Epilogue as Prologue:
Unlike other days, I don’t think the first session of day-4 should matter too much! Even if India lose a few quick wickets, there are enough runs in the bag now and India will not be forced to go into a shell. It will need a bagful of wickets by the Australians for India’s intent to dramatically change. India are in front and will look to press home the advantage in the first session of play on day-4. If Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir are still together at the end of the first hour, I will not be surprised to see M. S. Dhoni walk in at the fall of the 1st wicket! I think India will look to play steady cricket for the first hour before putting their foot on the accelerator.
To me, it is the middle session of day-4 (and not the 1st session) that will be important. I believe that that is the session when declaration calculations will come into play.
Without getting too far ahead of myself, I feel India should set Australia a target of about 500-520 runs in 125 overs. In other words, I think India should bat about 50 overs on day-4 to score about 200-220 additional runs. If Australia makes the 520 runs (at somewhere between 4 rpo and 4.15 rpo) in the 4th innings here, they absolutely deserve the victory and more!
I have been maintaining since the start of this series that Australia’s defensive mindset, more than anything else, could prove its downfall in this competitive series against India. Nothing proved this more than day-2 of the 2nd Test at Mohali. Australia adopted a defensive mentality right through the day and ended up in a somewhat ordinary position. Yet, despite Michael Clarke’s departure off the last ball of the day, the situation was still recoverable. After all, India had recovered from 163-4 to make 469, thanks to a positive mindset! Australia had ended the day at 102-4 and still had Michael Hussey and a batting order that ran deep.
However, Australia started somewhat tentatively and paid the price for it. It didn’t help matters that Ishant Sharma and Zaheer Khan bowled brilliantly. Sharma, in particular, was making the ball “talk” on a placid pitch!
Soon after Michael Hussey compiled his half-century he got a terrific delivery that moved just a bit after pitching outside off-stump. Hussey poked at it and the resulting edge sped past Rahul Dravid to the 3rd man fence. Ishant Sharma has developed this habit of making new opportunities immediately after he has had a catch dropped or a plumb LBW denied — as he demonstrated in the Ponting dismissal the previous evening! After being denied a plumb LBW by Rudi Koertzen, he produced a slightly better delivery to remove the Australian captain just 2 balls later! This is probably why Ishant Sharma is referred to as “Instant Karma“! This time, after an edge had gone for a boundary, Sharma bowled the next ball just slightly back of a length and just inches outside off stump. Hussey had to play/poke at it and the resulting edge was gleefully accepted by M. S. Dhoni.
Once again, reverse swing was the main “weapon” that Ishant Sharma and Zaheer Khan were harnessing. Right from the 10th over of the innings, the ball had been “reversing” and here, Ishant Sharma and Zaheer Khan were giving nothing away.
This wasn’t the start that Australia wanted on day-3! India were suddenly looking at lead margins, especially after Harbhajan Singh bowled an absolute ripper to have Brad Haddin clean bowled! That was a stunning ball from the turbaned finger spinner. It spun a proverbial mile, had terrific loop and crashed into the stumps.
We soon had a double spin-attack when Amit Mishra was brought on. Mishra was getting a fair bit of purchase from the pitch. This was understandable. He is a wrist spinner, in the Shane Warne mode. Unlike Harbhajan Singh, the finger spinner bowling at the other end, Mishra does give the ball a fair tweak. His lack of height also helps in him being able to lob the ball way above his eye-line. He bowled several balls at 78 kmph mark and allowed the pitch to do the rest.
Cameron White was in a shell. He made 5 runs off 23 balls when he was deceived by flight, loop and the googly from Mishra, his opposite number in the Indian team. White, a fellow leg spinner, did not pick the wrong ‘un, which sneaked past between bat and outstretched pad, to clang into the leg stump. This was an absolutely beautiful piece of bowling by the young leg spinner.
Australia went to lunch on 174-7 in 66 overs with Watson on 32 and Brett Lee on 5. This was clearly India’s session and the SBS score read [India 5.25, Australia 1.75]. India was way in front at this stage and it would need something special from the Australians to get back into the game.
Indeed, Australia did put on something quite special after lunch. Shane Watson has been a bridesmaid in Australian cricket for long. In all the time that his prowess has been trumpeted, he hasn’t actually delivered much at all. It didn’t help that he kept breaking down every time the wind speed picked up!
But here, he played a terrific hand and in Brett Lee, he had a willing and able ally. The thing, however, that was most in their favour, was the positive intent. Unlike their more illustrious batting colleagues, Watson and Lee played their shots and did not allow the situation to get on top of them. So much so that, at one stage, one thought that they could pull off a Harbhajan-Zaheer type miracle for Australia! They played with terrific ease and nothing seemed to rattle them.
During the afternoon, Zaheer Khan indulged in a bit of banter with Brett Lee. Soon after, Brett Lee exchanged air-kisses with Ishant Sharma after taking an excellent Sharma bouncer on his back. It was all pretty competitive and good-natured.
Of course, our friend Malcolm Conn at “The Australian” saw it through a radically different lens and wrote this piece of prose about that passage in play:
…the pair brought up their 50 partnership, Zaheer Khan failed to gather a defensive shot from Lee at the first attempt and went to throw before having words with the Australian.
