Tag Archives: Laxman

The Indian fan can dream… again!

The Indian fan can dream. The Indian fan first started dreaming in 2001 after “that series”! Team India fans will not need to know either the opponent or the score or the city. The term “that series” is sufficient to know that what we are talking about is 2001, Kolkata, Laxman, Harbhajan, 281!

The dreams were premature then.

India was not able to reproduce that 281 intensity in a consistently strong manner. There were several ills in the system that needed fixing. They are not fixed yet! Although the leadership, through Sourav Ganguly, tried to instill a sense of passion and pride, the playing group could still not be accused of either having or yearning for a “winning mindset”.

Although the ills in the system are still not fixed — the BCCI is the only organisation that is capable of making both the Zimbabwean Board as well as the ICC look good — and although these ills still exist, the Indian fan can dream again because of her players and the attitude that they bring to the table these days.

The ills in the system commence from grass roots selection and weed all the way through to talent nurturing, jobs-for-the-boys, organisation and more. Much more.

However, what a cricket fan dreams about is playing well and winning. And winning in cricket is about having the right resources, the right support systems, the right leadership, the right systems, the right processes, the right media, the right talent and the right attitude — not necessarily in that order.

Digging into all of the above-mentioned pillars of success is an article or two at least and perhaps we should undertake a detailed inventory of where Indian cricket is exactly at. But not right now! But briefly, one could argue that the resources in India have improved. We have several Cricket Academies. Every man and his dog has opened an Academy hoping to teach cricket-skills to wide-eyed kids. One could concede that these Academies are producing a truck load of bright young kids that do exceedingly well at the Under-19 level. Moreover, where cricket was essentially for the city-dwelling elite and middle-class in India — when it came to big-league opportunities — newer players have come for far-flung places. Dhoni is from Ranchi (in interior Jharkhand), a place without a single player to have ever played for India! The domination of Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Chennai are no longer present. We have players in the team that used to practice their cricket on railway platforms in Ranchi — indeed, he leads the team today!

The representative level is well-organised and run in India. The Ranji system is strong, although I think that even after splitting the competition into two leagues, the Elite league has 4 teams too many! There is more work to do there, but I do believe that the foundations are better now than they were a 10 years back.

The media in India has always been an issue and a problem. There are sane voices that lead the team towards a better future. But the commercial TV channels and some near-jingoistic broadsheets ruin it for everyone. Unfortunately, there is an audience for sensationalism in India! One hopes that the saner, stronger voices win in the end — and there are plenty of those to give me hope!

As I have said before, in Gary Kirsten, India has the right man. He has no compelling need to be either in the drivers’ seat or indeed, near a microphone! He stays in the background and does his job in much the way that John Wright did. I feel that this man will take Indian cricket forward. Time will tell.

What matters most to me is the right leadership, talent and attitude.

Sourav Ganguly was, in my view, the first real leader of the Indian cricket team. I have been saying that for years. Rahul Dravid would have made a sensational leader of the Australian cricket team! Alas! He was in a place that needed a Ganguly or a Dhoni! He was a cultural misfit! The role needs a leader who was/is able to approach leadership by inspiring inwards and managing outwards! Dravid was a misfit as a leader. Right man, wrong place! Kumble was a “holding pattern” and in Sydney alone he showed qualities that I have not seen in leaders in a long time.

Peter Roebuck has written eloquently about M. S. Dhoni. What he has said does not need repeating.

As a Team India fan dreams again, Dhoni is the right man for the job. Indeed, he is perhaps the one that inspires these dreams!

However, the most important reason for these dreams is the talent and mindset.

The Indian team in Nagpur showed that winning was important for it. Although on day-5 the team did look ragged and confused, the moment they got a wicket or two, neo-normalcy seemed to be restored. Indian teams of old would have caved in. This team regrouped and stuck to its plan again — as it had on day-3 after playing lose cricket at the end of day-2. They had their minds on the job in a focussed manner. In the past, Indian teams could not be accused of either focus or determination, leave alone steely-resolve! This team has all of that in spades and moreover, plays with a hiterto unobserved pride!

There was an almost Australia-like cut-throat edge to its game.

Over the last few years, the timidity and servility that represented Indian teams of the past had given way to aggression, attitude, determination, grit, fight and free-spirit. Agreed! All of the above come to the fore compellingly only when India plays Australia or Pakistan. However, there is a new breed of player that is more and more reflective of the new, brash, bold, adventurous, expressive India! I am not a fan of it, but I realise that that is where the country and its people are at this point in time.

Moreover, with the onset of central contracts and the IPL, I feel that India players play with far greater security. This has always been a concern in Indian cricket. In the past, the India player has had to play with the next game and pay-cheque in mind! But today, a Gautam Gambhir is able to play his natural aggressive game without worrying too much about his next contract or his next pay cheque! He has got it, in spades already.

And I do believe that this last element adds significantly to the make up of the winning mindset. Suddenly, Gautam Gambhir’s existence is no longer an issue. His performance is. He can focus more on giving his best to his country. Even a Joginder Sharma or a Praveen Kumar can come in for a game here or a game there and give off his best. The IPL and central contracts ensure that all that the player needs to focus on is in giving off his best in the game that he is chosen for.

Suddenly there are more players for spots!

Let us look at the list of players that are in contention:

  • Openers: Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Murali Vijay, Wasim Jaffer, Akash Chopra [5]
  • Middle-order Batsmen: Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, V. V. S. Laxman, Rohit Sharma, S. Badrinath, Suresh Raina, Mohammed Kaif, Yuvraj Singh, Cheteshwar Pujara, Robin Uthappa, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Tanmay Srivastava, Shikar Dhawan [14]
  • Pacemen: Ishant Sharma, Zaheer Khan, Munaf Patel, R. P. Singh, Sree Santh, Irfan Pathan, Praveen Kumar, Pankaj Singh, Manpreet Gony, Ashok Dinda, Siddharth Trivedi, Pradeep Sangwan, Ranadeb Bose [13]
  • Spinners: Harbhajan Singh, Amit Mishra, Piyush Chawla, Pragyan Ojha, Yusuf Pathan, Romesh Powar, Mohnish Parmar [7]
  • Keepers: M. S. Dhoni, Parthiv Patel, Wriddhiman Saha, Dinesh Karthik [4]

That’s a total of 43 players. It is an impressive list of young players. I may have missed out a few and some may question the presence of players like Mohnish Parmar or Shikar Dhawan or Tanmay Srivastava. This is perhaps nothing more than a list of players who are in contention for both the Test as well as the ODI team. Most of the above players have either played for India already (in any of the three forms of the game) or are about to.

India should expand its contract list to include players who regularly turn out for India-A games. India-A should tour continuously and if no one wants to play with India-A, should play against itself! Match readiness should be the name of the game and not the next central contract! A core bunch of about 50 players needs to be identified, nurtured and maintained. They should also be match-ready so that the careers of players like Ishant Sharma, Zaheer Khan, Tendulkar, Dravid, Yuvraj Singh and M. S. Dhoni can be well-managed.

Cheteshwar Pujara has scored three triple centuries in his last four games including one in the recently completed Ranji round! One can’t keep him away from the big league for too long. Gavaskar was pushing for young Pujara even when news of Gautam Gambhir’s Nagpur suspension was filtering through. The selectors went for M. Vijay in that instance.

However, Rahul Dravid will need to now work intensely hard to keep players like Badrinath, Pujara, Rohit Shrama, Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina at bay! Kris Srikkanth has said that he has faith in Dravid and feels that a big innings is just around the corner.

