India keep their ‘perennial slow starters’ tag intact

Vineet Ramakrishnan

The tone of summer and the series has now been well set by the Aussies with a thumping 122 runs victory over India in the first Test match of the Border-Gavaskar trophy. The score-line now reads 1-0; a familiar sight for the Indians. Prior to this series, India had played Australia in Australia nine times, not able to win the first match of the series ever and even this time around the miserable record will remain intact.

From being on the cusp of history, to blowing it away

Going into the fourth day, cricket experts, critics and fans were having a rather rare unanimous view of India doing the unthinkable, or to put it more logically, India creating history by taking a lead for the first time in a series Down Under. Australians had their backs to the wall with 179 for 8 at stumps on Day 3 with a manageable lead of 230. Ideally, Indian bowlers should have wrapped up the tail within the first five overs conceding utmost 20 runs. But again, if this was an ideal world, a lot would be different – instead the lack of intensity on the field by the Indians and bit of lethargy from the bowlers extended the Aussies lead to 292 with the last three batsmen scoring 62 runs in 16.3 overs.

From what could have been a decent fourth innings total to chase down, India had an uphill task on their hands pursing 292 for a win. From being on the cusp of history, India blew it away soon after getting reduced to 81/6. From there on, it was a matter of time. Ashwin rode his luck for a bit and, as has been the new trend, tailenders Zaheer, Ishant and Umesh stuck it out in the middle as if mocking their more skilled and experienced batters to prolong the inevitable.

Lacking the killer instinct

But the cloud of inevitability did not hover until the dying moments of the match for India. On the contrary, there were two occasions were the inevitability phrase would have worked perfectly on the hosts. The first chance was when Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar had knitted the partnership of the match on Day 2 with 117 runs to put India in a commanding position of 214/3 in reply to Australia’s first innings total of 333. Again, India taking the lead from such a strong position was inevitable, but alas, Australia’s most under rated bowler of the match ‘Big’ Ben Hilfenhaus wreaked havoc early on Day 3 to bundle out India for 282. It all started with a rejuvenated Siddle scalping Sachin on the final over of Day 2. Sachin was looking comfortable and at ease till he got out -- against the run of play as has been the case for the last 18 innings (18 missed chances of getting the all elusive 100th 100).

The usually wayward Hilfenhuas got his line and length spot on early and produced a peach to dismiss Dravid; the lack of application on Laxman’s part sent him packing immediately after; nervous Kolhi forgot about his foot movement and got stuck in the crease and finally Dhoni, well he again registered a single digit score of 6 to complete the Siddle-Hilfenhaus rout. The last seven Indian wickets fell for just 68 runs, fancy the word collapse?

The second one was when Umesh Yadav had put Australia on the mat with three quick wickets leaving the Oz at 27/4 in the second innings. Though, the class acts Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey did the job they were being asked to do in style, Indians missed the plot or more precisely failed to deliver the killer punch at that point -- which the Australians did with perfection in India’s second innings. Even after that all important partnership between the two veterans was broken, India allowed Australia to coast to 240 all out from 166 for 8. Dhoni evidently opened up the field during this brief period of play failing to put any kind of pressure on the tailenders. In short, Dhoni proved to be futile at forcing the play at that particular juncture of the match.

Rookies Yadav and Pattinson leading the way

It is often said that to win a Test match one has to take 20 wickets. Here, both India and Australia took 20 apiece. All the 40 wickets up for grabs were accounted for. To put it simply, Australia did a tad better by taking 20, conceding 122 runs less than India. Both the attacks were like two peas in a pod barring the left-armer Zaheer. The offies failed to impress with Nathan Lyon picking up one wicket and Ashwin mustering up only four in two innings. The spearheads -- Zaheer and Siddle produced uncanny similar performances. They bowled their heart out throughout the match with their moments of brilliance. Zak’s moment came with the old ball on the first day where he sent Michael Clarke and Hussey packing to peg back the hosts, whereas a revitalised Peter Siddle made the telling breakthrough of Sachin Tendulkar in both the innings. Ishant Sharma and Ben Hifenhaus, on the other hand, had bit of ups and downs of their own. Ishant was unlucky throughout the match not to force much of the play whereas Hilfenhaus bowled well in patches. One such good patch of his fetched him the game changing five-wicket haul.

But the star performances came from the rookies Umesh Yadav and James Pattinson. They were expected to deliver the good and they did it in style. Coming from a debut five wicket haul, the 21-year old James Pattinson walked away with the much deserved MoM award for his match tally of 6 wickets and some handy batting down the order. Yadav, however finished with 7 wickets and walked away with lot of praises. Both the bowlers displayed immense quality of perseverance, accuracy, aggression and skills to survive the longest format of the game. Both were responsible for keeping the game in balance on many occasions, and rest assured, they can be trusted to keep the entire series in a riveting balance as well.

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