Tag Archives: Zaheer Khan

What this victory means…

Australia does have a terrific opening batsman who can’t bat at the moment and they do have an opening bowler who can’t get a bowl at the moment.

Cricket is played on rough maidans and not in plush couches in psychiatric clinics!

One thing about the Australian cricket team is its resilliance and strength. Australia will bounce back from this crushing defeat that India inflicted at Mohali. To come back strongly from this demoralising defeat will be hard for Australia though — the next Test is being played in Delhi, where India has not lost since 1993! Indeed, India has won the last 7 Tests played at Delhi since 1993! Admittedly, 3 of these victories have come against lowly Zimbabwe. But 7 from 7 is an daunting mountain for Australia to climb when staring down the barrel — if I am permitted to mix my metaphors! But that mixing is the least of Australia’s worries at the moment. There is a fair bit of mixing happening in Australia’s collective head spaces.

This was India’s biggest win ever in all Test matches (by number of runs) against all countries. In other words, even Bangladesh had been spared such a thorough spanking and humiliation! This was also Australia’s heaviest Test defeat since April 1991, when they were beaten by 343 runs by the then mighty West Indies.

The two main differences between this defeat and other big defeats that India has inflicted on Australia is that this was more of an ‘Australian pitch’ than an Indian pitch! Secondly, unlike Kolkata in March 1998, the previous ‘best’ defeat that India has inflicted on Australia, this Mohali victory was secured on a good batting track and by pacemen (mainly)! Although Javagal Srinath had a cracker of a game in that Test match (Kolkata 1998) that really was Kumble’s game on a traditional Indian dust-bowl.

Mohali 2008 wasn’t. It was a batting pitch. The victory was achieved by some splendid opening bowling by Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma in the first innings. Two spectacular deliveries from Ishant Sharma in the 2nd Innings (to remove Ponting and Watson) and by Zaheer Khan cleaning up the tail in the 2nd Innings. In saying that, I am not devaluing the contributions made by Amit Mishra and Harbhajan Singh. Not at all. However, from the moment Australia was pegged back in the 1st Innings, given Australias’ “defensive mindset”, there was only one possible result in this game. And this mindset was reinforced by the Indian pace bowlers who got the ball to reverse swing from the 8th over itself!

A few observations about the victory that need emphasising:

  • How come the Indian pacemen are getting much more traditional and reverse swing than the Australians! It almost looked as if the Indians and the Australians were batting on two different pitches! As Peter Hanlon says in The Age today, “How come Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma get more movement off the pitch than our spinners – at 140 km/h?”
  • Apart from V. V. S. Laxman, every other Indian player contributed strongly. In batting, the openers, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and M. S. Dhoni played strong hands. In the bowling department, all 4 strike bowlers played a solid hand. Laxman will rue missing out and if there is a change to the team plan of going into the Delhi game with 5 bowlers, Laxman may miss out.
  • India dominated from the get go. And in a very Australian manner, once India had its foot on the pedal, unlike India teams of the past, the foot remained on the pedal.
  • Australia paid dearly for its defensive mindset in Bangalore. At the end of that Test match, I rated India as having come out on top. I was criticised for this rating by some of the people who left comments behind (hope the pie on the face tastes good guys!). I said then and I say again that the main reason for that rating was that Australia let the match drop from their hands after being on top right through the game! You can’t do that with good teams like India! Positive outcomes come from seizing the key moments in a game. Australia failed to do that and displayed a negative mindset — which was somewhat evident from the start of the tour with this “new age cricket” nonsense.
  • Australia played like India do! They were out-thought, out-batted, out-bowled and even out-sledged! We even saw Australian players complaining on being sledged! Aren’t these Australians masters of the art form? Soon we may have Ricky Ponting wearing a halo and suggesting that all sledging ought to be stamped out of the game!
  • Zaheer Khan was fined 80% of his match fee for asking Matthew Hayden about his post-match dinner plans! Matthew Hayden complained to the umpire! Poor thing. His pride was hurt. It is time to change the “what’s said on the field is left on the field” adage to read, “What the Australians say on the field ought to be left on the field. However, Australians will don nappies and reveal what other teams say on the field to anyone that is even remotely interested!”
  • More seriously, Zaheer Khan followed up his pre-match talk (which commenced, rather unnecessarily in my view, from the Bengaluru-presentation-ceremony) with on-field performance. What the Indians are realising is that it is not enough to be aggressive in words (read: Robin Uthappa and Sree Santh). Unless it is followed up by real aggression on the field through on-field performance, the talk is meaningless.
  • Perhaps what Zaheer Khan’s talk did was put Ricky Ponting off his own game! Ricky Ponting focussed on attacking Zaheer Khan and Anil Kumble instead of worrying about the cleanliness of his own stable! He now has 8 days to mull over what he needs to do with his own team’s performance! At the end of the Bengaluru Test, in response to Zaheer Khan’s observations, Ponting said, “[Zaheer Khan] just happened to have a good game as well, which is pretty unusual for him. It’s up to him to back it up again. I think a lot of his comments might have been to try and get us to play a different style and different brand of cricket.” Well, Zaheer Khan did have a good game in Bengalure. No, it is not “unusual for him” and yes, he has backed it up! And yes, he did rile Australia’s “new brand” of cricket. But it didn’t work because, as Dhoni said “Honestly speaking, we have not seen this before. I mean in their first innings, they were 22 for two wickets after 13 overs. I was so surprised that I told Rahul (Dravid) that you don’t see things like that very often.”

