given that India did not have Harbhajan Singh and given that Anil Kumble was out of the Test match for a long period at a crucial time, I thought India came out of this department with a slightly better edge. On this tour, given a slightly more responsive pitch — with more turn through the middle and a bit more bounce — I have greater confidence that the Indian bowlers will use it than I am of the Australian bowlers.

With Harbhajan Singh slotting in for Anil Kumble, I do not see a major change in India’s bowling stocks for the Nagpur Test match.

Australia looks somewhat bereft of ideas in the bowling stakes and needs a bit of an overhaul in this department. It would all depend on the pitch, but Australia does need to look really hard at Jason Krejza. I can’t see the value to the team of Cameron White, especially if he is used after Michael Clarke as a bowler!

Overall batting effort: India 2.0, Australia 3.0

I score Australia ahead in this dimension because of the splendid backs-to-the-wall effort by the team. Not many teams can play as well as Australia did to wipe out a 613 run deficit! The pace was set by the assured manner in which Matthew Hayden and Simon Katich opened. This Zen-like pace was continued right through the innings. Every batsman chipped in and contributed to the team-cause. It wasn’t the most pretty sight, but it doesn’t need to be. Australia has often confused aggression with attractiveness. Ask Gavaskar and he’ll tell you that you can be aggressive even in tight defence! That is what khadoos cricket is. And that is what Australia played. They didn’t let the opposition into the game and slowly shut the door on an Indian victory.

Of course, this followed the khadoos effort of the Indians in the 1st Innings. There are two reasons I give the Australians the edge in this dimension though, (a) All Australian batsmen contributed, while for India, Sehwag and Dravid did not contribute, (b) It is not easy to carry out a backs-to-the-wall effort so clinically and with an absence of panic.

I can’t see Australia changing its batting composition or order.

India, however, will need to get Laxman in at #3 and, unfortunately, this means that Dravid drops to $5 in the Nagpur Test match. This is necessary in my view.

The Fielding, Intensity and Fields: India 2.0, Australia 3.0

This is not really a surprise. There were quite a few lapses in the field from India, particularly on day-4. A few run-out chances went begging. A few sharp chances — particularly close-in — were spilled or not attempted. India does need to lift its game in this regard. Unlike the Bangalore effort, I thought Gautam Gambhir was much sharper at forward short-leg in Delhi. This augurs well for India. However, it is the out-fielding that is of greatest concern. One would have thought that under Dhoni, the fielding intensity would pick up a notch. But strangely, the worst fielding commenced when Dhoni was in charge! Having said that, I am not sure we need to see the captain stomping around in an open demonstration of displeasure.

Leadership: India 2.5, Australia 2.5

The only reason for scoring this even was because of India’s poor intensity on day-4. Ironically, this phase commenced when Dhoni was captaining for Anil Kumble! I thought Dhoni’s tactics in opening with Zaheer Khan and Amit Mishra was a bit strange. Moreover, continuing a somewhat listless Zaheer Khan for a while longer than necessary was also similarly strange. The best bowlers the previous day had been Ishant Sharma and Virender Sehwag and they ought to have opened. Moreover, it may have been easier for Virender Sehwag to bowl with a slightly newer ball which was only 5-6 overs old! Having said this, had Ishant Sharma caught that catch off Amit Mishra’s bowling, who knows how the match would have ended up? But more importantly, it was the lack of intensity on the field on day-4 that the Indian captains (Kumble and Dhoni) need to take responsibility for. It seemed that the Indians had decided that all they needed to do to win the match was to show up on day-4!

Australia would have been way ahead in the leadership stakes but for the somewhat bizarre choices that Ricky Ponting made on the field. He under-used Simon Katich and over used both Shane Watson and Michael Clarke in my view. Simon Katich, the finger spinner, was more likely to cause damage than either Michael Clarke or Cameron White!

So, in terms of the overall result, I score it: India-12, Australia-13!

Overall, Australia can perhaps claim to be marginally ahead at the end of the 3rd Test… just! And that is mainly due to the tremendous batting effort. However, Australia has to make all the running at Nagpur. I do see a danger for Australia in the sense that the bowlers have not really looked likely to take batsmen out and India is the only team to have taken 20 wickets in a match in this series thus far.

Harbhajan Singh should return for India and that should, if nothing else, spice things up! Gautam Gambhir, if he plays, will need to share Chloe Saltu’s headlines with Harbhajan Singh, the player rather than Harbhajan Singh the spectator!

Anil Kumble will be there to see if his ‘Vision’ for Indian cricket is in safe custody. I believe it is. He will want to see that the job that he started will continue through. Sourav Ganguly will be playing his last Test match and V. V. S. Laxman will be playing his 100th Test Match at Nagpur.

Had Kumble played too, five India players will have played 100 or more Test matches in the same Test match — not sure how often that has happened in a Test match!

But all of this will be somewhat irrelevant when the two captains stride out for the toss at Nagpur. It should make for a cracker of a Test match there.

— Mohan

India Vs Australia :: Test 3 :: Delhi :: Day-5

At the end of my abridged day-4 report, I wrote: “I was disappointed by Australia’s approach. Australia batted on till it got to 39 runs behind India’s tour.With just 13 overs left in the days’ play, there was no way India was going to make the running on a pitch that was offering nothing much to the bowlers even on day-4. I thought Australia should have declared at least 100 behind. This would have forced India to make the running in this match. Remember, India does not need to win this match, although India would like to. Australia has to win this match although, by drawing this match, it keeps its hopes alive in the series. So the attacking ploy for Australia would have been to declare about 100 runs behind India’s total. Unfortunately, that was not to be. What we saw was the initiation of a defensive ploy from Australia and a continuation of this ploy by India.

I gave the 2nd session as well as the 3rd session of day-4 to Australia and so, the SBS Score reads: India 5.5, Australia 6.5!”

Overnight, Gautam Gambhir was called a “serial pest” by Chloe Saltau!

India played badly on day-4. But Australia too, I thought missed a trick on day-4. Unless India play horribly to collapse in a manner reminiscent of India teams from 10 years ago (or English teams that play in Adelaide), the 5th day isn’t going to have much fun for either teams I believe.

