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December 4, 1999

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Cause for cheer

Harsha Bhogle

Ajit Agarkar might just have batted himself into the first Test match at Adelaide. Now he needs to ensure that he doesnít bowl himself out of it.

He did take the only wicket to fall in the New South Wales second innings but his start was a bit worrisome. After Srinath and Prasad had bowled a good opening spell, the first two balls of Agarkarís first over were hit for boundaries and the pressure seemed to subside suddenly. More worryingly he seemed distinctly slower than when he was making such a strong international debut.

It will be interesting to see how the tour selectors react to this performance. Will they choose the comfort factor of his batting at number eight, maybe even number seven, or will they opt for the largely unknown fast bowling package of Kumaran? Or will they go for the genuine swing of Mohanty?

Till this afternoon, Agarkar may not have entered the calculations at all. But he showed great poise with the bat, chose the right balls to hit and handled the extra pace of Brett Lee with the confidence of a top order man. The way he got out of line from the bouncers was particularly graceful; bending his knees, arching his back and seeing it all the way through.

When Stuart MacGill, who took four wickets including two dream googlies through the gate of Srinath and Prasad, tossed the ball at him, he was down the wicket very quickly and in all, he showed some refreshing aggression. It is a very good sign for the young man because his future lies in being a bit of both. He needs two strings to his bow and if the second string can be as flexible and powerful as the one on display today, he might become the all-rounder that India needs and Krishnamachari Srikkanth is so confident about.

There was also cause to cheer in the manner in which Sourav Ganguly made runs though that might have been balanced by the fact that Rahul Dravid struggled again. And Vijay Bharadwaj sadly seems to have played himself out of the reckoning. India need six batsmen to play at Adelaide and on the evidence so far, it looks like Laxman will be the sixth which means that Ganguly will necessarily have to be the fifth bowler.

It has been a good match so far and the Indians will have enjoyed a good workout against Brett Lee, rated to be the fastest man in Australia when Jason Gillespie is unfit which sadly, is a little too often. There is no doubt that he is brisk. He comes in off a very long run-up and you might think as he recedes into the distance that he might at best manage a fifth over. But he is a strong lad and bowls long spells without losing out on pace and oddly, that might actually have worked to Indiaís advantage because it meant that almost all the batsman got a feel of genuine pace.

Lee was keen to make an impression as well with the Australian team to be announced tomorrow and the general feeling being that Colin Miller is likely to return to the twelve in his place. And so he bustled in and let it rip. But I would be really interested in seeing him under the spotlight of an international match with some replays zooming in on his action. There is a perceptible bending of the elbow when he lets it fly; a mere 'glitch' to an Aussie supporter, a little more than that to those sympathetic to the hounding that Shoaib Akhtar received when he bent his elbow.

If India can force a win here against a side that has minus 0.1 points in the Pura Milk Cup (apparently slow over-rates lead to a deduction in points !), they will go to Adelaide with a nice feeling. If they lose though, remember those points, it wonít be a very pleasant flight there.

Harsha Bhogle

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