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December 3, 1999


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Indians back on track at the SCG

V Murali Krishnan and Chinmaya Pande in Sydney, with the Rediff team

22 wickets in the space of 180 overs, in two day's of play between the New South Wales Blues and the touring Indians. And at the end of it all, India, making a good recovery, finished the second day with the score of 110/2, ahead by 64 runs with 8 second innings wickets in hand, and two day's play remaining.

The Blues began the day on 35/1 and looked determined to take the game away from the Indians. Overnight not outs Corey Richards and Greg Mail pushed the scoring along steadily, while the Indians opened with Srinath and Prasad.

Prasad in particular looked good this morning, beating the bat repeatedly with his patented leg cutter, getting it to go off a fullish length and causing all kinds of problems. He also brought one back sharply to give Richards a painful blow on the groin, necessitating a runner for the injured batsman.

Richards finally -- and given the run of play, predictably -- fell to Prasad, edging a leg cutter to Ganguly at first slip, the Indian skipper holding a good one low down.

Michael Bevan came and went with an alacrity that reminded us why, despite his ODI record and reputation as one of the best players of the limited game in the world, he is still not in regular contention for a Test side, a la Jadeja for the Indians. Srinath, who was being in short spells, was brought back for the left-hander and promptly did the needful, taking Bevan out with a lifting delivery that Bevan fended at helplessly, lobbing it up for Bharadwaj at short square to hold.

Srinath was getting the ball to rise a fair bit, as indicated by the lovely carry through to keeper Dravid, who was taking it near his chest and in front of his face. Shane Lee came in full of aggressive intent, and began smacking the bowling around with a series of crisp strokes. He had a close call early on when Kumble took him on the pad with a quickish top-spinner that kept low, but the umpire ruled that it could be drifting to leg, and gave the batsman the benefit on that one.

Greg Mail meanwhile settled into the anchor role, not looking for anything flamboyant, seemingly content with holding his end up. The captaincy of Saurav Ganguly was a highlight of this phase -- in his calm mein, he reminds you of Arjuna Ranatunga. True to his style, he made frequent bowling changes, switching ends, rotating bowlers, and never really letting the batsmen settle against any one bowler in particular.

As part of this strategy, he brought himself on and struck on cue, taking out Mail with a probing delivery around line of off seaming away, the tentative push producing a thick edge which Ramesh, the lone slip, judged very well to hold, two handed, to his right.

Shane Lee helped himself to a quick 39, including a huge 6 off a Kumble long hop, lifting over square leg. Prasad was brought on, and took out Lee with a short pitched delivery which the batsman hooked, only to top edge to Srinath at fine leg.

Those two wickets, of Mail and Lee, fell just before lunch and thereby, the Blues NSW had frittered away the advantage of a good start to the morning session, going in to the break on 135/5.

The post lunch play was all about Brad Haddin. Widely touted as the man who would take over from Ian Healy (before he was pipped at the post by Adam Gilchrist, that is), Haddin made the Indian attack look pedestrian with a flurry of strokes that enlivened a rapidfire 60. He hits clean cricket shots, and packs quite a punch -- which when you come to think of it, describes Gilchrist as well. A misjudged attempted to hoist Kumble over midwicket saw him playing too wildly, too early, to miss the line and walk back to the echoes of falling timber.

Kumble then came into his own to clean up the tail, the Blues finishing up on 231 which was at least 60 or so runs shy of what they should have made considering the start they had this morning. Kumble finished with four for the innings, which should have come as a relief after his wicketless outing against Queensland. But among the bowlers, it was Prasad who really stood out -- the medium pacer appears to have hit on the right length, and it made a difference when he got his leg cutters to go.

India started off slowly, with both openers playing with circumspection. Gandhi seemed to be playing for his place in the squad for the first Test and, in the process, gave some of the bowling more respect than it deserved. Brett Lee was fast and furious, making the ball rise very sharply off a good length.

The other opening bowler, Don Nash did not however make much of an impression. Ramesh played the quicks, Lee in particular, very well, which should hearten the Indian camp. His customary flashes outside off notwithstanding, a few flowing cover drives stood out. Gandhi had, at the other end, gone completely into his shell.

Once the pace bowlers were replaced by Shane Lee and the offie, Gavin Robertson, Ramesh cut loose with a series of classical drives. Gandhi, too, changed up a gear once McGill ws introduced -- though, in trying to up the tempo after spending a long time in his shell, he nearly gave it away with an ugly hoik over mid on, where Bevan tried to hold on, one handed with both feet off the ground, but failed to cling on.

McGill, as in the first innings, was getting huge turn. On the evidence of the day, Gandhi handles spin better than he does pace, which is a funny thing to say about an opening batsman. Gandhi was beaten by the turn a few times, but also played a few savage pulls, taking the ball from outside off and hitting through the midwicket region -- on both occasions, he was committed to the shot early, and went through even though the ball was turning a mile.

Ramesh meanwhile brought up his fifty in style, pulling Mail through midwicket, and continued to motor along. Brett Lee, brought back at the fag end of the day, finally put an end to Gandhi's vigil with an incutter that beat the batsman for pace and brushed the batsman's pad en route to taking out the offstump.

Laxman came and went in a blink. Another Lee incutter had the in form batsman leaving it alone, on line just outside off -- a rather strange thing to do, because Lee noticeably bowls only incutters, so it was fair odds you were going to get one. The ball crashed into off and India were 2/89 in the blink of an eye.

Kanitkar, looking considerably more assured than he had in the first innings, kept Ramesh company to take India home at 110/2. With Rahul Dravid and Ganguly to follow, India have the platform to make a push for it on day three.


Mail Sports Editor