Ricky Ponting needs to focus on his own game and his own team without being distracted by the performance of Zaheer Khan and the (non)selection of Anil Kumble! I do believe that this “new age” nonsense should be consigned in the history pages to the “dark age” of Australian cricket! It is time for this approach — and its author — to be kicked out of the Australian dressing room.

Australia needs to change its approach and mindset; not its personnel. And that should start from cleansing its dressing room of needless and unwarranted management-speak. Cricket is played on rough maidans and not in plush couches in psychiatric clinics!

The intervening 8 days should be a time for soul-searching for the Australians. This is a champion Australian team and they will come back hard at the Indians. Australia does have a terrific opening batsman who can’t bat at the moment and they do have an opening bowler who can’t get a bowl at the moment. But Australia will regroup and come back strongly at the Indians. That is what champion teams do!

I can’t wait for the Delhi Test to commence!

— Mohan


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

As is normal in India-Australia games these days, most commentators and writers concluded their overnight reports with the following statement, “The first hour and the first session in tomorrow’s game will be crucial to the fortunes of both teams.” More than being just an oft-repeated cliche, which it is, this statement goes to the heart of why India-Australia series are such gripping contests lately. If, for all five days of a Test match “the first hour is crucial”, clearly there is some good cricket being played; clearly both teams are playing fighting cricket; clearly, both teams are in it to get something out of it right until the last day!


India started the day at 311-5, perhaps slightly ahead of the Australians. India needed the night-watchman, Ishant Sharma to stay and make things difficult for the Australians. The long-haired lad, playfully referred to as, “Instant Karma” by my friends’ son, did just that! He didn’t score particularly quickly. Indeed, he didn’t score much at all. But he presented a straight bat and hung around while his partner, Sourav Ganguly, settled in for the long haul. When he got out much of the morning juice was gone from the wicket too. It brought in a fresh, eager and combative M. S. Dhoni to the crease.

Dhoni commenced his scoring with a hooked 4 and a breathtaking hooked 6! He didn’t look back from there. He mixed caution and aggression and, at times, bravado, to keep the scoreboard ticking. Ishant Sharma had been thought out of the crease by a Peter Siddle bouncer. And Dhoni had hooked his first two run-scoring balls. These two may have prompted the Australians to go down the dig-the-ball-in route. It was a strange route to take on what was a placid pitch. It also played right into Dhoni’s hands. He met the bumper-challenge head-on. He trusted the bounce on the pitch and either came forward or rocked back with time and panache. He looked supremely confident and followed up his confidence with bold strokes.

