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

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

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

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

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

Session-1:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Session-2:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This was absorbing Test match cricket.

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

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

Drinks was called at this stage.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Session-3:

Onto my pet peeve: Australia’s over rate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This was outrageous! Nothing else.

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what is the Match Referee doing about this?

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

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

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

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

A crazy coincidence:

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

— Mohan

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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

This is “new age cricket”?

I thought that totally naff phrases and silly tags were mothballed in cricket after the departure of John Buchanan. But no, Australia has continued its recent proud tradition of producing naff tags — and this latest pearl may be from the Guru Greg Chappell stable — to come up with “new age cricket“. They were going to try out new-age-cricket (NAC) in the ongoing series against India!

It basically involves hassling the opposition continually for runs — presumably because the opposition is old or unfit or lazy or all of the above! NAC also means setting innovative fields so that the opposition’s run rate dries up — presumably because the opposition is too old, fat, lazy and unfit to run singles and depend on 4s to keep the scoreboard ticking!

So this is what NAC is.

Firstly, what’s wrong with just plain cricket?

Second, this NAC stuff does not appear to be working! Early signs are that it has bombed in the face of Ricky Ponting!

After the Australian 1st innings (a report on the 2nd day has been compiled by Mahesh) an admittedly early review of NAC indicates to me that naffness is not restricted to the term — the theory is as naff as the term!

Australia wanted to hustle the old-fat-lazy Indian fielders when batting and restrict the scoring rate of the opposition when fielding. Results show that Australia scored at 2.81 runs per over and are giving away runs at about 4 an over right now. Yes, it is early days, but will someone tell the Australian team that it is time to mothball this NAC stuff?

As an admirer of Australian cricket, it was painful for me to see Australia crawl at 2.8rpo through the innings. This is not the Australia I know. And if this is what new-age hustling of old-fat-lazy fielders results in, give me the old-age stuff any day! Another facet of their cricket that I did not like much was the way Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey played. They were just too cautious. They gave the conditions and the opposition bowlers way too much respect. If an Indian batsman had played the way Ricky Ponting, most newspaper analysts (ok, I use that term very lightly), bloggers and TV anchors would have termed it a “selfish” approach that put self ahead of the team! Homer alludes to this in his blog post. Ponting made 123 runs off 331 balls and Hussey made 146 off 402 balls at batting rates that would have made Anshuman Gaekwad and Chetan Chauhan proud! This wasn’t Australia, was it? Or was it the NAC Australia?

Moreover, Australia should continue to play the way Australia plays best. To get on top of the bowling. To keep the scoreboard ticking. To keep the foot on the pedal and to not let the opposition back into the game. That’s the way Australia has won over the last 10 years or so. And that’s the only way this team will continue to produce results as impressively as it has. These theories are good for the paper they are written on. They give people like Buchanan and Chappell something to do when they are in the dressing room and when sleep threatens to overtake them on a hot summer day! However, cricket is played by able bodied men who do things the way they have been doing.

For some time now, we have been critics of India trying to play the “Australian Way” — in your face, aggressive, high-adrenaline cricket, when it doesn’t quite come naturally to them! Similarly, it is time to question this new approach that Australia seems to have adopted — a very Indian way of playing grinding cricket on dust bowls. A style of game that comes quite naturally to the Akash Chopras and Rahul Dravid’s of the world. In my view, this over-cautious approach of eking out runs and looking for singles all the time in a bid to wear out the opposition is very un-Austrlian-like.

Moreover, it is this very facet that kept India in the game right through the Australian 1st innings! If I were an Indian bowler/fielder and if I had been on the pitch for 5 sessions (approx 150 overs) against Australia and if I had looked at the scoreboard to see the score read only 400 for 6, why would I not launch into a wild dance? Why would I allow my shoulders to droop? Why would I allow my spirits to flag? In previous Tests gone by, after 5 sessions against Australia, the scoreboard may well have read 615 for 6!