I am conservative in this regard — a close friend labeled be “dogged” in this regard. Be that as it may, I am not for a “spill and fill” approach. We have just seen the departure of Kumble and Ganguly from the team. It may be seductive to wipe the slate clean and go for a thrush of youngsters! With important series against England, Pakistan and New Zealand coming up in the next 6 months, if I were selector, I’d give Dravid up until the end of the New Zealand series to make up his mind on the timing of his departure. If he wishes to leave the game before that time, then that would be his call to make. I do believe we need his experience in the team until the New Zealand series at least.

Either way you look at it, it is an impressive collection of players.

After that 281, the Team India fan can dream again!

— Mohan

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India Vs Australia :: Test 4 :: Nagpur :: Day-1

Ricky Ponting may have a lot of luck with the Match Referee who has been blind to Australia’s over-rate recalcitrance in all recent Tests. However, one thing that Ricky Ponting has bad luck with is the recent run of tosses! He lost even to Anil Kumble, a man notorious for bad toss-luck! M. S. Dhoni won the toss and elected to bat.

As expected, Harbhajan Singh replaced the retired Anil Kumble and M. Vijay came in for Gautam Gambhir who was rubbed out of this game without a proper appeal! The young opener from Tamil Nadu came in on the back of a double century in the Tamil Nadu game against Maharashtra.

Indeed, that TN-Maharashtra Ranji Trophy game only concludes today! Vijay was pulled out of that game after scoring a record opening stand of 462 in the company of the immensely talented 19-year-old, Abhinav Mukund. Incidentally, Abhinav Mukund, a stylish left-hander and son of former TN player Mukund, went on to make a 300 in that game.

I wrote in my preview of this Test match that Australia had to take Jason Krejza instead of Cameron White and perhaps, Peter Siddle instead of Shane Watson. Instead, however, Jason Krejza came in for Stuart Clark! Shane Watson and Cameron White remained in the side. This was, in my view, a strange tactic from Ponting. Only time will tell if it pays off for the Australians.

Session-1:

The pre-drinks session belonged to India. Australia started off with a Brett Lee wide — it ought to have been two wides in a row really, to match Steve Harmison’s start to the Gabba Test. India started off in a hurry. The rest of the first hour was roughly similar apart from a few false shots and inside edges from the Indian openers.

I was particularly impressed with Murali Vijay. He played with utmost composure a cool head and a tight technique. When he came forward to meet the ball, he did so in an assured manner. When he rocked back, his balance was brilliant.

Just before the drinks’ break, Jason Krejza came in for a bowl. Sehwag hit him for a 4 and a 6 in the same over. Perhaps this was a sign of things to come?

However, there were a few good signs for the Australians. The pitch had bounce and offered some spin. However, most interestingly, the top soil was already starting to crumble!

With the score on 98, Shane Watson bowled a few well-directed bouncers at M. Vijay who ducked easily into these. However, this was followed by another one closer to Mijay’s body. The ball squared him up and the resulting poke was taken by Brad Haddin. M. Vijay had made 33 off 53 balls and the score was 98-1!

At the other end, Sehwag faced up to Jason Krejza who had figures at this stage of 3-0-32-0. However, he was getting some sharp spin and unnerving bounce! Sehwag’s strategy to the first ball he faced from Krejza was strange; he attempted a reverse sweep! At this stage, Sehwag had scored 63 off 58 balls! I didn’t quite see the need for a reverse sweep, but then that’s how the man plays!

The fall of Vijay brought Dravid to the crease. Off the very first ball he faced from Krejza, Dravid lunged forward tentatively and poked the ball off the front foot. The ball bounced awkwardly, ripped and cluttered into his pads before travelling into the safe hands of Simon Katich at forward short leg! Dravid, after looking solid, but unlucky at Bengaluru, Mohali and Delhi, was out for a disconcerting duck off the second ball he faced!

This was good bowling by Krejza and underlined the folly of Australia not including him in previous Test matches.

Soon after, the score was 116-3 when Jason Krejza induced a lazy glide off the back foot from Virender Sehwag. With just 5 minutes to go for lunch, this was perhaps a play-for-lunch shot. The ball took the under-edge of the bat and crashed into the stumps. Krejza had his second wicket in Test cricket! Sehwag was out for 66 off 69 balls with 9 4s and 1 six!. India was 116-3 off 22.3 overs!

V. V. S. Laxman, in his 100th Test match, caressed the first ball he received for an off-driven 3 runs.

India found herself in a hole of her own making really! Jason Krejza was able to crowd the bat with 3-4 fielders now.

At lunch, India was on 122-3 off 24 overs! Only 24 overs were possible by the Australians in a two hour session! But the Match Referee will continue to look to take candy money from a few Australians before training his sights on the over rate!

India had an excellent start to the session, but blew it towards the end with about 25 minutes of madness.

My Session by Session (SBS) scoring gives this session to Australia. The SBS Score reads: India-0, Australia-1.0!

Session-2:

India started the 2nd Session on 122-3 (a run rate of 4.80) with Laxman on 4 off 5 balls and Tendulkar on 16 off 16 balls.

I suspect Harbhajan Singh, Amit Mishra and Virender Sehwag would like what they saw of the pre-lunch session. Krejza was able to extract spin and bounce from the pitch! It would be an early call and it is potentially foolish to make a call on an Indian pitch, especially when one is a few thousand miles away and watching on TV! However, I have a feeling that a score of 400 or so in the 1st innings would be quite competitive! The surface was already crumbling and there already was a bowlers’ rough! And we have just completed the 1st Session of the match! Having said this, I realise Dravid got out to a poke and Sehwag got out to a lazy shot. Yet, what was disconcerting was the bounce and spin that Krejza was getting.

Australia are in a good position despite the brisk scoring from the Indians.

Despite going for nearly 8 runs per over at this stage (6-0-48-2), Krejza was actually bowling quite well. He was getting good spin and bounce. His top spin was also working for him and he was able to extract good bounce from it. I didn’t see anything that went on with the arm though and that may make him somewhat predictable perhaps.

There was a pointer though for me that was good about the first session. India didn’t look like a team playing for a draw! This could play into Australia’s hands.

Australia started off after lunch with Jason Krejza and Mitchell Johnson.

Mitchell Johnson started off with a 7-2 off-side field. This meant a lot of off-side bowling! This was a somewhat strange tactic from a team that had to win the match! Agreed this was just Session-2 of a long Test match, but I couldn’t quite understand this from Australia. Sachin Tendulkar, who faced most of these balls, was having nothing to do with these. Perhaps Australia wanted to attack at one end and slow things down at the other end?

Having said that, the first time Johnson strayed onto the pads, Tendulkar was able to whip it through mid-wicket for a four. Still, Johnson continued with a 7-2 field.

Ponting’s approach was to give his pace bowlers short bursts of 4-5 overs. It was a hot day. Nine overs after lunch, Mitchell Johnson was replaced by Brett Lee. India had added 27 runs in the 9 overs after lunch. It was India’s turn to consolidate. The Australian pace bowlers continued to bowl outside off stump although Brett Lee did catch Laxman flush on the shoulder from a fast in-ducking bouncer!

Krejza was bowling steadily and was getting some slow spin and bounce. His figures read a more respectable: 12-1-74-2! He even bowled a maiden over!

The ball was 37 overs old now and was showing some signs of reverse swing. Brett Lee produced an in-swinging yorker, which Laxman kept out. This was starting to make the game just a little interesting. We had an off-spinner playing his first Test match, able to extract some slow spin and bounce from the pitch. We also had a paceman steaming in to bowl with fire at two well set batsmen who were quite intent on staying there.

This was absorbing Test match cricket.

