Tag Archives: Stuart Clark

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

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

Australia maul India…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The second session clearly belonged to the Aussies.

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

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

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

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

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

— Mohan

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

Australia continue to dominate…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The no-ball indiscipline continued from Zaheer Khan though.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Mohan