Tag Archives: M. Vijay

Questions remain as India retain #1

After a tense finish in the Kolkata Test match against South Africa, Team India retained their #1 Rank in the ICC Test rankings. This means that the players and the BCCI will collect some small change on 1st April when the ICC hands out the Test Championship and a few dollars of baksheesh.

But some key questions remain for Team India.

Let us not take anything away from the Indian victory. To put things in perspective, India was without Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj Singh and V. V. S. Laxman (for the 1st Test only) and Sreesanth. India lost the toss in both Tests and ceded charge of easy day-1 and day-2 pitches to South Africa. India was without her key strike bowler (Zaheer Khan) on the last day. And India played against a full-strength South Africa team. Moreover, after a debilitating loss in the 1st Test (in Nagpur), most teams will have buckled to another demoralising defeat. This Indian team, however, showed that it can come back at oppositions in a tough manner and pass stern tests of resolve with rare (and hitherto unknown) resolve. India were down and out at Tea time on day-1 of the Kolkata Test. But India did come back strongly and compellingly.

But some key questions do remain.

I have said it before and will do so again. Unless India can beat Australia in Australia and South Africa in South Africa, even though I am as one-eyed as they come, I am not quite willing to accept the #1 ranking as easily as I might or should. This is more so because Australia has beaten India in India and RSA in RSA and RSA has beaten India in India and Australia in Australia.

I would like to see India achieve series victories in Australia and RSA. Her chance of a win in RSA will come later this year when India travels to South Africa. India will have to wait longer to see if she can win a series in Australia.

And for these to happen, India will need to ask some serious questions of her personnel.

From what I have seen in these last two Tests, India had better start “preparing” replacements for Laxman, Dravid and Tendulkar from now. While we may claim a strong bench strength in M. Vijay, S. Badrinath, Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, et al, these are mostly untested. Questions remain to be asked of Vijay and I am really not to sure that Badrinath belongs. Given that Yuvraj Singh himself hasn’t quite cemented his Test-team place in a compelling manner, I do believe that the “what happens next after the departure of Dravid-Tendulkar-Laxman” question needs a really strong answer.

The difference in batsmen’s approach between the 1st Test and the 2nd Test was obvious. Even if we remove the superb spell of fast bowling by Dale Steyn in Nagpur, the difference in the approach of Sehwag and Tendulkar was clear to see in Kolkata because they were — it is quite likely — comforted by the knowledge that Laxman was there at #5 in case one of them were to depart. The absence of that middle-order solidity led to a mind-freeze in Nagpur, in my view.

India needs a match-ready pair of batsmen and she needs them now. VIjay did have that swagger and that approach that inspired confidence. He has that “I belong here” body language. I am not convinced that Badrinath has it. While I am willing to discount his performance in Nagpur, where the ball was talking and the team was really under the pump, there can be no excuse for his approach and performance in Kolkata. He could have played calmly and with a clear head on a placid pitch. The team was in a solid position and the pitch was really doing nothing much. Badrinath did not inspire confidence in me at all and questions must be asked of his place at this level. Perhaps a great opportunity was missed.

The other concern is the bowling. Without a fit and in-form Zaheer Khan, the attack looks pale. Harbhajan Singh has his days when he can be menacing, but with him it is a bit of a lottery, in my view. For India to win consistently overseas, the team needs an all-weather bowler in the Anil Kumble mould. For that to happen, Harbhajan Singh needs to accept that he is the teams’ lead bowler. He needs to ensure that he wakes up on the right side of the bed every day. I feel that it is all in his preparation and nothing else. Someone needs to sit him down and convey to him the responsibilities that come with being the lead striker. On off days and on pitches that do not offer assistance, he needs to bowl maidens and keep things tight. An off-form Ishant Sharma and a low-key Amit Mishra are other concerns for India.

The team does boast of strong reserves in Sreesanth, Sudeep Tyagi, Praveen Kumar, Abhimanyu Mithun, Dhawal Kulkarni, Ashok Dinda, Munaf Patel, Pankaj Singh and others, but these bowlers need to be tested in situations that are far tougher than the the various domestic competitions.

Another concern is team balance. Unless India finds a good/strong all-rounder, the team is stuck with a 4-bowler policy. If any one of these bowlers is off injured — or has an off day — the pressure on the other resources becomes enormous (as we saw in Nagpur).