The 50 of the partnership came off a strange, false shot from Laxman! A Jason Krejza ball gripped the surface, bounced and turned a bit. Laxman was into his trademark whip-flick shot before the ball arrived at him. The ball stopped a bit too. The resulting shot just lobbed agonisingly over the head of mid-wicket to reach the boundary fence. Tendulkar and Laxman had made their 50 runs from 14.3 overs at a rate of 3.44 rpo. Tendulkar was on 41 from 55 balls and Laxman was on 19 from 44 balls.

Tendulkar was batting wonderfully. There were no histrionics or thumping off drives. This was a relaxed and in-the-zone outing for Tendulkar. He was looking good.

Drinks was called at this stage.

At this point, Jason Krejza had bowled unchanged since he was introduced! Although he had given away a few runs, it highlighted once again why Krejza’s absence from the team in the first three Tests was beyond belief.

In Jason Krejza’s 14th over on the trot (39th over of the innings) he even bowled from around the wickets. I was getting more and more impressed with this Australian bowler. He wasn’t frightened of tossing it up. He wasn’t fearful of the reputations of the batsmen he was bowling to. Perhaps he had the “temerity” too huh?

In Krejza’s next over, Tendulkar got his half century. He had had a wonderful landmark-loaded series without scoring a big one. This was his 52nd half-century, and with it, Tendulkar had scored his 91st score of 50 or more runs — the highest for any player in the world. The records continued to fall his way. However, he would perhaps agree that nothing would matter to him more than a big match-winning score here.

In the 42nd over Cameron White came in for his first bowl of the match. At the other end, Shane Watson replaced Brett Lee. The ball was starting to “reverse” just that little bit. There was something in it for the pace bowlers now. Perhaps Stuart Clark will have made better use of the conditions? One will never know.

Cameron White had figures of 3-1-3-0 at the end of his 3rd over. However, truth be told. He bowled nonsense really. Most of his balls were nearly a foot outside off stump. But perhaps he was part of the ‘holding pattern’ for this pair (Watson-White) of Australian bowlers.

At Tea India was 202-3 off 51 overs at a rate of just under 4 rpo. In that session, 27 overs had been bowled for 80 runs. India hadn’t lost a wicket in that session in which its run rate was 2.96 rpo. It was a steadying session for India. India won the session and the SBS Score reads: India-1.0, Australia-1.0!

Session-3:

Onto my pet peeve: Australia’s over rate

Up until Tea on day-1 Australia had bowled 51 overs! Of these, 20 overs had been bowled by spinners! This was beyond sloppy territory. The was beyond unprofessional territory. This was even beyond recalcitrance. This was beyond thumb-nose-at-establishment territory even. I am thoroughly gob-smacked that Chris Broad will still do nothing about it!

If Ricky Ponting is serious about getting even with the bowling rate, I’d expect Jason Krejza and Cameron White to do a large bulk of the bowling from overs 50-80 before the new ball is due. It will be interesting to see how this session plays out in this regard. But for me, it will be interesting to see when the Match Referee stops this blatant and continuous insult to the game of cricket itself!

After Tea, Australia started proceedings with Cameron White and Shane Watson. Cameron White continued to bowl nonsense.

The 100 partnership was soon secured. Laxman had 38 runs from 102 balls while 73 from just 103 balls! I hadn’t quite realised that at that stage these two had faced almost the same number of deliveries! Perhaps Cameron White had bowled more nonsense to Laxman than to Tendulkar.

Soon after the century partnership, Tendulkar and Laxman attempted to run the worst run I have seen in a long time! Jason Krejza who collected the ball could have said a brief prayer and composed a song before throwing the ball at the stumps! Tendulkar would have still been out! However, Krejza’s snap throw was wide of the stumps. Tendulkar who had given up on the run arrived in the TV frame a few seconds later! This was the first wrong step that Krejza had made all day!

As if to punish him for that, Ponting had him into the attack the very next over!

Cameron White switched ends and bowled instead of Shane Watson. But it was a case of different ends, same nonsense from White though!

Somehow in this session it looked as if the bite and fizz had been lost in this pitch for the spinners. Krejza wasn’t able to get the bite and purchase that he had received in the 1st Session. I did like how he bowled though. He wasn’t afraid to flight the ball and he copped the occasional hammering that he received.

The two Indian batsmen had pitched their tents for the long haul. This was again an example of khadoos batting. The Australians looked a bit lost. But having said that, this did appear to be a pitch on which one wicket could lead to a clatter of them!

It would be interesting to see Simon Katich in for Cameron White who, in my view, was wasting balls.

In his 18th over, Krejza had given his 100th run for his 2 wickets.

When on 85, with India on 241, Tendulkar miscued an off drive off Jason Krejza. The resulting skier seemed to stay in the skies for an eternity! Mitchell Johnson would have had ample time to say a prayer and compose a song before it landed down on him. Like Ishant Sharma had at Delhi, Mitchell Johnson had dropped an important catch. Had he drop the Border Gavaskar Trophy with it? Too early to tell really. But that was an easy catch if ever there was one!

The very next ball, on his 100th Test match, Laxman had a half-century.

Australia needed a wicket badly at that stage and Mitchell Johnson had let the team down.

Just as he brought Jason Krejza to bowl after being the the culprit of a Tendulkar run-out let-off, Ponting now got Mitchell Johnson in for a bowl. He replaced a listless Cameron White.

The catch drop seemed to have sapped the energy of the Australians. Heads drooped. Shoulders dropped. But there was hope. All Australia needed was a wicket or two, one felt. Wickets would always fall in a heap on this pitch, I felt.

Krejza continued to bowl well at both batsmen. However, for both batsmen the field was well spread. So, they were able to pick the singles and rotate the strike reasonably easily and soon Tendulkar stepped into the 90s for the first time in the series.

Against the run of play, V. V. S. Laxman tried to play a cut to a ball from Jason Krejza that just gripped, turned a bounced a bit. The resulting edge got stuck between Haddin’s legs and India had lost the 4th wicket at the score of 262. Laxman was out for 64 off 141 balls with 5 boundary hits. The partnership was worth 146 runs off 46.1 (at a rate of 3.16 rpo).

Laxman will have wanted a century in his 100th Test and like Sehwag, looked set for it. But like Sehwag, he too was out in the 60s!

Sourav Ganguly came out to play in his last Test match.

When on 96, Tendulkar was let down again off Jason Krejza. An off-drive hung in the air for a long time long time. Brett Lee dropped the resulting hard chance. Given his recent trend of getting out in the 80s and 90s, perhaps Tendulkar was looking a bit nervous and edgy out there? But then, perhaps this was Tendulkar’s day after all?

My question was whether Ponting would bowl Brett Lee now! He did not. Mitchell Johnson continued to bowl. He bowled a maiden over to Tendulkar.

Twice against Jason Krejza, Tendulkar had tried to hit a six on the off-side — perhaps following his sons’ advice — and twice he had been lucky that his miscue wasn’t pouched.

Clearly this was a very important century for this champion player.

The runs dried up for a few overs. Tendulkar was stuck on 99 for 10 balls. It was as if the game stood still for this great player. Ponting had conversations with Jason Krejza to build the psychological pressure on the man.

In the end, Tendulkar got his 40th century; his 10th against Australia. He had come close to century number 40 on several occasions in the recent past. This time, even though he tried very hard to give it away, he got there. His century had taken 166 balls and came with the help of 12 4s. India had reached 277-4 off 75 overs.

Simon Katich then replaced Mitchell Johnson — perhaps this was Ponting’s bid to up the over rate, which continued to be shameful.

At exactly 3 minutes to 10pm AEST (4.30pm IST), exactly 80 overs had been bowled. Of these, spinners had bowled 41 overs! And still, Australia was 9 over short of where it needed to be!

This was outrageous! Nothing else.

