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December 28, 1999

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India Down Under



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Aussie aggression at its best

Harsha Bhogle

The day started and ended with a display of Australian aggression with a bit of pent up Indian emotion in between.

It started in a pretty bizarre way actually. The Melbourne Age (whose web site pavillion.com.au is a rediff partner site) had vent its collective fury on the Indians for refusing to play under lights to make up for lost time. It was a very good looking argument, very handy for earning points with an uninformed audience. The Indians were the bad boys because they didnít care for the money that spectators were paying to come in to the MCG. You know, the old country from the dark ages not being able to keep pace with technology and all that sort of stuffÖ..Australia wanted to give the paying public their due but these Indians didnít want to play.

I was bewildered because the vitriol behind this attack was staggering. For a start it was something that had been agreed upon when the playing conditions were discussed and so the paying public, who would like to get a full dayís cricket for the money they had spent, werenít slipped a fast one. And for some completely inexplicable reason, everybody in Australia missed the point that the Indians had never played cricket under lights with a red ball. And so, it would have been extremely silly to have agreed to that clause.

It was a bit like asking a visiting team to play on a dry surface with very wet run-ups; and telling them that, in order to protect the interests of the paying public, they bowl off a three yard run-up? What I found really weird was that no one thought it necessary to wonder why a team was saying no to what is, in theory, a very good idea.

And I can now understand why visiting journalists get so jingoistic about their reporting when they come to Australia. I think it helps no one because no set of readers gets a clear, unbiased view of the game which is what they are entitled to. It comes down to a very immature "us and them" kind of situation.

If that was Aussie aggression to start the day, then Adam Gilchrist and Ricky Ponting provided some more to end the day. It was genuinely outstanding batting against a team that seemed, strangely, to suffer more from the constant in and out of the pavilion. You would expect the batsmen to take time to settle in again but Gilchrist and Ponting attacked them rightaway each time and grabbed the match away from the Indians who at 197 for 5 would have been feeling pretty good about the world.

The more I see of Gilchrist, the more I am convinced that he will be one of the stars of the next decade. He is in position very quickly and he seems to have a shot for every ball which is the sign of a player of genuine class. India would have wished that the cameras would have seen a little more of him though because, in what was an embarassment to Channel 9ís otherwise impeccable coverage, they only had one replay for a caught and bowled chance to Kumble early in his innings. The normal speed replay seemed to confirm that the catch was clean but the replay was inconclusive simply because they did not have an angle that took them closer to the action.

The Indians would be entitled to think that everytime the match hangs in the balance something tilts it the Australian way. Both Ponting and Warne had legitimate caught behind shouts turned down at Adelaide and Gilchristís dismissal here could well have had Australia looking at 250 all out rather than 332 for 5 from where they cannot lose the game. But I do believe that the Indians appeal too much and that could contribute to the close decisions going against them.

India started badly this morning, allowing Slater and Waugh to get set and score quickly. Dean Jones had told me in the commentary box to drop everything and watch the moment Slater got into his nineties. A run before that he miscued a pull against Prasad and got two for it. Then he found Srinath at long leg, a solitary figure in a vast stretch of green, and missed out on a century for the eighth time. It prompted Prasad to go into an amazing celebration routine right under Slaterís nose.

Intentional or otherwise, it was a provocative act and two men handled the situation very well. Slater looked amused, like he had just been shown a strange exhibit, and, given that he had missed out on a century, controlled himself remarkably. Later that evening, he told the ABC that he felt nothing against Prasad and that there was nothing offensive about what had happened. Another player might have reacted differently but Slater is a wonderful, uncomplicated personality who has the ability to see the lighter side of most things.

And David Shepherd showed very good understanding as well. There was no headmaster-ish, finger-wagging here; just a firm statement, a smile and a quick word to the match referee. It is very important for umpires to grasp situations very quickly and defuse them and Shepherd did a great job.

It would have been a frustrating day for Tendulkar. It doesnít help if one of your bowlers chooses to have an off-day, every day. Prasad bowled a lot better today but Srinath was completely off rhythm and he needs to guard against becoming a one-spell bowler. He is too vital to Indiaís cause for his performance to dip away so alarmingly.

And so Australia are pretty much in the driverís seat in this game. Steve Waugh had been quoted as saying this morning that 250 was a good score. He now has a further 82 and two men in very good form. But he has lost a lot of time (on most grounds on the sub-continent, this Test would have been virtually dead by now) and his approach on day 3 will be interesting. His total is not large enough for him to hope to bowl India out twice or indeed, to put into them the real pressure of a follow-on. But he cannot lose too much more time with the weather looking gloomy over the next couple of days.

I think he will play another session.

Meanwhile I will be very interested in seeing if there is another thunderstorm brewing in the Australian papers.

Harsha Bhogle

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