India could probably use the day to get Rahul Dravid, their only out-of-runs batsmen in this series, into a good score ahead of the Nagpur Test. Although Dravid has been batting well, he hasn’t been making the big scores and here was his opportunity. India may also look to keep the Australians in the field for a long time ahead of Nagpur.

There was nothing in the Kotla pitch unless one pitches it in the ‘rough’ — and provided the fielders take the catches, of course! The curator had promised a “present for Kumble”! His pitch was akin to ordering a bouquet of roses for Valentines Day only to be delivered a wreath by the florist!

The Australian bowlers have nothing to lose really. They can go all out and attack relentlessly without the need for a gun license! If the Indians collapse, the Australian bowlers would come out on top. If the Indians bat through a grinding innings, the bowlers will have no reason for shame. So the match is really set up well for the Australians.

Session-1:

The game started along predictable lines. Balls outside off stump — and there were plenty of those — were left alone by the Indian batsmen, who played with much discipline and alacrity. Gambhir even had the temerity to advance once to Stuart Clark! There were no dangers in this pitch.

I have received a few emails saying that I was wrong to criticise Australia for not forcing the pace in this match.

There is another reason for me saying this. Australia would have known that without Harbhajan Singh and without Anil Kumble being 100% fit, the bowling attack was somewhat weakened. So, batting in the 4th innings on day-5 would not hold too many fears on this pitch! With this in mind, I am quite convinced that Australia should have declared way behind to force the pace in this game. They didn’t. India do not have to make the pace. The result is an inexorable march towards a draw!

But the breakthrough that Australia (and the game) needed, came with India on 53-2. A fuller ball from Brett Lee found the inside-edge of Rahul Dravid’s off-drive and crashed into the base of the stumps. Rahul Dravid’s misery continued. He continues to bat well, but gets out to inside-edges and silly shots.

Australia was playing an attractive brand of cricket. It was an attacking brand of cricket too; one that I have grown to like and enjoy over the years (one that was also absent in Bengaluru and Mohali). Stuart Clark kept things very tight at one end bowling wide of off stump. Brett Lee bowled an attacking line at the other end. I would imagine that the roles would be much the same with the Watson-Mitchell bowling partnership — with the former bowling tight lines and the latter, attacking. This was good stuff from the Australians. As a result of this approach, India was reigned in and not allowed to get away with the scoring; not that there was much danger of India running away, given the defensive ‘mindset’ that the Indians had appeared to adopt!

At the drinks’ break, India had reached 71-3. Australia had bowled 13 overs! This from a team that was trying to win the game? The lead for India was 107.

Michael Clarke was into the attack after the drinks’ break. Not a bad move, if he can eschew the “flat and fired-in” stuff and seek turn off the ‘rough’.

The pitch was so easy to play on even on day-5 that Gambhir and Tendulkar were able to play easily off the back foot and off he pitch! The turn was slow, if there was any at all! The odd ball was kicking up from the ‘rough’. Other than that, there wasn’t much in the pitch. The only way anything would happen would be if the batsmen played a needlessly aggressive shot — like Dravid attempted to do.

Which is why I feel more and more that Australia screwed up by not declaring 100 runs behind. If they had, the Indian batsmen may have forced the pace and maybe, in the process, got out. They would have had no option but to force the pace from about 100-120 ahead.

Anyway, that’s spilt milk.

Against the run of play, just when everything was looking steady and solid, Mitchell Johnson got a ball to swing way down leg-side. The resulting appeal for LBW — I am presuming that the appeal was for LBW and not for relief from boredom — was upheld. The only conclusion I could reach was that Aleem Dar was bored and wanted some action out there in the middle, especially since it appeared that he started raising his hand even before the appeal was made! That was a shocking decision and Gautam Gambhir was given a spanking and set off to the dressing room.

This was certainly Aleem Dar’s present to Mitchell Johnson on the bowlers’ 27th birthday.

At this stage, India was 93-4 and India lead by 129 runs.

Mitchell Johnson was bowling with his tail up on his birthday after having lapped up Aleem Dar’s present! He proceeded to get stuck into V. V. S. Laxman, the new batsman and one didn’t need a course in lip-reading to know that, several times, the ‘F’ word was used by Mitchell Johnson. Laxman smiled at this the first time and then replied back the second and the third times. The umpires got into the game at this stage and had a word with Ricky Ponting.

I am surprised that the Match Referees and Umpires only get into the game when the one who is provoked takes an extreme retaliatory action to the abuse that is copped on the field. Gavaskar wants the abuser to be nipped in the bud. I agree wholeheartedly.

Despite Chloe Saltau’s (potentially) and Mark Waugh’s attempts to describe Mitchell Johnson as the genial and gentle pace bowler who just used the verbal stoushes to pump himself up, there is a serious point here to be made. The man at the other end who got pumped up enough to respond to Mitchell Johnsons’ foul mouthed spray is the gentlest of gentle giants? Is Chloe Saltau now going to embarrass herself in public yet again and term Laxman an “aggressive lout and a spoilt brat for having the temerity to talk back at Mitchell Johnson”?

Predictably, instead of responding to Sunil Gavaskar’s point about the “instigator being docked before the provoked is” and “what’s the need for a string of ‘F’ words on the cricket pitch”, Mark Waugh said, “Yes, this was the man who wanted to walk off the pitch at the MCG”. To which Nick McCardle whipped out the exact date on which Gavaskar attempted to walk out of the MCG.

What this had to do with the price of fish only Nick McCardle and Mark Waugh will know.

But since we are delving into the realm of utter irrationality, wasn’t Mark Waugh the guy that took money from a certain John for a pitch report? Would this not mean that we discard anything that this goose says?

At lunch, India was 99-4 (135 runs ahead with 63 overs left in the days’ play). The session belonged to Australia. No doubt about that. The SBS Score reads: India 5.5, Australia 7.5.

Session-2:

I had little doubt in my mind that the Australian attitude and mindset, which was absent for much of the series up until now, had Australia in the position that she was in. Similarly, it was the Indian “defensive mindset” that had the team in the position it was in.