Australia took the new ball immediately when it was available. India reached 300 of the first over with the new ball. India’s 300 runs had come in in 81.5 overs (3.69 rpo).

Of the very next over, Sachin Tendulkar’s innings came to an end. He was LBW Mitchell Johnson for 109. Sachin Tendulkar, who was dropped twice in this innings, was out to one of the Australians who had dropped him earlier on when he was 85! This wasn’t really great bowling. Nor was there movement off the pitch. It was a decent ball. However, even with about 11 overs to go for the end of days’ play Tendulkar was already playing for the close. He had pulled down the shutters for the day and that caused him to play with a negative mindset. Just as he had got out to the new ball at Mohali after doing all the hard work earlier, here too, Sachin Tendulkar had fallen with just 20 minutes or so left in the days’ play.

Australia had been let back into the game really. Not once, but several times in the day. First by Virender Sehwag’s lazy shot, then by Laxman’s lazy shot and then by Tendulkar’s shut-shop negative-mindset.

India was 303-5 off 82.5 overs. Tendulkar was out for 109 off 188b with 12 4s. The partnership was worth 41 runs from 14.1 overs off a run rate of 2.89.

India got to 311-5 off 87 overs when the end of the days’ play was called.

Australia ended the day bowling 3 overs short despite the extension of play by half hour.

So what is the Match Referee doing about this?

Although India had batted well, I can’t help but feel that this was a day of missed opportunities and one concern for India. Missed opportunities because I feel Sehwag, Laxman and Tendulkar could have gone on to make more. One concern is the form and the mental state of Rahul Dravid. I am not sure what Paddy Upton is doing in/for this team. But he does need to work on Rahul Dravid to prepare him for the 2nd Innings. The way this match is shaping up, it could be a very important 2nd Innings for India and for Rahul Dravid.

Australia will feel pleased. It was a solid effort from Jason Krejza. If Australia can take the remaining Indian wickets for just 50-60 runs, Australia will be well ahead in this match.

The first session of play tomorrow will be crucial for both teams!

I give the last session to Australia and so, the SBS Score reads: India-1.0, Australia-2.0;

A crazy coincidence:

At Mohali on day-1, India finished at 311-5!

— 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

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

India Vs Australia :: Test 3 :: Delhi :: Day-2

Honours were even on the first day till that point when the battler, Gautam Gambhir and the magician, V. V. S. Laxman started their act. Up until then, serial-spitter Ricky Ponting, embattled Brett Lee, talent-limited-and-yet-overly-talkative Shane Watson, offensively-aggressive Simon Katich, tour-passenger Cameron White and weed-killer Matthew Hayden seemed to have the measure of the Indians.

Two early wickets of the batting wizard Sehwag and the Zen-like Dravid meant that the burly and unruly Australian hunting-pack saw a door open. After the mauling that this pack had received to their collective backsides at Mohali, it was fascinating to see this hunting-pack once again circling, like vultures eyeing a dead animal. However, that door was shut initially by the mercurial and saintly Tendulkar. Once the battler Gambhir and the magician Laxman got together though, the key to that door had been lost by the confused, haggard and paralysed, yet defiant and aggressive Australian pack who continued to hunt for their prey as only hunting dogs can.

Phew! I can’t keep up this act any longer! It is hard working being a Conn, I tell you! The above paragraphs are in reference to an earlier article on this blog.

I’ll return to normal programming now!

The 2nd days’ play of the Delhi Test match is a few hours away yet. It should be a fascinating days’ play. Unlike some reports that have India way out in front, I believe that this match has many a twist left in it yet. The only disadvantage Australia has, at this stage, is that it does not have a quality spinner in its midst. Leaving out Jason Krejza and then bowling Cameron White, the preferred first-choice spinner just 4 overs was a folly, in my view.

If Australia can take a few quick wickets early on day-2 and get stuck into the Indian tail, it could be all over in a hurry. The ask would be for Australia to then bat long and hard and only once in this match! It is a hard ask. But it is certainly possible. If not, Australia would have to face quite a few overs of spin from Anil Kumble, Amit Mishra and Virender Sehwag and, on a pitch that is already offering some slow turn and variable bounce, the going will be tough for the Australians.

Its time to whip out that cliche again: The first session of day-2 is going to be crucial for both teams! The new ball is only 3 overs old and so the early morning seam could do the trick for the visitors. India, meanwhile, will be looking at a score of 400-420. Any 1st innings score in that range will be a good one on this pitch, I feel. This Kotla pitch looks very similar to the one Pakistan played in last year and in that match, 276 was the highest score in the match by either team!

Session-1:

Last night, I was thinking about the last time Australia played India at the Feroze Shah Kotla ground in Delhi. That was in 1996 in what was to be the first match of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. The inaugural edition of the BGT was a one-match series! If I remember correctly, Australia was on its way back home after a tour of Pakistan? I could be wrong here. Anyway, I thought about that match because India had a D. Johnson playing for it, just as Australia have an M. Johnson playing in the ongoing Test match at the Kotla!

The one thing that stays in my mind from that match, above all else, was the wild slash that Michael Slater had in the second innings to a wide ball from the Indian Johnson to be caught brilliantly by Mohammed Azharuddin in the slips. Yesterday, we had Dravid slashing wildly to a ball from the Australian Johnson to be brilliantly caught by Matthew Hayden in the slips. Although Slater had made an impressive 44 in the 1st innings of that Test match, that irresponsible second innings slash by Slater — when facing a huge 1st Innings deficit — was widely reported to be the start of the end for the talented Michael Slater. One hopes that a similar fate does not befall Rahul Dravid!

I just don’t know how that India team won that inaugural BGT with players like opener Vikram Rathour (with wicket-keeper Nayan Mongia for company, who, incidentally had a fabulous game with bat and gloves to be named Man of the Match), left-arm spinner Sunil Joshi, pace-man (debutant) David Johnson and off-spinner Ashish Kapoor against an Australian team that boasted several modern-day greats! Again, in that game, the weak Australian spinners let them down with Brad Hogg — on his debut, for Australia I think — and Peter McIntyre — perhaps on his 2nd or 3rd match. Both Ashish Kapoor (4 Tests) and David Johnson (2 Tests) would play only one more Test for India before being discarded. Yet, India won thanks to Anil Kumble!

Indeed, I remember reading at that time that an Australian player had one look at the pitch and said, “How come India is going in with only 3 spinners?“, to which an Indian journalist walking by said, “Actually one would do!

Peter Roebuck writes eloquently about that game.

Anyway, back to the game now…

Australia started with two slips and a gully for Brett Lee, who started by rapping Laxman on the pads and went on to complete a good maiden over! There was just a slight hint of movement here for the Australian bowlers to exploit. At the other end Lee’s bowling partner was Stuart Clark, who had impressive figures of 21-8-29-0 at the start of the days’ play!

In the second over of the day, Gautam Gambhir got his 150; a splendid effort from this young Indian battler. And soon after, India’s 300 was brought up by a Laxman tickle to the 3rd man fence and soon after, the 150 of the Gambhir-Laxman was brought up.

What was happening on day-2 was a repeat of day-1 by Gautam Gambhir and Laxman. Balls that were short of a good length and wide of off-stump were left alone — and there were plenty of those — while the straighter balls were played competently. In that sense, the new ball was being somewhat wasted by the Australians. In the 6th over of the days’ play, the fielders were already spread to all parts of the field. This wasn’t the start that the Australian doctor had ordered!

From a strategy point of view, what was more confusing was that instead of bowling it full and allowing for seam movement, the Australians moved to what they do best when under pressure — even shorter stuff. They used to call this “Chin Music” under an earlier Australian dressing-room phraseologist. This was, in my view, the wrong way to bowl at the Kotla, especially early on in the morning when the ball can seam a bit. I would not be totally surprised if the Indian bowlers use the conditions better.