There are some all-rounder contenders around who are either not given enough opportunities — or appear and disappear with alarming consistency. Players like Abhishek Nayar, Yusuf Pathan and Ravindra Jadeja have to be given longer ropes to work with.

I feel that unless India plans plenty of A-Tours to Australia, South Africa, West Indies, England and Sri Lanka in the next year, I am afraid these questions will continue to be asked.

South Africa does have some deep questions of their own to answer. At the start of the series I did say that my main concerns with them were (a) the form of Duminy and Ashwell Prince, (b) the ability of Paul Harris, (c) their ability to play quality spin.

Questions (a) and (b) remain, while the team has thrown up a few players (Amla, in the main) that have the technique and temperament to handle quality spin!

I do believe that Paul Harris is an ordinary bowler. Any bowler who constantly bowls 2 feet outside leg-stump is essentially telling the world that he is an ordinary bowler! If I were a good bowler and my captain asks me to bowl a negative line, I would either tell my captain to find another bowler to do that or tell my captain that I am good enough to bowl to take wickets! I can’t remember who it was who said it, but it was said that “Paul Harris could not turn a door handle if he had to.” But having watched him bowl in this series, I am convinced that unless South Africa find a real spinner who can turn the ball and bowl attacking lines, the team is going to continue to choke when it matters most. And after the tremendous display of Alviro Petersen at the top, either Duminy or Ashwell Prince will, I believe, have to make way. I do believe Ashwell Prince will make way in what will be a strong team that will emerge from this series. I like South Africa’s team balance with Duminy as a good off-spin bowler and Kallis as a terrific, though under-rated, all-rounder. I will not be surprised if South Africa claim the #1 Rank from India in the near future.

Yes, India did emerge out of the South Africa series as #1 but I believe the home team has more questions and fewer immediate answers.

— Mohan

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Teams for NZ Tour

The Indian cricket selectors have, I think, done well to pick good/strong teams for Indias’ tour of New Zealand. Some selection highlights for me are:

  • Continuing to invest in Ravindra Jadeja — he gets a gig in the T20 team.
  • Investing in Dhawal Kulkarni.
  • Re-investing in Lakshmipathy Balaji.
  • Continuing to invest in M. Vijay in the Test team.

The teams are

Test squad: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt/wk), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Munaf Patel, M Vijay, Amit Mishra, L Balaji, Dhawal Kulkarni, Dinesh Karthik (wk)

ODI squad: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt/wk), Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Yusuf Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Praveen Kumar, Irfan Pathan, Munaf Patel, Pragyan Ojha, Dinesh Karthik (wk)

Twenty20 squad: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt/wk), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Yusuf Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Irfan Pathan, Ravindra Jadeja, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Praveen Kumar, Munaf Patel, Pragyan Ojha, Dinesh Karthik (wk)

Is there a TN-bias to the selection?

The presence of L. Balaji is seen by many as TN-bias on the part of Kris Srikkanth, the Chief Selector. That would be unfortunate as well as unnecessary, although somewhat understandable. The Test team has provided passage for three TN players in the form of M. Vijay (ahead of possibilities such as Wasim Jaffer, Aakash Chopra, Ajinkya Rahane, Robin Uthappa), L. Balaji (ahead of Pankaj Singh, Ashok Dinda, Irfan Pathan and Praveen Kumar) and Dinesh Karthik (ahead of Parthiv Patel).

However, Vijay did shine in the one Test opportunity he got and must be persevered with, in my view. One can feel sorry for Ajinkya Rahane. He was the 2nd highest scorer in the Ranji season (with an aggregate of 1089 runs @ and avg of 68.06 that included 4 centuries). He has had a stunning domestic season and is, along with Cheteshwar Pujara, one to watch for the future.

Dinesh Karthik has had a stunning year with the bat and has pipped Parthiv Patel at the post. The Gujarat ‘keeper has done nothing wrong and must just continue to put in the hard-yards in the domestic circuit. Dinesh Karthik has done everything right. He was the 10th highest scorer in the Ranjis with an aggregate of 634 (3 centuries) and an average of 63.4 runs. Having said that, Parthiv Patel wasn’t really too far behind (with 526 runs in aggregate, @ 47.81, including 1 century). But when the cards fell, Dinesh Karthik just had the right number on his side. He was also the highest scorer in the Duleep Trophy with two centuries in three Duleep Trophy games for South Zone. The fact that Karthik had opened well in England may have also counted in his favour. Both Dinesh Karthik and Parthiv Patel are very young. Karthik is only 23. Both of them will have hurt badly from the experience in Sri Lanka. Karthik played badly in the first two Test matches. He batted poorly and his ‘keeping also fell apart. However, Parthiv Patel, who played in the 3rd Test fared worse! So, both of them needed a strong domestic season, lest upstarts like Wriddhiman Saha usurp their position. Both of them did put in a good showing. However, when the cards fell, Karthik had the numbers.

