Tag Archives: Test

I don’t want 2-Test series.

The best duels in Test cricket history are ones that have taken hours and hours to describe, volumes of books written on, years of legend built on memories emerging from multiple corners of views of the same event. The talks of the series attract conversations, hair raising stories and excerpts and anecdotes creep in. A bowler’s glare, a batsman’s bat-twirl, a fielder’s expectant move, a battle-within-the-battle, all find a place in what later become “the turning point of the series”. The battle becomes spicier after the turning point. The underdogs are biting into the big dogs, reducing them to carcass by the end of the tour. Legends are made when the unexpected happens.

But, it takes time to build expectations. A team arrives in a new land, takes time to settle – the food, the climate, the atmosphere, the environment, the crowd, the cricket. The story is sketched in the first few days of the tour. There are attempts to alter it in the next few. The climax is anyone’s guess. The constant attempts to out-do the expectations makes the series/tour more memorable.

All that is history.

Today, the teams travel out of their suitcases. Players are involved in Test matches within a week of arrival, play two Tests and fly away. There is no context. There is no rivalry built during the series. There is no story to be written. It is just academic. Such series are more for the media and scoreboards than for the fan of the game, the teams.

A fan might want to watch one Test, just for the sake of watching one. He/she does not want to follow the team around the tour. There is no tour diary to fill. It is just a visit report, not a tour diary.

Why 2 Tests? Why not just forget the Test series and save us the trouble of trying to follow this. “Follow” might not even be the right word. It is just two scorecards that I have to read, that is the series. I don’t have to read between the lines. Saeed Ajmal got 10 wickets? Big deal. He is going to fly out of the country in 5 days and he will start with a clean slate. Virat Kohli scored a century this series? Hmmph, nobody knows if he can repeat that next month in South Africa. Form? What is form in a 2-game series? Harbhajan under-performed? Sure, bad series, he will be fine next tour. How do you know?

The 2nd Test is when the stories and expectations were to be framed, but now, 2nd Test is when you get your report card. It is like deciding the winner of a Test match at Tea on day-2 of the Test. You neither know if a batsman has been good, or bad. For all you know, a “good series” for a player might have meant one fluke 150* and a 70 or just a 6-wicket haul. Zimbabwe beat Pakistan and leveled series 1-1. Which team was better? How do you know? There wasn’t even a 3rd Test. There was no substance to the series – just win this game and get the hell out of here. And Zimbabwe are going to hang on to this win for another few years, for all you know.

Frankly, a series without substance, story, thrill, fan-fare, excitement and length amounts to nothing. You can squeeze in a bunch of those series and dress it like it matters, wrap and bow-tie it as a present to someone, but the truth will lie bare inside it – it still is meaningless. It’s just not cricket.

-Bagrat

Vale Australian Cricket?

Srikanth Mangalam wrote a brilliant piece on the disintegration of Australian Cricket yesterday. I loved his opening where he says, “If your resume states that you have spun a top atleast three times in your life, you would certainly qualify to play for Australia in the Ashes series.”

I abhor gloating, but I will take the bait — as Srikanth did — this one time. In the 1990s, I lost count of the number of times when I’ve not wanted to go in to work on a Monday (in Australia) for fear of being continually ridiculed by my Aussie colleagues for a(nother) pathetic show by Team India. When I said to one such colleague, “I don’t think it is acceptable to kick a guy when he is down”, his immediate reply was, “When else am I going to do it?”

Funny. But true!

The shoe is on the other foot. We can show a bit of grace, I suppose, but I am happy to stick it to the Aussies for a little while yet! Payback does feel good sometimes.

One aspect of the recent decline of Australian cricket that Srikanth Mangalam omitted is the fact that this entire period of slump has been presided by coach Tim Nielsen! And guess what? He has been awarded a 3-year extension until 2013! Why has he got this extension? Because he is the coach that took Australia from #1 in the ICC Test rankings to #5 — and the slide does not appear to have stopped! How is it possible that the coach gets a 3-year extension before even a single ball has been bowled in the all-important Ashes series? Well, I suppose Nielsen has consistency on his side — he has managed to string together a series of losses quite consistently!

The Australian selectors are panicking. Stuart McGill has come down on the selection panel like a ton of bricks. Soon, others will follow suit. If Australian cricket fans think that there is good news around the corner, please take a look at who is lurking around the dressing rooms: Greg Chappell! And we all know what he did with/to Team India!

I believe the Australian slide started on that fateful day in early-January 2008, when the world of cricket adopted a Gate of its own: MonkeyGate!

Almost since then, the Australian selectors have stolen the revolving door that the Team India selection panel used so effectively in the 1990s! Michael Beer will be the 10th Australian Test spinner used since the retirement of Shane Warne! Krejza looked good and Hauritz has the stats (except in India). But they have been revolved out! The Australian selectors are panicking — much like the Team India selectors did up until the 1990s — and the world of cricket is loving every second of this soap opera that is spiraling downwards and out of control.

