Yesterday was a good day ... I had office but I could follow the commentary on www.cricket.org ... people were shouting across their prison walls ... errr ... bays to each other as wickets fell in a heap and by tea time people were predicting that India would go into the end of day's play 4 down. Thankfully the last one was like most of my predictions (though it wasn't me who made this one) ... wrong.
Reaching home, I managed to get the repeat telecast of the match on DD Sports ... they continue to torture us by not giving a highlights package but a total repeat telecast but can't really help it. Yesterday I happened to have the patience and so watched it from the time when Australia were 120 without loss to the day's end.
India went in with Yuveraj as opener ... finally the captain's theory would be tested ... and Kaif. Kaif is not really a brilliant test batsman else he would have been in the team long before but in the present circumstances, considering all options available, I believe he is the best suited for the middle order. Yep, more than Yuveraj who I place very highly in my ODI squad.
Anyway Agarkar missed out which disappointed me coz Zaheer hasn't been inspiring confidence of late. But Gangs has a policy of sticking with his bowlers and he followed that here too. He has had great confidence in Zaheer over the last couple of years and more often than not, Zaheer has delivered but in this test, like in the recent past, he really didn't do anything of note.
The main batsmen in the Australian squad are their openers, both with plenty of experience and capable of notching up big scores. Hayden is an indestructible tank and I really cannot think of any weakness and say "target him thus" but for Langer, definitely it is the ball pitching on off and coming in; specially Agarkar has been successful at this time and again in the recent past but today he wasn't able to check it out again.
Till about 120 for no loss, let me just gloss it over. I didn't see the telecast of this period but I did hear that the Aussies took the sword to the Indians. Those of us following the match in office were making predictions about 400 by day's end and then Harbhajan happened.
Hayden's success has one key factor that he always knows what shot he is going to play ... he generally is never undecided and has very decisive feet movement, both to slow and fast bowlers. He was handling things really cool and looking to score a big one when Bhajji did him in. Hayden had decided that this one had to go over long on for six and stepped out ... Bhajji was giving a lot of flight and Hayden must have been mentally adding six to his score already when he realized that the ball was not where he expected it to be .... Bhajji had pulled it back slightly and Hayden ended up not reaching the pitch of the ball. It would have been wise to cut the shot but Hayden went through with it ... the ball spun a bit and the shot aimed over long on ballooned up and Laxman running in from long off took it safely. Bhajji was screaming blue murder (thankfully not at the batsman ... the officials will be closely looking at him after McGrath's first test comments) like he just took a 5-er ... but anyway, it was an earned wicket, deceiving the batsman in flight.
Langer got out one ball later ... the batsmen had crossed over when Hayden's shot was in the air. Bhajji pitched on leg stump most of the day, got one to spin sharply across the closing face of the bat and Dravid took the slip catch centimeters from the ground ... it was a very low catch but the ease with which Dravid took it was commendable ... no fuss ... bend low and pick it up ... easy. Bhajji was using a lot of variation in his bowling .... sometimes bowling with the seam towards the slips and sometimes holding the seam totally across ... the one that got Langer was held cross seam and in the slow motion replay, one could see the tremendous spin the ball had in the air. Good one.
Martyn and Katich were at the wicket now and set about repairing the damage ... Katich didn't look in any problems at all but he really didn't look to dominate ... that is what makes Katich (in my eyes) look such an ill fit in the Aussie team ... he doesn't attack like everyone else tries to do ... when Hayden is batting, for example, u can see he wants to attack u and fight u and somehow dominate the hell out of u ... with Katich, there doesn't seem to be any urgency at all even though he never seems to be having problems. What is he ... the Dravid of the Aussie team?
Anyway, the third wicket was a bit of a lucky one for India coz the umpires thought about calling tea and then decided to get one more over in ... and Kumble struck. The ball pitched on a very good length, where the batsman can't come forward and take it and really can't decide if going back would be sensible ... and the bounce in the pitch made it hit Martyn's glove instead of the bat ... catch popped to forward short leg and the umpires called tea. So India went into tea with three sudden wickets under their belt.