The first hour had again yielded only 13 overs in which India had scored 46 runs without the loss of any wickets. Laxman was on 85 off 136 balls and Gambhir was on 161 off 322 balls. The partnership was worth 185 runs off 50.1 overs at a rate of 3.68. This was good going from the Indians. They seemed keen to grind out the new ball and that was just what was required.

After the drinks break, after a flurry of boundaries, Cameron White was introduced into the attack — not a bad move by Ponting, given that Laxman was on 92. What was not great captaincy though, was that White was bowling to defensive fields. There were plenty of singles on offer. White started off with a maiden over.

Soon the partnership was worth 200 runs of which Gambhir had made 99 and Laxman had made 94 off 148 balls. India had moved to 357-3 off 105.2 overs.

After a few overs of settling-in, Cameron White was starting to bowl well. There was loop and drift in his bowling and he was getting some bounce from the wicket.

Laxman moved closer to his century by crawling through the 90s. It was clear that Laxman wanted this century badly. His previous century was also against the Australians in Sydney (Jan 2008) some 8 months earlier, where he made 109. There was no walking down the track like Gambhir had, on day-1. He compiled the singles slowly and played out several maiden overs.

Australia’s tactic was to spray it wide of off stump to a packed off side field. It has been a long time since I have seen such negative tactics from the Australians. Stuart Clark and Mitchell Johnson had bowled a wide each. How often do you see Test match wides?

Laxman got his century off a glorious off drive, just before lunch. His century had come off 172 balls with 10 boundary hits. This was his 13th century (and 6th against Australia).

At lunch, India had moved to 393-3 off 115 overs (@ 3.41 rpo). Laxman had 104 off 174 balls and Gambhir had 191 off 362 balls. The session had yielded 97 runs off 26 overs at 3.73 rpo. The Gambhir-Laxman partnership was already worth 236 runs! There appeared to be more records there for the taking and it could get quite ugly for Australia, with Ganguly and Dhoni waiting in the wings.

This was clearly India’s session with the SBS Score reading: India 2.75, Australia 1.25!

Session-2:

I predict that this will be a go-slow session by Australia in which we could have a wide or two too. Captain and bowler would often consult in this session to perhaps discuss global hunger, the global stock market crisis, the latest Hollywood release and the price of wheat in the commodity markets! I won’t be surprised if Australia bowl less than 26 overs in this session!

India, meanwhile will look to accelerate and get to 500 as quickly as possible before Dhoni could be unleashed. This will, in all likelihood, be a cat-and-mouse session.

After starting with Stuart Clark and Brett Lee, Ricky Ponting brought himself on for a bowl — the 8th bowler used by the Australians! Gambhir was on 197 at this stage. So it wasn’t such a bad move by Ricky Ponting!

In the next over, Gautam Gambhir got his 200! The young lad had made a huge step up from a talented individual to a potentially great player. He had made his 200 off 375 balls with 25 4s and 1 huge six! At that stage, Gambhir had been batting for just over 9 hours! It was a mammoth effort from a young man who had finally arrived.

Now that Gambhir had made his double century, one could possibly expect some fireworks from the Indians. However, what we had was a tired chop onto the stumps by Gambhir. The bowler was Shane Watson, the man at the centre of the controversy the previous day! Gambhir had played excellently well to make 206 off 380 balls. Shane Watson had a wicket of his first over of the day! The partnership was worth 278 runs off 72.1 overs at a rate of 3.85 rpo with Laxman making 130 and Gambhir making 139 of these.

This got Sourav Ganguly to the crease. He had been waiting for 5 hours and 15 mins to walk into the middle! It also got Laxman and Ganguly together adding to the possibility of some interesting running between the wickets!

But soon after he came in, Ganguly played a lazy drive to be caught by Ponting in the covers off Simon Katich! The score read 444-5.

Even though Australia had captured 2 quick wickets, it appeared as if there was an air of resignation about the Australians. When Laxman was on 134, a slips catch went in between Haddin and Hayden. In normal circumstances, Haddin would have caught it. But the feet and the hands just weren’t moving. In the very next over, a firmly struck ball by Dhoni flew straight to Simon Katich, the bowler, who dropped that hard chance!

The interesting observation in all of this, from an Indian point of view, was that Shane Watson was getting some reverse swing and Simon Katich was getting spin!

Dhoni came in and played a little cameo. But after facing 29 balls for a hurriedly crafted 27, Dhoni edged one from Watson to Haddin who made no mistake this time! The India score was 481-6. The possibility of a declaration around the 550 mark was fast disappearing at this stage.

Kumble came and batted sensibly. He helped India bring up the 500 off 139 overs (3.6 rpo). The run rate was reasonably healthy. But the over-rate was quite pathetic. Even though we had two spinners — Cameron White and Simon Katich — in operation, Australia was still about 7 overs short of where it needed to be.

There were clear indications of urgency from the Indian batsmen though. And this was a good sign. The plan may be that they wanted to have about 20-25 overs at the Australians on day-2 itself.

At Tea, India was 515-6. Laxman was not out on 160 off 252 balls and Kumble was on 16 off 30 balls. That session had yielded 122 runs for 3 wickets (at a rate of 4.52 rpo) off 27 overs. Although Australia did claim the 3 wickets, I call this an even session, mainly because of the speed at which the runs came from India! The SBS Score now reads: India 3.25, Australia 1.75!

Session-3:

India came out after Tea with positive intent. Both Anil Kumble and Laxman were going for their shots. In no time at all, they brought up their 50 partnership off 78 balls. Interestingly, Kumble’s contribution to this partnership was 26 from 46 balls! The score had moved to 532-6.

India soon reached 550-6, but there was still no declaration in sight. With Laxman on 178*, perhaps his 200 was the declaration point?

Batting, however, was extremely easy. Even Anil Kumble was doing it easy. Having said that, Kumble is no mug with the bat. Yet, batting was easy here. The somewhat up-and-down insipid Australian bowling didn’t help the Australian cause. The bowling just lacked incisiveness.

At this stage, Australia had used 8 bowlers and Michael Clarke was coming in for another spell. One of the bowlers that hadn’t had a bowl yet was Michael Hussey; the bowler who bowled ahead of Brett Lee at Mohali! Figure that captaincy out, if you can!

Mitchell Johnson then got Anil Kumble out LBW for a really well made 45. The score at this time was 579-7. It was clear that a declaration was around the corner. Perhaps the target that the team had set itself was Laxman’s 200, Kumble’s 50 and the Laxman-Kumble century partnership. However, with Kumble out for 45 in a partnership total of 98 runs (from 22 overs at a rate of 4.45 rpo), all eyes were now trained on Laxman’s 200.

At this stage, Laxman was on 194. If Laxman did indeed get his 200, it would be the first time that two Indians had scored a double hundred in the same innings.

With the score on 584-7, I saw the strangest incident on a cricket field! Laxman tickled a ball to square leg and took off for a run. Billy Bowden declared that Laxman had run on the pitch and declared it a “dead ball”! Although well within the rules, that was a strange decision. More so because Laxman didn’t quite run in the danger area. To make matters worse, Billy Bowden declared the over closed when just 5 balls had been bowled! The declaration couldn’t come quicker for the Australians. But I had a feeling that Billy Bowden could do with a feet-up too! He was losing the plot here!

The batting massacre continued through Zaheer Khan who hit some lusty blows.

India finally declared the innings close at 613-7d (off 161 overs) when Laxman got his 200 off 301 balls with 21 boundary hits. Zaheer Khan had made a quick 28 off 21 balls (5 fours). The final partnership was worth 34 runs from just 5.2 overs of which Laxman just made 6 runs!