Dhoni’s aggressive strategy could have back-fired. But Dhoni is not the kind of guy that takes a backward step. Self-doubts do not enter his mind at the time of execution. He bases his moves on his self-belief and once he makes a decision, he does not back down from it. This reflected in his batting too. It was free-flowing and attractive. Captaincy did not seem to burden him. Indeed, as I wrote in my Day-1 review, captaincy seems to lift his game. He digs deeper and then, seems to express himself more freely.

Soon, the bowl-it-short strategy was discarded by the Australians.

Sourav Ganguly, at the other end, collected his runs in singles. He knew that his partner was batting really well, and aggressively. So, like the previous evening, when the run-scoring pressure was off his own shoulders, the old pro just rotated the strike.

At lunch, India was 401/6 in 111.0, with Ganguly on 91 and M. S. Dhoni on 45. There was no doubt that this was India’s session and the SBS score reads [India 2.75, Australia 1.25].


The way Ganguly and Dhoni were batting, it looked as if a score of 500 was quite easily possible. Indeed, that may have been the target that the Indians were aiming for during the lunch break.

Soon after lunch, Ganguly got his century. It was a well-deserved, gritty century by the old-fox. The Australians call him a “serial offender”. Well, unfortunately for them, he had “offended” again. The Australians would have liked him to cower down and disappear quietly from the scene! But Ganguly had other plans! He always has other plans, when it comes to the Australians! They bring out the fighter in him! Australian media often say: “he has had this habit, right through his career, to get under the skins of the Australians.” Why? Because he scores runs? Because he was better at “mental disintegration” than Steve Waugh was? I can never quite understand it. But here he was again. Making a century on his farewell tour against his favourite opponent — something that Steve Waugh couldn’t script!

Ganguly made his century off 219 balls with just 8 4s. Quite unusual for a Ganguly century becuase of the low percentage of boundary shots. He had run the singles hard and fought his way to this century. It may not have been the most attractive of his 16 tons. But it was useful and it showed that the old pony still had a few tricks left in him. As Will Swanton says in The Age, “His biggest accomplishment has been getting up the noses of a team which succeeded in getting up the noses of everyone else — Australia.”

The romantics in the press gallery may have wanted Ganguly to take back his retirement decision. However, after the game, he made it clear that there was no way he would turn back the clock! He indicated that he is committed to his pre-series retirement announcement.

In a bid to up the scoring rate, just after reaching his century, Ganguly gave it all away — as he so often does — and swatted a Cameron White ball down Brett Lee’s throat at long on. He departed for a well-made 102. If he had hung around for longer, an India score of around 500 may have been possible. Although Dhoni found a higher gear to improve the scoring rate, Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan were unable to hang around and be a menace, as they had, in Bengaluru! Dhoni started taking the aerial route in a spread-out defensive field. And it was working. He had moved to 92 and was looking good for a well-compiled century.

But Dhoni’s plans were cut adrift by a wayward umpire. Rudi Koertzen, who did not refer a close Ganguly stumping call ‘upstairs’ on day-1, decided that it was time to bring the Indian innings to a close. With Dhoni just 8 short of what would have been a fighting hundred, Rudi Koertzen declared that Dhoni was out LBW. Even if one ignored the inside-edge, the ball was sliding down the leg-side!

India had closed their innings at 469 off 129 overs at 3.64 runs per over — and in 594 mins at an over-rate of 13.03 overs per hour! This is really a terrible over-rate and I am truly surprised that the Match Referee has done nothing about it this far in the match.

Australia needed a strong start. But that was not to be! Once again, Zaheer Khan breached Matthew Hayden’s defence in the first over itself! Make that Zaheer-3, Hayden-0! Zaheer Khan had backed up his pre-match talk with on-field excellence. Matthew Hayden is an important cog in this Australian wheel. A free-scoring Hayden rubs off on the Australian team. A Hayden in self-doubt (Ashes 2005, for example) passes it on these doubts the rest of the team! On this tour, Hayden has made scores of 0, 13 and 0! It may not be time to press the panic button yet, but with Hayden’s early departure here at Mohali, Australia was in trouble and it showed in the scoring rate. That initial loss pushed them into a defensive mindset. And the moment that happens, the opposition is already on top. Australia went to Tea at 13-1 in 6 overs.

