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|December 30, 1999||
Australia clinch Border-Gavaskar trophyPrem Panicker
I made myself a rather premature New Year's resolution -- that I wouldn't say 'they have only themselves to blame' again.
So I won't say that here. So how else does one put it? India, let's say, took the line of least resistance -- and Australia pulled off its sixth straight Test win, this one by 180 runs, with 35.3 overs to spare, 15 minutes after tea. And in the process, snatched out of India's grasp the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, which it had lost in the one-off Test, then lost again when India retained it at home with a 2-1 result in 1998.
To me, the interesting statistic in the above is 35.3 overs. Doesn't sound much, does it, in context of a Test? Expecting an Indian team batting zero on confidence to have won this game was being unrealistic perhaps (isn't it true, though, that unrealistic expectations are what push you to greater heights of achievement?) -- but was it too much to expect the side, on a track that did nothing out of the ordinary, that behaved exactly as it has behaved through the previous four days of the Test, to bat out the overs?
It wasn't. Batting through the day was eminently do-able -- and nothing illustrates it more than a look at how the batsmen played and more importantly, how they got out, today.
Sadagopan Ramesh, with a broken left thumb, made a statement of sorts when he walked out with Dravid at the start of play. But given the nature of the injury, it could only be a brief statement -- for the southpaw, the left hand is the bottom hand, the one that puts the power into the shots, and a dysfunctional thumb on that hand wasn't going to be easy to cope with. All it took was one yorker length delivery from Fleming, and the thud of the bat hitting the ground as he tried to dig it out, for Ramesh to feel the pain and for Andrew Leipus to take him off the field.
That brought Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar together right at the start of play. Tendulkar seemed to pick up where he left off in the first innings, batting with calm assurance. Dravid looked way below the batsman he was in New Zealand early this year, and in the World Cup after that, but showed signs of a return to some level of confidence, especially in the way he judged and left deliveries around off. He wasn't getting runs, but neither were there any close shaves or other signs of discomfort, and the balls he was using up where -- or would have been -- valuable if he hadn't then got out in one of the sickest ways it is possible for a batsman to be dismissed.
Brett Lee, coming on after the opening attack of McGrath and Fleming had been seen off, wasn't looking the aggressive bowler he was in the first innings. The ball that got Dravid pitched three quarters around middle, and was angling to leg. Dravid shaped to glance, going up on his toes for the shot. Nothing wrong with that either, it's a shot you would go for to that delivery. But all he did manage was to glove it through to the keeper -- that wicket falling just when the Indians looked to be settling in quite comfortably, and Australia was noticeably diluting the aggression of its field settings.
Unlike Dravid, who has been struggling for confidence, Saurav Ganguly has been looking assured every time he walks out to the middle. Ironically, his scores have been steadily decreasing as the series progresses. Here again, he looked comfortable against Lee, played Warne fluently off the front foot and when the bowler tried dropping short, rocked into a savage pull over midwicket, and when McGrath, coming back, slanted them across his body to try and get him driving on the up (his mode of dismissal in the first innings), he studiously avoided the trap.
Steve Waugh brought on Greg Blewett. Was that an inspired move, or what? It worked, so you have to say it was. The use of an irregular bowler, most times, is to take advantage of the human tendency to get all keyed up when facing the frontline bowlers, and to mentally relax a touch when confronted by someone who bowls maybe once in a month or less. Ganguly has taken advantage of this, during his stints as change bowler -- ironic, thus, that he fell into that same trap. Blewett bowled one across the left hander, Ganguly pushed forward without really bothering to get into line, the ball, which would have gone harmlessly past off stump, took the inner edge and richocheted back onto the stumps and Ganguly stood there, shocked into immobility, for a dangerously long time (you know how it is, the ICC being oh so strict to impose the code of conduct -- at least on some teams) before trudging off the field.
That wicket fell at the stroke of lunch. India went in a 110/3, having added 70 runs, which was on target for a gameplan of seeing off the first session before re-evaluating the position, but having lost the two wickets it couldn't afford to lose.
Hrishikesh Kanitkar began with an edged four -- but from there on, he looked very settled. At the other end, Tendulkar went past his 50 and looked good to bat out the day if need be, when he fell to a trap of his own making. The Indian skipper showed, during this innings as during his first innings essay, every sign of having thought long and hard about how he was going to tackle the various bowlers. Take McGrath as an example. The Aussie quick is a brilliant bowler in the corridor around off, never more than a foot outside at most, varying his line by a half inch here or there to induce errors. Against him, Sachin appeared to have decided to ignore everything outside off, forcing the bowler to either settle for expending his energies on deliveries the batsman wasn't going to touch, or to get closer to the stumps -- and when he did, Sachin promptly got into position and drove him through the covers.