The level of panic is so high that the selectors have turned to Michael Beer! I do know that beer is a fine Australian tradition. I am confident that the brown liquid does help the average Aussie drive away most pains, but most Aussies will know that the hangover from beer can linger for quite a while!

I am certain that the world of cricket needs a strong and vibrant Australia. I have no doubt about that. Test cricket is currently going through a slump and that is, in my view, due to the state of Australian cricket.

Rahul Bhattacharya, in an article in the Mint Lounge says it all. His piece starts off brilliantly. The hypothesis is quite clearly stated and Bhattacharya commences his arguments purposefully. He and then slides into a strange cackle, produces an incoherent set of arguments towards the middle and then slides into an immature oblivion — much like the slide in Australian cricket that he so bemoans. I believe Rahul Bhattacharya loses the plot when, in an article on the global slump in Test cricket, he devotes an entire chunk of his article to Ricky Ponting’s predilection for fellow Tasmanian cricketers!

Be that as it may, I believe Test cricket needs a strong Australia. It certainly was exciting when Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer, Ricky Ponting, Mark Waugh, Steve Waugh, Damien Martyn, Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne, Jason Gillespie, Brett Lee and Glen McGrath played together.

Test cricket needs that kind of excitement! Today, instead of Marshall-Holding-Garner-Roberts or even McGrath-Lee-Gillespie, the best we have is Steyn-Morkel-Parnell! Instead of Prasanna-Bedi-Chandrashekar we have Harbhajan-Ojha or worse still Beer-North or Hauritz-Smith!

The Australian domestic system is too robust to see the situation slide to a point where Zimbabwe and Bangladesh start licking their lips in anticipation of a series against the Aussies! There is an abundance of talent in the Australian domestic scene. This needs to be, once again, harnessed, toughened and sharpened in a style similar to that which Alan Border adopted in the mid-80s. That fine tradition of tough Australian cricketers, so perfectly instilled by Border, was then carried on by Taylor and Waugh. Today, Ricky Ponting has lost it all. That is primarily because, in my view, Ponting is no Alan Border. Ponting is a good captain of a good team filled with good/strong individuals. The job now requires a tough, no-nonsense guy who is not given to existing in a prolonged and continual state of extreme denial. The job requires someone who has an internal mirror that offers nothing but uncompromisingly candid introspection. Ponting, unfortunately, does not possess mirrors. He is far too easily prone to denial-driven-operations — witness his reactions to criticism after his disastrous decision in the Nagpur Test against India in 2008!

Perhaps the answer is that Ponting has to go as captain. If he goes as captain, Australia may buck the trend and have him continue as a player. That is hard to say. However, what is needed is a no-nonsense captain who is uncompromisingly tough; a captain that can transform boys into men. Just as South Africa made an extremely bold decision in appointing Graeme Smith as captain a few years back, Australia needs to make a tough decision; a decision with tremendous foresight and far-reaching consequences.

And what has this got to do with India and Indian cricket? As I say, the world of cricket needs a tough Australia. To have India as #1 when Australia is weak means a hollow #1 for me.

That said, I am enjoying sticking the boot in right now and perhaps for the next few weeks.

— Mohan

The Kolkata Test

Postscript as Introduction:

Perhaps Kris Srikkanth knew something that we all did not know! Perhaps Goddess Durga appeared in his dreams one night and informed him that a Saha would be a champion player this week. He woke up and sent Wriddhiman Saha to Nagpur and when he realized that that was a dud, sent him packing to his home town in Kolkata. But then, in so doing, he cost India a Test match and possibly the #1 Test Rank. Should he resign? I think so. Meanwhile, Goddess Durga was right. A Saha did become a champion player this week. Unfortunately for Kris Srikkanth, that Saha was Louis Saha, who scored two goals for Everton against Chelsea! — [Thanks to Sam Kumar for that nugget]

Team India suffered the ignominy of an innings defeat in Nagpur and move now to Kolkata to salvage more than pride. India needs to play a sensational brand of cricket to stop the South Africans from claiming the series and with it, the #1 spot in the ICC Test Rankings. While Indian cricketers may not yearn for it perhaps as much as others, there is also the small matter of a prize purse, come the 1st of April when the ICC will dole out some loose change to the team that is #1 at that time.

More than anything else, the manner of the loss in Nagpur will sting Team India and the manner in which the team has made recent strides.

I have always believed that Team India did not really deserve to be #1, given that it has not beaten Australia and South Africa in their home dens. That said, the team has been making steady progress in its journey towards becoming a team that is radically different from Indian teams from the 90s that had plenty of class but little substance; teams that had fragility that would make a toy made from match sticks feel good about its lot in life. The present Team India has demonstrated that it is made of sterner stuff.