When batting, Australia kept India in the game through over-cautious NAC and while fielding these supposedly innovative field-settings are leaking runs at nearly 4rpo — admittedly things may be different if/when Sehwag departs. And admittedly this is all early days yet. But in my view, if it ain’t broken there’s no need to fix it!

— Mohan

India Vs Australia :: 1st Test :: Bangalore :: Day-1

After Ricky Ponting had claimed overnight that he was insulted by Virender Sehwag’s comments about the captain’s pact and the Sydney Test, Ponting won the toss and elected to bat. If there was drama off the pitch overnight, there was drama on the pitch in the first over itself.

Ponting said overnight, “That’s fairly insulting. In the first innings [at the SCG] I didn’t claim a catch because I wasn’t 100% sure. It’s amazing how they’ve picked out a lot of negatives from that game and don’t seem to be speaking about the Perth Test [the third match of that series, which Australia lost], where we probably had the same things happen to us. Not one member of the Australian team has spoken about it. We go about our cricket in different ways.”

A few things to seek clarifications on: Firstly, the issue I always have with Australian cricket is about how they play when the chips are down and they have their backs to the wall. So, Ponting’s 1st innings call-back in Sydney just doesn’t rate, in my view. Secondly, what happened at the Perth Test where Ponting had the “same things happen to” Australia? Is he dreaming up stuff? Or was there a Test match in Perth that I missed? And thirdly, what is it about Australian cricket that gets Ponting to say “We go about our cricket in different ways.” Is he referring to that piece of paper called the spirit of cricket (or some such nonsense) that Australian cricketers signed up and seem to tear up the moment they cross the white line?

The last time Australia toured India, the series started with a loud shout for LBW. There was little doubt in the minds of the TV commentators at that time that Justin Langer was out LBW off Irfan Pathan’s first ball of the series. Who knows what would have happened to the series had that decision gone India’s way!

Pre-Lunch Session:

So, there was drama on the field in the very first over and then again in the 9th over. Off the very 3rd ball of the innings, Matthew Hayden jabbed at a ball from Zaheer Khan that moved away a fraction. As he jabbed at the ball, his bat clipped his pad. The ball slipped past very close to bat and umpire Asad Rauf gave him out. Snickometer suggested that if we had had a referral system in play for this Test match, Hayden would have been given not out.

Ishant Sharma continued his duel with Ricky Ponting. He bowled splendidly really. Off the 1st ball of the 9th over, Ricky Ponting did not offer a stroke to a beauty that came in sharply from outside off stump. It looked very very close and indeed, Hawk Eye showed that umpire Rudi Koertzen would have been over-ruled if we had had a referral system in place. So make the Bad Decision Score (BDS) 1-1 in the bad decision stakes!

Harbhajan Singh was introduced in the 13th over, just before the drinks break. After spearing in his first ball at 96.3kmph, he bowled a beauty to Simon Katich that was almost a bat-pad catch at forward short leg! At the drinks break, Katich and Ponting had pulled Australia to 34-1 off 13 overs.

But there weren’t really any gremlins in the pitch. It seemed to me to be a flat track. So as long as the Australians settled down into a nice rhythm, one could see several of them make big scores here. The best bet for Australia would be to make a huge 1st innings total.

Off the second ball of the 21st over, Simon Katich came charging down the wicket and padded up to a faster one from Kumble. Now, I am not sure why Rudi Koertzen is reluctant to give padded-up deliveries out. Although Katich was well advanced down the pitch, that ball was going to be intercepted by the middle stump and nothing else! The BDS reads 2-1 in favour of Australia.

Despite losing that early wicket, Australia played with intent and desperation to finish strongly. At lunch, Australia were 75-1 off 27 overs with Ponting on 41 and Katich on 28. Ponting was playing really well and was looking set for a big score here. I’d give the Session-by-Session Score (SBS Score) to Australia. With Cameron White batting at #8 and with the pitch being a flat and stone cold wicket, I’d put Australia in the drivers’ seat!

