Tag Archives: Zaheer Khan

I was wrong…

There are many things I am constantly wrong about. No. I am not at Church, it is not Sunday today, and this is not a confession!

But yes, there are many things I am wrong about. Take this recently concluded Test series against Sri Lanka, for example! I was wrong about:

  • Suresh Raina’s abilities as a Test cricketer,
  • Sri Lanka being capable of producing a good Test wicket,
  • India’s cances of winning a Test in Sri Lanka in this series.

Suresh Raina did confound his critics; including me. I had branded him a ODI and T20 player and had even indicated in a post here that he had jumped the queue, ahead of players like S. Badrinath, Rohit Sharma, et al. But Suresh Raina showed enough in the few appearances he had to indicate he has the ticker, application, determination and skill to last at this level. He even negotiated the many bouncers hurled in his direction. He looked composed, compact and confident. He looked like he belongs at this level. Just on the basis of these outings, I would be happy to ink his name for quite some time at #6 in the Test batting line-up even if he fails against Australia in October and (later on in the year) against South Africa.

I was wrong about Raina…

I was wrong too about Sri Lanka’s ability to produce a good Test wicket. The wicket that was on offer at the P. Sara Oval for the 3rd Test was a Test-wicket beauty. After the flat highway that represented the 2nd Test at the SSC ground, I had all but switched off my TV set for the reminder of the Test series. This series was starting to resemble a few previous series in Sri Lanka where teams would go on to make 3597 runs for 2 declared and then the opposition would go on to make 9656 runs for 3 declared — all before Tea on day-2! You would either have that or have a situation where Muralitharan would take 20 wickets for 3 runs before Tea on day-1 on a pitch made out of un-compacted sawdust from the wood factory down the road! But the pitch that was prepared for the 3rd Test at the P Sara Oval was spot on for Test cricket. I do wish the Sri Lankan cricket Board sack Anurudda Polonowita, the curator of the SSC pitch! Even after a truck-load of runs were scored on the SSC pitch during the 2nd Test, with the loss of only a few wickets — and that too to run outs and batsmen error — the SSC curator managed to hide his head in the sand and blamed the bowlers of both teams for the dull draw in the 2nd Test! But the 3rd Test wicket offered everyone a chance — good batsmen, spinners and pace bowlers. Sri Lanka is, after all, capable of producing good Test match wickets.

I was wrong about Sri Lankan pitches…

Right from the time MS Dhoni lost the toss at the start of the 3rd Test match, I did not think India had a chance of winning the 3rd Test match. At the end of day-1, Sri Lanka was 293/4. In order for me to have India ahead at the end of the first days’ play, India needed another wicket at least and also needed to have conceded about 20 fewer runs. Although India did make inroads with the ball on day-2 and although India did get Sri Lanka all out for 425, I did think it was a good 1st innings total in the context of this wicket. India ended day-2 at 180-2, which was the only day of the Test that India ended well, in my books — apart from the last days’ ending when India had won the Test! On day-2, I had India ahead not because the team had made 180-2 (nearly 245 runs behind), which was a healthy score already. I had India ahead because these runs were secured in just 35 overs! But then the quick loss of Tendulkar and Sehwag on day-3 meant that India was again playing catch up in this game. The fact that India made more 1st Innings runs than Sri Lanka was good but in my view the slender lead wasn’t quite enough! At the end of day-3, although Sri Lanka was 45-2, I still had Sri Lanka ahead. On day-4, India had her best session of the game when the spinners wrecked the Sri Lankan batting. However, Mendis and Samaraweera ensured that Sri Lanka put up a competitive target. That and the fact that India lost 3 wickets for not much meant that, in my books, Sri Lanka was once again ahead at the end of day-4. I thought India would not be able to pull this match off on day-5 on a pitch that was deteriorating. I did not expect India to win in the end.

I was wrong…

In the end, this was an amazing come-from-behind win for Team India — one that this team can take a lot of pride in. Perhaps this will not be an automatic inclusion choice in the “Great Indian Test Victories” DVD compilation. This compilation would automatically include Kolkata, Leeds, Adelaide, Multan or Perth — great victories in the annals of Indian circket history. However, taken in the context of the personnel that MS Dhoni had at his disposal, I would happily vote for placing “Colombo (P Sara), 2010” alongside famous Indian victories in the recent decade.

To me this big-list list reads: 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), Chennai 2008 (v England), Colombo (P Sara) 2010 (v Sri Lanka).

I say this because India achieved this victory without a first-XI opening batsman and 3 of its four strike bowlers. Let us not forget that Zaheer Khan, Sreesanth, Harbhajan Singh and Gautam Gambhir were absent from the team that secured this victory. Yes, we might point to the fact that the team did still have great players like Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, MS Dhoni, et al. However, the best batsmen are rendered useless by un-tested bowlers. In this context, the P. Sara victory is an important one for India. The team showed that it can still do it despite ruthless depletions to the team sheet.

As a Team India fan, the future is, still, a worry for me.

I do not worry too much about the day when Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman will, inevitably, exit stage-left! When Rahul Dravid got out in the 1st Innings of the 3rd Test, Tony Greig, who was commentating at the time, emotionally appealed for Cheteshwar Pujara to be inked into the team sheet immediately! I am confident Pujara will wear a Team India cap one day. Just as night follows day, for me, Pujara has his named etched on a Team India spot already. However, he will wait his time till when Dravid hangs up his boots. Like Sourav Ganguly and Anil Kumble, the other two members of the Fab-Five, I am confident that Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman will chose the timing of their exit appropriately. These are some of the most upright Team India sportspeople of our times; a time dominated by Commonwealth Games scandals and 83-year-olds being elected to the Presidency of a national sports body! The Fab-Five stand tall and stand in a separate playing field altogether in an Indian sports space dominated by sleaze, money and power politics.

But when the remaining members of the Fab-Five do exit the scene, I am confident that in Cheteshwar Pujara, M Vijay, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, Rohit Sharma, Sourabh Tiwary, S. Badrinath, Abhinav Mukund, Ajinkya Rahane, et al, India has the batting personnel to step into their big shoes. Pujara will never be a Dravid, just as Dravid was never a Mohinder Amarnath or a Dilip Vengsarkar. Similarly, Suresh Raina will never be a Sourav Ganguly. Rohit Sharma will never be a Sachin Tendulkar. But I believe that Cheteshwar Pujara, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, M. Vijay, Abhinav Mukund, et al, will carve their own stellar paths just as the Fab Four did when they built their careers.

What worries me most as a Team India fan is the bowling resources. Bowlers keep breaking apart at the seams. Bowlers that burst onto the scene with much promise and fan-fare vanish a few seasons later. Witness the decline of Ishant Sharma, Irfan Pathan, RP Singh, Munaf Patel, Sreesanth, VRV Singh, Pankaj Singh, Dhawal Kulkarni, et al. Will we add Abhimanyu Mithun to the above list in a year from now? This is certainly a worry for me. Mind you, the spin options are just not good enough for me either.