Yes, one can point to the absence of Rahul Dravid, V. V. S. Laxman, Yuvraj Singh and Sreesanth from the team — all of whom would perhaps be automatic picks in the Test team perhaps. However, a great team (and even a good team) has to rise above these losses and has to depend on the reserves to dig it out of situations like the one faced in the lead up Nagpur.

The selectors have to take the blame for the sordid mess that left the team with little option other than play Wriddhiman Saha as a batsman! Like other wicketkeepers from that part of India (Deep Dasgupta and Saba Karim) Saha has to now make a separate trek back to Kolkata, wondering what wrongs he had committed. Saha was picked as a ‘keeper and played as a batsman and now makes way for a ‘keeper? Or has he made way for a batsman? Or indeed, has he made way for a zonal selection? I have lost confidence in this selection committee and hence these questions.

If Wriddhiman Saha was the second best ‘keeper in the land, should he not have stayed on for Kolkata as a reserve ‘keeper? Or was he picked for Nagpur as the next best batsman in the land? Even if the selectors were on drugs, I am confident (despite my lack of faith in their ability to even distinguish their backsides from their elbows) that they did not pick Saha as the next best batsman in India. So let us assume that they picked Saha as the next best ‘keeper in the land. So, what has happened in 7 days for the selectors to think that Karthik was suddenly a better reserve ‘keeper? This is the same question that Sanjay Subrahmanyan asked earlier too.

These are questions need to be asked.

At the end of the Bangladesh series, it is likely that Dinesh Karthik was a zonal selection sacrificial lamb who had to make way for Badrinath’s entry into the team. Who knows what transpired in the sleazy dungeon that represents the Indian team selection committee rooms. However, what is palpably obvious is that the team selection was wrong. The selectors went with too many bowlers and too few batsmen at a time when 2 key batsmen were definitely injured and one other batsman was living on one working playing hand, with the other one injured badly. The logic of that selection imbalance defies belief and for that reason, I do believe that, although Kris Srikkanth has taken personal responsibility for the mess, he must hand in his resignation papers. Srikkanth has demonstrated that his committee is unable to rise above zonal politics. Any person with integrity and substance would have handed their papers in by now already. It is not enough to just take personal responsibility. He is either a weak chair who is unable to get his committee to rise above zonal politics or he is in charge of a committee that cannot arrive at good decisions. How else can one explain a situation where the team had more bowlers than batsmen when there were 3 injured batsmen in the first team list?

In his interview, Srikkanth says, “In hindsight, we didn’t have Rahul (Dravid), who is a fantastic player of fast bowling. Laxman was injured… we were hopeful of his recovery but unfortunately that didn’t happen and then Rohit got injured. So, I would say it was fate,” he added.

And therein lies the problem. This committee relies on hindsight when what is needed is foresight!

Moreover, any decision that is based on a hope and a prayer is made by people who ought not to make these decisions! Decisions have to be made not on a hope, but on medical assessments on a players’ availability. The selectors should have taken tough decisions instead of reaching for their prayer beads! Rohit Sharma himself was a last minute addition and with his addition, there was no batsman to cover in case of a freak injury or a stiff neck or a headache or a sprained calf muscle to any of the other batsmen.

The selectors have to be requested to go home with their prayer beads! I am not braying baying for blood. I am seeking accountability as a Team India fan.

And so, where to from here for Team India?

Despite the alleged lamentable statements by the Kolkata curator, I do believe that Indis’ best chance is spin on a “turner” or a “dust bowl”.

I am not sure why a “turner” is held in such contempt or disrespect (mainly by people that can’t play spin). If a batsman is good enough, they ought to say “give me a pitch… any pitch”.

Terms like “turner” and “dust bowl” have become pejoratives in current cricket lingo because they have been turned into pejoratives by people who make and set these views; by people who cannot play spin!

Just as Durban, Melbourne, Lords’ and Sabina Park offer bounce and carry, Indian pitches ought to offer spin. I say “ought to” because that’s what the natural conditions provide. “Dust bowls” has become a derogatory term these days. I love dust bowls. They offer a difference in a world that craves for a sameness — a sameness that is imperialistic in its notion and connotation.

Give me a dust bowl any day. I like to see batsmen charge a spinner. I grew up on that diet and love it just as I love to see batsmen hopping around in Durban or Sabina Park.

For years, Indian curators have been doctoring pitches in response to idiotic clarion calls from administrators in South Africa, England and Australia that have wanted the “sameness” of bounce and carry and grass with the one-eyed notion that that’s what a cricket pitch ought to look like. These clarion calls have been based on the very imperialistic notion that suggests that despite local conditions, the only brand of toothpaste that is valid is Colgate! I detest this craving for “sameness” just as I detest the response from Indian curators who bend over backwards to prepare the kind of pitch that we saw in Nagpur against the Australians in 2004.

As I have said before, I will accept a seaming, bouncy pitch in Nagpur when I see a dust bowl in Durban. Surely, if it is possible to create a dust bowl in Kolkata it should be possible to create one in Durban?