To me, however, it was nice to see Australia attack the way the team has. Australia played with self-belief and aggression. It had nothing to lose and everything to gain. Australia had fought back from the brink and that was great to see.

If the team could only stamp out the on-field nonsense, it would be even better for me.

I suspect, however, that the team plays to a different audience and to different standards. For example, at the drinks’ break, Mark Waugh, talking in the Foxtel studios, chided V. V. S. Laxman for talking back to Mitchell Johnson and thereby, making a “big deal out of it”. Someone tell me Mark Waugh didn’t see the theatrics of Matthew Hayden (Mohali) and Shane Watson (Kotla)!

My gripe with Indian players is that they haven’t reacted like sorry soccer players each time a string of expletives is thrown at them! If they did, more Australians would be reported too more often, would they not?

Australia started after the break with Michael Clarke and Mitchell Johnson. Clarke was bowling from around the stumps and to a good line. It was surprising to me that we didn’t see Simon Katich yet!

India was 109-4, a few overs after lunch, with 59 overs left in the days’ play. India only had a very ordinary, low-intensity day in the field on day-4 to blame for this situation.

But I was comfortable with this grit-situation that India was presented with, for two reasons:

  • After the heady success of Mohali and a huge 1st Innings lead, India had relaxed completely. Complacency had set in a manner that only Indians seem to muster. There is nothing better than a situation like this to shake the team out of its collective sluggish contentment.
  • India has a terrible win-one-lose-one-immediately record in Test matches. This backs-to-the-wall effort could not have come at a better time, especially after the mammoth score that India had put up in the 1st Innings!

Both of the above points mean that a backs-to-the-wall effort here would do this team good — the equivalent of a kick-up-the-backside wake-up-call.

Although Michael Clarke was flighting the odd ball, most of his balls were fired in at between 86 and 90 kmph from around the wickets. As a result, he wasn’t getting much bite and purchase from the pitch. It was time to get Katich in, I’d have thought! Indeed, I’d have got Katich in ahead of Michael Clarke. A finger spinner would be a better option, I’d have thought.

But it was Cameron White that came onto bowl and he immediately proceeded to leak runs and ease the pressure. I wasn’t sure about this decision. I’d have liked to see Katich on this pitch. I’d be willing to bet that he would get some purchase here. At the other end, though, we had Shane Watson come in for a bowl. His first ball want for 4! Suddenly, it appeared as if the pressure valve had been lifted.

This was strange captaincy by Ricky Ponting! With a fit and fighting set of alternatives like Stuart Clark, Brett Lee and Simon Katich, I just could not understand this Watson-White strategy!

In the 2nd over from Watson, Aleem Dar perhaps ought to have given Tendulkar out LBW! I could not believe that Aleem Dar would not give this out when he gave Gautam Gambhir out for one that was clearly sliding down leg! Perhaps he had decided that Shane Watson did not deserve a birthday gift when it wasn’t his birthday! At this stage, India was 140-4 (176 ahead with about 45 overs to play). The decision won’t have made a difference, as India was taking this match into a draw situation. But the inconsistency of decision making seemed a bit strange!

I was proved wrong a few overs later when Sachin Tendulkar poked at a Cameron White delivery to be caught by Matthew Hayden at slips for 47! But in all seriousness, this was a nothing shot to a nothing delivery; a soft dismissal. India had reached 145-5, 181 runs ahead with about 43 overs for Australia to get it if India was all out in the over that was being bowled. It was already becoming a hard ask.

It may not be a bad ploy, I’d have thought for Ganguly and Dhoni to indulge in a flurry of strokes in a bid to set Australia target of about 210 off 37 or so overs.

Michael Clarke replaced Cameron White. This was a reasonable move. Ganguly had a recent history of outs to left armers. Having said that, these were more to left arm Chinamen bowlers (Brad Hogg and Simon Katich). So again, Katich’s absence from bowling duties was a bit strange — unless of course, he was injured.

The match was drifting towards a draw. It would be good if India — 207 runs ahead with 37 overs to make it in — would declare. If nothing, to regain psychological ascendancy. Australia would need to make these runs at 5.6 rpo. Almost impossible, I’d have thought. It would be good, nevertheless, for India to throw the gauntlet at the Australians and have a crack at the visitors!

India went to Tea on 193-5 from 69 overs. At this stage India led by 229 runs. If India declared at Tea, Australia would need to score 230 runs from 31 overs (at 7.4 rpo).

I give this session to India and this makes the SBS Score India 6.5, Australia 7.5.

Session-3:

The only interest from here on in was how and when the captains would call the game off. Was there enough time for Laxman to get a century? Sidelights like this dominated thoughts at the Tea Break. This match, which had promised so much, was tailing off into a draw.

After Tea, Australia started with Brett Lee and Michael Clarke; still no sign of Simon Katich!

About 20 minutes after the Tea break, news filtered through that Anil Kumble had decided to retire from Test cricket after the current Test match.

After 18 years of terrific contributions (I hate the word ‘service’) to Indian cricket, this great cricketer, and wonderful competitor had decided to retire… He was a thorough gentleman of the game when several of the competitors that he played against were anything but! He retired from the game with not a blot or a blemish against his name. He played cricket within the rules and always gave 120% to everything that he did in the game. World cricket was losing a warrior and a gentleman.

It would make more sense, therefore, for India to declare and for Anil Kumble to retire “on the field”, perhaps with an additional, last wicket too!

And on 208-5 with a lead of 244 and with 23 overs left in the days’ play, India declared. This was a sentimental move; one that took Australia by surprise too.

It will be interesting to see how Australia take this. Australia would have to score at 10.5 rpo. Would Australia go hell for leather and make a game of it?

Anil Kumble even took the new ball for India! This was now a Twenty20 game! What an exciting end to a game that looked like it was petering towards a draw! But instead of sending out Shane Watson and Matthew Hayden, for example, to open the Australian innings, Australia went down the normal Test match route and opened with Matthew Hayden and Simon Katich!

At the other end, India opened with Virender Sehwag! Off the very first ball, he got sharp turn! Katich got off strike with a false stroke.