So it is the bowling and not the batting that is a worry to me as a Team India fan.

However, just as I was wrong with a few things in this recently concluded Test series against Sri Lanka, I hope I am able to point to a future Team India bowling attached and say again: “I was wrong…”

— Mohan

Team India Performance in New Zealand: Tests

Much has been written about India not going that extra mile to win the last Test in New Zealand in the last few days. I wrote about India missing a “Tipping Point” moment. Mahesh also wrote about Good Enough not being Enough anymore!

These thoughts were summed up pretty accurately by Samir Chopra, in his CricInfo Blog.

In a two-part article, Samir Chopra says, “Why did Dhoni need 600 plus runs on the board? To set attacking fields? Why were 500 runs not enough? Because New Zealand had scored 600 runs in the first innings of the last Test? And if he wanted to set attacking fields then why didn’t he set them? I didn’t see fields that were consistently the hyper-aggressive fields that a captain with 600 runs on the board could set. (If you want to see aggressive fields for spinners and pacers alike, go find a video of Imran Khan’s field settings during the 1982 series against England, his first as captain). If the idea was to get 600 runs on the board and go on all-out attack, then why was the Indian team’s demeanour in the post-tea session on the fourth day that of giggling schoolboys? They didn’t look like meanies that had put 600 runs on the board and were in your face thereafter. This slackness affected their catching as well; three catches went down on the fifth day itself. (Dileep Premchandran notes that had those been held, India would have won anyway; perhaps; but perhaps the reason they weren’t held was that the team’s mind wasn’t fully set on winning the game as opposed to the series).”

I couldn’t have put it any better!

Some of us Team India fans could not digest the go-slow approach at The Oval against England and still got over that disappointment to savour India doing well subsequent to that in the T20 Championship and against Australia. Some of us could not digest the last Test draw against England in December, but still got over that to savour India’s success against Sri Lanka and New Zealand. Similarly, I am sure we will get over the disappointment of a mere 1-0 win against New Zealand!

Setting the expectation bar higher is not necessarily a bad thing!

However, I am confident that the disappointment of a mere 1-0 result in New Zealand will soon be forgotten as we see the dancing ladies, pom-poms and skin-tight lycras of cheer-squads in a variety of T20 and ODI tournaments that India has lined up over the next few months. As we look back on Team India’s tour of New Zealand, we look forward to a year filled with T20 and ODI tournaments.

India does not play a Test match for a while now!

So who were the heroes and the zeroes of the NZ tour?

India’s support cast of M. Vijay, Amit Mishra, L. Balaji and Dhawal Kulkarni did not get a gig. That speaks as much to India’s consistency as well as it does to the faith that the team management reposes in its players. In my view, this is how the rest of the tour party fared in the Tests.

9.5: Gautam Gambhir — The biggest hero to emerge from the tour. He was the biggest find of the tour. He convinced everyone he could bat outside India. He saved the Test match in Napier for India and scored heavily in every Test. Although he had a marginal ODI tournament, he played well enough to emerge as an A-lister! In my view, it is because of him that India has risen to #3 position in the Test rankings. When asked some time back whether he preferred Aakash Chopra or Gautam Gambhir as his opening partner, Sehwag said, “I prefer Chopra because he gives me more of the strike!”, and therein lies the value of Gautam Gambhir. He is a diminutive opener, built in the Justin Langer mould. He has the fighting qualities that Langer brought to his game. But he mixes those fighting qualities with the aggressive mindset of a Matthew Hayden. In my mind, there was a question mark over his stomach for a back-to-the-wall fight. There was also a doubt over how he would perform in seaming conditions. Gambhir has ticked both boxes emphatically and emerged from the tour as India’s biggest asset despite a somewhat lacklustre showing in the ODIs. His poor ODI showing makes his Test performance even better! He shrugged off indifferent form in the ODIs to score heavily in the Tests. Full marks to this impressive lad.

9.0: Harbhajan Singh — He won the Test match for India in Hamilton by taking 6 wickets in the second innings. He bowled well as India’s lead spinner. He also topped the bowling charts in terms of # of wickets. India needs Harbhajan Singh to step up to the plate. Right from his debut series, it is when he has been labelled the “lead spinner” that Harbhajan Singh has emerged strongest. So also on this tour. He emerged as the highest wicket taker in the series. But more than that, he bowled with zip, rip and flight and rarely speared balls in as his wont! Apart from his performance in the Tests, more often than not, it was Harbhajan Singh that turned the screws on in the ODIs too. Apart from his bowling, Harbhajan Singh continues to develop as a bat. A solid #8 is vital to India’s hopes of ascending the Test ladder and Harbhajan Singh has constantly been part of major rearguard fights — Sydney 2008 and Bangalore 2008 spring to mind immediately.

8.5: Zaheer Khan — He had a wonderful tour. He bowled more overs than either Ishant Sharma or Munaf Patel. He shouldered the ace pace bowler responsibility and performed solidly. He made initial breakthroughs almost always and shone with the bat too. A recent analysis of his overseas performances underscored Zaheer importance to this team. He has taken 149 of his 210 wickets away from ‘home’. “His percentage of 70.95 is the highest among all bowlers who’ve taken at least 200 wickets. In fact he is well clear of second-placed Michael Holding, who has a percentage of 65.46.” Impressive indeed. Zaheer Khan had a very good ODI series too. Like Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan too has impressed with the bat lately. It is always comical when Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh bat together — not quite in the Javagal-Kumble mould, but comical nevertheless! Both of them seem to relish making contributions to the team cause with both bat and ball and so get close to full marks.

8.0: Sachin Tendulkar — He also had a wonderful tour. It seems that Tendulkar has found second wind in his career after beating Brian Lara’s record. He seems almost unstoppable these days. I will not say that his fluency reminded us of the “Tendulkar of the old”. I am convinced that the Tendulkar of today is the Tendulkar we see today! The Tendulkar of old is exactly that — Tendulkar of old! His 160 in Hamilton was a gem, but for me, his 62 in Wellington was the score I’ll store on my favourites. It is a pity that India is not playing too any more Test matches in the next 8-9 months. His 160* score in the ODI series has many people still drooling. He would have gone on to make a 200 (perhaps) but for a stomach muscle tear.

7.5: V. V. S. Laxman — Laxman proved his detractors wrog — again! The man has always been fighting off his detractors. But it looks like he is finally comfortable in both his own shoes as well as the role he has in the team. With Sourav Ganguly’s departure, he has moved one slot higher in the batting order. He also seems to draw comfort from the knowledge that he has the dependable and rock-solid Dhoni coming in after him! This has enabled him to play his own game lately. And whether it is defence or attack, he has looked assured, while looking attractive. His second innings century at Napier was fluent, artistic and solid — all at once!He scored 295 runs at 73.75 in the series! A good series which is only blotted by the knowledge that we will have to wait a while to see him in India colours again!