The session after tea was amazing ... the pitch was behaving like a day 4 pitch in terms of turn ... at one point of time when Michael Clarke came on the front foot to defend against Bhajji, so much of dust came out at the point where his front foot landed that one could have been forgiven to think one was playing somewhere in the middle of the desert. This is a first day pitch, for crying out loud. To be fair though, the pitch hasn't broken and that isn't the only reason for Kumble's seven wicket haul ... it is because Kumble maintained a good length and line almost throughout ... but the ball is bouncing and turning and the combination can be lethal.
Anyway, Lehmann came in ... and Lehmann went out ... I had written in a previous post in this blog that in the first test, he was swishing wildly against the spinners and didn't look to have a clue. This time he didn't swish wildly but he still didn't have a clue. He is supposed to be one of their best players of spin but in this series, he looks decidedly unhappy to be out in the middle. Kumble ended his misery with a bad ball ... way outside off that Lehmann tried to cut and Parthiv Patel amazingly caught it. Amazing not coz it was a difficult catch or something but this was probably one of the very few balls through the day that actually stayed in his gloves. The commentator was mentioning - Lehmann is unlucky ... unlucky coz Parthiv Patel has caught it ... LOL.
Anyway, the danger man, Clarke came in and I started getting afraid (though it was a repeat telecast and I knew he wouldn't last long). In the first test, Clarke had used his feet to the spinners exceptionally well ... he was jumping down the track and driving it through on and off with ease ... here maybe the bounce and spin being generated played mind games with him ... maybe someone in the pavillion told him to take it easy ... but for the most part of his short stay at the crease, he stayed put in his place and didn't try to come down the pitch, except rarely. That was really asking for trouble.
Clarke was looking decent ... he defended a couple with his front foot forward to the pitch of the ball and defended a couple from the back foot. But he never looked to dominate the bowler or put him off by using his feet ... he basically stayed put and allowed Kumble and Bhajji to bowl to him where they wanted. Kumble didn't let the chance go and gave him a flipper which Clarke tried to go back and play ... his bat came down about 3 minutes after the ball hit the pad. My initial thought was the ball would go down leg side but on second and third thoughts, I changed it to "ok, it would have hit leg". Anyway, the ball had kept low and the batsman had missed it completely ... the umpire had no hesitation in giving that out.
Gilly walked in and looked uncomfortable as hell. Mentally I was telling myself that Gilly hit a ton in the first test at Mumbai in the last series and thereafter only had pin code scores ... this would happen again. And it did ... the few ball that Gilly did face were negotiated without a lot of comfort ... and then Kumble got one to grip and bounce and Gilly trying to play it on the front foot never really reached it and the ball hit bat, pad and ballooned to forward short leg. I don't know if the umpire would have given it but Gilly walked ... the bowler and fielder looked confident of the dismissal but I don't know about the umpire ... I think he would have given him coz it was a plain bat-pad but the commentators made such a hulla out of it that I don't know now.
Gilly is slowly getting a reputation as a guy who walks ... all very nice and all ... but is the idea behind it one of fair play or attention seeking? I ask this cynical question simply coz fair play is not just about walking when u edge ... in the first test Gilly took Pathan off Warne in the first innings when the ball missed bat by a mile ... whether the umpire got fooled or not, Gilly couldn't have gotten fooled ... he was the keeper and he would have watched the ball closer than anyone else present ... he couldn't have missed the fact that the ball spun between bat and pad and missed both easily. Yet he took off celeberating and the umpire gave that one out. So Mr. Gilly ... it is a great thing u walked ... but either do things properly or don't do things at all. These "in between" things just leads to cynicism.
Anyway, later in the innings two other batsmen walked and it brings forward a wicked thought to mind - will they be penalized for dissent? If the player says he didn't touch it when the umpire says he did, it is dissent. Then why not the reverse? I am not bringing this out just for the sake of bringing it out (and damn damn damn, there is an article on Rediff asking the same thing ... I was really looking forward to putting this in my blog where people could read it and say - hey, that is a good point) but why is this not dissent? Will the ICC now start discouraging players from playing honestly?
