Tag Archives: Zaheer

What was Sehwag thinking?

At the end of the 6th over of the ongoing Test match between New Zealand and India, New Zealand was travelling nicely at 21/0. The 7th over was a beauty from Ishant Sharma. He had Macintosh out first ball and almost had How out LBW off the 5th ball. At the other end, the 8th over was a terrific follow up from Zaheer Khan. He had How cleaned up off the last ball and New Zealand was 22/2.

At this crucial juncture, in the 9th over, after his team had taken 2 wickets in 2 overs, Sehwag decided to bring in Munaf Patel!

It wasn’t as if Ishant Sharma was spent! For crying out loud, he had just taken a wicket in his previous over!

I am not saying that this decision cost India a bad day in the office — Yuvraj Singh, Dinesh Karthik and Rahul Dravid made sure that their hands (or lack of it) did the real damage! But I really would like to know what Sehwag was thinking at that time? I’d love to know…

— Mohan

India Vs Australia :: 2nd Test :: Mohali :: Day-5

Australia started Day 5 needing well over 350 runs to win the game – something that they were never going to do. Even the odds of Australia saving the Test by batting out the 3 sessions were very very low. India on the other hand needed 5 wickets to win and it was not a question of if, but a question of when India would wrap up the game – as it turned out it was well and truly over before lunch.

Morning (and the only) session

The wicket at Mohali had held out quite well for the first four days of the test and the fifth day was no exception. Except for balls pitching on the rough created by footmarks, the bounce was quite even and there weren’t too many cracks on the pitch. It was still a pretty good batting track – after all 355 runs were added on day 4.

Clarke and Haddin had added 88 runs together the previous day, in what was the best Aussie partnership of the game and they strode in confidently to the wicket. Their game plan would have been to see through the day one hour at a time.

But Zaheer Khan had other plans. He was earlier charged by the match referee for giving a send-off to Hayden on Day 4 of the test and that must have had him fired up. He predictably opened the bowling for India.

In the last ball of the very first over, Zaheer pitched one up, which cut in sharply into the right handed Haddin and crashed into the stumps. Haddin had offered a defensive prod without much foot work and the ball managed to avoid both bat and pad. Only one run had been added to the overnight score, one wicket already lost and the Indians moved one step closer to victory.

In the second ball of Zaheer Khan’s second over, White edged a fuller delivery over to Dhoni, leaving the Aussies reeling at 144/7. Brett Lee walked in, and was bowled out the very next ball – this time, the ball pitched on leg and moved further away clipping the off stump.

In just 4 ball, 3 wickets had fallen and any semblance of an Australian resistance disappeared – that too in just the 3rd over of the day. Johnson did his best to hit his way out (he did play some handsome strokes) and Clarke went on to complete his 50 – but these were just academic. They managed to put on the second biggest partnership of the innings, though -  adding 50 runs before Mishra had Johnson caught and bowled. The score at that time was 194. Siddle came in at No. 11, but couldn’t manage a single run on his debut – Clarke at the other end tried to hit Mishra out, only to find Tendulkar at mid-wicket. They were all out for 195 and even with their first and second innings totals put together, couldn’t cross India’s first innings score.

Dhoni (after collecting his Man-of-the-match award said that this was almost like a perfect match and that every thing went their way. This was a great team effort and India will take a lot of confidence into the Delhi test and are now one test win away from regaining the Border-Gavaskar trophy.

-Mahesh-

India Vs Australia :: 1st Test :: Bangalore :: Day-2

At the end of day 1, the SBS score card read 2-1, mainly because of the wicket that fell in the last over of the day. From the Australian point of view they still had 6 wickets in hand and they had already scored 254 runs. Plus, Mr. Cricket was still at the crease.

From India’s point of view, a couple of early wickets in the morning could put them in front. Watson, Haddin and White – the next three batsmen had good first class batting averages, but were untested at this level. The first session was going to be crucial for both teams.