7.0: Rahul Dravid — Although he had hit a century in the previous series, a sword continued to hang over this mans’ head! With the recent retirement of Sourav Ganguly, the clarion calls were growing for Dravid’s imminent departure or announcement. Dravid did make an announcement! It was that he was not in a tearing hurry to leave the scene! The chapter is still incomplete! He will be disappointed that he did not convert his starts of 66, 8*, 83, 62, 35 and 60 to much more. However, he will take the 314 runs he made @ 62.8 any day although he will rue the poor umpiring decisions he received! But these were strong returns for this Gentleman of Indian Cricket. He also signalled that he will be around for a while longer. And judging by the way he played, who would begrudge him his opportunities? It would do him and Team India good, however, if the selectors sat him down and worked out his plans for the future. Again, his good series is only blotted by the knowledge that we will have to wait a while to see him in India colours again!

6.0: Virender Sehwag — Virender Sehwag puts fear into the opposition when he walks in. He showed how dangerous he could be in the ODIs. His amazing ODI century was breathtaking in its audacity as well as its brutality and skill. And that is purely why Sehwag is higher in the rankings than Dhoni. In the Tests, Sehwag missed out after making some explosive starts. He had a terrific start at Hamilton and missed out. He received a lot of flack for the shots he played against Daniel Vettori and Jeetan Patel in Napier. But we have to perhaps learn to accept that that is how he plays his game. He lives for today and it perhaps does not hurt to have a player like him in the midst, especially since India has, in Gautam Gambhir, one of the more dependable openers in recent memory.

5.0: M. S. Dhoni — He had a funny tour, in my opinion. He still hasn’t lost a Test match as captain. He brings that X-factor to his captaincy and his team. He is positive and fearless and his energy seems to rub off on his team — even the “seniors” in it. His absence was noticeable in the Napier Test. Virender Sehwag, the next best leader-option in the team — assuming that Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman will not take up that responsibility — was shown up quite badly. Sehwag seems to lack a strategic bone in his body and, to his credit, does not seem to really want one or need one! But Dhoni was missed in Napier. His wicketkeeping was missed in Napier. His batting was also missed at #7 and I personally missed his almost non-stop Hindi commentary from behind the stumps! I seriously think that the TV station should run a separate “Dhoni Channel” when the cricket is on! But that’s another matter for another day… He keeps it simple and uncomplicated. When asked about why the team arrived “late” into Napier (only the afternoon before the Test match), he said, “The mind doesn’t know if it’s Napier or not. You come and say this is Napier it believes it’s Napier, you say it is day it believes it is day because it’s about how you treat the mind… We think more about the small steps rather than have a look at what we want to achieve in the longer run. We know that if we achieve the small milestones what we want to achieve in the longer run will take care of itself. We think about a series, and we break the series into games. And every game is a different game in which we start from scratch.” By the way, this is exactly what Greg Chappell was saying too! But he made himself out to be a pontificating Guru. He was constantly challenged, continually ridiculed and then shown the door! Dhoni brings that earthy matter-of-fact approach to leadership. But despite his X-factor captaincy and despite his solid showing in both ODIs and Tests, he scores low in my books because of his wrong decision on the 4th morning of the 3rd Test — my view on this was recorded at the end of day-4 of the Test match itself (well before rains turned the 2-0 party in Wellington into a mere 1-0 party!).

4.0: Ishant Sharma — Ishant Sharma promised more than he delivered. He is still a work-in-progress. He will improve. He will get better and stronger. India needs to invest more on him. He had a good match at Hamilton but struggled to bowl into the wind at Wellington. Of course, all bowlers struggled at Napier! He bowled well in patches and it is fair to say that he will have learned from this outing.

3.0: Munaf Patel — I really do not know when players like Munaf Patel will realise that it is not enough to just rock up on the park and assume that “she’ll be right, mate”! The fact that the entire team applauded a dive that Munaf Patel put in on the boundary rope is symptomatic of his problems. A dive must be de rigueur. If your team mates are surprised that you can actually dive, that is cause for concern! He blows hot one day and cold the next. He lacks consistency and I suspect that it is because he either does not “put in” enough to his game and his preparations. Or maybe he just leaves his thinking cap behind in the Hotel room every morning! He had a terrific match in Hamilton. He played the 3rd bowler card perfectly and performed his role to perfection. He kept it tight and took wickets too. However, when the batsmen got stuck into him at Napier, he dropped his bundle and his tour went South from there on! He looked completely disconnected from proceedings subsequent to that point. He dropped catches, could not bend down to field regular shots and just missed the point of being part of a team! He needs a wake up call or a kick up his backside. He needs to work on his fitness, period. You are not going to teach him to be a better fielder and dive around the park. Not now. He has missed that bus many years ago! However, what he has to learn is complete commitment to his fellow bowlers — if not the entire team. A good, mentally strong, fit and committed Munaf Patel is important for India if she is to challenge the #2 and #1 spots.

2.0: Yuvraj Singh — What I wrote about Munaf Patel could be said about Yuvraj Singh too. He had several opportunities to not only cement the #6 spot, but make it his own. Instead, he used the tour to default on his loan repayments. His line of credit has been extended. But only just! He had a poor tour. For me, it was less his ability with the seaming ball and his low returns that made me give him such a low score. It was due to his overall lethargy in the field. He just did not seem to belong in this company. A few years ago, he was the touted as the great hope of the Indian infield. He was! He was seen as the messiah that would inspire a generation of Indian cricketers to throw themselves around on the park like a Jonty Rhodes or a Ricky Ponting. Today he is already a pale shadow of what he was even yesterday! Unfortunately, this means that he might need to start all over again! I think he can do it. He has to sharpen his fitness and lose those needless excess kilos. He also has to fix that ‘dodgy knee’. He seems to me to be a man pre-occupied by that weakness. We may then see a better, fitter and a more free Yuvraj Singh.

1.0: Dinesh Karthik — The only positive contribution from Dinesh Karthik on this tour is that he has ensured that Yuvraj Singh does not get lined up at the rear of the class! I would not be surprised if Dinesh Karthik played his last Test at Napier. The only good thing about his ‘keeping in the 1st Innings of that Test was that he made the Kiwis wonder if he had been selected for his batting! Once they saw him batting, they were left scratching their heads! I strongly believe that it is time the team and the selectors invested in Wriddhiman Saha, Naman Ojha and Srivats Goswami.

Overall, this was a steady tour for Team India. I’d have preferred a 2-0 result, but will take this in the hope of better things in the future.

In conclusion, I must say that the pitches as well as the schedule worked in India’s favour. Gautam Gambhir was “allowed to fail” in the ODIs without allowing it to form a ‘mental block’ for him. The bowlers — particularly Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh — got used to the conditions. So a big tick to the BCCI for drawing up a schedule. A big tick too to the BCCI for also organising for Dravid, Laxman, Kulkarni and Laxman to play a few provincial games in New Zealand. It can’t have hurt India’s preparations.

— Mohan

India challenge ODI #1 spot…

Today’s ODI games between Sri Lanka & India and Australia & New Zealand have become a land-grab for the top spot on the ICC ODI table.