Which brings me to an important question: Given that many Indian curators are easily able to produce a flat, dead wicket, do we need a Kiwi in Bangalore to do the same? What’s the point? Will someone tell me please? We have seen many pitches like this in India in the past. Why get a Kiwi in as curator to produce exactly that kind of pitch again?

There were some ominous signs. The last time Australia played in India in 2004, the tour commenced at Bangalore. Australia was 70-1 off 26 overs at lunch on day-1 with Hayden out and with Langer 27* and Katich 9*! The parallels here are eerily similar!

Post-Lunch Session:

Ponting and Katich commenced from where they left off and batted confidently. Ponting got his half century — a carefully and very well compiled 50 it was too.

At 94-1, Katich survived a huge LBW shout off Anil Kumble. Umpire Asad Rauf gave him not out and under a referral system, he would have had to walk. This then makes the BDS score 3-1 in Australia’s favour! Clearly a referral system would change the dynamic of any match and I can’t wait for it to be introduced in all Test matches.

Australia, meanwhile moved on steadily to 99-1. There was nothing flashy about the Australian approach. The usual flamboyance was eschewed and, in its place, was a staid and solid approach on a flat and mostly dead pitch. It didn’t help that both Kumble and Harbhajan Singh were bowling a bit flat. They were both firing and spearing it in.

A sign of Ricky Ponting’s growing assurance and confidence was a hoik over cow-corner for a huge six that he played against Harbhajan Singh, the moment Singh came around the wicket to bowl to him. This six helped take Australia to a score of 104-1 and also took Ponting to a score of 60, equalling his best ever effort in India — made in 1998 in Kolkata.

Australia kept going from strength to strength and moved to 166-1. Katich was playing some glorious off drives and Ponting was looking quite assured in his batting. Suddenly Ishant Sharma bowled a beauty to get Katich caught behind. The ball moved just slightly off the pitch and Katich played an aggressive off-drive to be caught behind quite well. Australia was 166-2 with Ponting on a superbly compiled 94. This bought Michael Hussey to the crease.

What was surprising to me was the under-utilisation of Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly in the bowling. At Tea, all the bowling (57 overs) had been shared by Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble. It seemed to me that Kumble should have used at least Sehwag. His variety of off-spin may have found some spin on this somewhat dead track.

At tea, Australia was 166-2. I give this session to Australia too, thereby making the SBS Score 2-0 in Australia’s favour with Ricky Ponting leading the way.

Ponting was playing really brilliantly. He batted with soft-hands, few loose shots and waited for the ball, rather than lunge for it as he has in the past. As he said before the tour, India was one place where his CV had a rather desolate look to it. This innings was an attempt to redress that imbalance. He was taking this game slowly away from India and had Simon Katich for company.

Post-Tea Session:

The final session went the same way as Session-2. Anil Kumble did not pose any threats. Australia marched steadily and slowly. There were no heroics and no fears either. The run-rate hovered around the 3rpo mark which wasn’t great. The Australians continually rotated the strike and didn’t allow the Indian bowlers to get on top. About an hour into the final session, there still was no sign of Sehwag or Tendulkar. This first day pitch wasn’t doing anything at all for the regular bowlers and it may just have been a good idea to break up the monotony. Zaheer Khan and Kumble bowled the occasional good ball but there were no gremlins at all. Ponting had moved sedately to 110 off 214 balls and Hussey had, without any dramas, moved to 18 off 43 balls.

Suddenly, at 201-2, Anil Kumble shouted for a huge caught-and-bowled off Ricky Ponting. Amazingly, Rudi Koertzen said not out! To the naked eye, watching it on TV, one could not understand why Rudi Koertzen, who was having quite a nightmare day thus far, did not ‘go upstairs’! That was out and Boycott’s dead great grand mother would have called it from her grave! The commentary team indicated that Koertzen did not give him out because Kumble was the only one that appealed! Surely, that can’t be right! If that is the case, we may as well have people jump up and down like school kids all the time!

