Monday, Dec 29, 2003
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By Vijay Lokapally
DOUBLE DELIGHT: Ricky Ponting on the way to his second straight double century in successive Tests against India at Melbourne on Sunday. Ponting's 257 saw Australia reach 558 in its first innings. India, two down for 27 in its second innings, is in a precarious position. Photo: V.V. Krishnan
India 366 & 27 for 2,
Ponting and Kumble's performances on a day of some gripping cricket at this beautiful cricket theatre only served to add to their value to their team. Ponting's back-to-back double centuries and Kumble's second successive five-wicket haul took the game a notch higher in the third Test of this series.
Ponting is the only batsman after Don Bradman to have scored three double centuries in one year. The great man had done it in 1930. Ponting also became the fifth after Bradman, Walter Hammond, Vinod Kambli and Graeme Smith to score back-to-back double centuries.
Another striking development of the day was Sourav Ganguly walking in ahead of Sachin Tendulkar after India lost its openers cheaply Akash Chopra to a dubious decision and Virender Sehwag to a brilliant catch. It was the captain's decision, debatable but brave, to protect an out-of-form Tendulkar, who has just 38 runs from four innings in the current series.
While Ponting mauled the Indian attack Kumble stood firm and was a source of inspiration for his teammates. Ponting was on song, garnering runs with elegance, his determination growing with time. Equally focused was Kumble, attacking the batsmen in his own unique style. Nothing ever flusters Kumble on the field, not even a rampaging Ponting. Their fascinating duel was an experience to cherish.
Ponting's invaluable knock, especially after losing Damien Martyn and Steve Waugh the latter to a blow on the left elbow from Ajit Agarkar, kept Australia in the hunt. Waugh enjoyed a rare distinction of being accorded four standing ovations in a day when he first arrived and then left; then another when he returned after treatment and then as he trudged back following his dismissal.
Ponting's amazing hunger for runs this year grew ominously this morning when he dug himself in. It was an admirable transformation as he kept faith in his ability to graft. His decisive footwork threw a challenge to the bowlers with the sole exception of Kumble. The unfit Zaheer Khan did little of note; Ashish Nehra was not the best option with the new ball while Agarkar worked hard. Kumble's effort has to be seen in the context of Ponting's assault. Had the leg-spinner not struck a couple of crucial blows in the afternoon, Australia could have piled on more agony.
Ponting was simply unstoppable and there was plenty of action when he was on strike. Not tempted by India's negative line of attack in the second session Ponting waited for the right moment to strike. When he hit, he hit cleanly, picking gaps with ease and exploited the field. He had confessed the other day that he did not believe in statistics but Ponting did enough to suggest he would be statisticians delight in the future. His batting has just that blend of class and gift to ensure him a place among the all-time list of exciting stroke-players. His aggregate for this year stood at 1472 by the time he was ninth man out to a desperate shot.
A two-paced pitch
India's quest to save the match is fraught with danger, the biggest threat being the crumbling pitch. The surface has developed an alarming two-paced character and it will be a big challenge for the Indian batsmen to defy the Aussies.
Ponting likes to shoulder responsibility. When Waugh departed, the Australians had suffered two quick jolts but Simon Katich batted sensibly and allowed Ponting to play his natural game. The emphasis was on getting runs and not just occupying the crease even though India did well to stifle the run-rate.
Steve Waugh leaves after being dismissed by Anil Kumble. V.V. Krishnan
"I was reading the situation and concentrated more on playing in front of the wicket. I did concentrate very hard," said Ponting on his approach. "I'm happy the way the last few weeks have gone. The elevation to number three has made the difference to my batting. It gives me more opportunity and also responsibility. We got a good wake up call at Adelaide and now the batsmen have put their hands up and come good. I thought the partnership with (Steve) Waugh was vital."
Meanwhile Kumble said, "I knew I needed to be patient. They have a strong top order batting and it was challenging to bowl a consistent line. I waited for the batsmen to make the mistakes. I had to work hard for my wickets and bowl longer too." He also had a word of support for Zaheer, who he said did a `tremendous job despite the injury.'
Kumble's parting remark highlighted the state of the pitch. "If the batsmen can get us a lead of 150 runs, then it'll be our job to deliver.'' From the torrid time that Rahul Dravid and Ganguly had this evening, the Indians have a tough task of saving the match.
Fall of wickets: 1-30 (Langer), 2-264 (Hayden), 3-295 (Gilchrist), 4-373 (Martyn), 5-437 (Katich), 6-502 (Waugh), 7-535 (Lee), 8-542 (Bracken), 9-555 (Ponting).
India bowling: Agarkar 33.2-5-115-3, Zaheer 25-4-103-0 (nb-9, w-5), Nehra 29-3-90-0 (nb-1), Kumble 51-8-176-6 (nb-7), Tendulkar 13-0-57-1 (5 penalty runs).
Fall of wickets: 1-5 (Chopra), 2-19 (Sehwag).
Australia bowling: Lee 6-1-20-1, Bracken 5-2-7-1.
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