L. Balaji has been, in my view, somewhat lucky. Yes, he was the 4th highest wicket-taker in the Ranji Season and also had a good Duleep Trophy outing. Given that the highest wicket-taker was already rewarded with a ticket to New Zealand (Kulkarni) and given that 2 and 3 on the pecking order were spinners (Ravindra Jadeja and the now-banned Mohnish Parmar!), his ticket could have been seen as reward for a good showing. My own view is that he need not have been rushed into the Test arena. Its just been a year since his comeback from injury. His first major step on the big stage was the IPL. Since then, he has, no doubt, been bowling well. But to get him straight back into the Test side may have been a bit too much.

But then, these are the rewards of a good showing in the domestic circuit. The current selectors seem to be rewarding strong domestic showing quite consistently — set in the context of long-term team-development — and for that, they do deserve some credit.

Bits-and-pieces players:

I have been saying for sometime now that players like Abhiskek Nayar, Yusuf Pathan and Ravindra Jadeja are the future of India’s ODI and T20 mix. It is good that these guys are getting a clutch of games at the highest level to prove their mettle. The press in India tags them with the moniker “bits and pieces players”. This is erroneous. It is also a disrespect to the quality that these guys bring to the table in the T20 and ODI arena. They are not “bits and pieces players”. They are clever players who bat and bowl well! I’d like to see opportunities given to players like Abhishek Nayar and Rajat Bhatia in the near future too.

Experimentation

M. S. Dhoni has shown the way in handling players like Ravindra Jadeja, Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina in recent ODI games. In the final ODI against Sri Lanka, I felt he took it a wee-bit too far by bowling as many as 9 bowlers in the game! That’s a bit much. But you need those kinds of options in the middle overs. Even though the pitches may not turn much in New Zealand, I think the middle-overs bowled by Virender Sehwag, Yusuf Pathan, Ravindra Jadeja, Suresh Raina and Rohit Sharma will be quite crucial.

From that point of view, it is good to see the selectors invest strongly in Jadeja. Yes, he is not part of the ODI Team. After the two T20 games at the start of the series, Jadeja makes way for Sachin Tendulkar. That is fair enough!

I think the selectors will only drop Tendulkar from the ODI scene when he himself says that he has had enough! I suspect he won’t say that until after the next World Cup. He seems to want that silverware in his cabinet more than anything else! Given that he has served Indian cricket in the manner that he has, one could afford him that luxury, I think!

What we have seen in recent T20 games and ODIs is that Dhoni is really his own man when it comes to executing batting plans, setting the batting order and exploring bowling options. In a recent interview, he said that this was because he wanted each player to experience different roles in order to have an appreciation for what a #3 needs to do and what a #6 needs to do in different match situations.

In a perverse manner, this is exactly what Guru Greg Chappell tried to instil in the team when he was at the helm! The difference was that Guru Greg, instead of just doing it, wanted to preach his ideology, convert everyone to his way of thinking, convince everyone that he was right and then hail him as a messiah and a saviour! He started the “process is more important than the outcome” mantra. He was subsequently lambasted and lampooned in the media for “experimenting” too much! The word “experimentation” was taboo during his reign. Guru Greg choked on his own mantra and was caught in the headlights, with nowhere to go.

Instead of aspiring to be a messiah and a saviour, Dhoni just does it and lets others write about his method! The outcome is a more flexible Team India! Ironically, Guru Greg’s method survives after he has been buried!

Possible Teams:

The T20 and ODI teams select themselves:
Possible Twenty20 squad: Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt/wk), Yusuf Pathan, Irfan Pathan, Ravindra Jadeja, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Praveen Kumar
Subs: Ishant Sharma, Munaf Patel, Pragyan Ojha, Dinesh Karthik (wk), Rohit Sharma

I’d take Praveen Kumar ahead of Ishant Sharma and would take Ravindra Jadeja ahead of Rohit Sharma. But these are possibly the only two debatable spots in my view. There are questions being asked about Pragyan Ojha’s selection in the T20 and ODI teams, given that pitches are unlikely to offer too much spin in New Zealand. However, from a team-development point of view, I think this is a good move. Ojha did bowl really well in recent ODIs. He should be part of the team mix and should get a gig, in my view.

