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December 11, 1999

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India Down Under



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Any which way but lose!

Harsha Bhogle

Australia had a plan against India. In the Indian batsmen, they found unexpected, but apparently willing accomplices.

India did the equivalent of pulling in all ten men alongside the goalkeeper and allowing the opposition to fire free kicks at them. They saved a few but it is one thing to stop goals, it is something else to score them. With run making seeming to be the last, and least acceptable, option, Indiaís batsmen plodded. The wake-up call came a little after twenty to seven but by then, a key wicket had been given away.

In fairness to Tendulkar and Dravid, Australia raised their game against them and bowled with magnificent control. But when the batsmen donít retaliate, it becomes very easy to bowl to a pre-planned line and length. In true Gandhian style, India were offering the other cheek. It might have worked in a different theatre in a different era but here at the Adelaide Oval, on the best batting track they have seen this year, it quite resoundingly didnít.

And as a result, with 52 overs having produced only 123, India have no chance of winning this game and only an outside chance of saving it.

Rahul Dravid batted almost three hours for his 35 showing solid defence but little more. He has struggled on this tour and I fear he is trying too hard to succeed. He wants Australia to be the seal of approval of his stature in international cricket and I think he is wrong. He has it already and on these lovely tracks, he needs to play the ball by the unerring instinct he possesses. I fear he is getting pre-determined, everything about him is geared towards defence and when the mind is closed, it is difficult to play with freedom.

But what of Tendulkar? In the Donís hometown, they gave him a rousing reception and it was a great feeling to see an Indian being received like that. No other Indian has and the awe he is held in was difficult to miss. But in the Donís hometown, he didnít bat like the Don. Gone was the freedom which has made him such an awesome destroyer of attacks. In its place there was restraint. Tendulkar defended today with the same zeal with which he normally attacks.

As a result, only two batsmen stood out. First VVS Laxman who timed the ball superbly in the early part of his innings until he played a shot typical of a man who comes from a land where the ball doesnít bounce too much. Instead of going down, the ball went up and Steve Waugh accepted, with minimum fuss, the kind of catch that Sadagoppan Ramesh fumbled and dropped.

The other, though he has batted very briefly, was Sourav Ganguly and on day three, he needs to draw the pearl in Tendulkar out from the oyster which seemingly cannot open.

India are trying very hard not to lose, which is an admirable quality, except that in the hierarchy of desires, it must appear only after victory is impossible.

But India havenít even tried to win.

Postscript: Warne was 12 when Ramesh put him down, he made 86. Waugh was 67 when Dravidís throw missed the mark, he made 150. India were 7 for no loss when Blewett hit the stumps from ninety yards. Sometimes little things make big differences.

Harsha Bhogle

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