Anyway, the Indians were in the tail now and didn't take long to go through it. Warne slogged Kumble for a four but ended up giving a return catch to him on a ball that he tried to slog straight down the ground and didn't reach the pitch of.
One funny thing when Warne was batting ... after one Bhajji over, Bhajji started chatting with Warne (this was between overs) and Warne answering in grunts and nods and Bhajji going "yakkity yakkity yak" ... Ok, the media has put this in my mind and I don't have any basis for saying this ... but was that a case of Bhajji trying to forcibly chat to the Aussies (even if not sledging) and Warne trying to get out of it as politely as he could? Lol ... if it was, Bhajji probably learned that one from Gangs ... talk to him as if he is ur best friend ... don't let him escape ... keep talking to him ... he hates ur guts .... LOL.
Gillespie was the second batsman to walk ... got out the same way as most others did ... not reaching the pitch of the ball and the ball bouncing and rapping his knuckles before popping to forward short leg.
Kasper did the third walk act of the innings and this time I think it got to umpire Shepherd. Yuveraj at silly point caught it and didn't appeal ... the keeper started to appeal and was not too enthusiastic ... Kumble was asking the question and probably knew it was out ... the umpire had absolutely no intentions of giving that one out ... and Kasper walked. Shepherd's face, usually red, was funny to watch ... he was wagging his hand and muttering out aloud ... and it would probably have been interesting to listen to him (would the ICC have fined him for bad language?) ... he first had a session with Katich at the non-striker's end where he wagged his hand and gave facial expressions that said - "why is he walking? he hit it? i didn't think he hit it." ... then had another hand wagging session with umpire Koetzen ... and finally with the bowler Kumble. Kumble was saying something which I lip read (and I don't consider myself to be good at that) as "its ok ... happens" ... and Shep looking redder than ever.
McGrath got run out to end the Aussie misery and it was all over. From 111 for none at lunch (did umpire Shep spend the entire lunch time hopping from one foot to another?), they had lost 10 wickets for 99 runs. Kumble 7, Bhajji 2 and one run out.
A word about Bhajji's bowling. It was terrific. Everyone is praising Kumble's bowling because he got those 7 wickets and I have no doubt whatsoever that Kumble deserves all his praise ... but praise should also be given to Bhajji who made the ball talk and spin and dance and did everything a decent ball shouldn't do. He was also unlucky in the sense edges flew everywhere except where the fielders were present. One went towards leg slip and another between leg slip and forward short leg and Yuvi dropped a sitter at forward short leg. Patel contributed by consistently failing to hold onto the ball and seriously Bhajji must be wondering on lady luck ... some day one bowls ordinarily and gets 8 wickets ... another day one bowls beautifully and ends up with 2.
A word on Patel here ... he was worse than Deep Das Gupta against the West Indies and I cannot say worse than that. Spinners on a turning (and bouncing) pitch, I can understand a keeper having problems. But the chap was dropping everything, including deliveries left by the batsmen off the fast bowlers. Seriously, I do keeping myself and am not good at it but a lot of those which Patel dropped, I could have taken. This is not to show how good I am but to show how bad he was. Atrocious. At one point of time Ganguly came across and had a chat with him ... Patel was gesturing with his hands and indicating the ball wouldn't stick ... and Ganguly was grinning coz the showing was so bad he really had no other option but to grin and hope it was all a dream. This "explaining" by Patel continued through the day as he first explained to Zaheer, then to Pathan and then to Ganguly etc ... I don't think they were still grinning towards the end of the day. Geez, the guy is earning a packet to screw up like this ... when he made his debut against England, I for one was very impressed by his collection behind the wicket .... but over the past year, he has been becoming worser by the match and I don't know what is happening. He can't say "too much cricket" as he doesn't play the ODIs anyway. Dinesh Karthick and MS Dhoni will be feeling optimistic, for sure.