The BDS now read 4-1 in Australia’s favour! Once again, I ask why the ICC did not have a referral system in place for this series?

At drinks, Australia was 211-2 off 71 overs!

Kumble was having a particularly unlucky day. Apart from the bizarre caught-and-bowled decision that was not given, earlier in the post-tea session, Dhoni had dropped a tough catch off a faint edge. The bowler to suffer there was Kumble. Just after the drinks break, an outside edge off the bat of Hussey went screaming past a diving forward short leg. Things were just not happening for the Indians and a few heads were starting to droop.

At the other end, Harbhajan Singh was continuing to have an ordinary day at the office. He continued to toil manfully though. It was a tough pitch to bowl on and the Australians were playing with tight defence.

At 215-2 Kumble was to suffer again at the hands of his nemesis, Rudi Koertzen. A huge shout for LBW was once again turned down! Hawk Eye showed that the ball was hit in line and that it would have hit off stump. A frustrated Kumble appealed for what appeared for a second longer to which Umpire Koertzen pursed his lips and shook his head sternly like a firm school master! Well, this umpires’ nightmare day at the office was continuing. Of extreme worry for the Indians was that the Bad Decision Score (BDS) had mounted to 5-1 in Australia’s favour.

Ironically, it was a really doubtful decision that got Ricky Ponting out! It all started with Virender Sehwag coming into the bowling attack. This change was long overdue. Suddenly, Sehwag was finding more grip and purchase from the track. He put a seed of doubt in the mind of the batsmen. Hussey wasn’t playing particularly confidently.

At the other end, Harbhajan Singh pushed a fuller ball into Ponting, who tried to sweep it. Hawk Eye suggested that it may have hit Ricky Ponting slightly outside the line of the off stump! Moreover, the ball turned so much that it may have missed leg stump! Umpire Asad Rauf gave Ponting out when he should have been ruled in! The men in white continued their horror run and the BDS read 5-2 in Australia’s favour. Another marquee series was being ruined by officiating incompetence. Australia, wh weren’t really scoring with freedom and abandon was 226-3 off 79 overs. A team that regularly travels at 4 runs per over (or more) was suddenly travelling at about 2.85rpo. This was a gritty, stoic and very un-Australian like performance. Ricky Ponting had departed for a really well made 123 off 243 balls before getting out to Harbhajan Singh for the 9th time in Test matches!

Anil Kumble came on for just one over — in which he conceded 13 runs, the most expensive over of the innings — before continuing with Sehwag.

This was turning out to be a strange session. Australia hadn’t really pulled away with any authority. But for that one bad over from Kumble, they hadn’t really tried to dominate or dictate terms. So, in some sense, due to the slow, low score, Australia left India hovering in the game. One or two quick wickets would set the cat amongst the pigeons. So this was a somewhat strangely careful game that Australia was playing.

Suddenly, Harbhajan Singh was bowling better. He had slowed his delivery pace and was also tossing the occasional ball up in the air. He was prepared to come around the wickets to the left-handed Hussey, who had quietly moved to 40 runs off 107.

India took the new ball with three overs left in the days’ play. A few quick runs resulted and Australia moved to 254-3 off 89 overs.

Off the penultimate over, Michael Clarke took a quick single off the last ball of the over. Off the very second ball of the last over, Clarke was out LBW to a low shooter off Zaheer Khan. Clarke was out LBW for 11.

I was tempted to give that last session to Australia. However, because the Aussies did not press on and move on, and because of the last ball wicket of Michael Clarke, I call this an India session. The SBS score reads 2-1 in Australia’s favour.

It was a dull but eventful days’ cricket: Eventful because of the men-in-white. Dull, because of Australia’s over-cautious approach; dull because of the nonsense of a pitch that the Kiwi curator had prepared for the Bangalore public. If I were KSCA, the state association that owns the Bangalore ground, I’d be looking at the Kiwi curators’ employment contract!