Similarly, against Warne, he took to standing outside leg stump and when Warne pitched a foot outside leg looking to break it back in off the rough, pushed his pad at it without even bothering to lift the bat. That kind of thing frustrates a bowler, and forces him to change his line. When Warne tried leg stump, Sachin put bat and pad together and defended. On middle, and he shut the bat face and worked it to leg. Outside off, and he leaned back and cut or, if the length was right, glided forward and drove. And when he pitched off, Sachin padded up.
That last was the problem area. It is one thing to set out deliberately to frustrate a bowler, it is another to do it in foolhardy fashion, and padding to deliveries on the stumps is a foolhardy act. In doing that, Tendulkar was playing the odds that the leg break turns past off stump, which leaves him safe from the LBW. Warne in fact took him on the pad, early on, with one such delivery and David Shepherd turned the huge appeal down, on just that ground. Here, he premeditatedly pushed his pad out again, his bat raised high -- only, this one pitched middle and off, and Shepherd this time upheld.
There was some talk, in our chat room at the time, about whether the decision was okay. It was. Some umpires are harsher than others when giving the decision in cases of deliberate padding. Shepherd tends to give those, if the ball is pitching in line, and he was being consistent with his own interpretation of the law when he gave Tendulkar out here.
The dismissal came as a tragedy in more ways than one. The way Tendulkar was batting, it seemed like nothing could dislodge him. And for another, Kanitkar had settled down at the other end, and was playing with assurance and, increasingly, fluency. This meant that Tendulkar could concentrate on his batting without worrying about his partner (early in the partnership, when Kanitkar looked a touch nervous, Tendulkar kept coming down the track to have a word with him), and there was no evident reason why he couldn't have gone on to another big one. The Indians (and this applies to Ganguly and Dravid as well) have got to get out of this mindset of padding at Warne -- when they put bat to ball, they've looked good, which makes this style of play rather inexplicable.
From then on, there was only one side in the context. MSK Prasad again impressed with the bat, showing a competent defence and, when length and line afforded, playing his shots. But yet again, he threw it away in strange fashion. Steve Waugh brought on brother Mark, for the 73rd over, more as a means of keeping Lee and McGrath fresh for the new ball. And off the third ball, the wicket went -- Mark Waugh floated one up, outside off and Prasad lunged into a drive without getting his foot fully across, Warne holding the edge very well, low down at slip.
Ajit Agarkar, we were assured by the team management, got the nod ahead of Mohanty and Kumaran on the strength of his all-round talents. With the ball, he has bowled a mixture of very good and very bad spells -- fortunately, the good ones have come more often than the forgettable ones. With the bat, though, he has been outrageous. For the third time in three innings, he fell first ball -- the kind of hat-trick you don't want against your name. For the third time running, he fell playing the kind of shot that would put a novice to the blush. This one today was perhaps the worst of the three. Here is this batsman, walking in with two first ball ducks against his name, with the team needing staying power at the crease and not heroics, so you would think when Mark Waugh bowled a most innocuous delivery, wide of off and going through straight, he would have sense enough to just let it go. But no, he rocked back, gave his bat a huge swing, and slapped it straight to point. Kapil and Sachin have both been backing him the limit -- it would seem time for one of them to give him a bit of a talking to.
Javagal Srinath perished of fright, for the second time running and to the same bowler. Lee pitched outside off and on the short side, the ball was going through when Srinath winced, turned his body half away and pushed his bat out at it, open faced -- which is what you do when you are giving slip-catching practise. If you go by the adage that practise makes perfect, then Warne is now one step nearer his goal of being the perfect slip fielder, thanks to Srinath.
Kanitkar, at the other end, had overcome his initial nerves and was playing a fine, confident hand. He handled Lee with composure, Warne with seeming ease. And then fell to Fleming -- an inswinging yorker length ball with the second new ball saw the batsman shaping to flick to on, only to play around the line and take it on his pad, bang in front.
Kumble, for the second time running, showed signs of guts and fight, and of wanting to put a premium on his wicket (you have to wonder if Srinath and Agarkar were watching). But there was no way he was going to last out a session with only Prasad for company, and a run out ended India's misery and gave Steve Waugh's Aussies stage two of their stated ambition of making this a clean sweep.
There are two days to go for the Sydney Test -- and that seems too short a time for India to work on its myriad problems especially with the bat. Problems that, incidentally, have just worsened with the injury to Ramesh.
Meanwhile, spare a thought for Sachin Tendulkar. Asked, after the Adelaide Test, what he thought of his two dismissals, he made a telling reply: "I am not thinking about that, I am thinking about the four innings I have left to play in the remaining Tests." On the evidence, he has lived up to the implicit promise -- now all he has to do is convince his team-mates that cricket is not a one-man game, and that he could do with a modicum of support at the other end.
From whatever I've seen thus far, he's finding that harder to do, than combating the combined wiles of McGrath and Warne and the pace of Lee.
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