Pre-lunch session:

Shane Watson started the day positively with a single of the very first ball. Here is an all rounder who just hasn’t lived up to his potential and this was his big chance to prove that he belonged at the highest level. Sadly he lasted just 14 balls. He survived a close LBW call of the first ball of Ishant’s second over and was bowled out a couple of balls later. Australia had just added another 5 runs to their over night total and India appeared to be very much in the game.

This brought Haddin in to the crease. He started out tentatively and Ishant seemed to trouble him a bit, but he hung in there and by lunch time stitched up a fine 74 run partnership with Hussey. They went in with the score on 333/5. In spite of the early set back, the session belonged to Austalia, and the SBS score card at that stage was 3-1 in favour of Australia.

Post-lunch session:

Hussey was not out on 92 when play stopped for lunch. The spinners were not that effective -  Harbhajan didn’t trouble the batsmen a great deal and Kumble had already conceded 100 runs without taking a wicket. Ishant Sharma opened the bowling right after lunch and had an impact straight away. He almost had Hussey as a thick inside edge missed the stumps and went to the boundary to give Hussey his hundred.

Ishant’s spell was  outstanding. In his 2nd oveBut more r  after lunch, he gave India the break through they were looking for – he had Haddin caught at short cover of a slower ball and 2 overs later, White followed suit in a similar fashion. All three wickets in the day at that stage had fallen to Ishant Sharma who should be complimented for getting something out of a otherwise flat wicket that offered no assistance to the bowlers.

The partnership between Hussey and Haddin yielded 91 runs and the score at the fall of Haddin’s wicket was a round 350 runs. When White was out, the score was 362 for 7.  India was hoping to quickly wrap up the tail and should consider itself unlucky that Lee wasn’t given out LBW to the second ball he faced off Harbhajan Singh. (The BDS should read 6-2 in favour of Australia at this stage). At Tea, Australia had moved to 416 – they had added 83 runs in that session losing 2 wickets, and the SBS scorecard was still in favour of the Aussies at 3.5 to 1.5.  But more importantly, Australia were looking at a 450+ score at that stage

Post-tea session:

I am not sure what Zaheer had during the Tea break, but whatever it was did the trick for India. In the two overs he bowled after Tea, he had Lee, Johnson and Hussey all clean bowled. The Aussies finished up with a score of 430. 9 of the 10 wickets had been taken by the fast bowlers and only one went to the spinners (and even that was a debatable decision). Kumble went wicketless even after conceding over a hundred runs and Harbhajan was just ordinary. The fielding was also very ordinary through out the day and  the Indian fans were really hoping for a good batting performance from the Indians.

Sehwag and Gambhir did not disappoint – they were aggressive and yet careful (except for the running between the wickets – which seemed very risky on a couple of occasions). In the 18 overs they played before rain interrupted the game, India had reached 68 without losing any wickets – which was pretty good going. Sehwag finished the day on 43 and Gambhir is on 20.

Sehwag in particular looked very confident and he may well hold the key to how well India respond to the Australian total tomorrow. The post-tea session belonged to India and the SBS score card should read 3.5-2.5 still in favour of Australia. There was one close shout for LBW, which hawkeye seemed to indicate would have clipped leg stump – Most umpires in the world wouldn’t have given that out, but let us modify the BDS scorecard as Australia 6 – India 3.

Notable mentions:

  • Hussey’s innings was just sensational. Without Hussey holding the middle order and the tail together, the Aussies would have been all out for a far lesser score. He is not known as Mr. Cricket for nothing..
  • Zaheer took a five-for, something that doesn’t happen often enough on Indian grounds. So, well done, Zaheer.

The first session is going to be very crucial for India. They may be 68 for no loss, but they are still well short of the Australian total. All we need is another big hundred from Sehwag tomorrow…and some good support from the other batsmen 🙂

Where to from here for India?

So India lost the first Test at the SSC in Colombo. Correction. They did not just lose the 1st Test. They were mauled by what Sri Lankan captain, Mahela Jeyawardane called “the perfect Test“. It was indeed a “perfect” performance by Sri Lanka. Muthiah Muralidharan had a terrific Test match and Ajantha Mendis — I was a fan of his style of bowling from the moment I saw him in the Asia Cup Final — had a perfect debut Test. The Sri Lankan batsmen kept their foot on the pedal when they batted and made the most of shoddy fielding, bad catching and a lacklustre bowling performance by the Indians.

