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December 10, 1999


India Down Under

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India must take their chances

Harsha Bhogle

Many years ago, Michel Platini, the great French footballer, made a statement that seemed like one of those post match sound bytes that sportsmen routinely indulge the media with. “Matches are won,” he said “by teams that know how to win.”

And yet, the more you think about it, the more you realise the truth hidden behind that simple statement. Certainly Australia showed that today, and I’m afraid they showed that in a pretty devastating manner.

At 76 for 4 at lunch, most teams would have been looking forward to a quiet half hour without losing a wicket. With most teams you wouldn’t regard that as a defensive attitude, just a prudent approach. But Australia have made winning such a powerful state of mind, in theirs and in the mind of the opposition, that they rode ahead relentlessly and within twenty minutes, they had turned things around. Suddenly, India were defending, on the field and in the mind, Tendulkar made one crucial error of judgement, and Australia capitalised on it like a side that knows how to win.

There were a couple of things in their favour. A cloudy morning had matured into a beautiful, dry afternoon and as a result, the pitch had turned into a batsman’s dream. A couple of extremely indifferent spells from Ajit Agarkar before lunch had meant that Tendulkar was wary of putting him on immediately and it didn’t help a captain who is still young in the job, that Srinath switched off suddenly.

Sourav Ganguly’s five over spell had everyone in the media room from Ian Chappell to Mark Taylor shaking their head and as it happened, Ganguly played the batsmen into form quite perfectly.

By the time Kumble came back and bowled a superb defensive spell, Australia had gone too far ahead. 74 runs came in the first hour after lunch, only 37 in the second and it was noticeable that Australia’s late run burst also came without Kumble. To bowl at under three runs an over on the kind of track batsmen would ask for an hour before a hanging, was outstanding stuff. Without him, Australia would have had another fifty, at least.

Sadly for India it undid what was a fairytale morning. It was a morning that was steeped in common sense and it was a fantastic example of how to play sport within your limitations. Srinath’s first spell was brilliant and it seemed he was connected to the right voltage. He made the batsmen play at everything and for a side that had started getting used to extravagant bowling from the Pakistanis, this was suddenly trench warfare.

After lunch Srinath went from 240 volts to 110 and he would be extremely disappointed with his returns for the day. Too often with an offside field, he bowled to the batsman’s pads. The discipline was gone and with it the sting.

Venkatesh Prasad
 Venkatesh Prasad
 Pic: Allsport
Venkatesh Prasad was easily the best bowler of the morning, rarely going at anything beyond 130 kmph but rarely going beyond reach of the batsmen either. Langer’s wicket was a lucky break but it was the merit of the ball that earned it; full up and nipping in just a bit. 8 overs produced 2 for 11 and while there wasn’t enough support from the conditions after lunch, he rarely left his post. It needed good shots to get runs off him and with the second new ball, Ponting produced two; an off drive and then an on drive that looked like someone was demonstrating that the angle of incidence was equal to the angle of reflection.

There is no doubt that Ponting is the best 24-year-old in world cricket today. To have a match winner coming in at number six is a luxury that no team enjoys and today, merely watching Ponting was a luxury. His footwork was precise, he was unafraid to play shots and he played them off both feet. He had a couple of moments when, if luck had deserted him, he might not have reached a century. He certainly nicked Agarkar when he got an inside edge to a pull and Laxman, having done everything right, let the ball slip out at second slip off Srinath.

He took the spotlight from what was a memorable day for Steve Waugh. Waugh had spoken yesterday about his desire to score a century and today, he shook hands with it. There is something about his resilience, about his ability to squeeze the last drop out of his possessions that make him the most fascinating player of his era.

Waugh grows on you; you don’t gape at him with awe, you won’t sit on the edge of your seat when he bats. Instead you admire him and secretly wish you could be like him.

He is still there and he knows this pitch is a beauty. The forecast is for Adelaide to get hotter and under the sun, he knows the track will crack and he would like India to get as little time on it while it is still good. There is a grinder in store.

I am not sure, in spite of a relatively new ball that India have it in them to seize the initiative tomorrow. But they must try and make things more difficult. Shorn of armoury, they must embrace discipline. And they must take their chances. The best teams in the world create second chances. India cannot lay claim to being among the best and so they must take what comes their way.

They didn’t today but it isn’t the end of the world. A wearing track will not fill them with terror and so they must back themselves to hold twenty wickets. They may not know how to win just yet but they need to know how not to lose.

Harsha Bhogle

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