No?

Why? Because the soil conditions and environment there make it impossible to create a dust bowl in Durban?

Then why is there the expectation that Kolkata should unnaturally offer seam, bounce and carry?

I do hope the Indian curators stop doctoring pitches and prepare spinning tracks, for that is what the natural soil condition provides. I am tired of seeing a oneness and sameness in everything in the world that suggests that the only pitch that is worth offering is one that offers seam, bounce and carry.

Despite the above arguments, I do think South Africa will win. This is a full-strength team that has depth and dimension. The batsmen are in form. The bowling is terrific and the teams’ mental toughness is remarkable. I loved the way the South Africans played the Nagpur Test. It has a India-at-Leeds feel to it. Apart from the first half hour or so, they were in utter control of the match and seemed to know exactly what they were doing. Even when Paul Harris was bowling just that brand of cricket that I detest, the South Africans gave the impression that they were in control.

India can bounce back, but in order for that to happen, the team needs to play out-of-their-skins cricket.

I can’t see Mishra and Ishant Sharma playing in the Kolkata Test. Ojha and Sreesanth will perhaps play and Laxman will play instead of Saha in the XI, with Laxman coming in at #3.

Bring it on.

— Mohan

India Vs SA: Both teams in turmoil before First Test

For different reasons, both India and South Africa (RSA) — ranked #1 and #2 in the world respectively — are in some turmoil leading up to the First Test between these two countries starting 6 Feb.

Team India has a few wounded soldiers in her ranks while the RSA team management has suddenly imploded. After being summarily dismissed from the ICC Match Referee panel after his infamous contributions to the Sydney Monkeygate Test, Mike Procter has been sacked as Cheif Selector in his own country and along with him, his entire selection committee! The RSA coach, Mickey Arthur has stepped down too, citing difference in vision with Cricket South Africa (CSA). The selection panel now comprises Gerald Majola, CEO of CSA, Keppler Wessles and interim coach van Zyl.

Seems to me to be a case of too many chiefs and too few Indians!

Which is really a nice segueway to the problems the Indians are facing themselves.

Unlike the dramas in RSA which are of Pakistanesque proportions, the problems that Team India faces are all injury related. And frankly, since it is the on-field stuff that really matters, I feel that India are behind the eight-ball in this clash of two champion sides.

Rahul Dravid, V. V. S. Laxman, Yuvraj Singh and Sree Santh are all on the injury list. Two of these are vital for the teams’ success against the second ranked team in the world. One of these injuries is a blessing in disguise, in my view, while the other is neither here nor there (but mostly there)!

Rahul Dravid is in sublime form and will be a vital cog in the armoury against a very good pace attack that includes Dale Steyn, Morkel and the fast improving Wayne Parnell. Similarly, in recent times, Laxman’s role in the spot that Sourav Ganguly vacated has been one that he has relished. He has been solid and has adapted well the the changing needs of that important role, which requires acceleration at times and a blocking-rebuilding at times of an upper-order crash.

If both Dravid and Laxman remain injured, my view is that RSA will start as favourites in the Test series.

Yuvraj Singh’s injury will bring a ray of hope to any of the many understudies who are waiting in the wings of Indian cricket. And there are plenty of those waiting to strut their wares in a middle order that seems almost impregnable. Players like M. Vijay, Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Virat Kohli, Mohammed Kaif, Badrinath, Ajinkya Rahane, Manish Pandey and Cheteshwar Pujara would have picked up their bats as well as their prayer beads as soon as they heard of Yuvraj Singhs’ injury! A few of them may have to put their hands up and put on a show when the South Africans come to town.

I suspect that 2 middle-order positions may be up for grabs. In saying so, I assume that Yuvraj Singh is certainly out of the 1st Test and perhaps one of Dravid or Laxman may not play.

I feel that, given his recent probationary stints, M. Vijay must be a shoe-in for one of these spots. Logically, Badrinath ought to be the one that claims the other spot. He has spent many years in the wings. However, he might miss out on the basis of his recent poor showing in the Duleep Trophy and Mohammed Kaif’s recent strong (and timely) form — he has scored a double-century and a century last week in the ongoing Duleep Trophy.

Sreesanth’s injury is less of a concern to me. Bowlers like Sudeep Thyagi will fit the bill quite nicely. Moreover, I think India will prefer going with two pacemen and two spinners in the Tests against RSA.

Ideally, the team selection ought to wait until the end of the Board President’s XI game. However, the team for the 1st Test is being selected today. The Indian selectors should go for the following team, in my view:

Virender Sehwag
Gautam Gambhir
Rahul Dravid / M. Vijay
Sachin Tendulkar
V. V. S. Laxman / Rohit Sharma
Yuvraj Singh / S. Badrinath
M. S. Dhoni
Harbhajan Singh
Zaheer Khan
Pragyan Ojha / Mishra
Ishant Sharma / Sudeep Thyagi

— Mohan

Take a bow Fab Five… Team India is the #1 Test Team

Some 10 years ago, the Fab Five of Indian Cricket undertook a near-impossible journey. After the morass that represented the match fixing scandal Sourav Ganguly, Anil Kumble, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman were left with the near-impossible task of reaching a near-impossible goal.