So where does India go from here?

Unfortunately, given the team composition that India has gone with, and given the captain’s proclivity to back his peers, nothing much can really be done!

Dinesh Karthik had an awful match. He made several blunders in his ‘keeping and his batting made Devang Gandhi look like a better alternative! It was that bad! However, I do not believe that the team will dare risk Parthiv Patel as a replacement! So it begs the question: Why did Parthiv Patel go in the first place? Would it not have been better to take a youngster like Srivats Goswami?

In the bowling department, Zaheer Khan bowled like a millionaire and Ishant Sharma was largely ineffective. Having said that, it is not like the team would risk swapping them with R. P. Singh and Munaf Patel? Munaf Patel bowls just a tad faster than Chaminda Vaas’s slower ball these days — which, in turn, is just marginally slower than Anil Kumble’s normal delivery! 🙂

It is likely that R. P. Singh might replace Zaheer Khan and if the team management had courage, this swap may be profitable. It does not mean that R. P. Singh is a better bowler. But given the listless ineffectiveness of Zaheer Khan’s approach in the 1st Test, it may be that a shake-up is needed!

The spin bowling department presents more serious questions. Anil Kumble cannot be dropped. He is the captain. Harbhajan Singh was pedestrian in his approach and quality. It may be a good idea to swap him for Pragyan Ojha? But is this a viable option? It isn’t as if Ojha has a Mendis-like reputation behind him. And having not been in a pressure situation in the past, it is unlikely that India will risk losing pressure-cooker-situation experience for a debutant. For, however ineffective Harbhajan Singh was, he does have pressure-cooker-situation experience on his side. It will take a brave — very brave — captain to swap Harbhajan Singh for Pragyan Ojha for the 2nd Test!

The only way Ojha (or another pace bowler) can slot in is if one of the Fab Four batsmen is dropped (either that or Gautam Gambhir is dropped to allow Dinesh Karthik to open the innings). These are unlikely scnarios.

So, in the bowling and ‘keeping department, apart from a possible swap of R. P. Singh for Zaheer Khan, I do not foresee any change that India can make!

The batting is even more interesting! Given the absence of an all-rounder in the team, India is forced the hand it has been dealt by the selectors! Given the balance of the team and given that the batsmen capitulated so meekly in the 1st Test, nothing dramatic is going to happen with the batting — either the composition or the line-up! So, I predict the same batting line-up that India took to the 1st Innings of the Colombo Test — with Dravid at #3. In my view, there is nothing wrong with Dravid at #3. He is struggling, but I haven’t seen any evidence to indicate that Laxman is in the form of his life either!

It will require some courage for Kumble and the Team management to swap Sourav Ganguly for Rohit Sharma. In my view, this will be a welcome change and the commencement of a gradual phase-out of the Fab Four. However, in my view, it will not happen now. Kumble is perhaps too much of a traditionalist and peer-group-camaraderie-captain to go down that route. These are hard decisions that require a hard, relentless and uncompromising leader. In this regard, Kumble is no Steve Waugh.

So I suspect that the batting order will be the same too!

All an India fan can hope for is a better showing from its ‘stars’.

We live in hope of a bounce-back by India. It is possible. It has been done before. It needs the team to step up to the plate and play with the aggression and intent that it can.

— Mohan

Sri Lanka Presidents’ XI warm-up game…

India play a 3-day game starting Saturday 19th July, ahead of their first Test against Sri Lanka, which commences on Wed 23 July 2008.

India’s last Test match was in April against the South Africans. Since then the Indian players have played a few Twenty20 games and quite a few meaningless one-dayers!

India will want to test out a full-strength side for the game — if nothing else, to help players like Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, V. V. S. Laxman, Harbhajan Singh, Anil Kumble, Dinesh Karthik and Zaheer Khan shake off some of the rust that may have collected over the last few months of cricket-inactivity.