Possible ODI squad: Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt/wk), Yusuf Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Praveen Kumar.
Subs: Irfan Pathan, Munaf Patel, Pragyan Ojha, Dinesh Karthik (wk), Rohit Sharma,

I’d take Praveen Kumar ahead of Irfan Pathan. And I’d take Raina ahead of Rohit Sharma. Who knows? With a lot of cricket around the corner, should India go ahead in the series — as it did in Sri Lanka — it would be an opportunity to play Pragyan Ojha, Rohit Sharma, Irfan Pathan and Dinesh Karthik instead of (respectively) Harbhajan Singh, Sachin Tendulkar, Zaheer Khan and M. S. Dhoni.

Possible Test squad: Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt/wk), Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Munaf Patel
Subs: M Vijay, Amit Mishra, L Balaji, Dhawal Kulkarni, Dinesh Karthik (wk)

The Test team is the one that selects itself most emphatically. There can’t be too many doubts or questions in the composition of this team. It is unlikely that the team will go with more than 4 main bowlers (with Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh and Tendulkar as other possible bowlers to relieve the strike bowlers). The only question, in my view, is whether Munaf Patel gets the gig ahead of Dhawal Kulkarni. I’d go for experience ahead of raw pace for the first Test. Moreover, Munaf Patel does seem to have the ability to swing the ball more in conditions that are likely to be presented in countries like NZ, South Africa and England. So, he might get the nod ahead of Kulkarni. But it may not be a bad idea to give Kulkarni a go in one of the Test matches.

The selectors have continued to invest in Rahul Dravid — as they should — in spite of his poor showing in the Duleep Trophy finals. Having said that, I am not sure they would be as patient with him after yet another poor tour. They have also sent a clear signal to Yuvraj Singh that he is in the mix for a long stint in the Test middle order. This should settle him down and should allow him to cash in on this opportunity.

Overall, this has been a good selection effort by the selectors.

— Mohan

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

After playing adventurous and bravado-laden, aggressive cricket on day-1 and day-2, India had choked Australia almost out of the game on day-3 of this intriguing Test match. In a strange manner, India played the “new age cricket” that Australia was threatening to play all along in this series. Up until day-3 Australia had failed to execute that brand of cricket. And on day-3 when they were faced with an opposition that played new age cricket, they had no answers!

India had a hand on the Border-Gavaskar Trophy and needed a few sessions more of good cricket to get both hands on it!

The 1st Session went to plan for India. Virender Sehwag and debutant M. Vijay played sensibly and countered everything that Ricky Ponting threw at them. Ponting was caught between two lands. He could not afford to over-attack. He could not afford to defend either. It is not often that Australia finds itself in this position. And today, I am not sure they got their tactics right. Jason Krejza was bowling impressively. But the Indian openers had no fears. They played him and Brett Lee, Mitchell Johnson and Shane Watson with much ease. I am not sure why we didn’t see Simon Katich!

The over rate wasn’t great either.

India went into lunch on 98-0 off 27 overs. Only 26 overs had been bowled in the mornings’ session. Was Australia the team that was supposed to be “making the running” in this match? I wasn’t sure. The run rate was hovering around 3.6 rpo. Virender Sehwag had reached his half century and Vijay was playing with much composure and tightness.

An early thought: Why not include Vijay and Gambhir as openers against England and allow Sehwag to drop in at #3 as Ganguly’s replacement?

The SBS Score reads: India-5.5, Australia-4.5;

The second session of the days’ play was a disaster for India. Of course, the Australians bowled exceedingly well and to tight lines. However, what really happened was a mindset issue.

India started after lunch in brilliant manner. Virender Sehwag was batting positively and treated Jason Krejza with disdain.

But then Shane Watson was getting some reverse swing and got M. Vijay LBW of a ball that dipped in. And this set the trend for the rest of the afternoon. At this stage, India was completely on top.

Immediately after this, Dhoni made his first major error. He sent in Dravid ahead of Laxman.

Laxman was the in-form batsman and he should have gone out to bat. Instead, we had Dravid and frankly, he made the bowlers look better than they actually were. Dravid is tentative and unsure. He needs time off in the Ranji Trophy to get his game fixed. But here, he ought to have batted at #5 or #6. India needed to carry the momentum. Instead, Dravid played right into Australia’s hands. Of course, he got out for not much.

