India Conquers Perth

If you had asked any cricket journalist or commentator about the Perth Test, they would have all marked it down as one for Australia. Everybody acknowledged that India had no chance at the WACA. I was one of them as well and we all were shown up to be a little foolish with our predictions.

Yes, the pitch did have both pace and bounce, although not as much as advertised, but the fact is India bowled better on it than Australia. The two left arm bowlers for India, RP Singh and Irfan Pathan swung the ball consistently, with Pathan making a fantastic comeback to the team with both bat and ball. He got the two Australian openers in both innings and got absolutely vital runs with the bat in the second innings. But, the find of the tour has been Ishant Sharma. His bowling to Ricky Ponting in the first session of the fourth day was incredible. He bowled 7 of the most incisive overs to the best batsman in the world and gave him a complete working over. Sharma nipped the ball into Ponting’s hip, his abdomen, and his pads before finally nailing him with the one that shaped in and then held its line off the pitch. That was the wicket India wanted in the morning session and Sharma delivered. It was a champion’s performance, and to think that the kid is only 19 years old. Unbelievable.

Anil Kumble’s has led his team wonderfully well on this tour, and his captaincy was once again spot on. His bowlers responded well, and he himself chipped in with the vital wicket of Andrew Symonds, whose luck with the umpires seems to have finally deserted him. Just when it looked like Australia might get some momentum going with Michael Clarke and Adam Gilchrist building a mini partnership, Kumble threw the ball to Sehwag who promptly got drift and sharp turn to bowl Gillie around his legs. Dhoni capped off his excellent performance behind the stumps with a stunning stumping of Clarke. Mitchell Johnson and Stuart Clark threw their bats at everything causing a few flutters, before Pathan came back to restore common sense with the second new ball. It was a terrific team performance from India and to comeback in such a stunning manner after being robbed at the Sydney Test speaks volumes of the spirit that exists in the team.

Australia cannot but think of how India has twice interrupted their record breaking streak of 16 wins right at the finish line. Australia loses and VVS Laxman has top scored for India once again, it is remarkable.

It is a beautiful game, this thing called cricket.



The Perth Comeback

That this Indian cricket team is no pushover away from home has been evident for quite a few tours, but their performance at Perth has been nothing short of outstanding. Anil Kumble set the tone in his pre-match comments about the hype surrounding the fast and bouncy pitch; “It's more mental than in the middle.” Kumble called Australia’s bluff, and by the second day not only had India’s three young fast bowlers out bowled Australia’s 4 pronged pace attack but Tendulkar and Dravid had put on a determined first day batting partnership that could yet define this Test match.

India’s fast bowling resources have improved tremendously and the bench strength has also picked up so much that even the second string of bowlers are truly competitive at the international level. Zaheer Khan, Sreesanth, Munaf Patel were all unavailable through injuries, but the young men waiting in line stepped up to the task admirably. RP Singh has led the pace attack with undeniable skill, energy and stamina in both Sydney and Perth, while Ishant Sharma in only his third Test turned the match on its head with an outstanding spell of seam bowling and snared the wickets of Ponting and Clarke with two outstanding deliveries that would have made Glenn McGrath proud. Earlier Irfan Pathan brought his effervescence back to the cricket ground with his now familiar gravity defying leap of joy after getting two wickets with the new ball. Pathan and RP Singh swung the ball beautifully throughout the innings and showed that the commentators who have been bemoaning the scarcity of swing bowlers in the world haven’t been watching this Indian attack. At 5-61, Australia were in unchartered waters, but Symonds and Gilchrist launched a belligerent counter attack scoring at nearly 7 an over while Kumble kept attacking fields. The partnership was becoming threatening before Kumble got the crucial breakthrough with the wicket of Symonds with a trademark “jumbo” ball that bounced and kissed the edge of the bat, popped up of Dhoni’s gloves into the safe hands of Rahul Dravid. RP Singh then got Gilchrist with a brute of a ball that reared up and the batsman could only fend it into Dhoni’s gloves. In the sapping 40 degree heat RP Singh continued to bowl in the low 140 kph and helped clean up the tail in quick time. Australia were bowled out in 50 overs, and India had 118 run lead; it was a brilliant bowling performance with every single bowler pulling his weight.

