January 19, 2008

History repeats itself as the Aussies fall back on the Earth

When India was playing in the second test against Australia at Kolkata in February, 2001 they were in a big mess. Sourav Ganguly's men had been thrashed by the Steve Waugh led Aussie "invincibles" in less than 4 days in the first test at Mumbai. The Australian team had won a world record 16 consecutive tests till then, the previous record being 11 by the West Indies. Australia played well in the first innings until Harbhajan Singh turned the tide with the first ever hat-trick by an Indian in test cricket. But, in the second innings India was bowled out for under 150, thus following on with only V.V.S. Laxman scoring a gritty half century. What followed was a dream as Laxman scored a magnificent 281 (the highest individual score by an Indian in test cricket at that time) in the second innings and put up a huge partnership with Rahul Dravid who scored a determined 180 to set the Aussies a huge target. The Aussies crumbled to the brilliant bowling display by Harbhajan and Sachin Tendulkar (who scored only 10 runs in both the innings while batting). This ended Australia's winning streak and the Aussies also lost the third test at Chennai handing India the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.

India beat Australia twice in tests after that- at Adelaide in 2003 (another wonderful game) and at Mumbai in 2004, where the Aussies were bowled out for a paltry 93! Other than these two losses, the Aussies lost to the West Indies in 2003 (when the Windies succesfully chase down a mammoth 418 which is the highest target ever chased successfully) and twice to England in 2005 (thus handing over the Ashes to England after a very long time). But, the last for losses mentioned all took place away from home which shows that if there is any country that can beat Australia at home, it surely is India.

When the Border-Gavaskar Series started with the Boxing Day test at Melbourne a month back, India was outplayed. The second test at Sydney, however, was a different story altogether. The match was evenly contested but was drowned in controversy over dubious umpiring decisions, the racism issue and unsportsmanlike behaviour by Ricky Ponting's men. After the brouhaha at Sydney, the Indian team had two options- to cancel the series and go back home; or to stay back and fight the Aussies with all their effort, they decided to stay. The first two days of the third test at Perth completely belonged to India, who outplayed the Aussies in every department. The Indian bowlers used the famous Perth pitch better than their Aussie counterparts. The much hyped Shaun Tait was a disaster for the mighty Australians as he wasn't even able to take a single wicket in the match.

The third day's play had its moments. Sehwag continued his assault on the hapless Aussie quickies until he was done in by a brilliant delivery by Stuart Clark which shattered the stumps. The triad of Dravid, Tendulkar and Ganguly fell in quick succession putting India in a spot of bother. Ganguly scored his first duck in about 10 tests as India were 5 down for 150 odd rus. Irfan Pathan who had come in as the Night Watchman hung in for a while and contributed a good 46 runs. He played some wonderful strokes and may well be India's missing link in the middle order. After Pathan's fall, Laxman and Dhoni had a crucial partnership. Dhoni played a good innings of 37 under pressure, he was also succesful in clearing the ropes twice. He fell to Symonds when he miscued a sweep with Gilchrist completing a fine catch. Laxman played wonderfully to be the top scorer with 79. His partnership of 52 for the 9th wicket with the unusually calm R.P. Singh helped India score 294, setting Australia a target of 413. Singh scored a good 30 runs and even cleared the ropes once! Stuart Clark was the best Aussie bowler picking 4/66.

Coming to facts and figures regarding chases, the highest successful run chase on Australian soil is 369, when Australia chased down the score against Pakistan at Hobart in 1999. Only thrice in the history of test cricket has a team chased down 400+ runs in the fourth innings- Australia did in the late 1940s against England, India did it in 1974 against Wet Indies and the West Indies chased down a world record 418 against Australia in 2003. Also, the highest fourth innings score at Perth is 341.