After just 2 overs, Amit Mishra — Kumble’s heir apparent — replaced Virender Sehwag. However, there wasn’t much happening though.

Anil Kumble bowled his last over for India — the 16th of the innings — and brought to an end a glorious chapter in Indian cricket. The next over was bowled by Amit Mishra and at the end of that, the curtains came down on a Test match and a career.

To complete the SBS scoring, I give this session to India for having ensured that the game ended in a draw without much by way of panic. This makes the SBS Score India 7.5, Australia 7.5.

Not surprisingly, the match ended in a draw!

— Mohan

India Vs Australia :: Test 3 :: Delhi :: Day-4

In all interviews I heard since the end of day-3, talk has been about Australia trying hard to save the game. Even Matthew Hayden, in his post-match interview, talked only about Australia saving the game. He said (and I am paraphrasing), “We know we can’t win, so we have our backs to the wall.”

I find this strange. Thanks to a superb batting display on day-3, Australia are in a position where they can win the game too! I know that this is a slim possibility, but it is probable!

Australia is only 275 behind.

If Australia bat all day today and make 350 runs (say), they will be 75 runs ahead at the end of days’ play. Another 75 runs tomorrow might mean that India will have to play last on this pitch!

Another scenario is that if Australia are all out after scoring say 50 more runs, Dhoni will need to make a choice as to whether or not to enforce the follow on (with tired bowlers in his ranks) or play on for a while and unleash a fresh set of bowlers on the Australians batting last. He may not want to give the bat-last advantage to the Australians by enforcing the follow on.

Moreover, if Australia avoid the follow-on, India will have to set a target. The target will depend on the extent of the lead and also on India’s aggressive intent. This won’t be easy.

So, I am a bit puzzled by the negative Australian attitude. They must think more than just “saving the game”, I feel. The game is still a bit open — although favouring the Indians slightly — in my view.

The absence of Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble has hurt the Indians a lot in this Test match. But them’s the breaks.

The first session will be vital for both teams. Australia cannot afford to lose early wickets. Indian heads will droop if Australia bats out the first session without losing a wicket. Australias’ approach will be to bat out and see out the 1st session.

After 8 days of pressure-less cricket, the pressure is on the Indians for the first time since the Bengaluru Test. India will be looking to wrap the series in Delhi. The Indians will not want to go into the Nagpur Test just 1-0 up in the series. If India go into Nagpur either 1-0 (or worse, 1-1), the momentum could shift completely to Australia. As I maintained, in a back-to-back situation, the draw at Bangalore worked in India’s favour. So will a draw here in Delhi. The momentum will have shifted in Australia’s favour.

So the Indians will be desperate to win here at Delhi to maximise its chances of regaining the Border-Gavaskar-Trophy.

Session-1:

After a happy-birthday-tune to celebrate V. V. S. Laxman’s birthday, proceedings got underway with the talented Zaheer Khan bowling to an aggressive and recently-fined Shane Watson.

Off the 4th over of the morning, Michael Clarke was dropped at mid off by a leaping Ishant Sharma off the bowling of Amit Mishra. These catches ought to be taken. India could well pay dearly for this lapse. Mishra had the measure of Michael Clarke in yesterdays’ session and had started in pretty much the same vein this morning. However, for success, bowlers need to depend on fielders unless of course you are Virender Sehwag (two clean bowled and 1 LBW)!

The morning was going Australia’s way. The partnership between Clarke and Watson was developing well. Watson was starting to play his shots and look more confident with each ball. Mishra continued to bowl a hit-me ball every over. The dropped catch seemed to have dropped shoulders just that little bit on the field. After 8 overs, Australia had scored 31 runs with not much fuss — apart from that dropped catch — and the deficit was only 244 runs!

Ishant Sharma, the culprit of the catch let-off, came on to bowl. But with him and Mishra bowling a hit-me ball every over, Australia started to slowly but irrevocably draw closer to their first target for the day — avoiding the follow-on. Something needed to happen for India.. and soon. Watson, in particular, was batting quite well, despite the odd edgy stroke past the thinly populated slips area.

I thought Dhoni missed a trick here in not starting with Virender Sehwag, the best of the three spinners on view yesterday. Mishra was more inexperienced than Sehwag, who would have kept it tight as well.

Sehwag ultimately came in for Mishra in the 11th over of the morning. He started off with a maiden over! For India, the way to do this would have been for Ishant Sharma to swallow his ego and bowl a line outside slightly wide of the off-stump and attack with Sehwag and Mishra from the other end. However, Ishant Sharma continued to bowl and attacking line and leaked runs.

After another Sehwag maiden over, drinks was called. At drinks break, Australia had scored 57 runs from 14 overs. This was just what the doctor had ordered for Australia. Australia had reached 395-4.

Interestingly, Anil Kumble came in for a bowl after the drinks’ break! Here was a warrior striding in for his team after 11 stitches to the little finger of his left hand, with 2 of his fingers taped together, a few cortisone injections and perhaps even a plastic plate inserted to protect the left hand.

I was surprised that Kumble was allowed to bowl. Isn’t there a requirement that he had to spend as much time on the field as he did off it before he could bowl?

With Kumble and Sehwag on, the bowling was tighter and runs were harder to come by. I thought that Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma and Amit Mishra bowled quite badly this morning. For the first time in the series, the Indian bowling looked insipid and lazy — somewhat like the Australian bowling has looked this series (with due apologies to fans of the Australian team who visit this blog)!

And the tightness of the bowling caused Sehwag to bowl Shane Watson. Sehwag seems to have made up his mind to not depend on the fielders in this match! He has 3 clean bowleds and 1 LBW thus far in this game. This ball pitched well outside off stump, spun sharply and clipped the top of Watson’s leg stump. I have little doubt that the tightness of the Kumble-Sehwag bowling was what caused this wicket to fall.

We had a new man, Brad Haddin, at the crease and suddenly things were happening. There was more in the pitch, it seemed. Sehwag (at 66-4) had his best figures in a Test match. Since his introduction, Sehwag had bowled 3 maidens and had taken a wicket! Watson had departed for a well-made 36 in a partnership of 73 runs off 20.1 overs with Michael Clarke.