As a result of the recent brilliance of South Africa in both Tests and ODIs (combined with an unusually long-spell of lackadaisical play by the Australians) the top spots on the ICC rankings table in both Tests and ODIs represents a tightly bunched group.

The ICC ODI Rankings Table has South Africa on 125 points, India on 122, Australia 3rd on 121 and New Zealand 4th on 117.

It has been a while since the rankings table was this closely grouped. I have a feeling that things are going to remain this way for a while now — perhaps even till the World Cup in 2011. There is little that separates these top-4 teams. And this can only be good for the ODI form of cricket — a form that, I feel, needs a kick in the backside to ward off the threat from the more exciting Twenty20 format — especially with the excitement that is being generated by the IPL these days.

Given the closely packed nature of the rankings table, the two ODI games that are being played today take on a special significance. If India and New Zealand win, it would be the first time since rankings commenced that India will occupy the top spot on the table. I suspect that this occupation will be short-lived. But if India does make it there, it will be a huge credit to M. S. Dhoni (captain) and Gary Kirsten (coach).

India, however, appears still intent on blooding some of its bench-players. With a view to the longer-term, it is imperative that India has players like Ravindra Jadeja, Irfan Pathan, Yusuf Pathan, Rohit Sharma and L. Balaji match-hardened and sharp.

As I said earlier, it is likely that the next year or so will see the ODI rankings move and slip a fair bit between these top four teams. So a capture of the top spot for a few days or even a few weeks will be neither here nor there. What should be more important for the India fan is how Team India shapes up towards the 2011 World Cup!

After the comprehensive recent victory against Sri Lanka in the 4th ODI even with a team that did not include Sachin Tendulkar and Zaheer Khan — its talismen in batting and bowling respectively — it is likely that Team India will continue with its strategy of resting one or two key players for todays’ last game of the series.

It appears that the team is not too keen to rest more than 2 “key players” for each match. For the previous match, Sachin Tendulkar and Zaheer Khan earned a rest. For this 5th ODI, it appears that Yusuf Pathan and Pragyan Ojha are the ones that got a tap on the shoulder.

With that in mind, it is likely that Team India for the 5th ODI against Sri Lanka will be:
Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt & wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Irfan Pathan, Zaheer Khan, L Balaji, Ishant Sharma.

It would be great for Jadeja and Balaji to get a game. I really like the look of Jadeja. He followed up a good IPL outing with a strong domestic season and has continued to impress everyone. He gets an opportunity to strut his stuff on the big stage now. After a few years in the wilderness, Balaji get an opportunity to once again walk on the big stage. His career too received a boost in the IPL theatre. He too followed it up with a strong domestic season and gets a well-deserved call to the India team.

Despite picking a few wickets, Irfan Pathan did have a bad game in the 4th ODI and will be keen to put that behind him. Sanath Jayasuriya took to him like a duck would to water. Although it may be tempting to drop him for Yusuf Pathan in the above team list, I think it would be good for Irfan Pathan to get another match to get his game back in shape.

— Mohan

Sri Lanka Vs India :: 1st ODI :: 28 Jan 2009

India won against Sri Lanka in the 1st match of this new ODI series without really breaking into a sweat. Ever since Sri Lanka lost Tilakaratne Dilshan in the very first over, the result was as clearly predictable as Munaf Patel’s excellence in the fielding facet of his game!

In the recent ODI games against Pakistan, Dilshan — the opener — has been a revelation for Sri Lanka. Dilshan’s opening role served several purposes. He provided the stability that allowed Jayasuriya the ability to free his arms at the top. Although Sangakkara provided similar stability to the Sri Lankan lineup, Sangakkara’s calm assurance at the #3 slot that few batsmen was lost to the Sri Lanka team. Sangakkara is now able to provide that assurance that few teams in world cricket can boast — Australia, with Ricky Ponting, excepted. With Dilshan opening, Sangakkara could now go back to the #3 slot.

Third, as the Cricinfo match report states, Dilshan “hid” the woefully out-of-form Jayawardene. It appears that when Jayawardene is out of form, the whole world knows it. He just seems to fall apart at the seams! Memories of the World Cup in 2003 come flooding back, where Jayawardene hardly seemed able to hit ball with bat and when he did, he popped a catch to a nearby fielder! The Sri Lankan captain is going through one of those patches at the moment and the sooner he comes out of it, the better it would be for the home team.

So, Dilshan’s early departure led to some over-cautious batting by the Sri Lankans. And the captains form — or lack of it — meant that Sahan Thilina Kandamby, playing in only his 8th ODI was sent in at #4 when Sangakkara got out. Kandamby scratched around for an eternity before getting out. And in the end, the Sri Lankan total was never going to enough despite another huge effort from the 39 year-old warhorse, Sanath Jayasuriya.

India bowled well in patches. I was quite amazed to see Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina get to bowl as many overs as they did! Together, they bowled 8 overs to Yusuf Pathan’s 7 overs and Munaf Patels’ 5 overs.

Perhaps this over-bowling of Suresh Raina and Rohit Sharma stemmed from the fact that Dhoni knew the pitch was getting slower. Perhaps this stemmed from the fact that Munaf Patel was having a bad game with the ball. Perhaps this stemmed (although quite unlikely) from a perverse desire that Dhoni wanted a bigger challenge when batting? Perhaps this stemmed from a desire for Dhoni to have Suresh Raina and Rohit Sharma more match-hardened as the tournament progressed to its later stages. All of this is quite speculative. The fact is that the two youngsters had a lengthy bowling stint. Considering that they bowled mainly to an in-form Jayasuriya, their 8 overs for 38 runs was an impressive effort.

Dhoni marshalled his resources excellently. He brought in Raina and Rohit Sharma an over or two after Sangakkara holed out to mid-wicket off a flighted teaser from Pragyan Ojha. Yusuf Pathan and Ojha were bowling at that time. Instead, knowing that Jayasuriya and Kandamby would be intent on consolidation prior to a PowerPlay launch, Dhoni extracted 8 overs from the two rookie bowlers.

Sri Lanka erred by calling for the PowerPlay only in the 38th over. By then, the two Indian trundlers had already bowled their 8 overs — including 4 with the “new” ball (taken in the 34th over). Ishant Sharma was brought on immediately when the PowerPlay was called and struck in his very first over by getting rid of Kandamby!

The Indian fielding was patchy. Although it was nice to see Yuvraj Singh fling himself around in the field, there were several balls that went through the legs or under the hands when the fielders did not bend their backs enough!

Munaf Patel comes across as a lazy fielder even on his best fielding day! Yesterday, he continued the trend of being lazy and ill-committed in the field. I can see India hurting badly through his fielding recalcitrance if it plays on a flat pitch and needs all fielders to be on their toes. Already with Zaheer Khan in the field, the Indian fielding unit has one fielder who could easily make the cut in the “World’s Top 20 Worst Fielders Club”. But then Zaheer Khan is an asset with the ball — and sometimes with the bat — and more than makes up for his sloppy fielding. In Munaf Patel, India has a weak fielder who doesn’t bat well and occasionally — like in yesterdays’ match — leaves his bowling acumen behind in the hotel room!