At the end of the third day's play, Australia was 62/2 with Ponting and Hussey on strike. The openers were done in by Pathan in the second innings too. Kumble was able to extract spin as well as bounce on a pitch that was slowly getting dangerous for the batsmen. The match had been a wonderful one until that moment and the only result that could be ruled out was a draw. If India won from that position, they would halt the Aussie winning streak at 1 again and become the first team to beat Australia in 3 years and the first team to do so on Australian soil in 5 years (the last team to do so was also India). Also, it would be the first instance of a sub-continent team winning at Perth. If Australia won, they would create a new world record of 17 consecutive wins and would have the second highest succesful run chase in tests to their name.

The fourth day's first session was an extremely interesting one as one saw a brilliant spell of fast bowling from 19 year old Ishant Sharma, who troubled Ponting as if he was one of the best fast bowlers in the world. Ponting appeared extremely uncomfortable facing Ishant and was finally done in by him an over before lunch. That was the only wicket to fall in the first session, but was a big wicket. Ponting scored 45. It was Sehwag who convinced Kumble to let ishant bowl an extra over and he struck immediately. After lunch, R.P. Singh bowled a brilliant ball moving into the left handed Hussey and trapped him in front for 46. Symonds hit Kumble out of the ground but was given LBW to the same bowler in the next ball. Replays showed that the ball had nicked the bat before hitting the pad and Symonds showed his displeasure, but I personally feel that justice was done. Symonds, after all he was the player who wasn't given out when he was 4 times in the Sydney test and also got a wicket which he didn't deserve to have. Kumble, surprisingly, celebrated a lot more than he usually does on getting Symonds wicket. I think that it was in response to Symonds doing the same when he got Kumble's wicket in India's second innings.

Michael Clarke was playing his shots very well and when Gilchrist came in after Symonds, one thought that the fireworks would soon begin. Just then, Kumble decided to give the ball to Sehwag who struck twice in quick succession. Firstly, he bowled Gilchrist round his legs for 15 and got the better of Brett Lee for a duck. Then, Kumble bowled a wonderful delivery which both spun and bounced. Clarke came forward to the ball but was completely bamboozled by this delivery and Dhoni promptly stumped him. Clarke scored a fine 81, which I feel was his coming of age knock. With the fall of Clarke, no recognized Australian batsman was left with the Aussies being 253/8. The tail enders, Mitchell Johnson and Stuart Clark frustrated the Indians with a 9th wicket partnership of 73. Clark scored 32 and even hit a six during his knock. Irfan Pathan got the wicket of Clark and the Indians could sniff victory. Johnson continued to frustrate the Indians and scored his first half century. He hit Kumble for 2 huge sixes. However, he did have two reprieves when Kumble bowled him off a no-ball and Sehwag dropped him near the boundary. The catch was a very tough one and Kumble was the unlucky bowler this time too. When the Aussies were 340/9, R.P. Singh breached Shaun Tait's defences and gave India a well desrved victory. Australia was halted by India while going for the 17th win yet again as history repeated itself. I would give most credit to the brilliant bowling by the Indian fast bowlers, who for long haven't shown their skills. Irfan Pathan got the man of the match award for his all round performance. The comeback of Pathan and Sehwag played a big role in India winning the match.

The Indian team has proved to everyone that they made the right decision by staying back after the Sydney test. Many people in the world will now consider India as the main challenger to Australia's supremacy in the game. It was wonderful to see the smirk disappear from Ponting's face and also to see him struggling to play young Ishant Sharma. The Autralians have also been charged 10% of their match fee for their slow over rate. But the loss of the match will probably sting them more than the loss on the pocket. Heres hoping that India carries forward their form into the fourth test at Adelaide, where they won last time round in 2003. Till then, HAPPY PERTH DAY!!!!

Some wonderful quotes during the course of and after the Perth test:
  • "That's another appeal. No it's not, it's a replay."
    The excitement at the WACA gets a bit too much for Michael Slater.
  • "Ek aur over karega?"
    Anil Kumble asks Ishant Sharma if he'll bowl one more over after having bowled seven. Ishant did and got the wicket of Ricky Ponting on the first ball. It was Virender Sehwag who asked Kumble to let Ishant bowl.
  • "It would have been great if you had been my 600th victim."
    Anil Kumble to Adam Gilchrist when the latter congratulated him on his feat.

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