In the next over from Kumble, Clarke danced down the wicket to hit it over the top. The boundary gave Clarke his half-century and also brought up Australia’s 400.

In Kumble’s next over, he hit Haddin bang in front of the stumps. Hadding was a foot down the pitch, but wasn’t playing a shot at the ball, which struck him in front of middle stump! Umpires are loathe to give these balls out even though the batsman does not offer a stroke to it. I find this a strange policy.

Soon after, the follow-on target was avoided. The first target had been achieved for Australia. It was a mammoth effort from a team that had had 8 days of Test cricket under the pump and behind the 8-ball. Although they were helped by an easy pitch and by the absence of Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble yesterday, this was a great backs-to-the-wall effort. The fact that all top five batsmen made a half century (with none of them, yet, going on to make a century) was an indicator of the superlative team-effort that Australia had put in.

I felt that although Kumble was bowling tight and although it was fabulous stuff from a committed Indian warrior, he missed a trick by not bowling from around the wicket and into the ‘rough’.

Sehwag was bowling brilliantly. He was showing us a complete repertoire. The top spinner, the slow spinner, flight, the one that goes straight and the faster one. It just showed how badly under-used this talented cricketer is in India.

And then, after some 85 overs since his last wicket in Test cricket, Anil Kumble bowled a slow-through-the-air googly to get Brad Haddin stumped brilliantly by Dhoni. The indefatigable warrior had struck for India. Australia was 426-6.

Haddin was gone for 17 off 35 balls with 1 four and a six.

In the very next over, Gambhir almost created a a half-chance at forward short-leg as Michael Clarke poked at a Sehwag delivery. It was a hard one to convert to a catch. The fact that Gambhir almost made it into a catch should augur well for India’s close-fielding stables.

At lunch, Australia had reached 436-6. India had bowled 31 overs and Australia had made 98 runs, losing 2 wickets. Australia had made the runs at 3.16 rpo.

In the pre-lunch session, India had bowled 31 overs. This is how teams should approach their cricket. Not in the recalcitrant, unprofessional, lazy and sloppy manner in which Australia treats the viewing spectator. And while Australia thumbs its lazy nose at the ICC establishment, the ICC goes around finding the next Asian to ping for a wrong-doing when the wrongdoers are right under its nose. What I struggle most with is the manner in which Match Referees allow and encourage such recalcitrance from Australia, the world champion team when it comes to over rates.

Australia will be happy to wipe off the deficit and reach the follow-on target. India will rue the missed catch and also the bad bowling from Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma and Mishra that they started off with.

Given that Australia lost two important wickets, I call this an even session too. The SBS Score reads: India 5.5, Australia 4.5!

Session-2:

Surprisingly, India started with Zaheer Khan bowling after lunch. Given that Kumble and Sehwag did all the pre-lunch damage, this decision was somewhat surprising, unless Kumble wanted to change the end from which he was bowling.

Sehwag bowled from the end that Kumble was bowling pre-lunch. So it may be that Kumble was using Zaheer Khan to help him swap ends with Sehwag — not a bad ploy.

Australia will be looking to do a Zaheer-Harbhajan-Bengaluru in this session being about 170 behind India. The closer they could get to India’s total, the better it would be for them.

A few overs after lunch, Virender Sehwag became India’s one of the most employed bowler in this innings! At this stage, Sehwag had already bowled 35 overs, which was the same number of overs that Mishra had bowled! Given Kumble’s injury and Harbhajan Singh’s absence, this was a tremendous bonus for Anil Kumble and further underlined Sehwag’s value in this team.

Zaheer Khan continued to bowl. The tactic was somewhat unclear to me although Zaheer Khan was getting the ball to tail in to the right hander.

The folly of the Zaheer Khan strategy had become more obvious as the runs started to come quite freely. One of the advantages of Kumble bowling in tandem with Sehwag was that both ends offered little by way of release of pressure. There was hardly any venom in Zaheer Khan’s bowling for the batsmen to try anything silly off Sehwag’s bowling. India was missing a trick by not bowling either Mishra or Kumble here, I felt.

After three overs of the Zaheer Khan spell, Kumble brought himself on to bowl. Australia had moved to 465-6, only 148 runs behind. The complexion of the game was slowly starting to change. At the other end, Sehwag was changed for Amit Mishra.

Australia had developed a string of partnerships — with not a single player (yet) going on to make a century — and another one was developing between Cameron White and Michael Clarke. Their partnership had reached 50 runs and the danger signal for India was that they had done it really easily!

Mishra has upped his pace and was bowling with less flight and faster through the air to try and get some purchase from the pitch. Kumble was trying, in the meanwhile, to bowl a few tight overs.

[I could not write more last night. This piece is written more for completeness and has been written a day later.]

India continued to play ordinary cricket and let off Michael Clarke a few more times before they were able to wrap up the innings.

I was disappointed by Australia’s approach. Australia batted on till it got to 39 runs behind India’s tour.With just 13 overs left in the days’ play, there was no way India was going to make the running on a pitch that was offering nothing much to the bowlers even on day-4. I thought Australia should have declared at least 100 behind. This would have forced India to make the running in this match. Remember, India does not need to win this match, although India would like to. Australia has to win this match although, by drawing this match, it keeps its hopes alive in the series. So the attacking ploy for Australia would have been to declare about 100 runs behind India’s total. Unfortunately, that was not to be. What we saw was the initiation of a defensive ploy from Australia and a continuation of this ploy by India.

I gave the 2nd session as well as the 3rd session of day-4 to Australia and so, the SBS Score reads: India 5.5, Australia 6.5!

— Mohan

India Vs Australia :: Test 3 :: Delhi :: Day-3

After putting on a mammoth score in the 1st Innings, India are most probably safe in this match. With three days left, unless India do a very bad “Australia’s 2nd Innings in Adelaide in 2003” (all out 196 in 56 overs), an India loss could (perhaps should) be ruled out at this stage.

