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India take the honours on Day 1
Ashish Magotra |
January 02, 2004 08:10 IST
Last Updated: January 02, 2004 22:24 IST
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Sentiments ran high as Steve Waugh stepped on to the Sydney Cricket Ground to captain Australia for the last time. But no one would have known more than the Australian skipper that a titanic battle was in store for the hosts as they attempted to regain the Border-Gavaskar trophy.
At close on the opening day of the fourth and final Test, India were 284 for the loss of three wickets, with Tendulkar on 73 and Laxman on 29.
When Waugh played at the SCG against England exactly a year ago, he was fighting with his back to the wall against a selection panel that did not believe he deserved a place in the Test side. He responded by scoring a century, equalling Sir Don Bradman's Australian record of 29 Test hundreds and becoming only the third batsman to reach 10,000 Test runs.
This time round he faces a very different challenge. An Indian team led by Sourav Ganguly has proved that it has the guts and the determination to take on the Aussies. Waugh would very much like to go out on a winning note, but he knows it will not be easy.
Morning session (98 runs off 27 overs)
India won the toss and elected to bat. Having gone in with three seamers -- Jason Gillespie, Brett Lee and Nathan Bracken -- Waugh would have felt it best to give them a first look at the Sydney wicket anyway. But the Indians adopted a different strategy by going in with two spinners -- Murali Kartik and Anil Kumble. Nineteen-year-old left-arm seamer Irfan Pathan also returned to the side in place of the injured Ashish Nehra.
Virender Sehwag and Akash Chopra are a pair as different as chalk and cheese. Their methods vary greatly, but, as a combination, they have become better with every partnership on this tour. Each seems to have adjusted to the other's game perfectly.
But it was not without a huge slice of luck that the partnership stayed intact during the early going at the SCG. The bowlers got the ball to swing late and batting was generally not easy. The batsmen played and missed, but survived.
When Chopra was on eight, a perfect delivery from Brett Lee pitched in line with the off-stump, deviated a little, found the edge of Chopra's blade and flew straight to Adam Gilchrist. But the Australian celebrations were stopped in their tracks as umpire Billy Bowden rightly called no-ball. Off the very next ball, Simon Katich, at fourth slip, dropped a sitter. The edge from Chopra flew at waist height to Katich, but as the fieldsman dropped to his knees to take the catch the ball missed his palms and bounced off his chest. The luck of the new year was favouring the Indians, Chopra in particular.
Gillespie, at the other end, kept things tight, but he bowled too short a length to trouble the batsmen, when the need of the hour was to pitch it up and give the ball the opportunity to swing.
Lee looked the most dangerous bowler on view, but an over of typical Sehwag belligerence saw an end to his first spell of six overs. The Sydney speedster was smashed for 18 runs off the over, which included a brutal cut for six over backward point.
Left-arm medium-pacer Nathan Bracken was brought in and though he kept the runs down the batsmen started to find their feet at the wicket after a difficult first hour.
The best thing about the Chopra-Sehwag partnership was the way they pinched quick runs -- 16 singles and nine twos. This not only allowed them to keep the scoreboard ticking, but also frustrated the bowlers.
Sehwag reached his fifty by smashing a full delivery from legspinner Stuart MacGill for four, straight back over the bowler's head. His good form continued and Chopra provided him good support.
At lunch, India were 98 for no loss after 27 overs, with Chopra on 35 and Sehwag on 55.
Post-lunch session (53 runs for two wickets in 26 overs)
Bracken and Gillespie reopened the attack after lunch. Bracken came round the wicket in a bid to keep the runs down -- a ploy he had successfully adopted in the second innings in the Melbourne Test.
The first 12 overs after lunch saw only 25 runs being added to the Indian total. Trying to consolidate their good start, the Indians played the percentages -- defending well, taking the odd single, and cutting out the element of risk.
But with his attacking instincts, Sehwag looked very edgy while defending. Gillespie's length became fuller than it was in the the morning session and it paid dividends. Sehwag tried to withdraw from a shot to a ball that pitched in line with the off-stump and deviated just a wee bit, but only too late. The damage was done. The Indian opener was gone for 72 (123-1).
Rahul Dravid was in next, but the Aussies cranked up the pressure. This was their best chance to do so too. Both Chopra and Dravid like to take their time before they get going. With Sehwag in the middle, no one quite knows what to expect. But these two are more in the classical mode.