— Mohan

Flab Four about to hand over series to Sri Lanka

This may be a headline that is written too soon — and I agree that it is the person who lives dangerously that writes off a Dravid-Laxman-led revival. However, I would be most surprised if India wins this Test match from here. India go into day-4 just 14 runs ahead and with most of their recognised batsmen back in the hut. Dravid and a limping-Laxman would perhaps need to live in Harry-Porter-Land to pull this one off.

Harbhajan Singh is looking for a miracle from Dravid and Laxman! He said, at the conclusion of the 3rd days’ play, “We are looking to have good partnership in the morning. I hope Laxman and Dravid play what they played in Kolkata (in 2001) and put us in a good situation. And from there if we win the game it will be a great win for Indian cricket.” He then went on to have a dig at the batsmen, when he said, “Obviously, it is a little disappointment that as a batting unit we did not perform what we should actually have. These are the guys who have won games for India. It is just a matter of not clicking perhaps.”

The peach, however, was when he attributed Ajanta Mendis’s phenomenal rise to luck! “I wish I could pick his luck, the wicket taking luck. We all bowl the same sort of delivery. Obviously he is new in international cricket. The more the people play him the more they will get to see him. More people will learn about him. Obviously he got some variation and every ball have variations. Basically I would like to steal his luck. Wicket taking luck!”

Hmmm! That explains a lot then! Harbhajan Singh puts down his own miserable run with the ball to lack of luck! It is not about bowling tripe. It is not about the miserable fielding that the Indians have displayed in this series. It is about wicket-taking luck!

For the state that Team India finds herself in, one can blame the fielding — and it has been bad. But then, one could mount an argument that it has always been bad! So, whats’ new? One can blame the bowling — and it has been inconsistent and insipid. But then it always has been an inconsistent area for India!

For me and my money, the Team India state is reflected by its middle order batting. It is the insipid middle order batting that has made the difference in this series. India’s middle-order was its strength. It is not at this current point in time. Time after time, good starts have been squandered by acts that remind us of rabbits and headlights! There is a certain nervous tentativeness about the middle order batting that does not bode well for Indian cricket.

Although Muthiah Muralitharan and Ajanta Mendis have bowled splendidly, I am convinced that India’s much celebrated “F(L)ab Four” haven’t contributed to the series situation. As Dileep Premachandran said in his piece in Cricinfo, there has been a muddle order about the Indian middle order in this series.

India went into this series against Sri Lanka with a much-celebrated middle order. They are returning from the series with more questions than answers. I am sure that the call for the slow (perhaps forced) retirement of the celebrated four will only grow to shrill-pitch when the team returns to India regardless of the outcome of the current Test match!

— Mohan

Anil Kumble: The perfect man for the job…

Contributed by CWO

A couple of years ago, I came across an article about a corporate business man and his leadership skills. Although I do not remember the article’s name or the person who was quoted in it, a certain aspect of that article stays with me even today. The six qualities that he listed as imperative to define a good leader were:

  • Integrity
  • A deep understanding of the business
  • Consistency
  • Willingness to admit a mistake
  • The ability to listen
  • Decisiveness

Let us set our sights on Anil Kumble and see how he measures up against the above criteria. His is a hard gig. After all, he has, as Team India’s Test Captain, one of the most challenging assignments in International cricket! Anil Kumble started his career seventeen years ago, at the age of twenty. He has played under five captains; including Sourav Ganguly — India’s most triumphant Test captain. After seventeen years in the game, at the ripe age of thirty-six, Anil Kumble became India’s 30th Test captain in Team India’s 76-year history of playing Test cricket.