Australia has its work cut out to save this game. For this, Australia’s 1st Innings will be crucial. This is because the pitch will get worse and worse to bat on as the match progresses. If Australia bats well in the 1st Innings, there will be a case for a draw. Of course, as they say, “funnier things have happened in cricket”!

With that in mind, the 1st Session of day-3 becomes crucial for Australia.

Australia started off well after India played grinding cricket. Cricinfo has called it khadoos cricket with a view to shutting Australia out of the game; in much the same manner as Australia played in the 2nd Innings at Sydney, 2008. In Australia’s 1st Innings, after a mammoth effort in the field, Matthew Hayden and Simon Katich started well and played the 15 remaining overs competently. However, there were danger signs as Amit Mishra and Anil Kumble turned a few balls in viciously into the left-handed openers after hitting the rough outside the left-handers’ off stump.

This could be a very interesting days’ play.

What will be interesting will be the captaincy today. Ricky Ponting made some strange decisions on the field. Peter Roebuck talks about just that including a reference to throwing out the new-age strategy as well as its author out of the Australian dressing room! Anil Kumble will find it easier to captain a team that has made 613. Yet, it will be interesting to see what Anil Kumble does.

Session-1:

Zaheer Khan came out fresh and strong. He bowled two terrific bouncers that had Matthew Hayden hopping around. There was a bit of a haze about that may have made the ball move around just a little bit. Anil Kumble started off with a somewhat defensive field with four players spread out on the off-side to prevent a big shot being played! This was more khadoos cricket perhaps! It had Sunil Gavaskar wild and angry in the commentary box (pointer to those that think that Gavaskar can find no wrong with the Indian team or her tactics)!

The second over was bowled by Anil Kumble and, although the turn out of the ‘rough’ was slow into the left handers, it provided a blue-print for the rest of the day. There was spin in this pitch and it would get sharper and faster as the game progressed.

Hayden and Katich were playing sensibly. There was none of the mindless aggression that we saw in Mohali. They played sensibly to good balls and put the bad balls away. This was good, steady — and more importantly, ego-free — batting by the Australians.

One or two of Anil Kumble’s balls hit the ‘rough’ and spat/stung. One of these balls went right through the flayed bat and Dhoni’s gloves for 4 byes. This was good Test match cricket and the Australian batsmen were proving equal to the task.

Katich reached his 50 off 91 balls with 8 fours. Australia had reached 88-0 at this stage off 24.3 overs.

Ishant Sharma was brought into the attack, but he could not make much of a dent either. The Australians had pitched their tents for the long stay on this pitch. Despite the odd ball kicking from the rough, Kumble wasn’t really bowling all that well. He had gone over 70 overs without picking up a wicket in Test cricket and the signs of frustration were there for all to see. He seemed to be rushing things through rather than let the ball do the work off the pitch. So it wasn’t surprising to see Amit Mishra being brought in. However, with two left-handers at the crease it was surprising not to see Virender Sehwag in operation.

Soon, Amit Mishra came on to bowl instead of Kumble. In his very first over, Matthew Hayden hit a huge six to bring up the Australian 100. Australia had moved to 105-0 off 29 overs in the first over when drinks were called. India had bowled 14 overs in the first hour — better than the Australian 13, but only just! The Australians were looking quite assured and this was a worrying sign for India.

Neither Hayden nor Katich were being either overly-defensive or overly-offensive. They were playing focussed cricket and were hungry for runs. They were also not bothered about the huge mountain that had to be climbed. They were playing over-by-over cricket. This was good, responsible batting by the Australians. Ishant Sharma and Amit Mishra were not making much of a difference. It won’t be long, I thought, before we saw Ishant Sharma bowling an outside off-stump line with the spinners attacking at the other end.

It would be good to see Sourav Ganguly and Virender Sehwag have a bowl, remembering (a) the impact Ganguly had in the match against Pakistan here at the Kotla last year, (b) we had two left-handers in the middle.

But it was Amit Mishra who broke through first. He got it through between an advancing Simon Katich’s bat and pad to bowl the advancing batsman off the ‘rough’ for a well made 64 off 115 balls. Australia was 123-1 off 34.1 overs and Ricky Ponting came to the middle with Ishant Sharma in the middle of a good spell of bowling.

This was a good bit of bowling by Mishra. He had got Katich out bowled for the second time off the ‘rough’ (the 1st innings at Mohali was Mishra’s first wicket in Test cricket) — although in Mohali, the ball hit the stumps off Katich’s bat, glove, pad, helmet, pad, elbow, shirt pocket, helmet visor, and anything else that the ball wished to be introduced to!

However, it was a terrible piece of batting by Simon Katich. He closed the face of the bat to eke out a single to mid-wicket when what he ought to have done, once he reached the pitch of the ball, was to either play it with a straight bat or even pad up to it!

Hayden soon reached his half-century. This was a terrifically controlled innings by Hayden. He had 53 off 96 balls with 9 4s and a six in an Australian score of 143-1 off 37.2 overs.

The somewhat worrying thing for the Australians was that there were edges flying off the edge of the bat. The worrying thing for the Indians was that the field placing did not mean that the right fielders were in the right place to take these edges! Kumble was perhaps too absorbed with this conservative “choking” cricket that he is sold on.

Anil Kumble came in for Ishant Sharma at this stage, with a few minutes to go for lunch! Virender Sehwag came in for a bowl for the last over before lunch and immediately, he was getting purchase and turn form the pitch. It was an excellent over by Sehwag to Hayden. India had missed a trick by not bowling him earlier on in the session.

Lunch was called with Australia on 151-1. Despite the loss of the wicket, I make this Australia’s session; one in which 101 runs had been scored. The over rate was a worry, since only 12 overs had been bowled in the second hour!

Perhaps the Match Referee will wake up today to the over-rate negligence? The odds are that he will suddenly wake up because India has offended, especially since news also filtered through at this stage that Gautam Gambhir has been banned for 1 Test match!

Bring in more Asian Match Referees I say!

The SBS score reads: India 3.75, Australia 3.25! As you can see, by my reckoning, Australia aren’t really too far behind the 8-ball!

