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…