It may be a good idea to give Virender Sehwag a bit of a break and get Gautam Gambhir to open with Dinesh Karthik! This will allow India an opprtunity to tes out a Sehwag-Karthik opening opportunity. In my view this combination is required in this team to develop a better balance to the side.

With that in mind, my India team for the Board Presidents XI game would be:

Gautam Gambhir
Dinesh Karthik
Rahul Dravid
Sachin Tendulkar
Sourav Ganguly
VVS Laxman
Anil Kumble (captain)
Harbhajan Singh
Zaheer Khan
Ishant Sharma
Pragyan Ojha / RP Singh

This could well be the Test team too, if the opening combination with Karthik works well. If not, Karthik may have to drop down the order to #7 with the team losing a bowler (the Ojha / RP.Singh spot).

The Sri Lankan Board team is a strong one. It will be led by Jehan Mubarak and includes Dilhara Fernando, Chamara Silva and Upul Tharanga.

— Mohan

Indian Pace Bowling Academy

The end of a long Australian summer was capped by India’s stirring win against Australia in the CB Series Final. At the end of the series, I reflected on the fact that the win in the last game was achieved without the services of India’s front-line pace-attack: Zaheer Khan, R. P. Singh and Ishant Sharma. All three were nursing injuries in that game. The fact that Ishant Sharma had propelled himself into the front-line was itself testimony to the impact he has had over the Australian summer!

I then realised that, for the Test Series in Australia, we had two additional pacemen in Pankaj Singh and V. R. V. Singh who made up the numbers.

But then, the heroes of the CB series final match were actually Praveen Kumar, Sree Santh and Irfan Pathan! Munaf Patel can be a very good bowler on his day too!

If you then throw into the mix, Pradeep Sangwan, Siddharth Kaul and Ajitesh Argal — pace-bowling architects of India’s U19 triumph, the Indian fan can smile!

The Indian Pace Academy is then: Zaheer Khan, R. P. Singh, Irfan Pathan, Ishant Sharma, Sree Santh, Munaf Patel, Praveen Kumar, V. R. V. Singh, Pankaj Singh, Pradeep Sangwan, Siddharth Kaul, Ajitesh Argal.

Not a bad pace bowling lineup in my view! India’s pace bowling stocks over the next 5 years will come from this lot of 12 bowlers. There will be, no doubt, a few surprise packages here and there along the way. But my feeling is that the above group of 12 will be the ones doing the rounds over the next few years. If all else fails, there is always Ajit Agarkar! It is quite likely that, of these 12 players, 3-4 will be injured. Team India has to learn to shrug and call up the next bowler in the ranks and if they are as good as Praveen Kumar, Sree Santh or Munaf Patel, it can’t really be too bad, can it?

Team India has to nurture these pace bowlers and ensure that they do not fade away from the scene like L. Balaji did. It is time, in my view, to appoint Venkatesh Prasad as India’s long-term pace-bowling coach. He should be entrusted with the task of developing concrete development plans for each bowler and for these to be conditioned and supervised even when the players aren’t playing for Team India.

Unfortunately, Team India is not that flush with options when it comes to spin-stocks. More on that later.

— Mohan

Australia v India :: 3rd Test :: Both teams in an unfamiliar position…

At the end of day-2 of this fascinating Test match in this gripping series between Australia and India, both teams find themselves in unfamiliar territory!

It is not often that Australia is so far behind in a Test match with 3 days to go in a Test match. Conversely, it is not often that India is so far ahead in a Test match with 3 days to go!

It is a wonderful platform for India and needs a few people to stand up and be counted. From here on in, it is a question of whether India believes it can win. The moment India show nerves and self-doubt, in my view, this powerful Australian team still has the ability to climb all over it. So it is going to be a test of nerves, self-belief as well as ability from here.

There is little doubt in my mind, however, that India is on top in this game after 2 days have been completed.