India had about 17 overs to bowl at the Australians and would possibly be looking to take a wicket or two in that time.

India started with a somewhat defensive field. Even when Ishant Sharma was bowling, India had only 2 slips and a gully! This was somewhat surprising given India had plenty of runs to play with. India started proceedings with two maiden overs.

Australia batted well to finish the day on 50-0 from 15 overs. Both Hayden and Katich played the pace bowlers competently and were watchful against the spinners. Ishant Sharma and Zaheer Khan — particularly the latter — did get some seam movement. However, the interesting observation was the both Anil Kumble and Amit Mishra got bite and turn from this pitch. This should make the 3rd days’ play an extremely absorbing day of cricket.

Again, in spite of extending the days’ play by half hour, the teams had bowled an over short. What was interesting, however, was that the Indian bowling rate was closer to 14 overs per hour, while the Australian over rate, despite the presence of Cameron White, Michael Clarke, Simon Katich and a brace from Ponting, was at or below 13 overs per hour. I doubt Chris Broad will do anything about it though.

Given the plunder of runs from the late order India batsmen, a score of over 600 and also the fact that Australia did not lose a wicket in the remaining time-period, I call this an “even” session. The SBS Score reads: India 3.75, Australia 2.25!

— Mohan

India Vs Australia :: Test 3 :: Delhi :: Day-1

After the Australian debacle of Mohali, it was a long wait before this Test commenced! There was a lot of talk in the intervening period from both teams and also a well-timed release of explosive excerpts from an autobiography which Tendulkar termed as “loose”! The marketing guys got great value from all of that drama! We had a crack here at i3j3Cricket too at writing Sachin Tendulkar’s yet-to-be-written biography! A lot of fun was had by all, including debates on whether or not Sachin Tendulkar lied at Sydney.

In my view, there is an obsessive interest in the pitch by the Australians when they tour India! If they went in with the attitude that they are hardly likely to get a spinners’ paradise in Perth, the Australians may actually grow to love the conditions in places like Delhi and Mohali. These places, especially with the early starts, afford early seam movement and late Irish movement, particularly given the dry and abrasive pitches.

The Australians also love to over-focus on the toss! Again, the focus shouldn’t be on the toss.

For example, at the Kotla in Delhi, of the toss wins, the bat-first choice has resulted in only 5 wins from 29 games! The bat-first decision resulted in 11 losses at the Kotla! So, the toss should be removed from the minds of the Australians.

In my preview of this game, I said that pace will do as well on the Kotla as spin would. Given that Stuart Clark comes into the side, I give Australia a slight edge in this game!

One other factor that I did not mention in my preview is that India rarely strings a consistent run of wins in any major series involving big teams. A huge win is almost immediately followed up with a poor loss. While Team India has lately begun to show signs of being good overseas travellers, the team will have to work hard to wipe that bad “win one match well but lose the next one immediately” record off its books. And the opportunity to commence this journey would be here at Delhi against the best team in the world at the moment.

Given that I had a migraine today — which, I can assure you wasn’t pre-arranged or pre-ordered — I was lucky to get home early. After a quick sleep, even though the migraine continued unabated, I managed to watch the game through one eye closed (and I realise I leave myself wide open saying this)!

Session-1:

India won the toss and elected to bat. It was quite unusual for Kumble to win the toss, given his general bad toss-luck. But he did win the toss this time! Harbhajan Singh sat out the game with a bruised toe and this enabled Amit Mishra to get his second Test game! As expected Stuart Clark came into the Australian side. This wasn’t a bad move for Australia I thought. With the morning haze and the greenish top, Clark and a fired-up Lee would be able to get a fair bit of seam, I’d have thought.

Indeed, Brett Lee struck very early. In his very second over, Lee got one to nip back in sharply and got Sehwag plumb in front of the wicket. India was 5-1 before the Australians had broken into a sweat.

What I liked about the Australian approach was aggressive intent. Of course, it helped that Australia got the early wicket of Virender Sehwag. But we did see more attacking slips in place and we did see catching positions. This caused doubts to creep into the minds of the batsmen. The going was tough on a pitch that was already showing signs of offering low bounce.

Brett Lee was bowling it at 148 kmph and yet Brad Haddin was collecting it around his knees! An excellent bouncer from Brett Lee struck Rahul Dravid on his chest as he ducked. This was certainly going to be an interesting deck as the match progresses. From that point of view, India would be disappointed at losing local-man Virender Sehwag early. Another local-man, Gautam Gambhir, however, was batting well against two opening bowlers who were bowling well.

The good thing for India, however, was that despite the accurate in-the-corridor bowling by Stuart Clark and Brett Lee, the two batsmen — Gambhir and Dravid — were batting well. Brett Lee, in particular, was bowling more accurately and with more fire than he did at Bangalore or Mohali. The break appeared to have done the Australians a whole lot of good. Early signs were that the scars of Mohali were behind the Australians!

At the end of 10 overs, the India score was 22-1. It did appear as though this would be one of those typical grind-it-out type Tests; one that mimicked last years India Vs Pakistan Test match in which the scoring rate was around the 3 rpo mark for much of the game. At this stage, Stuart Clark had figures of 5-2-4-0! Mitchell Johson was brought in for Brett Lee.

Dravid was actually playing quite well at this stage and had all but pitched his tent on the pitch for a long stay there when, against the run of play, he drove at a Mitchell Johnson ball that was travelling straight to Matthew Hayden at slips. A thick edge meant that the ball travelled to birthday boy, Matthew Hayden, just a bit earlier than Hayden may have expected it! The resulting catch was snapped up and India was 27-2! Dravid had no reason to play at that ball other than the fact, perhaps, that he wasn’t getting any free runs at the other end from Stuart Clark!

At the drinks break, India was 37-2 off 13 overs!

After bowling 7 overs for 5 runs (7-3-5-0), Stuart Clark was replaced by Shane Watson. I didn’t quite understand this move because Clark was bowling very well. His line was immaculate and his length was superb. Another over or two Stuart Clark overs may have been good, I thought.

Gambhir was batting sensibly and Tendulkar was looking quite solid. Mitchell Johnson was bowling to a 7-2 off-side field and one of the 2 leg-side man was a short gully. Mitchell Johnson was sliding it wide off the off stump. After an early play-and-miss, these offers from Johnson weren’t being accepted by Tendulkar. This was good cat-and-mouse stuff from both teams.

I particularly liked the way Gambhir was playing balls outside the off stump. He was leaving it all alone and was comfortable playing the patience game.

It looked as if the Australians had studied Gambhir’s game really well in the break between Tests. He was being presented with several balls outside his off-stump. And he was having none of that! It was also interesting to see the number of Australians that wanted to wish him “good morning” and enquire about his “dinner plans”! If I were Gambhir, I’d feel quite proud of the fact that the Australians had studied his game intensely and the fact that they were all suddenly interested in his dinner plans! This is, to me, a sure sign of respect!

Brett Lee came in for a last burst before the lunch break. Right from word go, Lee was bowling well. The intensity and the speed were back, it seemed. But he was bowling to a Sachin Tendulkar and a Gauram Gambhir that were both playing sensibly.

Shane Watson had, at this stage, bowled 4-2-7-0. It seemed that Shane Watson and Stuart Clark were bowling in a containing role, while Brett Lee and Mitchell Johnson attacked.

The last Brett Lee over before lunch saw the bowler bowl to a very innovative field. Just 1 slip oversaw proceedings. However, there was a ring of fielders on the leg-side. Ponting was constantly attacking with inventive fields. It didn’t achieve anything, but it showed to me that this was a team that wanted to make the running in this Test match. The captain wasn’t prepared to wait for the batsman to make a mistake. These were good signs for an Australian fan.