By the end of the decade, the Fab Five had reached there.

After yet another innings defeat of Sri Lanka, Team India was crowned the #1 Test Team in the ICC Rankings.

It was an amazing achievement for a bunch of committed cricketers that started on what seemed to be an impossible journey some 10 years ago. It was a burning passion for the Famous Fab Five (Ganguly, Kumble, Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman).

Today, sans Kumble and Ganguly, the team ascended to #1; albeit with help from South Africa and England who both beat Australia in the recent past. Yet, the ascent was palpably obvious. It was measured, considered, passionate and single-minded.

There have been some sensational victories along the way: From Kolkata 2001 (v Australia), Leeds 2002 (v England), Adelaide 2003 (v Australia), Multan 2004 (v Pakistan), Sabina Park 2006 (v West Indies), Johannesburg 2006 (v South Africa), Perth 2008 (v Australia), Mohali 2008 (v Australia) and Chennai 2008 (v England). It is unlikely that the Test at Mumbai at the CCI Ground against Sri Lanka will receive the exalted status and the dizzy heights of a Leeds 2002 or Perth 2008. However, it will be remembered as the Test in which India reached the #1 position.

It has been a long road to redemption. It is a moment for all Team India tragics to savour.

It will be brief — after all an Australian clean-sweep this summer or a 2-0 victory by South Africa against England will snatch this moment from India.

However, for a few good men of Indian cricket, this will be a special moment. When Anil Kumble retired he marked this moment. He will be a happy man today and so will Sourav Ganguly.

Sachin Tendulkar remembered everyone in his post match victory statement when he marked the milestones along this path. What better way to get up than stairlifts?

In his post-match interview he said, “Fantastic to be at this position. I have been waiting a long time to get to this position (No 1). In fact just not me, entire nation. I thought when Gary (Kirsten) and Paddy (Paddy Upton), along with Robin Singh and Venkatesh Prasad, all credit to them for handling the team brilliantly. Also all the players have worked very hard in the last 18 months. Right from no 1 batter to no 7 (MS bats at no 7) we have a solid batting line-up. This pitch was a brilliant wicket. There was some turn on the first day and I knew one roll would settle it down and it did.”

No mention of Greg Chappel!

Dileep Premachandran, in his excellent article, Bestautolenders.com mentions John Wright, forgotten players like Sanjay Bangar (Leeds), Irfan Pathan (Multan), Balaji (Multan) and even staff like Adrian Le Roux, Andrew Leipus, John Gloster and Greg King.

He too has ignored Greg Chappel… Perhaps the one page that some of the current crop of players will want to ignore as they trace what has indeed been a fascinating, interesting and impressive 10-year journey.

Starting from Kolkata 2001, the journey has been painful at times; it has been excting at times; it has been imperssive at times. However, I will remember the journey for the commitment, passion, dignity and focus that the Fab Five showed.

Indeed, it is this journey — and not the outcome — that I will savour for a long long time.

As for the future, who knows what will happen. However, I am comforted by MS Dhoni’s calm assurance that Team India needs to travel well to claim the legitimate top-dog position. He said, “Let’s see when we go there. We can’t play them sitting here.”

The Fab Five will exit the scene one by one. However, I am confident that when they exit stage left, Indian cricket will be in a much better position than when they found it.

Take a bow guys. This is your ascent. This is your victory and thank you for all the good memories.

India v SL :: 1st Test… a Dull Draw

India and Sri Lanka played out a dull and boring draw in the 1st Test on a pitch which may not have yielded a result had the teams played on it for 10 days!

So while we have the #2 and #3 ranked teams in the world and while we have both eyeing the #1 spot, the BCCI prepared a wicket on which there was absolutely no chance of a result.

While the ICC is powerless to do anything about it, it is the BCCI has to take responsibility for this sordid preparation — it is the home team that is responsible for pitch-preparation. Then again, at a time when the ODI game and the T20 version top up coffers that are already brimming, the BCCI has little interest in making Test cricket more compelling — despite the rhetoric about the sactity of Test cricket mouthed by everyone from the President to the Secretary to the watchman! It is in BCCI’s interest to kill off Test cricket! Moreover, contracts with TV companies in India are written in such a manner as to force games to go into the last day. The TV deal has been struck on the basis of the number of days of TV coverage of Test matches and not on the basis of the number of Test matches! So, it is in BCCI’s interest to prolong Test matches to the last ball of the last day of all Test matches. And, in order to be fail-safe, why would they not let all matches go beyond the last ball of the last day of Test matches? I would, if I was given such a contract and was asked by my boss to maximise revenues with such a “dud deal”!

