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Javagal Srinath

Zaheer should have waited till Sydney

December 31, 2003

India had a golden opportunity to win the Test series. But the visitors let it fall into the lap of the Australians at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

At the beginning of the third Test, the Indians had the option of pocketing the series by either winning or drawing the match. That would have allowed them to go to Sydney with a positive chance of winning the series or at least keeping it level.

But bouncing back from adversity is one of the most important attributes of a world champion and that is exactly what the Australians did in Melbourne. After the demoralising loss at Adelaide, they fought their way back in this Test to prove that the defeat in the previous game was but a hiccup.

Zaheer KhanZaheer Khan's lack of fitness proved fatal for the Indians. Though Zaheer tried his best, it was evident that either the injury had not healed fully or it had recurred.

If there had been even an iota of doubt about Zaheer's recovery, it would have been pragmatic on his part to have skipped this game so as to have regained full fitness for the final Test at Sydney. India would then not only have had a fit Zaheer for the crucial tie at the SCG, but would probably also have gained his services in the VB one-day series to follow. The team physiotherapist can only do his best to put a player back in shape, but the ultimate decision depends on the player.

Zaheer's non-availability for the rest of the series is not only a big blow for the team but will also result in slowing down his career. The stage was perfectly set for him to go from strength to strength. Waiting until Sydney would have been a win-win situation for him as well as the team. But this is a learning curve for him and I hope he realises that cricket is not only bowling fast, but also understanding the physiological side of the game.

If Virender Sehwag's dream knock seemed to have put India in an invincible position on the opening day, Zaheer's fitness weakened the Indian attack and helped the Australians immensely. Bowlers work in groups and the strength of every bowler is heavily dependent on how well the others complement him. Zaheer's inefficiency obviously put an additional workload on Ajit Agarkar, Ashish Nehra and Anil Kumble. Overloading Ajit and Ashish made them look innocuous and harmless, and the Australians were quick to take advantage.

A hint of reverse swing by the Australian bowlers in the second innings undid the Indian batsmen. A defiant Rahul Dravid did his best along with skipper Sourav Ganguly to hold the innings together, but the Australian bowlers worked hard and kept pegging on and around the off-stump throughout the innings.

Brad Williams and Nathan Bracken bowled better than the more famous Brett Lee. Both relatively inexperienced bowlers bowled a containing line to play on the patience of the Indian batmen. It called for another famous Calcutta or Adelaide partnership to recreate history. But the cricketing gods smiled on the hosts this time to make the Sydney Test more interesting. Both teams will have an equal chance now.

The relief on the faces of Ricky Ponting and Matthew Hayden after scoring runs showed how much they wanted to win this one to salvage their pride and prestige. It was also a true indication of the rising performance graph of the Indian team.

The Indians might have allowed the Australians to come back into the series, but the crunch match in Sydney remains very much open. The nature of the wicket tilts towards the Indians and spinners. Anil Kumble and Murali Kartik should be the men in charge at the SCG. And the Indian batting, regarded as the best in recent times, will have to really play the cricket of its life to win the Test.

Like millions of Indian fans, I am also looking forward to enjoy those moments of glory for Indian cricket in the new year.

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