At lunch, India had moved to 67-2 off 26 overs, with Gautam Gambhir on 25 off 80 balls and Sachin Tendulkar on 26 off 45 balls. Shane Watson had figures of 6-3-8-0 although, to be honest, about 30 of the 36 balls were bowled wide off the off-stump and left alone!

The first session, in my books, was Australia’s with the Session-by-Session (SBS) score reading India-0, Australia-1.

Session-2:

The post-lunch session started with Brett Lee bowl to Sachin Tendulkar with just the one slip and a ring of fielders on the leg-side. The over produced a sensational up-and-under cut over the slips cordon to the 3rd-man fence! This was an awesome shot that was manufactured after a late adjustment to an off-stump bouncer. I have only seen Tendulkar and Sehwag play this shot with any semblance of authority and control. I also feel that this shot is also a good indicator that Tendulkar is on top of his game.

Stuart Clark shared the post-lunch attack with Brett Lee. The Australians continued their positive intent after the lunch break. The fields were attacking and, more importantly, there was no deep-point and leg-side sweeper either. When the Australians set fields like this, it is a sure sign that they are playing attacking cricket. The mindset is more important to me than anything else.

Hopefully, the Australian new-age-cricket strategy as well as its author have been thrown out of the Australian dressing room!

At this stage, Tendulkar started to open out and play his shots. Even then, it was good to see the Australians bowl attacking lines to the Little Master. Although the field did spread out a bit, thanks to a flurry of boundaries from Tendulkar’s blade, the Australian intensity wasn’t diminished. Stuart Clark, in particular, continued to bowl superbly to Tendulkar. He was giving nothing away and even bowled a maiden over to a man who appeared to be in superb nick. Tendulkar had moved to 44 off 68 balls at this stage.

The bowling plan was beginning to emerge. Ricky Ponting was going to use Brett Lee and Mitchell Johnson in short attacking bursts with Stuart Clark and Shane Watson bowling a defensive, chocking lines. This was not a particularly bad ploy. Mitchell Johnson was offering either enticing sliding slingers outside off stump or cross-seam slower-balls outside off stump. Johnson replaced Brett Lee whose first post-lunch spell was somewhat ordinary. India moved to 102-2 off 35 overs.

Soon after,Tendulkar played a delectable late-cut off Stuart Clark to bring up his 50 off 79 balls. His half-century was vintage Tendulkar and contained 8 boundary hits. He seemed to have a measure of the pitch as well as the bowling. While his 88 at Mohali was made against a somewhat ordinary bowling attack bowling to somewhat defensive fields and on a batting pitch, this half century was against a strong Australian attack that was bowling to intelligent fields.

In this mode, I felt that the only way Tendulkar would get out would be if he got either bored or over-confident. The Australian plan of attack to Tendulkar was somewhat obvious. Stuart Clark was bowling outside off-stump to a 7-2 off-side loaded field. The Australians wanted to choke Tendulkar’s run-scoring opportunities. They nearly had Tendulkar when the batsman tried a paddle sweep off Stuart Clark that rapped him on the pads. Containment was the name of the game!

At the Drinks break, India was on 108-2 off 40 overs at 2.7 rpo. This was tight bowling from Australia and there weren’t too many runs for the taking. The batsmen had dug in for the long haul. Gambhir had moved to 40 off 117 balls and Tendulkar was on 50 off 92. The wicket had flattened out a bit by now. The interesting piece of data at this point was that the partnership had reached 81 runs off 29.2 overs at a run rate of 2.76. In this, Tendulkar had made 50 while Gambhir had made only 25! His role was to keep one end up; an unusual role for him!

Just after the drinks’ break, Cameron White bowled the first bad over of the day; the expensive of the game thus far. The Indians milked him for 11 runs and, in the process, Gautam Gambhir brought up his half century off 120 balls. Soon the century partnership was brought up. The partnership came off 201 balls with Gautam Gambhir scoring 39 of these and Tendulkar making 56 of the runs. The Indians were batting brilliantly at this stage and one sensed a momentum shift in the game. I felt that the foot had come off the pedal the moment Cameron White was brought on. The pressure valve had been irrevocably released.

Not surprisingly, Stuart Clark was rested after a 9-over spell. His figures read 16-5-26-0. Sensational and tight stuff from the big man. Mitchell Johnson came on and I wouldn’t have been surprised if Cameron White would be changed at the other end too. But no, White continued after giving away 25 runs in 3 overs! A wide ball resulted in 3 byes too as Brad Haddin’s horror tour (with the gloves) continued.

Not surprisingly, Shane Watson came back into the attack, perhaps an over or two too late. One would think that he would continue the holding job that Stuart Clark had carried out.

Unfortunately for the Australians, there was nothing in the pitch in this session. So a defensive ploy, achieved through bowling tight lines to a defensive field, was perhaps appropriate at this stage with the hope that the ball will reverse swing in the last session.

The 51st over of the day say an interesting exchange between Gambhir and Watson. All morning, Watson had been repeatedly asking Gambhir about his “post-match dinner plans”. It was all getting a bit tiring, really. Then, when going for the first run of a brace, Watson appeared to show his elbow at Gambhir. On the return journey Gambhir expressed a keen interest to show Watson “I have an elbow too” (in the words of Ravi Shastri, the commentator at the time).

Then just on the stroke of Tea, Sachin Tendulkar nicked one to Brad Haddin to take a good catch low to his right. Tendulkar was gone for 68 and India was 157-3. Again, after putting in the hard work, Tendulkar had departed. On this occasion, admittedly, it was to a very good ball from Mitchell Johnson. Maybe the ball might have been left alone? The partnership was worth 130 runs from 41.1 overs at a run rate of 3.15 — Tendulkar had made 68 off 125 balls with 11 boundary hits (Gambhir had made 52 runs in that partnership). I feel Tendulkar was playing for the Tea break, just as he was perhaps looking for the close of play at Mohali! The fact that he was choked a bit may have contributed to his hang-the-bat-out shot to a good ball from Mitchell Johnson.

A ball later, which enabled V. V. S. Laxman to get off the mark, Tea was called. There was an irony there! India went to Tea at 158-3 with Gambhir on 67 off 155 balls. In that session, 91 runs had come off 26 overs at 3.5 rpo. At this stage, Australia had bowled just 52 overs in the day — and that means they are 8 overs (some 35 minutes short of where they ought to be). I personally believe the viewing public is being short-changed by this sheer incompetence and negligence on Australia’s part. I am hoping that Chris Broad, the Match Referee is going to do something about this pathetically deplorable over rate.

Because of that Sachin Tendulkar wicket on the stroke of Tea, what would have been, undeniably, an India session became a somewhat even session. I would not score this completely even and am forced to go into two decimal places! The SBS score reads: India 0.75, Australia 1.25!

Session-3:

The India batsmen started off positively after Tea against Mitchell Johnson and Shane Watson. In particular, Gautam Gambhir was batting splendidly with some wonderfully times strokes on both sides of the wicket. Without too much effort and with somewhat consummate ease, the partnership between Gambhir and Laxman yielded 32 runs from 6.1 overs at a run rate of 5.18!

From nowhere, it seemed, Shane Watson produced a bouncer on off-stump. It had Gambhir fending in an ugly manner. Off his gloves and shoulder the ball flew between the ‘keeper and a really wide 1st slip for a boundary. A regular 1st slip would have caught that comfortably! Gambhir moved to 91 with that stroke but not before reconfirming his post-match dinner plans with Shane Watson!