However, this was India’s first outing in this tournament. Moreover, India was coming off a short lay-off. So there are opportunities for these rough edges to be ironed out.

I must say that I do like the Indian team balance better if Irfan Pathan is playing in it — instead of Munaf Patel. I may even be tempted to play Rajinder Jadeja in a game or two ahead of Pragyan Ojha.

Although Kumar Dharmasena gave a shocker of an LBW decision to send Sachin Tendulkar packing, the result was never really in doubt. Suresh Raina and Gautam Gambhir batted with assurance and confidence. Even when they got out, the rest of the batsmen played with purpose and focus. Even the wily Muralitharan and the destructive Mendis could not make much of a dent.

I suspect India will go in with the same team for the next ODI.

— Mohan

“Third World” India crush England in 1st ODI

On his return to Australia, Matthew Hayden explained his team’s pathetic over-rate by saying that these bad over rates happen in Third World countries like India.

He said, “Often we find ourselves with hands on hips waiting for someone to either face up or someone in the sightboard to move away; all the little frustrations that happen in Third World countries and the heat as well.”

Yep. Explains why his team got fined for slow over-rates at Perth then, hey?

Peter Lalor happily ran the story without once reminding either Hayden or his readers about Perth, or indeed alluding to it in his piece. Why would he do that? After all, this was yet another opportunity for this great Indophile to show his Indophiliacity! Moreover, there does appear to be a need amongst some people, to construct a sequence of plausible excuses to make ones lot in life better than ones lot currently is, after all. And in that context, Lalor’s piece does make sense. He even managed to take a sideways sweep at the retired Sourav Ganguly. “Certainly the retirement of Sourav Ganguly will increase over rates in certain contests. The Indian batsman is notorious for time wasting and would drive Shane Warne insane by never being ready or pulling away.” he wrote.

Peter Lalor wants a feel-good angle — an angle that would make him feel good. He got it. A deeper, and more honest look in the mirror, like the one Peter Roebuck provided in The Age, does not come to any Peter! Not every Peter or Malcolm can easily digest, “Australia grizzled about events on the field. Annoyed to be cast as the game’s foremost sledgers, the current mob run to the umpires. They do not understand the bemusement this causes in opposing camps.”

Instead of leaving these stories as nothing more than a morning laugh and a tea-time chuckle — banal noises from a set of people who are desperately seeking to make their lot in life better than it currently is — the BCCI, that other great instiution, has objected to India being labeled a “Third World” nation by Matthew Hayden!

Hayden should be told that time lost in sight-screen movements are taken into account by the match referees.

Third World” is a term that is used to denote nations that are generally considered to be underdeveloped economically. If we extend the definition of the term to stretch beyond economic development, then my conclusion would be that the only thing “Third World” about the recently concluded India-Australia tour — as Australia and India players stayed at luxurious 7-star hotels — was the Third Worldness of Australia’s cricket. Its cricket was underdeveloped and undercooked, but well-understood by its opponent!

In last nights’ game, “Third World” India defeated “First World” Britain, as “Under World” Australia watched, even as “Fourth World” Timbuctoo couldn’t care less!

The first of 7 ODIs in the series resulted in a massive victory for India.

It was a team performance by India. Apart from Yusuf Pathan, all Indian batsmen and bowlers had a good day at the office. It was nice to see Munaf Patel and R. P. Singh bowl with fire. They had been warming the bench for nearly a month now and it was good to see that their game was sharp. Yusuf Pathan had an ordinary day at the office. But I do believe he must be persisted with. He lends balance to a team that is without an “Andrew Symonds” type player.

Yuvraj Singh’s innings was breathtaking. He smashed the ball to all parts of the ground and rained sixers. Although it was hard for England to come back from that assault, I did think that Zaheer Khan bowled exceptionally well to break the back of any possible English resistance.

After a month of nonsense, what was nice to see was the camaraderie between the two teams. Even though there was the inevitable “kissed-goodbye send-off” from Harbhajan Singh to Samit Patel, I suspect that this series will be played in a much more harmonious environment than the recently concluded India-Australia cantankerous drama. Harbhajan Singh caught Kevin Pietersen smartly at mid-wicket, but immediately signaled that it was a bump ball. So also R. P. Singh in the deep. After taking a catch he immediately signaled that it was a bump-ball. There were not treaties or documents in sight. Yet, cricket was played in the right spirit! Virender Sehwag and Kevin Pietersen constantly chatted and laughed with each other. There was respect. There was banter. There was cricket.

Most importantly, there was no “Spit of Cricket” either!

— Mohan

India Vs Australia :: Test 4 :: Nagpur :: Day-2

India ended day-1 probably a bit disappointed at not using its opportunities as wisely as it might have. India was presented with first use of a track that will wear down over the next five days. And yet, 3 of India’s 5 batsmen gave it away, one is woefully out of form and one was on his debut.

The irony of the score — 311 for 5 — wasn’t lost on me! That was precisely the day-1 score for India at Mohali!

Australia will be comfortable that it is still in the game. A few quick wickets in the morning session would get Australia right into the Indian tail. From there, anything could happen.

As they say: The morning session will be crucial for both teams!

Session-1:

India started well and started positively. Australia started with Bertt Lee and Mitchell Johnson — remembering, of course, that the ball was still quite new! Neither of them made a dent in the Indian batting though. Dhoni batted with assurance and confidence. It helped, of course, the the pitch had true bounce (low, but true). Moreover, there wasn’t any movement at all! The only thing that moved was the scoreboard, through singles and twos and the occasional boundary hit.

Ever since he announced his retirement, Sourav Ganguly has been batting with a tightness to his game that has been absent for a long long time. Indeed, one could say that this tightness returned to his game since he got a recall to the Test team 2 years back. But still it always seemed that his wicket could fall anytime. However, now there is an assuredness to his batting. His defence is assured. His technique is good and his run-making skills have improved too.

All of that was to the fore in this mornings’ play. He was the wily old fox, playing in his last Test match for India. And he was playing really really well.

Dhoni was batting with the calm urgency that he always brings to his game. And that is not a paradox. There is a calmness about his batting. Nothing seems to ruffle him. And yet, there is a frenetic and fidgety urgency to his batting.

Lee and Johnson gave way to Krejza and Watson. Different bowlers, same result. The batting continued to dominate. After thrashing Krejza in his first two overs, the Indian batsmen settled down to pick him off for singles and twos. They were hardly troubled by these two bowlers. The field, meanwhile, spread to all parts.

India went to lunch on 404-5 off 113 overs. Just 24 overs had been bowled in the 1st Session. It was a continuation of Australia’s terrible play! Ganguly was on 80 and Dhoni was on 43.