Immediately after that Sehwag was out caught down the legside for the second time in the series. And this set the rot.

Tendulkar and Laxman batted as if they were rabbits caught in the headlights. Instead of keeping the scoreboard ticking, they slipped into a defensive mindset. The momentum had shifted.

Laxman got out to a beauty from Jason Krejza that bounced, turned and crashed into his leg stump. A brilliant ball by an enterprising bowler. Australia had a hero.

He became a bigger hero when he got Ganguly caught and bowled for a first ball duck! On his last appearance for India, Ganguly, who had received an ovation from each and every Australian cricketer on the field, was out for a first ball duck!

The man who had drama follow him all his life, had created his own drama to join the ranks of Don Bradman, who also got a duck off his last Test innings!

The last nail in the coffin was hammered by a freakish run out of Tendulkar off the last ball before Tea.

This was a nightmare session for India and, from an unenviable winning position, India was just 252 runs ahead. India had made 68 runs in the session and lost 6 wickets! I am convinced that this was triggered as much by good bowling as it was by the Dhoni decision to send Dravid in at #3.

The problem that was commenced by the decision to send Dravid in at #3 was compounded by the fact that Laxman and Tendulkar were caught in an intensely negative mindset. The just didn’t take the singles and just didn’t keep the scoreboard moving.

The SBS Score reads: India-5.5, Australia-5.5;

Indeed, at this stage, Australia looks odds-on favourite to win the match!

Was the good work over the entire series by the Indians being undone by one terrible session here at Nagpur? Was the somewhat lacklustre showing by the Indians in this last session the lifeline that this champion team from Australia looking for? Will the Australians grab it and run all over the Indians?

Time will tell. An important 3rd Session was coming up for both teams.

As much as the Indians had played badly, it is true that Jason Krejza bowled excellently well. Here was a star that was born for Australia. It is a huge call to make, but I am reasonably that, along with Ajantha Mendis, we had seen the birth of another spinning star in world cricket.

In the lunch-tea session, there was a ball tampering incident that may get the match referee, Chris Broad quite interested. Cameron White was shown plucking leather off the scuffed up side of the ball. This was just before the ball started reverse-swinging. Although Cameron White wasn’t picking at the seam, he certainly did pick at the leather. It is fair to say that he did alter the condition of the ball.

Will Chris Broad have the guts to ping an Australian though?

At Tea, just 50 overs had been bowled in the day and there was nary a breath from Mark Waugh and Nick McCrdle on this issue! Australia was 10 overs short at this stage and let’s remember that Australia was the team that had to force the pace in this match?

Is this the second issue for the Chris Brad to contend with in the days’ play?

Will Chris Broad have the guts to ping the Australian captain though?

Australia started off the post-Tea session with Jason Krejza at one end and with Cameron White and then Michael Hussey! Clearly, Australia wanted to get a move on on the over-rate! Perhaps Chris Broad had warned these Saintly Australians that he may have no choice but to suspend the Australian captain for a Test match for their over-rate recalcitrance!

With Cameron White and Michael Hussey bowling, the foot had been lifted off the pedal, it seemed. Both White and Hussey had allowed the two Indian batsmen to settle in! Gone was the reverse swing! Gone was the pressure at the other end!

But given the Australian bowling over-rate recalcitrance right through this series, was winning this Test match and retaining the Border-Gavaskar Trophy more important than saving the captain from a suspension?

Australia had clearly lost the plot after Tea! Australia had been sloppy in the first two sessions of the day (as they have been for well over a year now)! How they could be sloppy when they were supposed to be making the running in the game, only Ricky Ponting and the Australia Team will know. However, to compound one unprofessional mistake with the bowling of White (first) and then Hussey was just sheer unprofessional cricket from these Australians.

Someone needs to stick a Diwali firecracker up their collective backsides!

Instead of going for the jugular, they let the pressure off the Indians. About 52 minutes after Tea, India was nearly 300 runs ahead (298 to be precise). At this stage, Australia had 27 overs left to be bowled in the day, with just 70 minutes left in the days’ play. The partnership between Dhoni and Harbhajan Singh was already worth 50 runs.

This was sloppy, unprofessional cricket that was totally unbecoming of a champion side.

India consolidated its position slowly and steadily. Thanks to some poor over rates and poor bowling pair in operation as a result of this, with 40 minutes to go in the days’ play, 19 overs were left in the days’ play and the partnership was already worth 82 off 128 balls!