It seemed that everyone in the Australian team wanted to have dinner with the local Delhi-lad, Gautam Gambhir! In the very next over, perhaps in fear of feeling somewhat lonely at the end of the 1st days’ play and the post-match dinner party plans, Mitchell Johnson bowled a bouncer and enquired in a rather agitated manner about Gambhir’s post-match dinner plans!

The 50 partnership between Gambhir and Laxman came from an elegant front foot cover drive on the up by Laxman. The 50 came off just 51 balls with Laxman having made 17 of these off just 19 balls.

In the same over, Gambhir danced down the wicket to a Shane Watson delivery and smashed the ball for a towering 6! This was a terrific manner to bring up his century! Perhaps he was totally upset and worried at having to spend his entire match fee, shouting dinner for the Australians who all seemed keen join him for dinner that night!

Now while the century at Mohali against the Australians was an excellent one, I feel that this one at Delhi was even better! There wasn’t much pressure on the Indian batsmen in the 2nd Innings at Mohali. Here, there was. India had made a rather ordinary start here at Kotla and the Australians were bowling with a lot of fire initially, at Tendulkar and Gambhir. He weathered the storm in the first session, played steadily in the second session and then, opened out really smartly in the post-Tea session. He had paced his innings beautifully and hit some glorious strokes along the way. The real question for me was one of whether Gautam Gambhir would be able to step it beyond the low 100s and make a really big century. For me, this ability marks out a great player from a good player. Gambhir, by scoring consecutive centuries against a world-class team, has shown that he ought to be considered in the books as a good player. He had to now step up a notch and get a big innings in, especially since he had already worked very hard to “get his eye in”!

Michael Clarke was brought in — perhaps in a bid to repair the over rate, which was going somewhat pear-shaped for Ricky Ponting. One could see that the pitch was offering slow turn for Clarke. Both batsmen were batting well and Ponting was forced to bowl Michael Clarke. If only the Australians had bowled with greater urgency and discipline in the earlier part of the day, Ponting needn’t have gone for the Michael Clarke option in a bid to give the over-rate a hurry along. The Australian sloppiness and tardiness early in the day made for this unprofessional situation. These are the small things that make me feel that this Australian team has a lot of work to do yet on this tour!

As I been saying since the 2007 summer here in Australia, I do hope the Match Referee does something about the appalling over rates of the Australians, in particular.

India’s 250 soon came up from 70 overs at 3.57 rpo. The partnership between Gambhir and Laxman reached 100 runs from 19.2 overs (116 balls) at a rate of 5.17 rpo, of which, Laxman had made 36 and Gambhir 63! This was an impressive partnership, mainly because of the impressive near-Australia-like scoring rate it had been made in. Gambhir was playing majestically at this stage and Laxman was steady — his 36 had come off just 45 balls with minimal fuss!

With a half hour to go to the official close of days’ play, Australia still had 18 overs to bowl. Australia’s over-rate graph was beyond pear-shaped at this stage. In a bid to ensure that his backside wasn’t whipped by the Match Referee even before the end of the days’ play, Ponting brought Simon Katich in to bowl. Now, most Indian fans will remember Simon Katich getting Virender Sehwag out for 194 at the MCG towards the end of the 1st days’ play in 2003! Here at the Kotla, Simon Katich was getting some bite from the pitch and some slow turn. These were good signs for the Indian spinners! And when Gambhir danced down the pitch to hit him for a boundary, Katich also booked himself into Gambhirs’ post-match dinner-party! Gambhir’s party was the place to be it seemed and, with this pleading request from Katich, it appeared as though all XI Australians were booked in on the Gambhir post-days’-play dinner party! Gambhir must have thought to himself, “Such a nice and friendly bunch, this Australian lot, but don’t they have their own things to do?”

In Katich’s next over, he seemed to indicate to Gambhir that he wanted the post-match dinner party to commence even before the days’ play was concluded! It all emanated from Gambhir being blocked from going for a run by the bowler, Katich. In fact, as a result, he had to send Laxman back. He seemed to enquire what the problem was with Katich and this upset the bowler! Katich was perhaps upset that Gambhir did not take the run for, perhaps if he had taken that run, Katich may have scored a choice Diwali sweet off the dinner menu as a present! It was clear to me that this Australian team was run ragged at this stage!

In the next over, Laxman brought up his half century off 70 balls. This was a steady half-century from Laxman; one that contained 3 4s.

Right on the dot at 4.30pm in Delhi (10pm AEST), India had reached 285-3 off 81 overs. This implied that Australia was 9 overs short of its bowling quota at the scheduled close of play — on a day when just 3 wickets had fallen and on a day when there was precious little by way of interruptions! This was an absolute travesty by Australia and needs serious looking-into! Australia was thumbing its nose at the establishment through its bowling-rate recalcitrance.

With 20 minutes to go to the end of days’ play, it appeared as though India was attempting to pull down the shutters. The batsmen started to play cautiously for time. It is at this time, when dusk sets in, that things can happen in India — especially if the batsmen are tired at the end of (an extended) days’ play.

Soon, we had Brett Lee and Stuart Clark bowling in tandem in light that wasn’t quite improving. In the 86th over, the new ball was taken. Brett Lee took the new ball with 5 overs to go to the end of play. There was a little seam movement for Brett Lee and this was encouraging. The Australian bowlers were straining at the leash to get that breakthrough which would bring them back into the session. If things stood this way, this would be India’s session.

When the end of days’ play was called, India had reached 296-3 off 89 overs a a run rate of 3.32. After extending play by half hour, Australia was still an over short of the days’ bowling quota. Gambhir was not out on 149 and Laxman was 54 not out. The partnership between Gambhir and Laxman was already worth 139 runs off 37.1 overs at a rate of 3.73!

The last session belonged to India and the SBS score was: India 1.75, Australia 1.25!

This was Gautam Gambhir’s day though! And the fact that he had the entire Australian team crashing in on his post-match dinner party meant that he had earned the respect of this Australian team; one that doesn’t bother asking after an opposition players’ health or dinner-plans unless they see that player as a ‘danger’! It was great to see Sachin Tendulkar bat brilliantly and it was wonderful to see Laxman play the way he did — poetry in motion. But this was Gambhir’s day and he has some unfinished business to complete tomorrow.

— Mohan

Best Test series ever!

Down memory lane…

To me, the best Test series India has ever played was against the same country touring India now.

You know the one I am talking about – the series in which Laxman and Dravid played that epic knock in Calcutta and Bhajji conjured up a hat trick. It was also the series that thrust Saurav Ganguly in to prominence as a leader. He may not have shone in that series with the bat, but he managed to rally the troops into a fighting come back. In a way it is fitting that he ends his career against the Aussies – hopefully this time, finishing up in style with the bat.

If you would like to re-live the moments of that tour, there is no better place to start than to visit the Tour archive at CricInfo –

“You just dropped the test, mate”

Steve Waugh has admitted that it was not an easy relationship with Ganguly in that series. 

Apparently, when Ganguly dropped a catch of Steve Waugh in that famous test in Calcutta, Steve Waugh, repeating his famous Word cup quip, is alleged to have said to Ganguly- “You just dropped the Test, mate”. As it happened, Bhajji soon took the wicket of Waugh and the rest, as they say – is history.

They were probably never best mates, but Ganguly did receive some high praise from Waugh in the end. When Ganguly toured Australia last Summer, Steve Waugh said – “You don’t have to like or dislike him. You have to respect him”.

Farewell the Prince

i3j3 will most likely have a post dedicated to Saurav Ganguly talking about the cricketing memories he will leave behind for us, but meanwhile CricInfo has a wonderful article tracking the time line of his rise and fall, including that famous series I just talked about –

-Mahesh-