The 1st Session belonged to India. No doubt about that. The SBS Score read: India-2.0, Australia-2.0;

Session-2:

After starting the session with a few bold strokes, Dhoni and Ganguly fell to Jason Krejza in the same over! Dhoni fell trying to attempt a cute paddle-sweep, while Ganguly fell to an excellent slips catch by Michael Clarke. Dhoni was out for 56 while Ganguly was out for 85 of 153 balls! Jason Krejza had a five-wicket haul that included Dravid, Sehwag, Laxman, Dhoni and Ganguly.

India was 423-7. After a somewhat ordinary morning, Australia was coming back strongly into this Test match. But as I said in my report from day-1, a score in excess of 400 would be quite competitive on this wicket. I could be wrong, but I think this could be a competitive total still unless Australia bats out of its collective skin. That would certainly be possible after what we saw in Delhi. However here, we saw Jason Krejza spinning and bouncing quite alarmingly.

HArbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan, the two architects of the series turnaround for India were together at the crease now. I consider that it was their partnership in Bengaluru that defined the Indian approach in this series. Without that, I feel India may even have capitulated in that match and perhaps even a few more after that.

These two were again together. In the absence of Gautam Gambhir, they were also on the most wanted list of Australian media reporters!

Soo, Jason Krejza became the highest conceder of runs in a Test match debut! He bettered the 3-204 that Omari Banks had conceded on debut against Australia. Indeed, Banks and Krejza are the only two bowlers to have conceded more than 200 runs on debut!

Jason Krejza soon picked up his 6th wicket, bowling Zaheer Khan off an inside edge. Zaheer Khan went for an expansive off-drive without quite getting to the pitch of the ball. India was 437-8.

Off the very next ball, Krejza had his 7th wicket! He had Amit Mishra bowled first ball and was on a hat-trick. Indeed, although this was Mishra’s 3rd Test match, it was also the first ball he had faced in Test cricket! India was 437-9!

Ishant Sharma survived the hat-trick ball. But this performance by Krejza surely begs the question: What was he doing in this series up until this Test match? Every one except the Australian coach and captain seemed convinced that Krejza had to get a game!

Soon, when Ishant Sharma was caught at forward short-leg by Simon Katich, Jason Krejza joined the ranks of Alf Valentine, Bob Massey and Narendra Hirwani to become the 4th bowler to claim 8 wickets on debut. He had figures of 43.5-1-215-8. Excellent figures. Excellent debut.

[It was later pointed out that Krejza was indeed the 8th bowler to have secured 8 wickets on debut.]

India was all out for 441 and a collapse from 404-5 followed the somewhat silly shot of M. S. Dhoni.

Australia will have to bat really really well. Don’t forget that, unlike Delhi, Australia can’t afford to play the “patience game”. There, after India had made 613 in their 1st Innings, Australia had to play the patience game and build solidly to remain in the series. Here, they have to adopt the “bat well, bat once” approach! But they also have to play positively.

India started off with a bad over from Zaheer Khan in which he gave 10 overs!

In the very second over, Harbhajan Singh came on for a bowl! This was M. S. Dhoni’s stamp on the game with 2 left-handers in for Australia and with Matthew Hayden to contend with. It looked like Harbhajan Singh did not even wait to be handed the ball. He just took it and marked his run-up! It seemed to indicate that this was a ploy worked out in the pre-innings huddle itself.

Full marks to Dhoni! It may not pay off. But this was a top move from India. An aggressive move.

After 2 overs, Ishant Sharma was into the attack. Zaheer Khan was leaking runs at the other end. It wasn’t as if Zaheer Khan was bowling badly, but there wasn’t anything in this pitch for the Indian quick men. There wasn’t much spin in it for Harbhajan Singh either.

Australia, like India, had started well though and reached 31-0 after 6 overs with Zaheer Khan having leaked 20 runs in his first 3 overs.

In the 7th over, Matthew Hayden was run out! Hayden hit the ball to mid-off and set off for a quick run. He was out by about an inch. It was a direct throw.

The man the created the run out? M. Vijay, the debutant… The man that replaced the man that Australia were happy to cynically rub out of the Nagpur Test match!

Is this a definition of Karma?

What’s more? During the run, Matthew Hayden appeared to hit Zaheer Khan who was on his follow through! If Zaheer Khan had gone to the same acting school as Shane Watson did, he’d have rolled on the floor and made a song-and-dance of it! There was karma plastered all over that run out!

Australia was 32-1.

After just one over from Ishant Sharma, Harbhajan Singh was back on! Perhaps because Ricky Ponting was at the crease!

Ishant Sharma was swung around to the other end, perhaps again because of Ricky Ponting’s preference for Harbhajan Singh and Ishant Sharma!

At Tea, Australia was 43-1 off 11 overs. Ponting was 7 and Simon Katich was on 18.

I gave this session to Australia. The Australians had managed to swipe out the last 5 Indian wickets in a tearing hurry for a score of 441. Despite the loss of Matthew Hayden, this was Australia’s session. The SBS Score reads India-2.0, Australia-3.0;

Session-3:

India started the post-Tea session with Harbhajan Singh and Ishant Sharma.

Ishant Sharma was bowling beautifully to Ricky Ponting. His first 3 overs after Tea reminded me of Perth. His length and line were impeccable. And often he even squared up Ponting. He asked several questions off Ponting. This was excellent bowling from the young Ishant Sharma.

There was a lot of chatter from the close-in fielders particularly when Ricky Ponting was facing. I must say I am enjoying Dhoni’s stump-mike “running commentary”!

Is it me or am I right in thinking that Dhoni doesn’t offer as much “commentary” when he is not captain?

Then, an over after Ishant Sharna gave 11 overs to Ricky Ponting to let off the pressure valve just that little bit, Harbhajan then got his 300th wicket. He bowled a flighted ball on the full to Ricky Ponting who rocked back to cut it. It was too close to Ponting’s body and before he could go through with the shot, his stumps had been castled! It was a poor shot more than anything else. Australia was 74-2.

Australia needed to move into a phase of consolidation now. Mike Hussey and Simon Katich did just that. While Hussey buckled down to ensure that Australia did not lose another wicket — scoring 5 off his first 22 balls — Simon Katich continued with positive intent without quite looking to belt the ball out of the park! Katich had 41 from 43 balls! This was good stuff from Katich.

Zaheer Khan replaced Ishant Sharma at this stage and Australia had reached 93-2 off 23 overs.

Simon Katich moved to 50 off 55 balls and took Australia’s score to 98-2. And the very next ball, Australia moved to 100 off 24.5 overs. Katich was playing well and once again proved his value to the team. Katich had made some impressive scores in this series but never converted his good starts to a big one. Perhaps this was his day?

India, I feel, was losing its grip on the game. Of course, Hussey and Katich were both batting brilliantly. No doubt about that. But I felt that Zaheer Khan was over bowled a bit here. While it was understandable that Ishant Sharma was given a long spell, it didn’t seem to make sense to leave Amit Mishra out of the attack, particularly since Zaheer Khan wasn’t really getting much reverse swing.

At the drinks break, Australia was 114-2 off 28.0 overs.