Whichever course this match takes though, there is no doubt in my mind that after the sorry mess and the debacle of Sydney, India has re-grouped well and come out the stronger for it. India is playing with purpose, direction and energy. They are pumped up and want to win. A local news channel in India claimed that the Indians had a 45-minute closed-door session with Gary Kirsten after the end of the 1st days’ play. Much of it concentrated on the team playing with fire and with pride. On the other hand, Australia has looked somewhat listless and de-energised right through this game.

On a day when 297 runs fell for 15 wickets, India came out on top.

The day started with Australia cleaning up the India tail. Starting at 297 for 6, India started sensibly with M. S. Dhoni and Irfan Pathan batting sensibly. Then close to the finish of the hour, it ran away from India and they were down in a heap; all out 330.

One thought that that was about 120 runs short! They may have got there had Dravid and V. V. S. Laxman not given it away as they did!

Australia came out with purpose in their batting. They were, after all, batting in their home den! Most of their batsmen were used to the sting and bounce in the wicket. For all them, hitting on the up and through the line in Perth was as easy as spreading Vegemite on their daily toast!

Indian seam bowling stocks

What they did not account for was accurate, relentless and steady top-class seam bowling. One wished one could bottle the caliber of disciplined bowling that was on display by the Indian seam-bowlers! At the end of the days’ play R. P. Singh said that the bowlers had a meeting prior to the game in which each of them was assigned a task. R. P. Singh’s task was to use the bouncer frequently! Each bowler had “areas to bowl to” agreed to. Now, to plan these things is one thing. To actually go out there and execute these plans is quite something else. The Indian bowlers did that and came out the victors today.

Let us not forget also that this is not actually India’s first line pace attack! Zaheer Khan, Sree Santh and Munaf Patel are back in India, nursing injuries! Given the display of the 3 seam bowlers today and with Pankaj Singh, V. R. V. Singh, Ranadeb Bose and Praveen Kumar waiting in the wings, one might say that the pace bowling stocks aren’t exactly looking bad at the moment!

Pathan’s resurgence

One point that was hammered home forcibly today was Irfan Pathan’s resurgence. I’d like to see Pathan as part of the Indian team mix for a long time to come. He bowled brilliantly. Agreed, he bowled better to left-hand bats than he did to right handed bats. However, his pace was consistently in the high 130s and he had his swing going too; and this was late seing, by the way!

His batting abilities at #8 (in this match) means that India can often go with 4 other bowlers in the team; this is always a plus especially in India where 2 spinners have to play!

1st Session

Given that Australia wrapped up India’s innings close with just 33 added to the India overnight score of 297-6, one may have been tempted to call the 1st session as Australia’s. However, with some clever seam bowling, India managed to get two early wickets — admittedly one dodgy LBW decision when the ball appeared to be heading down leg-side — I’d be tempted to call this an even session. The SBS Score read Australia, 2.0 :: India 2.0 at this stage.

2nd Session

The second session belonged to India though. Australia were on the ropes at 61-5. Andrew Symonds and Adam Gilchrist came up with a breathtaking display of counter-attacking batting. This was counter-punching of the highest caliber that produced a run-a-ball century partnership. However, the Indian bowlers stuck to their task, best displayed by R. P. Singh, in a terrific show of level-headedness in the post-tea session. He was spanked for 3 consecutive 4s by Gilchrist. However, he produced a lifter from just short of a good length. It caught Gilchrist unawares and the resulting edge was poached by Dhoni.

Despite the precarious 60-5 situation that Australia found herself in, the Symonds-Gilchrist fireworks show took Australia to a reasonably comfortable position of 148-5 at Tea. These runs had come off just 31 overs! I just couldn’t believe that this team was under the pump! Visions of Mumbai 2001 flashed in front of me where, from a position of 99-5 Gilchrist and Hayden rescued the team with a gritty and purposeful fight-back. In this session, India missed a catch off Symonds — Tendulkar dropped the edge at 1st slip. Had that catch been taken it would have been an even session.

The SBS Score read Australia, 2.5 :: India, 2.5 at this stage.

