January 17, 2008

A debacle, a farewell and an unbelievable comeback

It has been quite a while since my last post and over the past week I have decided to make this blog a topical one. So now, this blog will be completely dedicated to the game of Cricket and as a result we also have a change in the name

The past week was quite an eventful one for the sport- both on the field and off it. It started off with South Africa thrashing the West Indies in three and a half days in the third test match between the teams thus taking the series 2-1. South Africa won by a huge margin of an innings and a 100 runs! West Indies was put into bat and were bowled out for a paltry 139 in a little more than a session on the first day thanks mainly to Shaun Pollock's brilliant bowling display. At the end of the first day's play, the Proteas had already put up a 150 run lead and went on to score a lead of 417 by the end of the second day. West Indies batted for a day and a half but that just wasn't enough. For South Africa, skipper Graeme Smith scored a superb 147. A. B. De Villiers and Ashwell Prince also scored centuries with Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis scoring valuable half centuries. It was a terrific display by the Proteas after they had lost the first test. During the course of the match Shaun Pollock announced his retirement. What a wonderful player this man has been. Probably one of the few excellent bowling all rounders in the game.

Over the past few days, it was the peace making meeting between Indian captain Anil Kumble and Aussie skipper Ricky Ponting that was in the news. The meeting was presided over by ICC Match Referee Ranjan Madugalle. The meeting went off quite well and the captain's agreement about taking the fielder's word for disputed catches was scrapped. Ricky Ponting also promised to look into his team's on-field behaviour as the ICC reprimanded Cricket Australia for their team's behaviour. In a rather surprising move, India took back all the charges put on Aussie spinner Brad Hogg who had allegedly used foul language on Anil Kumble and Mahendra Singh Dhoni on the field during the controversial third test in Sydney.

The much anticipated third test between India and Australia started at Perth yesterday and the match is already poised in a very interesting position.Perth has always been a very fast and bouncy track and is feared by batsmen all over the world. As a matter of fact in the 1980s there was an occasion when Australian fast bowling legend Jeff Thompson bowled a bouncer which went over the wicket-keeper's head and pitched just once before reaching the boundary thus giving 4 byes to the batting team! There was a lot of hype before this match and I must say that the pitch hasn't lived up to expectations. That doesn't mean that the pitch wasn't fast and bouncy. A lot was said about young Australian quickie Shaun Tait who finally made it to the playing eleven replacing spinner Brad Hogg. Shaun Tait is currently the fastest bowler in the world (disputed) and everyone expected him to strike the Indian batting line-up hard, but that wasn't to be. Australia played a team with 4 fast bowlers and no specialist spinner as they obviously thought that bounce will play a key role in this match. On the other hand, India took 3 quickies and dropped Harbhajan Singh, one of the 2 specialist spinners. Captain Kumble, who is the other specialist spinner obviously played. There were 2 changes for both the teams. For the Aussies, Tait came in for Hogg and Chris Rogers came in for the injure Mathew Hayden. For India, Irfan Pathan came in for Harbhajan and Virender Sehwag came in for the out of form Yuvraj Singh. Sehwag had score a 79 ball hundred against the ACT Invitational XI in the practice game at Canberra last week. Sehwag's selection meant that he would open with Wasim Jaffer and Rahul Dravid would come back to his normal position as number 3.

India won the toss and elected to bat, which experts consider a bold move for a visiting team. India had to play the first half hour extremely carefully and they managed to do just that. Australia had literally packed the slip cordon knowing that the Indians were sure to nick some behind the wicket. The opener's got the best start in the series so far putting up 57 runs for the first wicket. Sehwag was at his belligerent best as he was hitting Brett Lee and Mitchell Johnson for boundaries at ease. Unfortunately, he got out just as he was set for a big innings as he nicked Johnson to Adam Gilchrist. He scored 29 of 57 deliveries. It may be quite a small score in tests but it set the foundation for India. Jaffer followed Sehwag to the pavillion soon as he too was caught behind off Lee. With the score reading 59/2, one would have thought that the slide had begun but the partnership that followed put India right back into the game. Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar put up 139 runs for the third wicket. Tendulkar was in imperious form as he tackled the bounce with ease after a few initial hiccups. His duel with Lee was something which can be watched again and again. Tendulkar hit 6 of his 9 fours behind the wicket, which itself shows how well he negotiated the very controlled bowling of the Australian bowling. He took a special liking for Shaun Tait, hitting him for some really brilliant boundaries. Tendulkar had scored a brilliant century for the losing side at this very ground 16 years ago. That was the last time the Aussies had played with an all pace attack. The most notable shot that he played during his innings was the late upper cut which he played to perfection after not quite getting the shot earlier in the innings.

Tendulkar would have surely gone on to make a hundred, but his innings was cut short by a bad LBW decision by Pakistani umpire Asad Rauf. He didn't consider the bounce on the pitch and gave Tendulkar out for a well made 71. Replays clearly showed that the ball would have bounced over the stumps. Ganguly came in next but didn't last for long scoring just 9, his lowest score in a very long time. He hit 2 glorious boundaries and was looking good until he was dismissed by Johnson. The shot was quite good and would have easily gone for four but Mike Hussey pulled off a stunner of a catch. Laxman and Dravid steadied the ship but got out in quick succession playing 2 really terrible shots. Laxman holed out straight to Tait at mid off for 29, the wicket being taken by Lee and Dravid miscued a slog sweep off Andrew Symonds and Ponting took a very easy catch. Dravid scored a brilliant 93. India ended day 1 at 297/6.

Day 2 began quite well with India hitting 31 runs with ease until disaster struck as Dhoni was given LBW by Rauf to another very doubtful decision. I recall Ravi Shastri saying that if an umpire turns down LBW appeals of well pitched deliveries at Perth, then he will be right 9 out of 10 times, and I completely agree with him. After that 3 wickets fell for just 2 runs as India went from 328/6 to 330 all out.

It was expected that Australia would come out with all guns blazing but the Indian bowlers had something else in mind. Irfan Pathan swung the ball brilliantly and accounted for both the openers- debutant Chris Rogers and Phil Jaques . R.P. Singh bowled a superb delivery to get Hussey out for a duck, his first duck in his career. Ishant Sharma struck twice with the wickets of Ponting and Clarke as Australia were reduced to 61/5. It is rather strange to think that these 2 wicket were Sharma's first wickets in this series. Symonds and Gilchrist performed a counter-attacking resurrection with a 102 run stand as both scored attacking fifties. Symonds had got a reprieve when he had only scored 3 runs when Tendulkar dropped a simple catch at first slip, Pathan being the unlucky bowler. It was Kumble who got the wicket of Symonds and that was his 600th test wicket. He is the third player in the history of the game to have taken 600 or more wickets, the other two being Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan. Gilchrist hammered three successive fours off R.P. Singh after which Singh surprised him with a superb delivery and Gilchrist was caught behind by Dhoni. Symonds and Gilchrist scored 66 and 55 respectively. The Aussie tail-enders didn't last long and Australia was bowled out for 212 giving India a lead of 118 runs. Dhoni taking 5 catches was quite impressive behind the stumps. R.P. Singh bowled brilliantly taking 4/68.

India got off to a flyer in the second innings, thanks again to Sehwag who as usual was in attacking mood. The openers had put on 45 runs when Clark accounted for Jaffer who was caught behind the wicket yet again. Irfan Pathan was sent in as the Night Watchman and he staved off the Aussie quickies till the end of the days play. India is batting with 52 runs on the board for the loss of a wicket and has extended its lead to 170 runs. Lets see what the third day's play holds.

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