Had Australia not lost a wicket, I’d have been tempted to call that an Australia session. But with the loss of Hayden’s wicket, I called this an even session. The SBS score reads [India 3.25, Australia 1.75].

Last Session:

If there was some doubt in awarding the 2nd session of the day to either team, there was no doubt in this 3rd session. This was India’s session all the way. Once again, given Australia’s terrible over-rate earlier in the day, play had had to be extended beyond the normal curtains-down-time for the day.

First to go was Ricky Ponting. He was out LBW to his emerging nemesis, Ishant Sharma for 5 off 23 balls. Simon Katich was next to go, bowled by the leg-spinning debutant, Amit Mishra. Mishra got the ball to hit the edge of the pad, bounce off Katich’s body and clang into the stumps. There was a fair amount of rip in that delivery to cause the damage.

Things may have been worse for Australia had Dhoni latched on to a difficult catch off the edge of Michael Hussey’s bat off Harbhajan Singh’s bowling. But that wasn’t to be. Harbhajan Singh was getting some turn although he tended to look for bounce more than turn, in my view. Amit Mishra was bowling well too.

But what was most surprising was the amount of reverse swing Zaheer Khan was getting. The only thing that the Australian bowlers had swung in India’s first innings was their hips! But here, Zaheer Khan was getting a fair amount of swing.

It is Australia’s mindset that was most un-Australian. As I have said on a few occasions in the past, once Australia loses that dominance-mindset, much more than just runs are lost. Other teams can sense an opportunity and start moving in; closing the gap. With Haddin, White and Watson to follow, Australian teams of the past will not have allowed the field to gradually move further and further in to take control of the game. This Australian team seems intent on “new age cricket” and what they got again was to put themselves into “defensive mindset”!

Australia had made 102-3 off 40.4 overs (at 2.49 rpo) when Michael Clarke was LBW off the last ball of the day. Amit Mishra went around the stumps and got a ball to just straighten a bit. As he had in Bangalore, when he fell off the last ball of the day, Clarke went again in Mohali. At 102-4 Australia are not totally out of it, but they are in trouble.

At the end of the day, the SBS Score reads [India 4.25, Australia 1.75].

End points:

If India can grab a few quick wickets on day-3, much of the debate will turn to whether or not India can/will enforce the follow-on! But Australia are not out of it yet. Australia bats deep and will be looking first at Brad Haddin, Shane Watson and Cameron White to make some big scores. Haddin is a good player of spin and played well in Bengaluru. Australia will also look to the lower order to contribute strongly as India’s lower-order had, in Bengaluru. And Michael Hussey is… Michael Hussey!

Clearly, the first session of the day is going to be crucial for both teams!!

— Mohan

Wish list

I started making a wish list before the series started, but never got around to posting it. Here is is no particular order –

  • Bowling team maintaining the over rate. The overs  bowled per day was quite appalling when India toured Australia last summer. There really is no excuse for poor over rates and fines/bans still haven’t done enough to fix this problem. The Indians are notorious for wasting time in the middle and the Aussies aren’t far behind when it comes to over rates. Take Day 1 of the second test for instance – the Aussies ended the day 5 overs short. Sure, there was some time wastage when Gambhir was hit on his helmet and fireworks stopping play (it will take me some time to get over this farce), but that can’t account for more than 2 overs (and I am being very generous here) and if play wasn’t extended by another half hour, we could have been well over 10 overs short for the day!
  • Good pitches for the series. That means no flat tracks (with no result in sight even after 5 days) or dust bowls (that yield a result in two days). It remains to be seen how the pitch holds up in Game 2 – so far, it has been quite flat with not much help to the bowlers, but the condition of the pitches change quite dramatically in India in just a day or two.
  • Result not decided by the toss: The pitch plays a huge role in this and is almost an extension of the previous point. If the toss is such a huge factor in the result of the game, we may as well just call the toss and then go home.
  • Play cricket and not the sledging game. I pay to watch the two teams play cricket and get entertained. I really don’t want to see a sledge fest.  Fortunately, we haven’t seen much of this in this series yet and I hope it stays that way. Unfortunately, the players are still baiting the opposition outside the field. Take Zaheer Khan for instance or Ricky Ponting. What’s up with the holier than thou attitude? – “We go about our cricket in different ways”. Nuff said about that. I just want the players to let their batting or bowling to do the talking.
  • Better umpiring. I don’t want to be too critical of the umpires – it is a hard job and mistakes do occur. But they also tend to alter the direction of the game and that is just not right. I am frankly disappointed that the review system isn’t being used in this series. Oh, well! Hopefully, we don’t see too many bad decisions that alter the course of of this series.