Session-2:

The Gautam Gambhir verdict had been handed down by Chris Broad prior to the start of the game. It is likely that the Indians were disheartened by the verdict. The players did look flat on the field and even the wicket of Katich did not fire them up as much as it may have on another day. They need to re-group and focus on the task on hand. Gambhir has a day to appeal the verdict handed down by Chris Broad. I personally think that Gambhir ought to have been fined. However, there is no point in doing this mid-way through a Test match. What point does it serve anyway?

In general, the ICC, I think needs to review the entire Match Referee thing. I am not sure why the ICC can’t go for a yellow-card, green-card, red-card deal with the umpires and 3rd umpire? This Match Referee thing is a bit of a joke, in my view. But that’s another debate for another day.

Right after the lunch break, when just two balls had been bowled, a swarm of bees attacked the ground. Players lay flat on the ground covering their faces in the expectation that the bees would fly away. Apart from giving Conn another opportunity to get stuck in, and apart from delaying the game by 2 minutes, all was well and the game commenced. Ponting commenced with a 4 off Kumble.

India started with Sehwag who had bowled a splendid over just prior to lunch. Ponting was already on 22 of 32 balls with 5 boundary hits.

I wasn’t totally comfortable with Kumble’s bowling at this stage. He was bowling too flat and just back of a length. The ‘rough’ outside Hayden’s off stump was hardly being exploited. This was a sign that Kumble was trying just that little bit harder than necessary. There was a lot of pressure on him to take wickets. My feeling was that if he took his first wicket, we’d see a very different Kumble.

The Indian energy on the field was lacking. I could be wrong, but my feeling was that they were stung by the Chris Broad verdict. The team needed to lift from that and get on with it as big boys must!

Having said that, Ponting and Hayden were playing exceedingly well. They just didn’t look like getting out. Ponting, in particular, wasn’t committing too early to his stroke and was playing late, off the pitch. What’s more important was that the two batsmen had, through their confident playing, spread out the field to all parts. The score had moved to 173-1 with Ponting on 29 off 43 balls (6 fours) and Hayden on 66 off 128 balls. Their 50 partnership between Ponting and Hayden was brought up at that score. India needed to do something different.

With the score on 174-1, Hayden had a bit of a reprieve. What seemed like a bat-pad off Anil Kumble lobbed up to Rahul Dravid at 1st slip. Dravid caught it cleanly. But umpire Billy Bowden was unmoved. It was a tough call, because the ball seemed to hit the back of the bat after hitting pad first. Anil Kumble, who had had dreadful luck with his appeals in Bangalore, continued to rue his decision-misfortunes. One another day, he may have got that decision. But when one’s luck is down, it rarely rains; it pours! So, Kumble continued to search for that elusive first wicket; and also continued to drag the ball down!

After bowling 4 overs after lunch, Amit Mishra came in to bowl, replacing Virender Sehwag. Immediately, there was more flight, more bite and more spite. But the well-set batsmen were able to negotiate him, despite Ponting having a wild hoik falling in desolate territory.

At this stage, India needed a few tight overs and this is where Harbhajan Singh would have been handy. Instead we had two attacking leg-spinners in action. On this pitch, the batsmen were able to push the ball for singles and put the bad ball away for a boundary.

At 187-1, Kumble dived full length at short mid-wicket to a fierce drive from Matthew Hayden off Amit Mishra. He stopped the ball like an 18-year-old soccer goal keeper, stopped the ball and lunged again to make a second attempt to catch the ball. Unfortunately, he dropped the catch after a valiant effort. In the process, he acquired an injury on the little finger of his left hand. As a result, Kumble had to leave the field. India was a bowler short, but had gained an aggressive captain instead! Matthew Hayden lived to fight another day!

In general, even though batting was somewhat easy, the two batsmen were making it look easier. This was a top effort from Ponting and Hayden. Let’s put this in context! Although the score was 197-1, Australia was still 417 in arrears! So although the pitch was easy-ish to bat on, to put the arrears out of your mind can’t have been easy for the Australian batsmen. Yet, they put it all away and slowly accumulated the runs in a bid to run down the mammoth India total. This despite the odd edge flying through and the odd ball kicking up from a length — including a Hayden edge off the bowling of Sehwag just falling short of Dravid in the slip area.

At the drinks berak, Australia had moved to 199-1 off 57.0 overs. This meant that 16 overs had been bowled in the hour from Lunch to drinks — and that with about 2 minutes lost to bees! Unfortunately, this would mean that Chris Broad may have to look for other work to do until India offends in some manner again!

Immediately after the drinks break, Sehwag bowled a beauty to have Matthew Hayden trapped in front of the stumps for 83 off 153 balls with 13 4s and 1 huge six. Australia was 202-2 off 57.2 overs and the partnership between Hayden and Ponting was worth 79 runs off 23.1 at a rate of 3.41 rpo (of which Hayden had made 35 and Ponting 40). Sehwag had made a very important breakthrough; one that would bring a new batsman to the crease on a pitch that was staring to play a few tricks. Moreover, it would provide the Indians just the lift they were looking for on the field.

The new batsman, however, was Michael Hussey — and they don’t make cricketers more consistent that this man!

Hayden, like Katich was looking to close the face on a ball that was sliding on to him. Perhaps not the best shot selection there.

At 222-2, Ponting survived a huge shout for caught-behind. Ponting had stretched forward and the ball seemed to kiss the outside edge to lodge in Dhoni’s gloves. Aleem Dar did not see it and Ponting lived to fight another day. Perhaps Dhoni’s mistake was in taking off the bails simultaneously — possibly an auto-reflex reaction. The umpires may have thought that the Indian acting captain was making a bet-each-way appeal and turned him down! Later on, Snickometer showed nothing at all.

Interestingly umpire Billy Bowden had an unusually lengthy conversation with M. S. Dhoni after that appeal.

Ponting soon reached his 50. It was a gritting/fighting innings. The Australian score was 226-2

Ishant Shrma replaced Virender Sehwag, who had analysis of 12-2-37-1. Top figures for a part-timer. Ishant Sharma bowled as well as he has bowled all series. His length and lines were immediately spot on and he was getting just a hint of reverse swing going. It was as if he had been bowling all day. It is fair to say that, in him, India had unearthed a terrific bowler!