Lee smiled broadly and both batsmen laughed when Zaheer, who was storming about the pitch, turned his attention to Watson.
Then Singh aimed up at Watson for a concerted conversation as the mid-afternoon drinks break arrived.
Immediately after drinks Lee continued to smile broadly when the first delivery with the second new ball, from Ishant Sharma, was short and struck Lee in the back as he turned away.
By the end of the over it appeared that umpires Rudi Koertzen and Asad Rauf had heard enough. They stood mid-pitch with the batsmen and waited for Dhoni to run past.
As he did Koertzen pointed to the stand-in skipper and spoke to him before Dhoni and Watson had another chat as the keeper took his position behind the stumps.
Zaheer was at the centre of a spat while batting in the first Test, twice confronting wicket-keeper Brad Haddin and then complaining to captain Ricky Ponting after the gloveman disagreed with Zaheer about the drizzly, murky weather.
Shane Watson, one of the players that shared the “spat” stage with Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma hosed down any suggestions of a violent spat between the teams and said,
“There was actually a lot of extremely friendly banter I thought. Obviously it was challenging but me and Brett were having a great time out there. The quicks were having a good crack and the umpires just came together and said ‘we don’t want this getting out of hand.’ It was never going to get out of hand. It was friendly banter and there should always be that in any sport, especially Test cricket when everyone is challenging each other. It makes things pretty enjoyable. You don’t want to be out there and it’s really dull and boring and no one says anything. You want a bit going on to keep everything going.”
So much for Malcolm Conn’s wild theories about World War III about to break out!
When Shane Watson was on 44, I thought the umpire Rudi Koertzen made the worst mistake I have seen any umpire make — and I mean, even grade cricket umpires!
Ishant Sharma bowled a beauty off the first ball of a new spell to Shane Watson. The ball jagged back from a good length spot and hit Watson on the pad, about half way between knee-roll and shoe. When ball hit pad, Watson was bang in front of middle-and-off-stump. The ball was certainly going to hit one of the stumps about half-way. Unfortunately, this stump that the ball would have hit was neither off stump or leg stump! In other words, I have not seen an LBW shout that was more convincing than this one! Yet Rudi Koertzen pursed his lips, almost chided Ishant Sharma for appealing, and said, “Not out”!
Unfortunately, though not surprisingly — given the hate-filled and bitterness-colured lens that he possibly watches his cricket through — this incident did not make Malcolm Conn’s report on the days’ play!
The new ball did not make much of a dent in Australia’s progress. Slowly, yet steadily, Shane Watson and Brett Lee ate into the lead. This was impressive batting, to say the least.
Just before the Tea break though, Harbhajan Singh bowled a beauty – a doosra — to have Brett Lee caught by Rahul Dravid in the slips.
Australia went to Tea on 249-8 off 93.0 overs with Watson on 66 and Mitchell Johnson on 2. This was Australia’s session, thanks to the positive mindset displayed by Watson and Lee. Perhaps the other Australian batsmen can take a leaf out of the books of these two?
The SBS score read [India 5.25, Australia 2.75].
The moment Brett Lee went, one could sense that the end of the Australian innings was near. And indeed, the end came swiftly. Exactly 7 overs after Tea, Amit Mishra took the last two wickets (Shane Watson was out LBW and Peter Siddle was stumped by M. S. Dhoni) to secure a 5-fer on debut. This was an impressive performance by the young lad on a pitch that didn’t really afford too much assistance to the spinners. I’d like to believe that he could be quite a handful on a turning pitch.
Australia was all out for 268 (India had a lead of 201) off 101.4 overs in 454 minutes of batting. Australia made its runs at 2.63 rpo. The Indians bowled their overs at about 13.5 overs per hour (Note that the Australians had bowled at 13 overs per hour).
India came out swinging. There were no second-innings shackles to hold down Virender Sehwag who came out in a belligerent mood. He played sensibly in the company of the company of the aggressive Gautam Gambhir to get India off to a rollicking start.
The two India batsmen were ably assisted by a overly defensive Ricky Ponting! Ponting should have tried to get Sehwag out! Instead he spread the field from the very first over and that allowed the Indians to pick up singles almost at will. The bad ball was spanked to the boundary. The defensive tactic did not actually pay off! By the end of the days’ play, India were travelling at about 4.34 runs per over! So the sense of that ploy wasn’t actually clear to me!
India finished the day on 100 off 23 overs (at 4.34 rpo). The SBS Score reads [India 6.25, Australia 2.75]
It was a pleasure to watch Harbhajan Singh and Amit Mishra bowl yesterday on a placid pitch. The deliveries that got Cameron White and Brad Haddin bowled were particularly pleasing. Amit Mishra may cherish the wicket of Michael Clarke as perhaps his best ever, but I liked the way he teased Cameron White out with a ball that had flight, dip and zip off the pitch. Similarly, the ball that Harbhajan Singh bowled to Brad Haddin was a corker. Not many batsmen would have been able to keep that away from the stumps. The pitch was not conducive to spin bowling — particularly finger spin. There wasn’t much bounce and although there was some turn, it was quite slow. Yet, the two Indian spinners bowled well in tandem. But one thing worked in favour of the Indian spinners. They bowled attackingly. They asked questions constantly and continually. They pressed for wickets. They played with a positive mindset.