Barbs fly…

After the drawn 1st Test played out at Bengaluru, each team and each set of fans will probably scramble to take the higher ground in the victory-stakes. Australia will claim that it was good to start the tour off with a draw rather than a loss. The Indians will claim “moral victory” because, after being on the back-foot right through the game, they “won” by enforcing a draw. Either way, the scoreboard will always call this a “draw”! Moral and psychological victories are for psychologists, plenty of dollars being expended and expensive leather couches! A draw is a draw is a draw!

Nevertheless, the barbs and scrambling for position has commenced!

Zaheer Khan already fired the first salvo when he said, “I have never seen an Australian team play such defensive cricket, which is a good thing for us,” at the post-match interview. Is he right? He need not be. It is just his view.

I am not a big fan of players using post-match, man-of-the-match interviews to fire barbs at the opposition. It was not in good form, in my book. Podium-interviews are to recognise your teams’ efforts, applaud the opposition, thank the sponsors, collect the cheque and make a hasty retreat. Yet, Zaheer Khan did utter those words.

Instead of accepting it and analysing it as nothing more than an opinion, several radio stations here in Melbourne do what some Australians do best — mock the opposition and run them down. A local radio station continued to play a clip from his interview in which he says, “I wanted to raise my bar” and pillory the Indian pace bowler rather than analyse what he was actually trying to say about the defensive tactics adopted by Australia. Yes, nice one guys. Shallow, no doubt. But very Australian! How is your Hindi, guys, I wonder? Naah! Let’s not go there. But more seriously, I reckon that that is the best form of respect that Zaheer Khan can get! Australian media seems to hate in-your-face sports-people. Wonder why?

So was Zaheer Khan right? He need not be. It is his view. Ricky Ponting provided a strange counter to Zaheer Khan’s barb in which he attacked the number of drawn games India play and added that Australia was the only one doing the running in the drawn Bengaluru Test.

Mahesh has provided an excellent analysis to counter Ricky Ponting’s wild (in my view) claims.

If you thought that the pre-tour lead up was without much of the customary, distasteful and disrespectful Australian reporting, you can bet your bottom dollar that it has erupted like a never-extinct volcano. There are reporters erupting wildly everywhere!

Take this vitriol-filled and bitterness-soaked gem from Channel-9’s sports reporter (as reported in the Indian Express). Here are some of the gems:

  • Serial offender Sourav Ganguly firstly persuaded the umpires to go off. Then when play resumed, Ganguly made Australia’s fielders and partner VVS Laxman wait an eternity because he’d apparently ‘forgotten to put his thigh pad on’.
  • Please! Can’t you be timed out in this game?
  • The spectators were the obvious losers in the entire exercise.
  • The players got something out of it. Pedantic officials got their moment of the glory. But billions of fans and more importantly — the game itself — got nothing out of this farcical finish in Bangalore.
  • With the match in the balance, a crucial hour’s play on the final day was lost, with not one, but two stoppages for bad light — when at times the sun was shining!
  • Umpires strutted about like Emperor Penguins, holding out their light metres — a device that like performance enhancing drugs should be banned.
  • If Test cricket continues to produce farcical finishes like this one in Bangalore, this great game’s Bradmans, Gavaskars, Tendulkars and Pontings will also be soon forgotten… Even by their mothers-in-law!