Integrity
Anil Kumble always had integrity, but he had to prove this under the pressures of leading. Being the captain of India brings more pressure than any other Test cricketing nation. The watchful eye of one billion passionate fans dissects every decision made, scrutinises every loss, and rewards every achievement. Indian cricket fans are among the most — if not the most passionate fans in the world. The perfect opportunity for Anil Kumble to show his integrity came after the second Test at Sydney against Australia in 2008 where India suffered a very controversial loss in a Test that was boiling over with controversy. It was Anil Kumble’s second Test series as a captain, and perhaps his hardest Test. It was up to him to decide what route to take: whether defend his player, his country, his loss; whether to demonstrate restrained integrity or petulant anger. Anil Kumble epitomized the definition of integrity when he revealed his apology to Ricky Ponting over the Harbhajan Singh controversy. He even pointed out that Australia had not played that Test in the right spirit, and addressed the umpiring controversy. He said what had to be said without offending his hosts. He made up his differences with Michael Clarke and Ricky Ponting; and withdrew charges against Brad Hogg.

A deep understanding of the business
Does Anil Kumble have a deep understanding of the business? Of course he does. He has played in over one hundred Test matches, and based on his experience, he quickly embraced the Team India Test captaincy. He won the first Test series he captained against Pakistan. He then went on to achieve a phenomenal victory against Australia in India’s 3rd Test against the Australians at Perth. In doing so, he had conquered the lion in its own den! He also denied Australia a new record in the number of consecutive Test wins. He also helped redeem India’s honour. Anil Kumble has shown a great understanding of Test cricket.

Consistency
This is the reason why many Test captains fail. They tend to lose the consistency of their own performances when they become captain! Partly, this could be ascribed to them caving under pressure. Partly, this is justifed by the distractions that one has when one is a player as well as captain. Unlike a soccer captain, say, a cricket captain makes many on-field tactical decisions and the focus on this can often take consistency away from their own game. However, Anil Kumble has not caved. In fact, he has done quite the opposite. Since becoming captain, he has taken 46 wickets in 11 matches. He has been India’s lead wicket taker as well as a match winner. For years, many an Indian victory has resulted from great performances by Anil Kumble. Since becoming captain he has not disappointed. Anil Kumble is as consistent as ever.

Willingness to admit a mistake
Anil Kumble has always made it a point, since his reign of captaincy started, to take the blame and admit his mistakes. He berated himself for his poor performance in the first Test against Sri Lanka where he went without a wicket. He showed this in his post game interview where he blamed himself by saying, “I take it [my lack of form], but we all tried hard”, and supported the efforts of India.

The ability to listen
There is no greater example of his ability to listen than when India played Australia for the Border-Gavasker Trophy. It was the third Test at Perth. Ishant Sharma was at the conclusion of a huge spell where he had bowled seven overs on the trot on a hot and sticky day! He was bowling a terrific spell and had Ricky Ponting in all sorts of trouble. Anil Kumble was about to take him off. Just then, Virender Sehwag talked to Anil Kumble and suggested that he allow Ishant Sharma bowl another over. Anil Kumble was receptive to the suggestion and let Ishant Sharma bowl another over. Ishant Sharma did not miss the opportunity! He dismissed Ricky Ponting in that over.

Decisiveness
So far we have seen every quality of a leader encompassed in Anil Kumble. The final and the most important quality, perhaps, is decisiveness. Has Anil Kumble been decisive, and has he shown us that he can win games with smart decisions on-and-off the field? It may be a little early in his captaincy-career to decide if he has made many correct decisions or not, but his Test match results so far show us that he has indeed made many correct decisions. His decisions have led him to one series win, one series loss, and one series drawn.

When Rahul Dravid resigned, after taking the Indian Test team to new heights, the leadership responsibility was placed on the shoulders of Anil Kumble. According to many experts and media outlets, Mahendra Singh Dhoni was the leading candidate at that stage. However, it boiled down to a decision around what was best for Indian cricket; especially for Test cricket. While M. S. Dhoni has had a lot of success in other forms of cricket as a captain, when it came to Test cricket, Anil Kumble was always the perfect man for the job.

— CWO