That is, if I were also short-sighted.

Unfortunately, short-sightedness seems to be a pre-requisite for a BCCI post!

Dileep Premachandran writes about the high percentage of draws in the flat pitchers of India, when compared to result-oriented pitches presented in countries like Australia, South Africa and Sri Lanka. They are focussed on becoming the best team in the world. The BCCI is focussed on being the richest in the world. Misplaced priorities.

Meanwhile, neither team can draw much from the match — apart from the draw that is!

After the first session of the Test, no bowler really had a good outing in this game! It was nice to see Zaheer Khan back in action. He seemed to bowl with fire and accuracy. Ishant Sharma is bowling well but needs a pitch that does something. Harbhajan Singh tried his hardest and Amit Mishra just landed it. The one worry might be Amit Mishra’s lack of penetration. If the Kanpur pitch has a tinge of grass on it, I will not be surprised to see Sree Santh ahead of Amit Mishra. Despite the wobbly start, the Indian batsmen were excellent. It was nice to see Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj Singh, M. S. Dhoni, Viernder Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Sachin Tendulkar and V. V. S. Laxman get amongst the runs for India.

Sri Lanka had a terrific outing too. But neither team emerged better than the other.

This was just a terribly boring game. Hope there is more on offer in Kanpur. However, that would depend completely on the BCCI!

— Mohan

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-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-3

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

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

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

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

This could be a very interesting days’ play.

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

Session-1:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bring in more Asian Match Referees I say!

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

Session-2:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Session-3:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Mohan

India Vs Australia :: 2nd Test :: Mohali :: Day-1

After the drawn Test in Bengaluru, much was said and written in the three-day gap to send bloggers, TV reporters and print media into a bit of a spin. From Anil Kumble, who retorted angrily to uncharitable comments written against him to “The Australian” who write as only “The Australian” can, everyone chipped in to claim psychological victories, despite empty couches at psychiatric clinics!

Thankfully, the match commenced to put an end to speculations and barbs.

As expected, Anil Kumble did the right thing and sat out the Test match. He said that he would not play if he was 100% fit and that’s what the thorough gentleman did.

I sometimes think that players like Anil Kumble and Rahul Dravid are misfits in India. Despite playing with a fractured jaw at times and despite always doing the right thing over 20 years or more in the cricket spotlight with nary a black spot on their proud record, they are still come up against the Dilip Vengsarkars of this world. While it is understandable that the Vengsarkars of this world are there to create ink-space on paper when there would be vacuum otherwise, I am sure they could do it without knocking their own! Politics of envy does run deep in India. Unfortunately, their vile feeds off and affects independent thinkers too, like some who contribute to this blog! Anil Kumble was termed a show pony by one gentleman. Another blamed him for carrying an injury into the Bangalore Test. Sigh!

Amit Mishra was chosen ahead of Munaf Patel as Kumble’s replacement in the team. At first I thought that this was a somewhat strange move for three reasons. (a) Mishra would be making his debut and hence, perhaps this would not make for a strong bowling combination, (b) Munaf Patel is really at the top of his game these days, (c) Mohali does offer something to the pace bowlers. However, after having seen the 1st Day’s play, I think the option of having a leg spinner is not such a bad option. Mishra is an orthodox give-it-plenty-of-flight type bowler and could trouble the Australians on a 4th day pitch with some bounce.

Meanwhile, Australia’s injury-woes continue. After Bryce McGain, Phil Jaques has succumbed to his back injuries and will be flying back to Sydney. His replacements have not been named, but the names David Hussey, Brad Hodge and Shaun Marsh appear to be doing the rounds!

1st Session:

M. S. Dhoni, Team India captain, won the toss and had no hesitation in batting first. If there was any movement on this track, that was extinguished in the first ball of the Test match! After that, it was pretty much up-and-down stuff. So this was a crucial toss to win, especially since Dhoni said his reading of the pitch was that it would take spin as the match progresses.

The idea would have been to occupy the crease, bat positively and bat once! The only way the Indians could get out on this track would be through laziness, bad-strokes or bad-luck. And that is pretty much what happened during the day! A combination of laziness (Gambhir), bad-stroke (Dravid) and bad luck (Sehwag, Laxman) and a stunning catch by Matthew Hayden (Tendulkar) meant that India finished the day 5 wickets down.

The Indians started off with terrific intent and without taking too many risks, had moved to 70 before Virender Sehwag fell to a faint tickle down the leg side. This was the first of two thin edges during the day. Brad Haddin, who kept well on what was more of a true-bounce Australia-style pitch, pouched both of these catches.