I did think, at the end of day-1 itself, that Australia’s tactics defied belief. I did decry this so-called “new age cricket”. This is un-Australian, in my view. I do not like it. I do hope Australia junk this and adopt Australia’s style of positive, dominant cricket. I knew then that this new age nonsense won’t get Australia to victory! I admire Australia’s tenacity and resolve. But this new age nonsense is chanelling that tenacity and dogged determination down the wrong channel; the boredom channel. Australia needs to play like they have in the past: attractive, dominant, foot-on-the-pedal stuff. They were, instead, trying to play like India in India! Why? Is this Guru Greg Chappell gone mad? Surely, this is not a Ricky Ponting theory? It can’t be! I can understand choking four-scoring opportunities for the free-wheeling, fat, old, puffing, lazy and immobile Indian batsmen. But it was inconceivable to me that Ricky Ponting had a spread out field with 25 overs to go, with India intent on saving the game! This is new age cricket? What was the worst that could have happened had India hit 4 sixers in a row at that point?

Australian tactics in this game did leave me a bit dumbfounded. This is not quite the dominant, foot-on-the-pedal Australia that I have seen in the past. And I can’t imagine that this emanated merely from being a quality spinner short! This is, I believe, management theory and hype running amok in the dressing room.

So, in my view, Ricky Ponting did get it wrong. The match ended in a draw. I do believe that after being on the top from the moment he called the toss correctly, Ponting let this game slip from his grasp. Apart from one single session in the game — session-9 on day-3 when Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan batted — India didn’t dominate any session comprehensively! Yet, the result was a draw! This can’t be an easy pill for the Australians to swallow. And for this, they only have themselves and their “new age nonsense” to blame. What is wrong with “plain cricket”? Will someone tell me?

— Mohan

Australia have themselves to blame

Australia could have well won this game. They didn’t and they only have themselves to blame. They didn’t play the aggressive, positive, fast paced cricket they were used to playing – instead they had a safety first, defensive approach and yet Ponting says

We were the only ones in the game trying to take the game forward. We played aggressive cricket. I am not surprised by the way they played, the Indian team do play a lot of drawn games.

Let me point out a couple of things –

  • In the first innings, Australia scored 430 runs in 150 overs at the run rate of 2.86 and the majority of its runs were scored by the top order of Katich, Ponting and Hussey. Compare that to India where the lower order scored a good percentage of the runs and yet ended up with a run rate of 3.02. Ahem, but could you point out who played more aggressively, please?
  • In the second innings, the Australians wanted to make sure that they were in a position where they couldn’t lose the game and decided to bat out the overs scoring at a run rate of under 2.5 for over 50 overs of the game. Over fifty overs! And very rarely in their innings did the strike rate ever get to 50 or over. 

A safety first approach is fine, but saying that they were the only ones trying to take the game forward is a bit rich. In fact, a safety first approach is exactly what the Indians did too. Without a win in sight and on a fifth day pitch with variable bounce set with an unlikely target of 299 of around 80 overs, they decided to shut shop and play for a draw. And the Australians would have probably done the same too. The Australians never for once in the entire game reached an over all run rate of 3.75 and yet, they think the Indians should have gone for it on a fifth day pitch? Get real.

Ponting’s statement probably is a response to Zaheer Khan’s claims that this was the most defensive he has ever seen the Aussies play. This statement has a bit of truth in it, though. The Australians used to be the trend setters in scoring runs fast and forcing results. Playing slow is what other teams (including India) do. But in this game, they’ve gone back to the slow grinding run accumulation and defensive mode of play that was more reminiscent of the test cricket played by the Aussies before they started to dominate World cricket.

And for the most part on day 4, Australia played as if they didn’t really have a plan on what total to set and when to declare. This allowed India to keep its hopes alive for a draw or even a minor chance of victory. The dominant Aussie teams of the past wouldn’t have done that – it is no accident that the Australian team(s) of the past hold the record for consecutive successive wins.


