Friday, October 17, 2008

Shadow boxing

The second Test began with a bang - literally - when Peter Siddle managed to pound Gambhir's hemet with his first ball in Test cricket. That was as good as it got for the next 80-odd overs for him, until he became the 18th debutant to bag Sachin Tendulkar as his first scalp. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Anil Kumble did everyone a favor by deciding to rest his shoulder for an additional week, giving up the reins to MS Dhoni. A fully-fit Anil Kumble at Feroz Shah Kotla is a much scarier proposition for Ponting than a half-fit player open to media criticism. Dhoni then did the Indians a favor by winning the toss and electing to bat. Sehwag got off to his (now customary) blazing start and then got out to a "strangler", a wide delivery down the leg-side that was tickled to the keeper. 70 for 1. By the way, this was the 6th time in the last 7 innings that the Delhi duo has put on an opening partnership of at least 50 runs.

Rahul Dravid came in, slowed down the scoring, as is the case with him, but did not get bogged down. After getting his eye in, he began to expand, and a Dravid not seen for a couple of years now began to emerge. Though he got out, chopping a ball he should have left well alone onto his stumps, Dravid showed enough to indicate that a big innings is around the corner. 146 for 2. Three balls later, Gambhir did not move his feet and edged to the keeper. 146 for 3. Another promising start for Gambhir, another wasted start for Gambhir. Someday he will have a conversation with Aakash Chopra and discuss the cost of not converting starts into centuries. If you are not one of the Fab Four these things are held against you by the selectors.

Tendulkar hung around, getting his bearings, while Laxman began to find the gaps. Just when it appeared that the tide had been stemmed, Mitchell Johnson bowled another "strangler", a wide delivery from over the wicket (Johnson is left-handed) that Laxman tickled behind for Haddin to pull of a very sharp catch, tumbling to his left. In the pavilion, long after he came back, Laxman sat quietly, glaring away at the ground as if he had lost a fortune there. And indeed, a fortune was what he gave away today.

Ganguly and Tendulkar then showed the previous batsmen what they had left at the table. Ganguly was the aggressor, while Tendulkar was content to pick up the ones and twos. It appeared as if Sachin had something on his mind. When he crossed 15, the relief on his face, and the commotion that followed showed what it was. Sachin contributed just 17 of the first 50 runs put together with the Bengali southpaw. Ganguly was on 32 when Sachin crossed Brian Lara. Once the mark was established Tendulkar began to expand his range. An on-drive, a square-drive, and a patented high-finish flick for boundaries showed us that the old Tendulkar was still among us, hidden for the most part, but still there. Going from strength to strength, Tendulkar became the first man to cross 12,000 runs, and a 40th century seemed inevitable when the great man showed some nerves. With about 2 or 3 overs to go before the close, Siddle was bowling with the new ball. Sachin was 20 runs from the century and it appeared that he wanted to get to the mark on the first day itself. The first ball was dispatched to the cover, high elbow and all. The next ball was inner-edged to the fine-leg fence. Three balls later, a wid-ish full ball beckoned and Tendulkar fell to the same trap that he had famously ignored during his 241 at Sydney 5 years ago. The ball flew low and fast towards Hayden's left ankle. Very calmly, the big man stayed low and collected the ball softly in his bucket-like hands and rolled over in joy. Mark Waugh and Warne have retired but the Aussies have not lost anything in the slip catching department with Hayden and Ponting.

Tendulkar's 88 was at least 112 runs less than I'd have liked to have seen from him. With that wicket the Aussies have inched back in the match. This pitch is one that demands a score of at least 450-500 in the first innings. Expecting the bowlers to hang around for a long time is a dangerous habit to get into, notwithstanding the fact that Harbhajan Singh has scored three consecutive 50's against the Aussies (wouldn't the Fab Four love to have that streak?!).

Ganguly and Dhoni have to take India past 450. The problem is that by sending in Ishant Sharma as a nightwatchman, we have effectively reduced one more tailender to play with. Hopefully, Ganguly can stick around till Dhoni comes. Anything less than 500 and I fear that Adelaide 2003, in reverse, may happen.

At the end of the first day of the first Test, Michael Clarke's dismissal put a spring in the Indian's step as they went in for the night. Tendulkar's dismissal did the same for the Aussies in this Test. The Aussies are slightly ahead right now, but another 100 runs with the loss of only a wicket or two will swing it heavily in India's favor.

I can hardly wait...

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