Sunday, November 23, 2008


Talk tactics, controversies, match saving knocks by tail enders, batting pitches, Indian lead, a retirement of a legend, another typical Indian pitch, another controversy, another retirement and the end result, Australia blanked 2-0 by India in the 2008 edition of Border Gavaskar Trophy.

Wow! Entertainment comes in large packages, I say! At Bangalore (I don't want to call it Bengaluru, Bangalore sounds more classical to me), Australia did have the upper hand for most of the time, but, couldn't just pin the Indians down and out of the game. When two tail order batsmen can top the batting charts, some look in has to be given to the bowling line up. Lee is in India for the first time in the test team. Stuart Clark and Mitchell Johnson were looking good, but didn't complete the job. Ponting broke his shackles, and notched up a century with Hussey for company doing the very same, on the platform provided by Katich. Zak picked a 5-for and young Ishant bagged 4. But, Zaheer contribution was more precious with the bat, when he and Harbhajan shared 80 runs in a painstaking 8th wicket partnership that took the game away from the Aussies. An indifferent Australian second innings set India close to 300 with almost the whole of last day to go. India did well to battle it out. A "slow" test came to a slow end.
Now, the battle ground shifted to Mohali, my favourite venue. The sportive pitch always has the best to offer, swing, turn, and also a batting paradise. India, batting first, put a good total on board, courtesy Sachin, Dhoni and centurion Ganguly. Debutant Siddle picked up three wickets, and as usual, Sachin was his first bunny. Another debutant, Amit Mishra, filling in for the injured Jumbo (Dhoni shouldering the responsibility of captaincy for the match) shattered the Australian line up with a 5-for. The young leg spinner, flighted and turned the ball from the foot-marks on the pitch. Ishant and Zak got their favourite batsmen yet again. Bhajj iwas econamical. Watson and Lee waged a long battle to put on a decent total, but didn't suffice the target to avoid follow on. Anyway, Dhoni didn't enforce the follow on. What actually did follow after that was a massacre by the Indian batsman on the Aussies. Led by the Delhi lad, Gambhir, the Indians scored at a brisk pace to set a target in excess of 500. The Aussies crumbled to a combined effort of the Indian bowlers. India led the series 1-0 at the end of the Mohali test.

Now, third match, after a small breathing space, at Feroz Shah Kotla, Delhi. But, there were many MANY things to be thrown the spot light at... First, India got the ball to reverse swing, while the Aussies couldn't do it at all, Watson the exception. Aussies didn't maintain a Australia didn't field a specialist spinner, who would turn the ball and trouble the Indian batsmen enough. White wasn't helping the cause, and Katich wasn't used much either. Now, after Mishra's performance, it was selectors who were going to have a headache, with Anil Kumble to come back into the side. But, in the wake of events, Harbhajan fell ill, and Kumble "filled" in, to play ni his fortress.

So, India, batting first on the batting paradise, lost Sehwag and Dravid early on. Sachin compiled a good half century. Then on, it was Gambhir and Laxman carrying on and on and on. Both ended up making a double and had Australia in the back seat. But, then, Australia replied with 4 half centuries and a century right at the top of the order, almost reached the Indian total, falling just short of it... And looking at the way the Indians batted in the second innings, the match was going for a tame draw. But, in came the slice of hair raising story out of the blue...The Indian captain, ace spinner, Anil Kumble announced his retirement, that, he was playing his last test match, err, last 3 or 4 sessions of play to be more precise when he announced it. The declaration from the Indian captain came late on day 5, so that he can grip that red cherry one final time, in HIS venue. He turned and made the new ball do some dancing around, but, his last ball was a full toss that Matt Hayden just patted down the ground for a boundary. A goodbye handshake to Jumbo from the umpires and the batsmen followed. Five minutes later, handshakes everywhere, as the match was declared a draw. India, still leading 1-0, with one final encounter in Nagpur to follow. Australian bowling, still looking quite toothless, and Cameron White's presence was felt less as a bowler.

So, the fourth match commenced at the new stadium in Nagpur (which along with Mumbai and Chennai, is the third city in India to have two international cricket stadiums) in an interesting scenario. Gambhir was banned for the fourth test on disciplinary grounds. Murali Vijay, the TN player, who had scored a double in the Ranji trophy league match just 2 days ago was called for international duty even before his Ranji match could end. Harbhajan came in for Kumble. Saurav Ganguly was playing his last test match, and Rahul Dravid was still looking for his form. For Australia, Jason Krejza made his debut. Stuart Clark had to miss this match. With a cautious innings from Vijay and another fourishing innings from Sehwag, things were set for a good score. But, Watson bowled a beauty to Vijay who edged one to the 'keeper. Then, Krejza struck twice to remove Sehwag and Dravid just before lunch. But, then on, riding on Sachin's century and three half centuries from the middle order (Ganguly missed out on scoring a century in his last test, having scored one in his first...!), India raised 441 on the scoreboard. The good new for Australia was that Krejza swept home 8 of the ten wickets. An astounding performance by a touring debutant spinner against the best players of spin (Narendra Hirwani was watching, I wonder what he will be thinking about). Aussies, with stern contributions from Katich and Hussey and contributions low down the order from Haddin and White helped Australia to 355, still drastically short of India's first innings total. It doesn't get better than this. Australian bowlers just HAD to strike and strike hard and fast, if Australia was to retain the trophy. With another classic opening partnership building up, things were looking tough for Punter and co. Then, Watson got Vijay again with the reversing ball, Vijay moving across, played for the wrong line. A little while later, both Sehwag and Dravid were out. Sachin was run out in a poor manner. Krejza consumed Laxman and Ganguly. Ganguly became the 7th man in the history to start his career with a century and end it with a duck. Nevertheless, Ponting could smell chances of victory. The lead was around 250 when Dhoni and Harbhajan walked in. But, Ponting was also reminded of the very very slow over rate. So, he was content with attacking with Krejza from one end and employ part timers from the other end. THIS was the turning point. Captain Dhoni and Harbhajan ran away with the show and put on a 108 run stand. By the time Australia got rid of the tail, they were set a target of 382, in literally, one day. With surprise run outs, poor shot selection and good spin bowling, Australia was soon playing themselves to a very bad situation. And, as the last wicket fell, Dhoni handed over the job of captaincy to Ganguly as a tribute to the retiring great. And then the moment of glory... Mitchell Johnson lbw to Bhajji. India blanks Australia 2-0!

The team work helped India win the trophy back from the Aussies. India has beaten Australia twice in a bilateral test series this decade, England have done it once, the only three occasions when Aussies lost a test series. Ponting and his integrity to the team was questioned regarding his non-attacking measures on day 4 of test 4. The late introduction of Krejza was surprising, as White was doing nothing with the ball. Katich had a good series, coming in place of the injured Phil Jacques. Amit Mishra was a good selection. The Indian bowling and batting looked good. Gambhir had piled up enough runs in 3 test matches that could not be eclipsed by those playing all four. Ishant Sharma drove home the car that was awarded to him for being the Man-of-the-Series. This series served as the perfect gift for the retiring greats, Anil Kumble and Saurav Ganguly.

Australia will now host the Kiwis in Trans-Tasmanian test battle. India will host the English team in a 7 match ODI and 2 match test series. Lot more cricket up for grabs this northern winter! Stay tuned… Cricket rocks!!!

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