At the other end, Sachin Tendulkar came on for Amit Mishra with some 9 minutes to go for Tea.

Australia went to Tea on 237-2 off 70 overs. Ponting was on 61 off 116 balls and Michael Hussey was on 13 off 39 balls. 55 overs had been bowled in the day thus far — still some 5 overs short of where India needed to be. 86 runs came in that session off 29 overs. Australia was still 376 runs short of India’s total. Given that Australia lost a really well-set and that really important cog-in-the-wheel Matthew Hayden, I give this as an even and the SBS score reads: India 4.25, Australia 3.75!

Session-3:

The BCCI has decided to appeal Gautam Gambhir’s 1-Test ban. The ban judge will be appointed by the ICC in 2 days and the hearing will be conducted some 7 days later. This will mean that Gambhir will play the next Test against Australia. In all likelihood, this heavy-handed ban will be over-turned.

After Tea, Australia — no, Ricky Ponting — survived a hostile spell of accurate pace bowling from Ishant Sharma and Zaheer Khan. Unlike the Australian bowlers, who mainly bowled wide of off-stump for much of their spells, these two Indian spearheads, attacked the stumps and were making Ponting in particular jump and hop around. However, Ponting was up to the task and motored along.

Inshat Sharma and Zaheer Khan were getting some reverse-swing. Ishant Sharma was making the ball jag back in sharply as he had at Mohali. Somehow Ponting survived this spell and hung in there. Sespite his mounting score, you could say that Ponting survived, at best. Unlike, Hayden, who looked very much in control till he got out, Ponting appeared to just hang in there, until he lost control.

He had made an 82-run partnership with Hussey when he stepped out to a Virender Sehwag delivery to be bowled by a ball that spun viciously after pitching.

The new ball was taken by Ishant Sharma only after 98.1 overs. Interestingly, Sehwag bowled at the other end and in his second over with the new ball, had Hussey clean bowled to a flighted ball that pitched on Hussey’s middle-and-leg stump and turned sharply to break the off stump! Australia was 326-4 at that stage with Hussey gone for a carefully constructed 53 off 146 balls (7 4s). In the very next over, Mishra should have had Watson out LBW. That ball was going on to hit the stumps before it hit anything else! But the umpire thought otherwise.

Australia completed the day on 338-4 off 105 overs. Clarke was unbeaten on 21 off 45 balls and Watson was on 4. In the 90 overs bowled in the day, Australia had made 288 runs (at 3.2 rpo).

Incidentally, 90 overs had been bowled in the day, perhaps for the first time in this match. The Match Referee is perhaps disappointed that India completed its quota of overs for the day — he must be disappointed that he could not ping and Asian player/team today!

Even though India were without the services of Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble, Amit Mishra and Virender Sehwag had shown plenty of guile and mustard to have Inida slightly in the drivers’ seat. India has its hand on the steering wheel last night. Tonight, while India is still in the drivers’ seat, its hand is not quite on the steering wheel.

It was an absorbing days’ cricket. Australia are still 275 runs behind with 6 wickets in hand.

I gave India the last session, just marginally because of the two wickets (Ponting and Hussey) that had fallen. The SBS score reads: India 5.0, Australia 4.0!

— Mohan

Very Very Special Birthdays

In a series that has already seen a few birthdays, tomorrow (1 November) will be a very very special birthday of a special batsman — V. V. S. Laxman. He is the youngest of the Fab Four — I think Peter Roebuck has termed him Ringo to Ganguly’s Paul, Dravid’s George and Tendulkar’s John! Laxman turns 34 on 1 November 2008.

This series has seen a few birthdays from both teams. Interestingly, most birthdays on this tour so far have been of the over-30s club (if we count players who turned 30 as belonging to the 30s club).

  • Virender Sehwag turned 30 on the last day of the Mohali Test (21 Oct).
  • Anil Kumble turned 38 on the 1st day of the Mohali test (Oct 17).
  • Matthew Hayden turned 37 on the 1st day of the Delhi Test (Oct 29).
  • Zaheer Khan celebrated his 30th birthday a couple of days prior to the start of the Bangalore Test (Oct 7).
  • Stuart Clark celebrated his 33rd birthday on the last day of the Australians’ tour game against Rajasthan (Sept 28).
  • Brad Haddin turned 31 two days after the conclusion of the Mohali Test match (Oct 23).
  • Brett Lee will celebrate his 32nd birthday during the Nagpur Test match (Nov 8).

There are two players that break the over-30s ring to the birthday honours list for this tour:

  • Mitchell Johnson will celebrate his 27th birthday on the last day of the Delhi Test match (Nov 2).
  • Gautam Gambhir celebrated his 27th birthday the day after the Bangalore Test concluded (Oct 4).

I stumbled on all of this when looking up the ages of the Fab Five of Indian cricket. Anil Kumble turned 38 on OCt 17 2009; Rahul Dravid will be 36 on Jan 11 2009; Sourav Ganguly already turned 36 on July 8 2008; Sachin Tendulkar will turn 36 on April 24 2009; Laxman will turn 34 on Nov 1 2008.

While Ganguly has already announced his retirement at the end of the ongoing series against Australia, it is conceivable that Anil Kumble will not be around for long. Kumble will, in all likelihood, be the next “cab off the Fab Five Rank”, especially since India has a captain-in-waiting in (M. S. Dhoni) and also a legspinner-in-waiting (Amit Mishra and two, if you count Piyush Chawla). Anil Kumble can leave the grand stage comfortably, knowing that his art as well as his leadership philosophies are in extremely good hands. Through a combination of luck, opportunity-seizing and design, there appears to be a succession plan in place for his departure with no sudden and gaping holes. What is now required is for Kumble to make his call on when he wishes to step down. I have a feeling that the two Tests against England in December this year will be his last. The thought of packing his bags for a trip to Pakistan early next year (2009) and another one to New Zealand soon after that will be enough to provide that proverbial last straw in a weary camels’ back!

— Mohan