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Bowlers, beware of Tendulkar

January 07, 2004

The debate whether India should have asked Australia to follow on will linger. Fourth afternoon of the match, India had a chance to give Australia nearly five sessions to bat out the match. They chose not to do it. Were they defensive?

Did they fear they would not be able to counter any target Australia might ask them to chase on the final day? Did they lose faith in the batsmen who had served so wonderfully in the series? Did they forget the maxim that in order to win you should be prepared to lose?

There are no easy answers. I can see for and against points of view. India might have been struggling with fresh bowlers. Anil Kumble had bowled a lot many overs in the match and must have been tired. Australia could have quickly got about their second innings and set up the game.

Maybe any hard-nosed captain would have done what Sourav Ganguly chose to do on the fourth day. But when you are chasing a dream, you need to be bold. The history of over half-a-century waited to be revised.

Sachin Tendulkar gave a hard-nosed performance by a modern icon. There was an inevitability about his success in this game. We knew it was coming. He had failed in the first three Tests and he was not going to add another one to that list.

To me this innings could be the defining moment of the rest of Tendulkar's career. The bowlers have been warned: the Little Master is willing to play within his limitations.

In the past, he has been exuberant and a victim of his own eagerness. Now, he is willing to harness strike, bide his time, and play only when the possibility of dismissal has been eliminated. He is set to conquer new peaks.

Kumble to me was the key man. He has proved wrong a lot of detractors, those who believed he was no force on foreign soil. His confidence was amazing and his intensity, immense. He is a born-again bowler and has given himself a new lease of life. He now has good years ahead as a spin bowler.

He has done it on wickets which were true and against a line-up which can reduce a bowler to a nervous wreck with their attacking brand of batting. He has been derided as a bad-wicket bowler. But not here in Australia this time.

The conditions were awesome for batting. Yet he took 24 wickets, most of them top order. He relied on variations of pace and bounce and his leg-spinners and wrong 'uns worked as well. With Kumble's revival, India's bowling can only look up in the coming years.

Zaheer Khan can be a force once he is fit. Irfan Pathan showed he has a fantastic future. He was outstanding for a 19 year-old. He took three big wickets in the match.

Left-arm spinner Murali Kartik could not find his bearings, but these are tough, unforgiving conditions. The Australian batsmen, once they know there is little turn from a bowler, like to really turn on the heat.

Have the Australians declined? Well, we have been hearing this talk for a while now. There have been people who are willing it to happen. But it is actually an overreaching opinion held by some.

Glenn McGrath was missed in the series and at various times Brett Lee and Jason Gillespie too played a staggered part. But there is some good young talent in Australia and McGrath and Shane Warne are going to be back in the near future. They would kick on and the team should not find it difficult to maintain its reputation.

I am also not worried about Lee. It is just a patch in his career where things have gone astray. He is a class performer. He is fantastic and a strike weapon. He just has had two bad games, but he is coming back from injury. He would be required to serve Australian cricket, that's for sure.

Our fielding in this series was not up to our high standards. It is one of those areas where we didn't do well. In the past, we did those little things really well, which put together made a huge difference to the team's results. But this was one series where little things did not go our way.

We certainly are suffering, however, in the slip cordon in the absence of Mark Waugh and Shane Warne. Matthew Hayden is not in the same league yet. This is a critical area for the Australians' success and must come right. But comments on our decline are premature.

Then there was the final day, completely enthralling as Australia seemed to go for a total which has not been supported by history or evidence, and then all those emotions which got built up around Steve, doing his last hard stand in the middle. He was hitting through the gaps and sweep-slogging effectively. When he and Adam Gilchrist got out, there was a bit of a stir. But it was a draw all right and then the fitting farewell to one of the legends of the game.

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