Harbhajan Singh was bowling reasonably well, but wasn’t getting much spin from the pitch! It would be interesting to see what Amit Mishra and Virender Sehwag are able to extract from this pitch.

Interestingly, Amit Mishra replaced Zaheer Khan after the Drinks break.

However, Zaheer Khan continued to bowl from the other end. It didn’t make much sense to me at all really although the ball was starting to reverse just that little bit. I’d have thought that we could have had Virender Sehwag for a few overs! The partnership between Hussey and Katich was already worth 50 runs! This was good batting from these two. The score reached 114-2.

Finally the Zaheer Khan persistence-folly was realised. Virender Sehwag was brought in!

But the Australian batsmen were playing really well and in an assured manner. The singles were coming all too easily and some singles were being converted into 2s too. So this was all quite easy for the Australians.

In my view, Amit Mishra seemed to have lost it a bit after his brilliant debut at Mohali. He seemed to have lost his wonderful flight and loop. Gone also was his googly. Here he seemed to pitch the ball too short too often.

India needed a few tight overs here. It was all too easy for the Australians, who had moved to 143-2.

Batting seemed to be all too easy for these two Australian left-handers. They were handling Sehwag and Mishra quite well. And what’s more? The scoreboard was ticking along quite nicely without too many risks being taken either. Every over had a few singles and every now and then there was a boundary too. Mishra and Sehwag weren’t able to pose too many threats though. The spin off the pitch was slow and innocuous. The partnership had prospered to 83 runs from 22 overs at a healthy run rate of 3.80 rpo.

At exactly 4.30pm IST, there were still 10 overs left to bowl in the days’ play. It was hard to know if this was mainly contributed by Australia’s terrible over rate.

India needed a change with the partnership having reached 97. With 7 overs left in the days’ play (22 mins), Harbhajan Singh came in for a bowl. His first ball was flat and at 85.0 kmph and his second was at 91.2 kmph! The field was spread out by then and the singles were there for the taking!

At the other end, Sachin Tendulkar came on for a bowl, replacing Amit Mishra. Off his first ball, a pulled 4 brought up the 100 partnership. Australia had moved to 177-2. This was good stuff from the Aussies.

Australia ended the day on 189-2. The Hussey-Katich partnership was worth 115 runs. The biggest worry for India would be that the Australians did it easily. There were no worries on the pitch. Most worryingly, though, was that Harbhajan Singh and Amit Mishra got minimal purchase from this pitch. India have much thinking to do tonight.

This was Australia’s session and the SBS Score reads: India-2.0, Australia-4.0;

Although it seems incredulous, I do believe Australia is ahead in this game, as reflected by the SBS Scores! Australia is 252 behind. There is a lot of cricket left in this match, but with Hussey and Katich batting well and with depth in the batting, Australia are ahead in this game!

— Mohan

India Vs Australia :: Test 3 :: Delhi :: Day-4

In all interviews I heard since the end of day-3, talk has been about Australia trying hard to save the game. Even Matthew Hayden, in his post-match interview, talked only about Australia saving the game. He said (and I am paraphrasing), “We know we can’t win, so we have our backs to the wall.”

I find this strange. Thanks to a superb batting display on day-3, Australia are in a position where they can win the game too! I know that this is a slim possibility, but it is probable!

Australia is only 275 behind.

If Australia bat all day today and make 350 runs (say), they will be 75 runs ahead at the end of days’ play. Another 75 runs tomorrow might mean that India will have to play last on this pitch!

Another scenario is that if Australia are all out after scoring say 50 more runs, Dhoni will need to make a choice as to whether or not to enforce the follow on (with tired bowlers in his ranks) or play on for a while and unleash a fresh set of bowlers on the Australians batting last. He may not want to give the bat-last advantage to the Australians by enforcing the follow on.

Moreover, if Australia avoid the follow-on, India will have to set a target. The target will depend on the extent of the lead and also on India’s aggressive intent. This won’t be easy.

So, I am a bit puzzled by the negative Australian attitude. They must think more than just “saving the game”, I feel. The game is still a bit open — although favouring the Indians slightly — in my view.

The absence of Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble has hurt the Indians a lot in this Test match. But them’s the breaks.

The first session will be vital for both teams. Australia cannot afford to lose early wickets. Indian heads will droop if Australia bats out the first session without losing a wicket. Australias’ approach will be to bat out and see out the 1st session.

After 8 days of pressure-less cricket, the pressure is on the Indians for the first time since the Bengaluru Test. India will be looking to wrap the series in Delhi. The Indians will not want to go into the Nagpur Test just 1-0 up in the series. If India go into Nagpur either 1-0 (or worse, 1-1), the momentum could shift completely to Australia. As I maintained, in a back-to-back situation, the draw at Bangalore worked in India’s favour. So will a draw here in Delhi. The momentum will have shifted in Australia’s favour.

So the Indians will be desperate to win here at Delhi to maximise its chances of regaining the Border-Gavaskar-Trophy.

Session-1:

After a happy-birthday-tune to celebrate V. V. S. Laxman’s birthday, proceedings got underway with the talented Zaheer Khan bowling to an aggressive and recently-fined Shane Watson.

Off the 4th over of the morning, Michael Clarke was dropped at mid off by a leaping Ishant Sharma off the bowling of Amit Mishra. These catches ought to be taken. India could well pay dearly for this lapse. Mishra had the measure of Michael Clarke in yesterdays’ session and had started in pretty much the same vein this morning. However, for success, bowlers need to depend on fielders unless of course you are Virender Sehwag (two clean bowled and 1 LBW)!

The morning was going Australia’s way. The partnership between Clarke and Watson was developing well. Watson was starting to play his shots and look more confident with each ball. Mishra continued to bowl a hit-me ball every over. The dropped catch seemed to have dropped shoulders just that little bit on the field. After 8 overs, Australia had scored 31 runs with not much fuss — apart from that dropped catch — and the deficit was only 244 runs!

Ishant Sharma, the culprit of the catch let-off, came on to bowl. But with him and Mishra bowling a hit-me ball every over, Australia started to slowly but irrevocably draw closer to their first target for the day — avoiding the follow-on. Something needed to happen for India.. and soon. Watson, in particular, was batting quite well, despite the odd edgy stroke past the thinly populated slips area.

I thought Dhoni missed a trick here in not starting with Virender Sehwag, the best of the three spinners on view yesterday. Mishra was more inexperienced than Sehwag, who would have kept it tight as well.

Sehwag ultimately came in for Mishra in the 11th over of the morning. He started off with a maiden over! For India, the way to do this would have been for Ishant Sharma to swallow his ego and bowl a line outside slightly wide of the off-stump and attack with Sehwag and Mishra from the other end. However, Ishant Sharma continued to bowl and attacking line and leaked runs.

After another Sehwag maiden over, drinks was called. At drinks break, Australia had scored 57 runs from 14 overs. This was just what the doctor had ordered for Australia. Australia had reached 395-4.