3rd Session

The 3rd session belonged totally to India. First India got Australia out for 212. In their response, India lost only 1 wicket — that of the hapless Wasim Jaffer who is having a nightmare series from hell!

Along the way, Anil Kumble got his 600th wicket. What an incredible servant of Indian cricket this amazing cricketer has been! He could come into his own in this Perth wicket which, amazingly, is taking some spin too!

Virender Sehwag was, well, Virender Sehwag. He played and missed several times. But still he scored at a rate that only Sehwag can. The Australians are wary of Sehwag. They want to get him out and see the back of him. In that itself India wins part of the battle. He is still there and that will be a big plus for the tourists as they come out to bat tomorrow.

The fact that Irfan Pathan is there at the crease as a night-watchman is also good for India. He can stick around and make life miserable for the Australians who will need to dislodge him in order to have a crack at the Big 4 to follow: Dravid, Tendulkar, Ganguly, Laxman!

The SBS Score reads Australia, 2.5 :: India, 3.5 at this stage. India are ahead. It is an unusual position for this team. But one that India needs to capitalise on.

Strategy from here

Anil Kumble, in a post-match interview, said that the strategy would be one of playing time; the runs will come. I have some sympathy with this strategy. Firstly, we have just finished day-2. There is a lot of time left in this game! India should focus on playing out each session and slowly, batting Australia out of this Test match! India is 170 runs ahead at this stage. At the end of tomorrow, if India bats all three sessions, the team could well be 450 runs ahead! This will require some patience and a lot of determination.

In post-match interviews Adam Gilchrist did admit — as most people will — that India is in the drivers’ seat in this match. However, he did say that the Australian team relished the challenge and that they would dig deep to come after the Indians.

If Australia get India out cheaply, they could win from here too! But it would require a special effort from them and some clumsy batting from the Indians.

A match that is interestingly poised…

— Mohan

Australia v India :: Boxing Day Test :: Day-1

Australian arrogance destroys a good start…

While the Indian bowling was good mostly, it wasn’t that great to suggest a score of 337 for 9! Any Indian fan — and perhaps even a Team India cricket player or two — would have gladly taken a score of 337-9 at the end of Day-1 of an MCG Test Match faster than a magician can shuffle a card deck! If anyone had suggested to any Indian at lunch time — when the score board read 111-0 — that the closing score would be 337-9, they would have recommended a visit to a shrink! But that is precisely how the day ended. And it can be put down to Australian arrogance.

There is a thin line between confidence and arrogance. The Australians crossed that line today and paid the price for it. As Rahul Dravid said so eloquently in 2003 after the stunning win in Adelaide, “the best way to [beat Australia] is to, in a sense, play to their arrogance“! Today, on Day-1 of the Boxing Day Test match, Australia shot itself it the foot by playing arrogant cricket.

The day started nice and early. Vish, Mahesh, Paddy and I (all i3j3Cricket Contributors) got to the ground at 0800 for a 1030 start! We did not want to miss any of the action at all. We saw the Indians and Aussies go through their fielding drills.

In the lead up to this day, one observation we made was that the Aussie Press, which normally goes to town on visiting teams, stayed mostly muted or appreciative of the visitors. Whether this would have been the case if Sree Santh had also been on the team is a moot point. Perhaps this muted response was a result of this somewhat crazy split-summer of cricket in Australia. However, the press was noticably quiet against the visitors in the lead up to Boxing Day. On the contrary we had Shane Warne and Ian Chappell getting stuck into the Australian establishment! So much so that Adam Gilchrist had to issue a plea to former Australian cricketers to tone down their criticism! This was, indeed, turning out to be a wierd season!

I think India missed a trick by selecting Harbhajan Singh ahead of Irfan Pathan or Ishant Sharma. To have Sourav Ganguly as the 1st change bowler in Austraian conditions was perhaps a wrong decision. This decision would have worked best if India had won the toss and elected to bat. With a team composition that included Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble, India had to have last bowl on the pitch. As it turned out, Ricky Ponting chose to bat after winning the toss. As expected, India went with Rahul Dravid as opener.

