Saturday, Jan 03, 2004
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By Vijay Lokapally
Akash Chopra is castled by Brett Lee. Photo: V.V. Krishnan
India 284 for three
The Indians ushered in the New Year on a bright note, very much in keeping with their growing faith in themselves. Their quest for a first ever series win in Australia was given a strong foundation by a plucky opening partnership that left Steve Waugh frowning and fretting in the significant first session when the ball did a bit but not enough to make an early dent to the Indian resolve.
The emotional setting of Waugh trooping in with the team was a perfect start to the day as an audience of 44901 filled up the arena to pay tribute to their favourite hero. It was a record turnout for the first day's play in any India-Australia Test, and more than the last Ashes Test here when Waugh hit a hundred.
The focus took a while to shift to the Indians after Sourav Ganguly opted to bat on a slightly damp pitch that threatens to break on the fourth and fifth day.
Befitting the occasion was the refreshing innings by Tendulkar, his first half century in six visits to the crease. The determination was evident in every move and was aptly described later by Akash Chopra. "He always makes up for his disappointments with a huge score. He's batting tremendously and we all hope he goes on to score a big hundred tomorrow".
The crowds too will love a classy effort by Tendulkar, who finished the day 27 runs short of his 32nd century.
Earlier, Virender Sehwag's robust batsmanship was supported by the sedate Akash Chopra and then the knock by Tendulkar in the afternoon carried India to a comfortable position. It may not be a commanding platform for India yet but it is promising enough to raise the team's strategy to put pressure on the opposition when it comes to bat.
The Indians, anticipating help for the spinners, included left-arm Murali Kartik to support Anil Kumble while Irfan Pathan came in for the injured Zaheer Khan.
As expected, Ashish Nehra was dropped because of an ankle problem that had bothered him during the third Test at Melbourne.
Nothing worked Australia's way in the morning. When the batsman edged, the fielder dropped the ball and when the fielder caught, the umpire called no ball!
The Australian bowlers probed but the Indians managed to hang in. Gradually they gained control and then dominated too during an intense phase of competition.
The growing reputation of Sehwag and Chopra as a stable opening pair has gained momentum with the performance here. It was only India's third century opening stand in nine years. Sehwag and Chopra had produced a 141-run association in the last Test and this was just an extension of their good work in the current series.
Chopra was lucky twice he was caught off a no ball and then put down at gully by Simon Katich but did not flinch in his impressive occupation of the crease.
He played the ideal foil to the aggressive Sehwag on a pitch that encouraged seam bowlers. The bounce did cause discomfort initially but the Indian pair did not allow the bowlers to dictate.
Sehwag's imperious innings took the pressure off Chopra, who remained unflustered by the short of length stuff. Sehwag took time to gauge the pitch and once he exploded, with a sensational six to point off Brett Lee, he grew in confidence.
The opener was not in his elements but he did well to play his natural game, hitting the ball hard.
Chopra stuck to his philosophy of playing the ball on merit and was not tempted by some juicy offerings and all his boundaries came off Lee. His seven innings here 36, 4, 27, 20, 48, 4 and 45 _ have established him as the ideal partner for Sehwag.
Once again he failed to extend his excellent form and perished to a planned assault by Lee. Having managed to dig out a yorker, he played the wrong line to another one.
"The ball swung very late. I thought there was a bit of reverse swing. It was a good ball,'' remarked Chopra, who gave credit to former India greats Sunil Gavaskar and Mohinder Amarnath for their vital tips on coping with pace and bounce in Australia.
India appeared in control when Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid stood up to the Australian attack. The in-form Dravid dominated the partnership with some glorious drives in front but he fell to the hard-working Gillespie, beaten by the late swing.
Having shown his best form of the tour, Tendulkar now took over to live up to his reputation.
It was not difficult to notice Tendulkar's desire to battle it out. There were a couple of moments when his concentration slackened dangerously but then he came back every time to ensure he did not let his team down.
A few firm shots in the beginning of his knock conveyed Tendulkar's excellent timing. He had read the pitch and the attack astutely and played as authoritatively as he is known to.
Tendulkar and Laxman did not allow the Australians to slow down the pace even though Waugh set defensive field in short phases to throw a challenge at them to try and score.
Tendulkar was regal in executing some of his dashing strokes while Laxman too warmed up for the morrow by once again playing according to the demands of the situation.
They hold the key when India resumes on Saturday. The pressure clearly will be on Australia to prevent India from posting a total that could enhance their worries of batting last on a typical SCG pitch.
Fall of wickets: 1-123 (Sehwag), 2-128 (Chopra), 3-194 (Dravid).
Australia bowling: Brett Lee 21-3-80-1 (nb-15), Jason Gillespie 23-7-51-2 (nb-2, w-2), Nathan Bracken 23-9-60-0, Stuart MacGill 18-3-65-0 (nb-2), Steve Waugh 2-0-6-0, Simon Katich 2-0-13-0, Damien Martyn 1-0-3-0.
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