India Vs Australia :: 1st Test :: Bangalore :: Day-4

India started the day at 313 for 8, still well behind the Aussie total of 430. The Aussies still had upper hand in the game, but the situation could have been a lot worse if it hadn’t been for the efforts of the Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan on day 3. India’s game plan would have been to occupy as much time at the crease as possible, add another 30-40 runs, and get Australia out for under 200 runs to have any remote chance of winning the game. Even if everything fell into place, it would be a tall order for a 5th day pitch.

Pre-lunch session

The first part of India’s plan went according to plan. They occupied the crease for another 18 overs and added a further 47 runs bringing the lead down to just 70 runs. Considering the fact that when Ganguly – the last recognized batsman, was out when the score was 232, it was great rear guard fight back. But for the last 3 wickets adding 128 runs, India would have been a lot worse. Zaheer Khan was  not out on 57, making him the highest scorer in the Indian camp to nicely go with his five wicket haul in the Australian first innings.

The Aussies were left with 6 overs to negotiate before the lunch break and there were a few nervous moments for the Aussies including a first over LBW shout of the bowling of Zaheer Khan. The Aussies went in with their score on 9 for no loss.

Post-lunch session

The Indian skipper didn’t take the field before the lunch session and he was again a notable absentee on the field. Dhoni was captaining the team and he started the session with Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh. My initial thoughts were that he should have started the session again with Zaheer and Ishant, but in Harbhajan’s defense, he did bowl a lot better than he did in the first innings.

The over cautious, slow Aussie approach before the lunch break was understandable, but they continued in the same vein after lunch. The scoring rate by Australian standards was appalling. May be it had something to do with their “New Age Cricket” approach. Or may be it was the pitch. Or may be it was the Indian bowling. Or may be, it was a combination of all three as the scoring rate dipped to around 1.96 in the 26th over (51 runs).

But by that time, India had already scalped the two vital wickets of Hayden and Ponting. Zaheer had Hayden dismissed LBW for 13, while Ishant Sharma had Ponting caught at mid wicket for 17. Ponting’s dismissal was a beauty as he was outfoxed by a slower delivery from Ishant and ended up offering a low catch to Laxman.

At Tea, the Aussies were 74/2 in the 33 overs they had faced and the session clearly belonged to India.

Post-tea session

Earlier, in the post lunch session, Gambhir had dropped Katich of the bowling of Harbhajan Singh. After Tea, Harbhajan eventually got his man when Katich just prodded at a a flighted delivery that bounced a bit and lobbed a simple catch to silly point. He had occupied the crease a fair bit (140 balls), but had only scored 34 runs. His dismissal brought in Clarke who hit the very first ball for a boundary. I was starting to think that maybe having Katich at the crease was probably a good thing 🙂

But Ishant Sharma again bowled a slower delivery to Clarke and suckered him into driving straight into the hands of Sehwag. Australia at that stage were 115/4.

A few overs later, it was the turn of Hussey to go as he shoulderd arms to a ball pitched outside his off stump, only to see it turn in to hit his stump. It hit a crack on the way and turned like a Warnie leg break to have the Aussies reeling at 128/5 in the 51st over.

With the over all lead at just under 200 and the top order back in the pavilion, the Indians were seeing a glimmer of hope. But the pair of Haddin and Watson had other plans. There were quite a few dropped chances and streaky shots, but they managed to score runs and do it fast. At the end of the day, they had stretched the lead to 263.

Ponting must be hoping to score some quick runs in the first hour or so of play tomorrow before he declares leaving the Indians a score of around 330.

72 overs were enough for Ponting to claim the 10 Indian wickets for victory on the final day at Sydney last summer, but he was also criticized for being too cautious and delaying his declaration. He will have that on his mind before he does his declaration tomorrow, but then the Bangalore wicket is quite different to the Sydney one and the cracks in the pitch are also widening up. And just as India was a bowler short for most of the day (Kumble was off the field for a major portion of the day and is bowling with an injury), the Aussies may be short of a full strength bowling attack as Stuart Clark is apparently carrying an injury too.