One could sense the pressure of the lead on Australia’s bowlers as they came back to bowl at the Indian batsmen on the same day. Worry was writ large on Ricky Ponting’s face as Sehwag rattled off boundaries, and he pushed a man to deep point and third man in a bid to contain the dangerous Veeru. If Australia don’t get Sehwag early tomorrow, they are well and truly out of this Test match, but even if they do get him early it will require a tremendous bowling performance to get rid of the confident Indian batting line up cheaply enough for the Australians to have an outside shot at winning this Test match.

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Sydney 2008

A team that is as successful as this Australian cricket team will face envy and indignation just like the New England Patriots or even the heavily bankrolled New York Yankees. There is no doubt that these are all exceptional sports teams, their desire to win is an all encompassing fire that burns within. That is why Michael Clarke is able to come on in the last 10 minutes of the game and bowl 11 deliveries right on the money. While the indomitable Anil Kumble, who has the same spirit coursing through his veins, was able to play out Clarke’s first over with aplomb and even execute a perfect back foot drive to the boundary, the second over proved to be too much for Harbhajan, RP Singh and the nervous Ishant Sharma. Poor Ishant even came out to bat with the wrong glove, and had a bewildered look on his face after he edged the ball to first slip. Any which way you look at it, three wickets in one over to close out a Test match in the last six minutes of the fifth day is just incredible.

Yet, the Test match left a sour taste in the mouth that will linger for a long time. On the first day, Steve Bucknor showed that his hearing is on the wane when he didn’t hear Andrew Symonds edge the ball to the wicketkeeper, and on the fifth day he showed that his eyesight is following suit when he gave Dravid out caught behind off his pad, when the bat was tucked away miles behind the pad. It was an atrocious decision and prompted the Indian team manager, Chetan Chauhan, to term the umpires as “incompetent”; as well he might. WG Grace was right, people don’t come to watch the umpires, they come to watch the players, therefore technology should and must be used to make sure that umpires do not become the centerpiece of a cricket match. But, the sourness in the mouth wasn’t just because of the umpires, in their quest to equal the world record for consecutive Test wins, the Australian team seems to have forgotten why we play this wonderful game of Cricket, how sport has the power to bring nations closer, to bring different cultures together as they watch the game and appreciate it for the athleticism and skill on display. With their boorish appealing and righteous claiming of bump balls they have chosen to alienate a generation of cricket watchers and to cause people to not just envy them, but to even hate them. They have some mighty fine cricketers amongst them who don’t deserve that.

But, let us not lose perspective, in his infinite wisdom; Anil Kumble did say “It is only a game.” There is definitely no need to create a diplomatic row over a game of cricket.

Yet, what could do just that, is the Harbhajan Singh and Andrew Symonds incident, which has become an issue of national honor for India. Symonds accused Harbhajan of calling him a “monkey”, which if he did is unforgivable considering the controversy that occurred while Australia were in India. It appears to be one man’s word against another, but the match referee Mike Proctor heard the witnesses and decided that there is sufficient evidence to ban Harbhajan for 3 Test matches. It is a staggering outcome, and one is immediately reminded of the Oval Test match between Pakistan and England; a ball tampering fiasco which led to the first ever forfeiture of a Test match. If Bhajji didn’t say those words he should fight the charge and clear his name. The Indian team appears to have rallied around their man and in a tit for tat have accused Brad Hogg of calling an Indian player a “bastard.” That hearing will probably be on Monday. The situation is fraught and is at a tipping point, India may pull out of the tour.

The Sydney Test of 2008 will live on in infamy.