Wednesday, Dec 10, 2003
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By Peter Roebuck
Anticipating a flogging with a `cat'o'nine tails' the tourists escaped even a touching up with a feather duster. Despite losing their senior batsmen for a stolen single between them, the Indians passed 400 and also took eight Australian wickets cheaply on an eventful and curtailed second afternoon.
Throughout the tourists played spirited cricket. Having started the match with a handful of players capable of cutting this particular mustard they ended up with almost an entire team.
Amongst the Indians, the performance of the opening pair was and will remain crucial. If they survive the new ball, India will score runs. If they fail, the troubles will begin. Akash Chopra showed the steel required to score runs Down Under. His weak point is an off-drive played with a bended knee and a push of the hands from a short back-lift, a combination that may cause further difficulties. Still, he is made of the right stuff and sells his wicket dearly.
Virender Sehwag is one of those infuriating cricketers who do something daft at the highpoint and produce something scintillating just as exasperation sets in. His brainless dismissal in the second innings told a tale.
India's bowling did not impress as much as it's batting. Amongst the leather-flingers only Zaheer Khan was a thorn in Australia's side. Ajit Agarkar bowled better than previously and remains an amusing and scatterbrained performer. Ashish Nehra bowled fluently but without much venom and it was distressing to see him leave the field on the final afternoon.
Harbhajan Singh could not find any rhythm and it's hard to believe he has fully recovered from his injury. On this form the cheerful Punjabi cannot play in Adelaide. Still, he was denied the prized wicket of the home captain only by a mistake behind the stumps.
Ganguly and his fellow selectors still have some unresolved problems, especially with the spin bowling and wicket-keeping. At least the bunnies scored some runs. India needs its tail-enders to play their parts and must have been encouraged by the sight of Zaheer and Harbhajan batting with skill and judgement. Only the most powerful teams can survive the effects of repeated lower order collapses
Amongst the Australians, the batsmen played their parts and struggled only after the ball had been changed on the second day. Matthew Hayden played some stunning shots as the match petered out, moving from 93 to 99 with a straight six taken off a good length ball sent down by a pace bowler.
His career confirms that strength and stamina are playing ever-larger parts in the game. In the past the Indians might have been intimidated by the Queenslander's beautiful brutality. Nowadays, though, the Indians spend almost as much time in gymnasiums as their opponents. Accordingly it takes more than a local Popeye to upset them.
Australia's bowling was a curate's egg. Jason Gillespie was his impeccable self whilst Stuart Macgill bowled well enough to command a regular place. Nathan Bracken made a promising start ad must have been delighted to strike again in the secodn innings. Andrew Bichel toiled away without finding his line in a performance that put his position in peril.
Brad Williams' aggression was missed. He has been in hot water for speaking his mind, a turn up for the books in a country supposedly fond of fearless debate. Doubtless he will keep his thoughts to himself. Perth airport is a dangerous place because men convinced they are talking merely to a bloke with a microphone discover instead that they are addressing the nation.
Steve Waugh will not have been happy with a draw. He presses for victory till the last ball has been bowled. Waugh has presided over only 6 draws in his 54 matches as captain of his country's cricket team. Of course regulations permitting the recovery of lost time have helped but it has also been a state of mind, a refusal to play the waiting game expressed in attacking fields and boldness with bat and ball.
In olden times matches were routinely allowed to peter out. In those days cricket was a world within a world and not subject to the exigencies affecting other entertainments. Entire series went by with nothing happening. Over 40% of the Tests played by Bill Lawry ended with honours even.
Sometimes, though a stalemate is rendered inevitable by the elements and the wariness of competitors determined not to lose the bout in the first round. Such an event occurred at the 'Gabba over the last few days as a match was allowed to fade away.
Accordingly the teams repair to Adelaide to resume hostilities. Both teams will reconsider their attacks for the forthcoming encounter in Adelaide. Between times Sourav Ganguly will accept the accolades for his performance in standing his ground against the Australians, a path others must follow.
By the new year we will be better placed to judge the significance of this match. Some observers are convinced a decisive shift of power has taken place. Others believe Australia will reassert itself under the gaze of Adelaide's celebrated cathedral. Time will tell.
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