At this stage though, only 2 results seem likely – either an Australian victory or a draw. Unless the Indians pull a rabbit out of the hat…


Team India for Sri Lanka series

India will play 3 Tests and 5 ODIs against Sri Lanka in a one-month tour that commences with a tour-game on July 18th.

The 16-member India Team for the tour has been announced.

The major surprise is that Virender Sehwag is vice-captain of the Test team!

After his comments on the idiocy of back-to-back games in the Asia Cup and after his comment that he was “running on reserve”, not unexpectedly, M. S. Dhoni, Team India Test vice-captain, has opted out of the Tests citing fatigue. Dhoni has been playing almost non-stop since India’s tour of England last year this time! He played in a long and arduous 80-day tour of England that commenced in June last year. This was immediately followed by the Twenty20 World Cup in South Africa in which he captained Team India for the first time. He barely recovered from the celebrations that irked poor Andrew Symonds so much before he played the ill-tempered ODI series against Australia as captain of the ODI team! This was immediately followed by a Test and ODI series against Pakistan in India. Even before the Pakistan team had left Indian shores, Dhoni and his men were off on a fraught and testy two-month tour of Australia. The tour included 4 Tests and too many banal ODIs. This was immediately followed by a Test series against South Africa. We hardly had time to draw a collective breath with the IPL hit all metros in India! This was followed by a meaningless ODI tri-series in Bangladesh and then, the Asia Cup! This is a tremendous workload by any stretch of the imagination.

When Dhoni talked about the idiocy of back-to-back matches, the BCCI — always trigger-happy at the best of times — jumped up and down in unison and snorted that “any tired player should inform the Board”. Dhoni did and made himself unavailable for Sri Lanka.

The break would do him good. It would certainly save him from a burn-out situation.

While this may dent India’s chances in the Tests, it certainly provides an opportunity for Dinesh Karthik to step up to the plate. Interestingly, Parthiv Patel is Karthik’s deputy!

Apart from that forced change, there were a few smart inclusions, a few smart exclusions and one or two surprises!

Rohit Sharma comes in for Yuvraj Singh. I do think that that is a smart move. Yuvraj Singh, one feels, must regain his mojo. And a good place to start would be to get his dodgy knee fixed. It is, one feels, affecting his confidence. One rarely sees him diving around on the park these days. A fully fit Yuvraj Singh is also a confident Yuvraj Singh.

Irfan Pathan has also been axed. Once again, I think this is a good move. It may be better for him to head back to the MRF Pace Foundation for running repairs when he feels that he may be losing form and shape than when it has already fallen apart at the seams.

A surprise inclusion was Pragyan Ojha, in my view. Dilip Vengsarkar has always retained his fascination for left-arm spinners and has bemoaned the lack of quality left-armers in India. This may be an attempt to get Ojha into the frame in a major way. While I do like the look of Ojha, I am not sure he will play. So he may end up being a passenger on this tour. The experience will do him good though.

And finally, after a string of stirring performances in ODIs, Gautam Gambhir gets the nod ahead of Wasim Jaffer who, one felt, messed up one chance too many!

The one gripe I have is over the selection of Munaf Patel. I am not really sure what he has done to deserve this selection. Maybe he has shown signs of improved fitness. In any case, unless Zaheer Khan breaks down mid-tour (always a likely scenario) I do not see Munaf Patel do much else other than carry drinks and towels.

Overall, I do feel that this is a good selection effort. The team (in possible batting order) is:

Virender Sehwag (Vice-captain)
Gautam Gambhir
Rahul Dravid
Sachin Tendulkar
Sourav Ganguly / Rohit Sharma
Vangipurappu Laxman
Dinesh Karthik (‘keeper) / Parthiv Patel (‘keeper)
Anil Kumble (captain)
Harbhajan Singh / Pragyan Ojha
Zaheer Khan / R. P. Singh
Ishant Sharma / Munaf Patel

It is good to see India go on a tour with 16 players.

If India want to include an extra bowler option — an option that may well be necessary — Gambhir would have to make way for Karthik at the top of the order.

— Mohan