About Aussie walking and honesty and all that, there was this interesting incident narrated by Dean Jones about having asked McGrath about Sehwag's dismissal in the first test second innings where there was an obvious inside edge. According to Deano, McGrath believed that there was a genuine cause for appeal and he never knew there was an inside edge. None of those who went up for appeal apparently thought there was something amiss till they got to know about the replay showing the edge. Crap. The edge was so huge that first of all, the umpire should have caught it. He didn't ... ok, happens. The bowler also doesn't catch it? None of the others catch it ... and they play cricket day in and day out and none of them saw or felt that huge edge? Crap, as I said. I don't know why they have to make this pretence of walking and showing what good guys they are ... as I said before, no half measures ... either do it properly or don't do it at all.
Anyway, the Indians came into bat and Yuvi walked in with Sehwag ... it was a brave move coz only 15 overs were left and Yuvi is untested material in the opening slot. Ganguly has been talking long about this and probably felt that this was the best way of answering critics ... on the field of play. Unfortunately, Yuveraj just wasn't good enough to give some spine to the answer.
One day, before India went to Australia, I had a discussion on a notice board I frequent (site named Sulekha ... www.sulekha.com) about why Yuvi shouldn't open. I have been a supporter of Sehwag opening from the time before he actually opened for India ... and a friend was asking me why Yuvi couldn't succeed when Sehwag could. My answer was that Yuvi didn't have the technique; an answer which got snorts or derision and comments of "oh yeah ... and Sehwag has the technique"? See, Sehwag goes to gear 5 and thus people think he doesn't really have technique but I believe that he rarely gets out because of lack of technique ... more coz of careless shots. Yuveraj on the other hand is terribly weak outside off to the fast bowlers ... if the ball is moving around, more often than not, he will edge it coz he really doesn't have a good technique to play forward or leave the ball. He doesn't move his feet and kinda lungest his bat forward which more often than not leads to a catch behind the wicket. This is what happened in the first over itself when Michael Clarke grassed a sitter (by Australian standards), McGrath being the poor bowler. Yuvi continued to struggle throughout his stay at the wicket and only looked decent on three occassions, all of which were when the bowlers strayed on leg. One run, two runs and four runs ... these were the result of the three balls he looked comfortable in. The rest of the deliveries were all foreign to him. He also got conked on the helmet by McGrath who grinned at him to rub it in.
Basically Yuvi flunked his first test big time. I was waiting for this event (Yuvi opening) simply coz with Gangs as captain it had to happen sometime ... and the sooner u try an idea out, the better it is coz if it works, then great. Else u can move on. If one doesn't try it out, everything else is confusion coz this idea is always there at the back of the mind ... what if ... what if .... so now we know what if.
Yuvi looked very serious throughout and maybe that is one reason for his discomfort ... he was obviously wound up (maybe over wound up) and trying to play "carefully" and making a total mess of things. There was none of the cool swagger that one admires so much in him in the ODI game but instead a worried look (no, I don't think it was a look of determination though I probably wouldn't know the difference ... gut feeling).
He will get another chance in the second innings and if he plays the way he did the first innings, this experiment would have ended. I can't believe any captain in his right mind will take this experiment to test 3. But as I said .... depends on what he does in the second innings.
Anyway, Warne came on and ended yuveraj's misery ... he was probably so relived at seeing off the faster bowlers that he decided his job was over ... a well flighted ball outside off and Yuvi went for an expansive drive and got an inner edge to Gilly ... Gilly didn't collect properly and the ball hit the inside of his thigh before bouncing up conveniently into his gloves. Pathan came in (an excellent move) and played out two balls to end of play.
Final thoughts - Sehwag looked comfortable throughout. No problems in life. If he can see off McGrath tomorrow morning, he will get a big one. Warne is gonna get damaged big time specially if Sehwag lasts beyond the faster bowlers. Warne spins them a lot but Sehwag won't care enough ... he will just go down on one knee and whack them over deep midwicket. Every time Warne comes to India, they have some excuse about why he didn't do well ... fitness etc etc etc ... this time he himself has said he is feeling at his fittest ... in the first test, after getting hammered by the tail, he talked about having the world mark on his mind and thus not doing well ... well ok .... now what will be his excuse after today? Coz he is gonna pay. For Stuart McGill, a message from the Chuckster .... You lucky dog, you!!!