Gautam Gambhir, who has this wonderful ability to rotate the strike in the short form of the game, should re-think his approach to Test cricket. In the first half of the first session, runs flowed off his bat quite freely. He scored some spectacular boundaries, particularly on the off-side. Several of his off-drives would have sent the current owner of that stroke, Sourav Ganguly, back to the nets to correct technical flaws! He was in cracking form. Yet, when the field spread, Gambhir seemed to struggle to pick up the singles and twos.

Gambhir has made 1052 runs in his 18 Test matches. Indeed, on a day of landmarks and milestones, the fact that he had crossed a 1000 runs in Tests may have been missed by commentators! His milestone would have added to the milestones of Tendulkar (crossing Lara’s tally, scoring his 50th half-century and crossing 12,000 runs) and Ganguly (crossing 7000 runs). And if that wasn’t enough, Ishant Sharma crossed 100 runs in Tests too!

Gambhir’s 1052 runs have come at a somewhat disappointing, but acceptable average, of 36.27. However, the pain point is that it contains only one century — and that against Bangladesh! Since he forced his way back into the Test side, on the back of his superlative ODI form, Gautam Gambhir has been in cracking form. He has been at the very top of his game. In 5 Tests this year he has scored 427 runs at 47.44 with a high-score of 74. Somehow, Gambhir needs to find that switch inside him that enables him to convert these terrific starts into big ones. All he needs to do is walk down the pitch and talk to Virender Sehwag!

Rahul Dravid, meanwhile, left his slow-gear back in the dressing room! He walked out, at the fall of Sehwag’s wicket, with purpose and determination. The moment he commenced with a confident straight drive down the track for a well-hit boundary, I thought this was a different Dravid that we were seeing.

India finished the 1st Session at 104-1 off 25 overs! Yes, just 25 overs were bowled in the 1st Session which clearly belonged to India. I scored the SBS as [India 1.0, Australia 0.0].

2nd Session:

This was a crazy session, if ever there was one. This was also a session in which Australia was gifted a return-to-the-game ticket by the Indians! And perhaps this is being a bit uncharitable to the Australians who really sweated and fought it out. Ricky Ponting set innovative fields and tried to choke the run-flow. The bowlers bowled to these fields. But with the pitch doing absolutely nothing, batsmen who did not kick on the make a big score ought to be kicking themselves. At least, I hope they are!

When the session commenced, Rahul Dravid was on fire. He played some exquisite leg-side flicks and on-drives. He was back to his very best. And before anyone realised, India was at 146-1. A score of about 500+ was definitely possible and the “bat long, bat once” theory was starting to take shape.

Suddenly, against the run of play, Dravid under-edged a delivery from Brett Lee that was too close to his body to cut! He was bowled off the inside edge for a well-made 39. A few balls later, with the India score still on 146, Gautam Gambhir, whose runs had somewhat dried up, played a tired shot to a delivery outside off stump for Brad Haddin to accept the nick!

That bought Sachin Tendulkar and V. V. S. Laxman to the crease. Both were looking somewhat composed and ready for a big score. When Laxman had made 12 off 19, he was the second thin-edge of the day to head back! Mitchell Johnson was almost embarassed to accept the wicket — this was his 3rd wicket for the day! The delivery was wide down the legside. Laxman didn’t need to play it. But the opportunity to get a boundary was there. So it was fair enough that he, like Sehwag earlier in the day, played at it. However, what resulted was a thin edge in both cases, and Brad Haddin did the rest. India was 163-4 and suddenly a score of 300 was looking good!

Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly had other ideas though. They settled things down and took India to Tea at 174-4 in 51 overs. Just 70 runs had been scored in that session. India lost 3 wickets. Australia had bowled just 26 overs.

This was clearly an Australia session. The SBS at this time was [India 1.0, Australia 1.0].

3rd Session:

The stage was set for this to be the Sachin Tendulkar session! Tendulkar started the session just a few runs short of Brian Lara’s record for the most Test runs. Shortly after resumption, at 2.31 pm, to be precise, Sachin Tendulkar steered a Peter Siddle delivery to third-man for three runs. There was relief on his face and just as he was running his 3rd run, the fireworks went off at the Mohali stadium!

The fireworks didn’t stop for nearly 3 minutes! It looked like the Mohali organisers had taken control of the game and had held a gun to the games’ head! While it is ok to celebrate a milestone… 3 minutes of non-stop fireworks? The cricketers on the ground had a bored look on their faces! The umpires wore frowns. Even Sachin Tendulkar appeared to be embarassed — the game has always been bigger than the individual! Indeed, the fireworks could have distracted Tendulkar and Ganguly from a task that was much more important than the milestone that the organisers were intent on celebration. Tendulkar and Ganguly had to get India out of a slippery slope and instead we had the organisers taking center-stage in that midst of what was a tense Test cricket match! This was totally insane!

It turned out that the organisers had planned to have 11,954 crackers go off! In his post match interview, Tendulkar said, “The duration [of the fireworks] was bit worrying. Eventually I figured out it was 11,954 crackers or something like that.” I shake my head in dismay! Only in India!

