Friday, Dec 05, 2003
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By Vijay Lokapally
Australia 262 for two
Australian Mathew Hayden lunges to regain his crease (which he did) watched by Indian pace bowler Zaheer Khan on day one of the first Test at the Gabba on Thursday. Photo: V.V. Krishnan
The Gabba witnessed bright cricket in phases, engaging if not spectacular. The combat between bat and ball was as much a mind game as one would expect.
The onus was on India but it was once again found short of the key factor that gives meaning to talent _ proper utilisation of resources.
The Indians could not have asked for better conditions. Luck with the toss gave the bowlers the chance to exploit the advantage but they sprayed the ball and allowed Australia to place itself in a position of strength.
The weaknesses of the last tour came haunting back as the bowlers struggled for proper length. And then the poor line adopted right through the day made the attack look mediocre despite pace and bounce in the pitch.
The entire Indian approach was lethargic. The fielding lapses were comical and the sprints embarrassing. The attack lacked direction and degenerated with each hour as the bowlers lost heart. The drooping shoulders at the end of the day should be a cause of worry for the think-tank off the field _ the coaches, physio, trainer, cricket analyst and the newly acquired psychologist.
Assessing the day's play vice-captain Rahul Dravid admitted the bowling was "patchy and disappointing'' but he was quick to praise the batsmen in sticking to their job. "I thought they batted well but we should've bowled better no doubt.''
The failure to pitch the ball in the right spot was a constant and sore reminder of the bowlers' inability to adapt in good time. The ease with which the Aussies picked boundaries from the cut and pull did not reflect well on the Indian preparation.
That the Australians were determined could be gauged from the discipline that Langer brought into his batting. He was assigned a specific job and he met the demand with his 16th Test century. The left-hander from Western Australia played an outstanding innings that should dictate the course of this match, if not the series.
His task became less complicated, thanks to some inconsistent bowling by the Indian seamers. The problem lay in India not recognising the essence of basics when faced with a situation. "They probably tried too hard,'' remarked Dravid.
The Indian attack, with the exception of Zaheer Khan, lacked teeth. He bowled a luckless first spell but was rewarded later. Ashish Nehra clearly looked in need of more match practice and Ajit Agarkar was equally insipid.
The forward short-leg was in constant peril of being hit when standing up to Harbhajan Singh, who was clearly a marked man. The batsmen, especially Ricky Ponting, did not waste scoring chances against the off-spinner, who had tormented them in the last three Tests the teams played in India.
Harbhajan posed no threat all day and was repeatedly swept skilfully by Langer and Ponting. There was a distinct lack of purpose in Harbhajan's style. That he was under pressure to raise his game became apparent from the speed he introduced into his bowling. It was unfortunate he was bowling more to contain than conquer.
The ball initially flew more off the edge than the meat of Ponting's bat and in one particular over Agarkar reduced him to a novice. There was little else of merit in Agarkar's performance as Ponting flayed him with disdain to win the battle.
Ponting lost his wicket to a miscued pull off an innocuous ball from Zaheer, who had earlier consumed the free-stroking Mathew Hayden with a ball that the batsman reached far from his body.
Langer, a much under-rated batsman in the company of some exciting strokeplayers, paraded his potential with flair, rising to meet the short ball with plenty of punch and picking gaps at will. Caught off a no ball on eight, Langer deserved the luck for his otherwise flawless knock.
"I just watched the ball as close as possible. There wasn't a conscious effort to sweep the ball and it was hard work all the way. It takes courage to be aggressive and we've stuck to the game plan for a few years now,'' he observed.
The batsmen accepted the offer when the umpires offered light, much to the relief of the ragged Indian bowlers. But they sleep with the disturbing thought of facing the Aussies, who return on Friday with Damien Martyn looking in ominous touch.
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