The Indian bowlers started inconsistently. While Zaheer Khan was bowling strongly, beating the bat constantly, R. P. Singh was constantly bowling outside offstump. After 6 overs, Australia was 5 for no loss! The Australian method was perhaps to see out the early juice in the wicket.

Phil Jaques clearly rode his luck early. Zaheer Khan struck him on the pads a few times and at least one of them looked very adjacent. Billy Bowden wasn’t interested though!

The wicket appeared to ease off after the first half hour. R. P. Singh did not help by bowling a few half trackers wide outside off stump. This enabled Australia to reach 48-0 at the end of 12 overs!

Soon after the first drinks break, India had Sourav Ganguly and Harbhajan Singh bowling in tandem. While both of them started off with maiden overs, the bowling was largely harmless. Early indications were that the pitch did not have any spin in it. After 21 overs, Australia was 89-0. This segment of play already included an ungainly Sydney Harbour Bridge fielding effort from Ganguly that let the ball through for a four!

It was, at this stage, begining to look like a long and painful summer for the Indians and Team India fans!

R. P. Singh was brought in for another spell of bowling. I was quite amazed that Anil Kumble held himself back! Perhaps Kumble the captain was unable to manage Kumble the bowler quite so well as other captains might have!

Australia went to lunch on 111-0 after 27 overs.

After lunch, Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh commenced proceedings. This was also somewhat strange! One could not understand why Kumble was holding himself back. At the end of 31 overs, Harbhajan Singh had bowled 9 overs and Anil Kumble had bowled 2! Something was surely amiss here! This stupidity was exposed when Kumble came on for Harbhajan Singh. He immediately got Phil Jaques out to a smart stumping by M. S. Dhoni for 66. Soon afterwards, Anil Kumble dropped a tough chance at gully off Zaheer Khan. Another wicket at that stage would have provided a tremendous boost to India’s morale.

India continued to be be ugly in the field though, with Sourav Ganguly, R. P. Singh and Zaheer Khan being the worst offenders.

The key to success would be to get Ricky Ponting early. However, Ponting started off reasonably well. He was middling the ball and Matthew Hayden was making batting look so easy.

Suddenly, Zaheer Khan produced a beauty — perhaps even the ball of the day — that straightened when he bowled from around the wicket to bowl Ricky Ponting. Immediately after, Mike Hussey was out LBW to Kumble for a duck! India were squeezing themselves back into the game, thanks to Anil Kumble who had been cooling his heels pretty much until lunch time. India’s best bowlers were bowling in tandem for the first time in the match and it wasn’t a surprise India was doing well in this little post-lunch spell. In the first hour after lunch, Australia had hit 62 runs and lost 3 wickets in 14 overs!

Somehow, Kumble wasn’t bowling all that well to Matthew Hayden. He either bowled the wrong line or bowled too short. In this period, Hayden seemed to hog the strike and kept Michael Clarke away from Kumble. We won’t know if this was a deliberate ploy by Hayden and Clarke, but in 9-10 overs that the pair played out there in the middle, Clarke had faced only 17 balls for his 3 runs! At this stage, Clarke was looking distinctly nervy and uncomfortable.

At this stage, R. P. Singh was bowling excellently. He bowled a terrific line to Michael Clarke from around the wicket. Instead of trying too hard, he bowled a steady line and length, denying Clarke easy runs. The idea was to frustrate the batsman.

Kumble continued to bowl somewhat badly to Hayden who continued to keep Clarke away from the wily Indian leggie. Australia went to tea only 3 wickets down for 213. They had scored 102 runs in that session and lost 3 wickets.

While the 1st session clearly belonged to Australia, perhaps India could claim the second session by claiming those 3 wickets…

India opened after the tea break with R. P. Singh and Zaheer Khan. Immediately after tea, R. P. Singh induced a silly stroke from Michael Clarke who was caught beautifully by V. V. S. Laxman in the slips. Clarke was out for an unconvincing 20 off 60 balls. Clarke’s dismissal was via a silly shot. He chased down a wide ball only to find it land in Lazmans’ hands!

