Sunday, Dec 07, 2003
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By Vijay Lokapally
Australia 323, India 11 for no loss
Australian speedster Jason Gillespie letting one rip at Indian opener Akash Chopra on the rain-affected third day of the first Test at the Gabba on Saturday. Photo: V.V. Krishnan
The Australian innings, resuming at 323 for nine, folded in just one ball and the Indians, faced with a challenge of 35 overs on the third day and a respectable draw in the distance, replied with 11 for no loss when rain brought the covers back, and drove away the nine thousand spectators who had faithfully waited through the day to watch some action.
From the Indian perspective, the result, a possible draw, will mean a lot. The team will go to Adelaide with its reputation enhanced, not because of the rain-ruined contest but because of a strong self-belief that it can stand up to the Australians in their own backyard.
But the Australians have their plot ready, the bowlers lurking to strike and make the most of the play, provided there are no more rain-interruptions. The ball did a lot during the short duration of play on the third day but then the Indians appear far more confident than at any point of time in the past. True, the visitors lost their last Test on Australian soil inside three days at Sydney four years ago but this team, as skipper Sourav Ganguly would like us to believe, is different.
If the pitch is green and pacy, the Indians claim to have the batting to survive any onslaught. The onus of tackling the seaming and bouncing ball would be on the openers and the strong middle-order.
The team is in high spirits, especially after the heart-warming show by left-arm fast bowler Zaheer Khan. His five-wicket haul has infused such confidence in the Indian dressing room that the team has begun to look at the future with a lot of optimism.
Not that the Indian team was low on confidence before this match but it was a matter of getting things in place. As Ganguly observed, "I think we have much to gain from the second day's play. The spell by Zaheer was one of the finest I've seen and it speaks for his potential that he has bowled consistently well overseas.''
Elaborating further Ganguly said, "he was outstanding in New Zealand and the World Cup. He is undoubtedly the strength of the team when it comes to dealing with the opposition with aggression. I think he's shown us the way and it's up to the rest to grab the opportunities.''
Reflecting on the positive points from India's bowling performance, Ganguly added, "Zaheer bowled the right length, and it's important for a fast bowler to strike early success. I know it gives him the confidence to tackle any situation. We need such a bowler on this tour who can take the responsibility. Ajit (Agarkar) did well too but I would expect Harbhajan (Singh) and Ashish (Nehra) to pull up their socks. They need to bowl better in the matches to come.''
A draw here could give the series a new twist, what with Australia missing the services of Brett Lee and Glenn McGrath, who remains doubtful for the third and fourth Tests too. The effective, if not lethal, bowling by Zaheer was quite similar to the spell by Thiru Kumaran here when India toured four years ago.
Kumaran had appeared the best in the `nets', bowling the right length, and then in the four-day tour match against Queensland. The Indians lost that match but Kumaran's five-wicket haul was hailed as the best thing to have happened to an Indian team on an overseas tour for a long time.
Kapil Dev, coach of that team, raved about Kumaran's bowling, just as Ganguly today welcomes Zaheer's as a very significant factor should India pull off a coup. It is another matter that Kumaran never got to bowl on that tour again for reasons the team management knew best but there is no such threat to Zaheer, who was quick to grab the ball as a souvenir to carry home.
The Australians look at the possibility of pulling off a win as a reality. Adam Gilchrist remarked at the end of the day's play, "the Test is still alive. There's plenty of life in the pitch and there are two days to go. There can be a result, weather permitting. We've 300 runs on the board and if our bowlers can do what they've done consistently for a number of years now, pitching the ball in the right area, we'll have a chance. You never know.''
The Aussie confidence generates from the faith the team has in Jason Gillespie, a wily bowler, and the enthusiastic Nathan Bracken, who made an impression today, bringing the ball in to the right-hander, a weapon he takes prides in. The Indians do have a task on hand. Any complacency could invite disaster.
The gloomy atmosphere at the `Gabba' was not good advertisement for Test cricket at all. The sight of covers on the pitch for most part of the day was frustrating for the teams and the administrators, leaving some of them wondering if indoor Test cricket could be an option in the future.
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