Chopra had played five Tests and 10 innings (42, 31, 60, 52, 36, 4, 27, 20, 48, 4) before this one and only twice reached fifty. He has got off to starts almost every time -- he has only two scores of less than 10 -- which shows that after getting through the first session, the opener does not quite know how to go about things. And this is when he tends to get out, playing totally out of character.
Nothing's changed. After playing very well during the first session, he tried to extravagantly drive a Brett Lee yorker for four through the covers and was castled for 45 (128-2).
I remember speaking to Chopra before he made his debut for India and he had said, "Cricket is your teacher." Let's hope he learns, and quickly at that.
With Sachin Tendulkar's arrival at the wicket, a buzz went round the SCG; it was loud enough to rival the cheers when Waugh had led Australia on to the field in the morning. The fielders were alert; Lee bowled at full steam; Gillespie stuck to a nagging length.
The master batsman has been struggling for form on this tour and the Aussies wanted to give him no quarter. The first delivery he faced was of an in-between length and he was struck in the groin region, but the next ball was faced with a confident stride. This time round, it looked as if he wanted to make the Aussies pay.
Dravid and Tendulkar calmly played out the overs until tea was called. Lee had bowled a fiery spell and tried everything in his repertoire to get another wicket for his team, but the pair stood firm. Only 53 runs were added in the 26 over session.
Australia fought back well in this session and a few quick wickets could have seen the hosts regaining the advantage.
Post-tea session (133 runs for one wicket in 37 overs)
Tendulkar and Dravid continued to consolidate on the good start, but the runs came at a slow pace as compared to the morning session. The Indians did not score enough runs to put themselves in an unassailable position and the danger of a collapse was always present knowing the frailty of the Indian tail.
A straight drive off Gillespie, followed by a fierce cut off a widish delivery from MacGill in the next over, showed that Tendulkar was recovering his touch, though every now and then he played a flashy shot that reminded you of the torrid time he has had in the series so far.
Dravid and Tendulkar were steady, but after watching Sehwag blast the Aussie bowling almost everything seems to be an anti-climax. Things were going fine for the visitors when Gillespie struck just as the Aussie shoulders were starting to droop.
The ball cut back off the seam and rapped Dravid on the knee roll, in line with the stumps. The umpire gave it some thought before sending the Indian vice-captain (38) back to the pavilion.
Dravid has been the mainstay of the Indian batting in this series. His 527 runs in the series are by far the most for the visitors.
V V S Laxman walked out. In the last game, it was Ganguly who had taken the responsibility to bat ahead of Tendulkar. This time round, it was the elegant Hyderabadi who was moved up the order, a decision, no doubt, influenced by memories of Laxman's last knock at the SCG during the 1999-2000 series. A brilliant 167, his first Test century, was one of the few good memories of a tour in which India were whitewashed 3-0 by a rampant Australia, even though it came after the series had been decided. This time, however, Laxman has a chance to influence the series result.
The Indians have played a game of Russian roulette this series. You never quite know who will come out to bat; all the batsmen except Tendulkar have been in good touch and this strategy may just work because the Aussies have to change their mindset every time they see a different batsman walk in.
Laxman and Tendulkar batted well together. Calmly, they rode out wave after wave of the Australian attack. The 50 run partnership came up in just 66 balls.
One prominent feature of each Indian partnership in this series has been the determination shown by the batsmen. They not only run their own runs but also those of their partners with equal vigour. The way all the batsmen walk to the middle of the pitch after every good shot and have a few words with a kiss of the gloves, they almost seem to be saying, 'keep it going buddy'.
Tendulkar reached his first fifty of the series and the signs were that he was looking to bat for a long, long time. Another aspect of the day's play that would have pleased Ganguly was the amount of turn MacGill was extracting from the pitch on Day 1. The Indians have decided to go into the match with two spinners and hope to bowl last on this pitch.
Just before close of play, the Indians survived a particularly bruising spell of fast bowling from Brett Lee, who was armed with the new ball. Tendulkar was hit bang on the arm. But for the protection provided by the arm guard, the master batsman could have suffered a grievous injury.
At close of play, India were 284 for the loss of three wickets. Tendulkar, on 73, and Laxman, on 29, were both looking strong.
The Indians have the advantage going into Day 2, but the way things have gone in this series so far, that counts for nothing.