Immediately afterwards India got another wicket. Matthew Hayden, who was batting like a king up until then, played a waft at ball that Zaheer Khan held back just a bit. The ball stopped a bit but Hayden went through with the shot. The resulting catch was taken comfortably by at mid wicket by Rahul Dravid. Another silly shot in an attempt to dominate the bowling — rather than play as the situation demanded!

Australia reached 250-5 off 65 overs and were still going at a healthy rate of 3.85 per over. Andrew Symonds and Adam Gilchrist were settling in to the task ahead.

With 24 overs to go, Harbhajan Singh, who was largely ineffective up until then, came on to bowl. He continued to bowl utter nonsense in this next spell thereby confirming my earlier suspicion that his was a bad choice for Melbourne. Perhaps Ishant Sharma should have played after all.

Then against the run of play, Sourav Ganguly contributed to the teams’ cause by heading to the pavillion. Dinesh Karthik came in his place and snapped up a smart catch at mid wicket off a short ball from Anil Kumble to send Andrew Symonds back in the pavillion. The ball wasn’t short enough for the pull and the situation perhaps demanded more respect from Symonds. At 281-6, perhaps one could say that India were in front. But then respect is perhaps not a word that sits well with the Australians! Arrogance fits the bill more…

The Australian batting arrogance continued through Adam Gilchrist who slogged at a flighted googly from Anil Kumble to be caught at cover point by Sachin Tendulkar. After being 135-0, Australia had squandered the advantage by losing 7 wickets.

Suddenly, Kumble had his 5th wicket when Brett Lee was out LBW. The Indians were truly on top and if there was another in-form spinner bowling at the other end, things just might have been sewn up by India.

Who would have thought that a spinner would get 5 wickets on Day-1 of an MCG Boxing Day Test match?

Meanwhile, the mood in the stands was distinctly Indian. The Australians in the crowd were silenced and numbed by all the mayhem!

Even a few streakers, each of whom would be lighter in the purse to the tune of $6,000, could not lift the Australian spirits!

The Indians in the crowd found more voice when Brad Hogg was caught in the slips by Rahul Dravid off the first ball that Zaheer Khan bowled with the new ball.

Interestingly, Anil Kumble bowled with the new ball. This wasn’t a particularly smart move in our view. Apart from his initial spell, R. P. Singh did bowl well. He may have been a better bet to share the new ball.

India ended the day 2-1 on a session-by-session count and can be pleased with a good days’ work at the office. They were, in my view, helped by an arrogant display by the Aussies…

— Mohan

Leaks and Gags…

The BCCI may have placed a gag-order on its selectors, but unofficial leaks and defies of the ban continue.

In this ‘leak’, a highly-placed team-source indicates that Sourav Ganguly, R. P. Singh, Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh will sit out the last match in Jaipur, to be replaced (respectively) by Rohit Sharma, Sree Santh, Praveen Kumar and Murali Kartik. Sachin Tendulkar will play — perhaps the team wants him to break the century-jinx too?

In a separate and bold move, Dilip Vengsarkar, Chairman of Selectors, has decided to confront the gag-order on his writing. This report suggests that he continued to write his newspaper column, “Cover Drive“, last week in a Marathi language newspaper. The BCCI have sought an explanation from him.

Niranjan Shah, meanwhile, has no gag order placed on him!

— Mohan

Team India for Pakistan Tests

The selectors chose a 14-member India that is not too different from that which was suggested on this blog a few days back. The 15-member side that we had suggested included Irfan Pathan. Gautam Gambhir was left out.

Interestingly, Dilip Vengsarkar, the chairman of the selection team, handed the team out in a media release and did not address the media as he normally does.

The team is (perhaps in batting order):

Dinesh Karthik
Wasim Jaffer
Rahul Dravid
Sachin Tendulkar
Sourav Ganguly
VVS Laxman / Yuvraj Singh
Mahendra Singh Dhoni
Anil Kumble (capt)
Harbhajan Singh / Murali Kartik
Zaheer Khan
Sreesanth / RP Singh

— Mohan