Interestingly, Anil Kumble came in for a bowl after the drinks’ break! Here was a warrior striding in for his team after 11 stitches to the little finger of his left hand, with 2 of his fingers taped together, a few cortisone injections and perhaps even a plastic plate inserted to protect the left hand.

I was surprised that Kumble was allowed to bowl. Isn’t there a requirement that he had to spend as much time on the field as he did off it before he could bowl?

With Kumble and Sehwag on, the bowling was tighter and runs were harder to come by. I thought that Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma and Amit Mishra bowled quite badly this morning. For the first time in the series, the Indian bowling looked insipid and lazy — somewhat like the Australian bowling has looked this series (with due apologies to fans of the Australian team who visit this blog)!

And the tightness of the bowling caused Sehwag to bowl Shane Watson. Sehwag seems to have made up his mind to not depend on the fielders in this match! He has 3 clean bowleds and 1 LBW thus far in this game. This ball pitched well outside off stump, spun sharply and clipped the top of Watson’s leg stump. I have little doubt that the tightness of the Kumble-Sehwag bowling was what caused this wicket to fall.

We had a new man, Brad Haddin, at the crease and suddenly things were happening. There was more in the pitch, it seemed. Sehwag (at 66-4) had his best figures in a Test match. Since his introduction, Sehwag had bowled 3 maidens and had taken a wicket! Watson had departed for a well-made 36 in a partnership of 73 runs off 20.1 overs with Michael Clarke.

In the next over from Kumble, Clarke danced down the wicket to hit it over the top. The boundary gave Clarke his half-century and also brought up Australia’s 400.

In Kumble’s next over, he hit Haddin bang in front of the stumps. Hadding was a foot down the pitch, but wasn’t playing a shot at the ball, which struck him in front of middle stump! Umpires are loathe to give these balls out even though the batsman does not offer a stroke to it. I find this a strange policy.

Soon after, the follow-on target was avoided. The first target had been achieved for Australia. It was a mammoth effort from a team that had had 8 days of Test cricket under the pump and behind the 8-ball. Although they were helped by an easy pitch and by the absence of Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble yesterday, this was a great backs-to-the-wall effort. The fact that all top five batsmen made a half century (with none of them, yet, going on to make a century) was an indicator of the superlative team-effort that Australia had put in.

I felt that although Kumble was bowling tight and although it was fabulous stuff from a committed Indian warrior, he missed a trick by not bowling from around the wicket and into the ‘rough’.

Sehwag was bowling brilliantly. He was showing us a complete repertoire. The top spinner, the slow spinner, flight, the one that goes straight and the faster one. It just showed how badly under-used this talented cricketer is in India.

And then, after some 85 overs since his last wicket in Test cricket, Anil Kumble bowled a slow-through-the-air googly to get Brad Haddin stumped brilliantly by Dhoni. The indefatigable warrior had struck for India. Australia was 426-6.

Haddin was gone for 17 off 35 balls with 1 four and a six.

In the very next over, Gambhir almost created a a half-chance at forward short-leg as Michael Clarke poked at a Sehwag delivery. It was a hard one to convert to a catch. The fact that Gambhir almost made it into a catch should augur well for India’s close-fielding stables.

At lunch, Australia had reached 436-6. India had bowled 31 overs and Australia had made 98 runs, losing 2 wickets. Australia had made the runs at 3.16 rpo.

In the pre-lunch session, India had bowled 31 overs. This is how teams should approach their cricket. Not in the recalcitrant, unprofessional, lazy and sloppy manner in which Australia treats the viewing spectator. And while Australia thumbs its lazy nose at the ICC establishment, the ICC goes around finding the next Asian to ping for a wrong-doing when the wrongdoers are right under its nose. What I struggle most with is the manner in which Match Referees allow and encourage such recalcitrance from Australia, the world champion team when it comes to over rates.

Australia will be happy to wipe off the deficit and reach the follow-on target. India will rue the missed catch and also the bad bowling from Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma and Mishra that they started off with.

Given that Australia lost two important wickets, I call this an even session too. The SBS Score reads: India 5.5, Australia 4.5!

Session-2:

Surprisingly, India started with Zaheer Khan bowling after lunch. Given that Kumble and Sehwag did all the pre-lunch damage, this decision was somewhat surprising, unless Kumble wanted to change the end from which he was bowling.

Sehwag bowled from the end that Kumble was bowling pre-lunch. So it may be that Kumble was using Zaheer Khan to help him swap ends with Sehwag — not a bad ploy.

Australia will be looking to do a Zaheer-Harbhajan-Bengaluru in this session being about 170 behind India. The closer they could get to India’s total, the better it would be for them.

A few overs after lunch, Virender Sehwag became India’s one of the most employed bowler in this innings! At this stage, Sehwag had already bowled 35 overs, which was the same number of overs that Mishra had bowled! Given Kumble’s injury and Harbhajan Singh’s absence, this was a tremendous bonus for Anil Kumble and further underlined Sehwag’s value in this team.

Zaheer Khan continued to bowl. The tactic was somewhat unclear to me although Zaheer Khan was getting the ball to tail in to the right hander.

The folly of the Zaheer Khan strategy had become more obvious as the runs started to come quite freely. One of the advantages of Kumble bowling in tandem with Sehwag was that both ends offered little by way of release of pressure. There was hardly any venom in Zaheer Khan’s bowling for the batsmen to try anything silly off Sehwag’s bowling. India was missing a trick by not bowling either Mishra or Kumble here, I felt.

After three overs of the Zaheer Khan spell, Kumble brought himself on to bowl. Australia had moved to 465-6, only 148 runs behind. The complexion of the game was slowly starting to change. At the other end, Sehwag was changed for Amit Mishra.

Australia had developed a string of partnerships — with not a single player (yet) going on to make a century — and another one was developing between Cameron White and Michael Clarke. Their partnership had reached 50 runs and the danger signal for India was that they had done it really easily!

Mishra has upped his pace and was bowling with less flight and faster through the air to try and get some purchase from the pitch. Kumble was trying, in the meanwhile, to bowl a few tight overs.

[I could not write more last night. This piece is written more for completeness and has been written a day later.]

India continued to play ordinary cricket and let off Michael Clarke a few more times before they were able to wrap up the innings.

I was disappointed by Australia’s approach. Australia batted on till it got to 39 runs behind India’s tour.With just 13 overs left in the days’ play, there was no way India was going to make the running on a pitch that was offering nothing much to the bowlers even on day-4. I thought Australia should have declared at least 100 behind. This would have forced India to make the running in this match. Remember, India does not need to win this match, although India would like to. Australia has to win this match although, by drawing this match, it keeps its hopes alive in the series. So the attacking ploy for Australia would have been to declare about 100 runs behind India’s total. Unfortunately, that was not to be. What we saw was the initiation of a defensive ploy from Australia and a continuation of this ploy by India.

I gave the 2nd session as well as the 3rd session of day-4 to Australia and so, the SBS Score reads: India 5.5, Australia 6.5!

— Mohan