Brian Lara’s record — he overtook Allan Border’s long-standing record at Adelaide — had stood for nearly three years (and stood for 2 years after Lara had played his last Test). In what was a milestone-break session, Tendulkar also scored his 50th half-century and he also became the first player to cross the 12,000-run mark. From here on in, he is in his own space in terms of aggregates and records! For a while, that is…

By my reckoning, unless catastrophe strikes, Ricky Ponting will overtake him one day. How long Tendulkar holds this record depends on how long he plays for and how long his body allows him to keep playing. Of the players in the 10,000+ Runs Club, only Rahul Dravid (10,341 from 127 Tests) and Ponting (10,239 from 121 Tests) are still playing. At the rate at which he is going right now, I do think that it will be a matter of time before Ricky Ponting catches up to Tendulkar.

In the session, Tendulkar also missed on on his 40th century in Tests! After crossing Brian Lara’s milestone, Tendulkar played more freely. Indeed, he played exquisitely in my view. There was timing, placement, power and art in his playing. Apart from one false stroke against Cameron White when he danced down the wicket to play a lofted shot that ought to have been caught in the deep, there was nothing wrong with his batting today. Here was a master at work. In my view, it was fitting that Tendulkar reached this milestone against Australia. Gavaskar crossed Boycott’s record against West Indies, the best team of that day. Lara and Tendulkar had created their records against Australia, the most dominant team of their times.

But records apart, there was a job to do for both Ganguly and Tendulkar. They focussed on that in the post-Tea session and played with alacrity and application. This was a flat track on which the bowlers had to toil.

Cameron White, who had been held back for much of the day — Ricky Ponting preferred to bowl Michael Clarke as his first-use spin bowler in what was perhaps Ponting’s only captaincy blemish of the day! The fields that Ponting had set right through the day were innovative and inventive. He led effectively and ran in the changes frequently. He did not let the game meander too much. But there were two question marks, in my view. One was the over-rate. The other was the under-utilisation of Cameron White (and the preference for Michael Clarke over Cameron White). More on the over-rates later.

Sourav Ganguly was somewhat lucky to still be there though! There was some doubt in a stumping appeal that Rudi Koertzen did not refer to the 3rd umpire. It was hard to say from replays whether Sourav Ganguly had brought his foot down before Brad Haddin had whipped the bails off. I’d like to believe that the 3rd umpire would have given the benefit of the doubt to the batsman. However, it does puzzle me to see umpires not using the video-umpire option more often in such close calls. We saw Steve Bucknor not refer what was a clear stumping decision in Sydney — we, of course, also saw one that was referred in Sydney that was out but not given by the Australian 3rd umpire on that day! But that is another story altogether. Close calls just have to be referred upstairs!

It seemed that Tendulkar was destined for a century. He had made 88 off 11 balls. With 3 overs left in the days’ play Tendulkar seemed to play late at a delivery from Peter Siddle that was just outside off-stump. Matthew Hayden swooped low to pull off a truly amazing slips catch. Just as Tendulkar had gifted Cameron White his first Test wicket at Bengaluru, here at Mohali, Tendulkar made another debutant Victorian bowler happy with his first Test scalp! India was 305-5 then. At the end of the days’ play, India reached 311-5 off 85 overs (at 3.65 rpo). Play had already been extended by the maximum allowable half hour at that point in time. Ishant Sharma, who had come in as night-watchman, was not out on 2 and Ganguly was not out on 54.

I score the last session as 0.75 in India’s favour because Tendulkar got out. So the SBS score reads [India 1.75, Australia 1.25].

Final Points:

I must say that India let opportunities slip on this opening day. After winning the toss, a score of 311-5 would be a bit of a disappointment with not much batting to come after Sourav Ganguly. M. S. Dhoni hasn’t done much with the bat in recent Test matches although captaincy does bring out the best in this young man. Although Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh did bat well in Bengaluru, I am not sure if we can expect the lower order to fire every time they go out to bat. Amit Mishra is no mug with the bat either (he has a highest score of 84 in first class matches). However, I can’t see India doing a “bat long, bat once” in this Test match. Australia is very much in the game. In that sense, Australia will consider themselves lucky. If Australia can take the remaining Indian wickets for 90 runs or so, they can bat long — they bat deep — and be the ones that have last use of this wicket!

Something must be done about the pathetic over rates that Australia bowl. To end the day 5 overs short even after play had been extended by half hour is a terribly poor show. All through the last summer, we at i3j3 carried stats on the pathetically poor over rates of Australia and compared this with the Indian over rates — after all Channel-9 seem to pick up only too readily Indian over rates when, if they could look beyond the end of their noses, they would see that there is a world out there! I do wish the match referee censures Ricky Ponting for this bad showing. Even considering the 5 minutes that was lost to the fireworks and celebrations, this is a poor show by a proud cricketing team.

— Mohan