Wednesday, Jan 07, 2004
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Throughout a tense final act in a fascinating drama the Indians pressed for victory. Ultimately, though, Sourav Ganguly's team did not have the conviction or resources required to subdue a defiant Australian side. India courted victory rather than insisting upon it. At times the visitors seemed to fear a late charge but for their hosts though the target was remote. Perhaps the sight of Steve Waugh, glint-eyed over his bat, threw then into a state of confusion.
Having led the side superbly throughout the series and achieving far more than was expected when the tour began, Ganguly deserves the utmost congratulation. Not until this last day did his captaincy waver. On the verge of a mighty achievement, though, he did not press for victory with the confidence or aggression expected from a side whose time has come.Instead he held back, waiting for mistakes. He had convinced his men that Australia could be beaten and then did not believe it himself.
When wickets refused to fall, Ganguly could have changed his bowling around, tried a few crafty field placements and generally kept his men on their toes. Instead he allowed the splendid Anil Kumble to wheel away for hours on end and relied on his inexperienced spinners to provide the appropriate support.
India did not give its pace bowlers enough work and did not take the second new ball. Not until the last hour was Ajit Agarkar given a chance and he promptly found an edge that might have brought a wicket had a more attacking field been set. Irfan Pathan was dangerous throughout the match and is a talented and spirited youngster yet was given only a handful of overs in the entire innings.
In Australia anyhow, fast bowlers often do the damage on wearing pitches. Glenn McGrath has a better record than Shane Warne on the fifth day. Not that the India pacemen merit such comparisons.
Ganguly's fields were also unduly cautious. Once Matthew Hayden had been held at slip, victory was beyond Australia's grasp. Nevertheless the Indian captain held back. At one stage he had five men on the boundary despite the fact that Australia needed to score 130 runs in 11 overs to win the match. Afterwards Waugh pointed out that his team had finished the match on top because India was defending the boundaries.
The Bengali must also shoulder some of the blame for the poor performance of a young wicket-keeper whose frailties over the stumps were exposed.
Pathiv Patel is so small that he cannot reach lifting deliveries besides which he does not react quickly enough to edges or stumping opportunities. He has played his part in a team that lives on love but is not yet good enough and must be replaced.
Of course it is unfair to dwell upon India's inability to polish off a wounded foe. Ganguly and his men performed wonders on this tour and were popular and respected visitors.
Before the campaign began, most Indians regarded a 2-0 defeat as the best possible result. Instead Ganguly's side came within a few wickets and a strand of confidence of securing the upset of an admittedly brief century.
Along the way Rahul Dravid confirmed his greatness as a batsman and `Very Very Special' Laxman showed that he is a fearless sportsman and an unselfish competitor. Ganguly batted with spirit and courage in a performance that commanded respect. None of the Indian batsmen flinched in the face of the Australian bombardment. Never again will it be said that Indian batsmen lack courage.
Sachin Tendulkar also rose to the challenge and in this decisive Test match produced the most correct and patient batting of his career. Never again say that he does not score runs when India needs them. His second career has just begun, and may be as productive as the second coming of Brian Lara currently underway.
India's openers also performed valiantly and contributed crucially. Akash Chopra deserves a medal for his bravery at short leg. Virender Sehwag played with his heart and learnt to keep his head down against the new ball. The middle-order men were in their debt.
Amongst the bowlers, the tireless and much improved Kumble stood out. Bowling slower and straighter than previously, Kumble took lots of wickets and set a towering example for the younger players. Pathan has the variety and determination needed to join Kumble, Zaheer and Harbhajan in a potent combination.
Not that India was without weak points. For the time being, though, let us congratulate a united team that played wonderful cricket against the toughest of opponents, a team that enhanced the reputation of Indian cricket and raised expectations that even better days may lie ahead.
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