Once again, when it mattered most, Australia had not been able to step up to the plate in this series!

With an hour to go to the extended days’ play, Australia needed to bowl 17 overs in the day. The partnership was worth 101 between Harbhajan Singh and Dhoni. The wheels had come off the Australians carriage. Partly through their own unprofessionalism. But partly through some courageous and positive-mindset batting from Dhoni and Harbhajan Singh. The 100 partnership came off just 150 balls.

It was unfortunate for Jason Krejza really. He was bowling splendidly. But, instead of pressure at the other end, after Tea, he had Cameron White, Michael Hussey and Michael Clarke as his bowling partners! This just wasn’t good enough from the Australians. They had completely lost the plot. From a match-saving mode, India was now in target-setting mode! And it all happened in one hour of extremely sloppy play from Australia.

I think Australia lost the series in that one hour of terrible cricket post-Tea.

Finally, Shane Watson was back in the attack with 45 minutes to go to the extended days’ play and with 15 overs still left in the days’ play!

So what did the hand-off-the-jugular achieve from Australia? I just don’t know.

Against the run of play, suddenly Dhoni was out for 55 off 81 balls. He tried to sweep a Jason Krejza ball from off to leg as he had been doing all innings. The ball seemed to bounce off his boot to be cleanly and wonderfully caught by Michael Hussey. The score was 274-7. The partnership was worth 108 runs from 27.2 overs at a rate of 3.95 rpo. Krejza had his 3rd wicket for the innings. The Indian lead was worth 360 runs now.

Perhaps this match was beyond Australia’s reach now? It would need a Herculean effort from Ausralia to make it from this position. Another way to look at it would be that IF Australia make a victory from this position, they absolutely deserve to win and to retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.

At this stage, Krejza had conceded 354 runs for 11 wickets in the game! Only the West Indian Scott had conceded more runs in a Test with 374 runs for 9 wickets.

Soon, Harbhajan Singh had scored his half century. Once again, he was a thorn in the Australian Team’s side.

On a day when both Andrew Symonds and Ricky Ponting had their well-timed pre-Christmas book releases that touched on the “Monkeygate” episode, Harbhajan Singh had responded with the bat rather than the pen.

And what matters most is responses with ball and bat.

India’s 8th wicket was down to a freakish caught behind by Haddin off Krejza, who now had his 4th wicket for the Innings. Zaheer Khan had to go after an attempted sweep caught his glove. The resulting lob was pouched on the 3rd attempt by Haddin. The score was 286 for 8 and the lead was 372.

Immediately afterwards, Harbhajan Singh was bowled for 52 off 94 balls by Shane Watson. It was the end of a superb hand from this feisty Sikh who has taken an immense liking for the Australians of late!

This wicket begged the question: Why could Shane Watson have not continued bowling after Tea? What’s the worst that could have happened? A Ricky Ponting suspension? Was Ponting’s suspension worth more than the teams’ chances in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy?

These are questions that just have to be asked.

With half an hour left in the days’ play, Australia still had 12 overs to bowl! The White-Hussey-Clarke experiment had pulled things back a bit for Australia — but not much! Still the team was in the dog house. No two ways about it!

I’d really like to know what the Match Referee does with Cameron White (ball tampering) and Ricky Ponting (bowling over-rate sloppiness).

My sense is that Chris Broad will let both of these offenders off.

India was all out for 295 with Shane Watson getting the last wicket to fall. Watson had got 4 wickets.

Australia needed 382 for a win and 13 of these were wiped off in the very first over from Zaheer Khan! I do think that the plan for India would be to keep it tight at one end and attack from the other end.

With 4 balls left in the days’ play, light was offered to Australia and Hayden accepted the light!

When India sent in a night watchman in Delhi, Mark Waugh, Malcolm Conn and Chloe Saltau went into paroxysms, describing it as a ‘negative’ move. It will be interesting to see what their reaction is to this offering from Australia!

But more than anything else, I will be interested in seeing what the Match Referee does today.

Added later:

India had a wonderful last session of play. This was more due to Ricky Ponting’s strange and bizarre tactics. Of course, Dhoni and Harbhajan Singh played sensationally well. But Ponting’s tactics contributed immensely to the free spirit with which they played.

That last session belonged to India. The SBS Score reads: India-6.5, Australia-5.5;

— Mohan