Vantage point

Sunday, December 07, 2003

The best thing to happen to the Indian cricket team today was the dismissal of Sachin Tendulkar.

Yes, you read that right. The best thing to happen to the Indian cricket team today was the dismissal of Sachin Tendulkar.

Because today as the Indians sleep, resting on the overnight score of 362/2, they will realise that they did this in Brisbane with the contribution from the master being nought.

It does not matter what happens tomorrow. Today's day was significant because today, the Indian team grew up a lot. They did not repeat the same mistakes of the past, they worked hard, and they finally did justice to themselves.

Sehwag came good, though he would have liked to hang around and get at least 50, if not 100. Chopra justified his selection ahead of Ramesh by lasting at the crease for 3 hours. Laxman continued his good work abroad, saving India from another hole. Patel proved to the world that his batting really has improved in leaps in bounds, and he is THE best wicket-keeper you can pick from India. Agarkar proved that he can make runs in Australia, and also laugh at himself.

But the day belongs to Saurav Ganguly, who played a heroic knock and has silenced critics, most of whom are his own countrymen. Ganguly was being put under trem,endous pressure by the media, both Indian and Australian. They kept criticising his technique, his attitude and his form. They put spins on facts to make him seem like a villain. For example, when he got out against the Queensland Academy side, the handle of his bat was broke. For a few moments, he lingered at the crease, examining the bat, maybe bursing his luck that his bat's handle should break at that very moment. Then he walked off the field and immediately went to get the handle repaired. And what the media reported was - "Ganguly abandons team after showing dissent on being given out". Everyone talked about how they would bowl short at him, and how he would be hopping all over before hopping back to the dressing room.

His innings today was exquisite, and definitely his best. Right from the moment he came, he started striking the ball. A signature cover drive early in the innings, which raced to the long Australian boundary gave indications that he might get a good score today. And get a good score he did! He never seemed ill at ease against the short balls, pulling quite a few. He was "GOD" today on the offside, as Dravid once famously remarked about him. He was hitting boundaries off some very good balls, and not letting any bad balls go away unpunished. When he reached 144 off 181 balls, I was thinking of whether he could get a double hundred today. Unfortunately he got out to McGill. But never mind. I think this is going to be a defining moment in Ganguly's career, very much like Steve Waugh's knock in the West Indies in 1994. From now on, we will see a different 'Dada', one who will bully opposition bowlers regularly, the way he does in one dayers.

Laxman's inning will get eclipsed by this splendid knock by Ganguly, but it was no less defining. Laxman today played like a man out to get a big score. He was playing well, built his innings meticulously, yet rapidly, and was hitting anything that was bowled to him by anyone, no matter how hard Steve Waugh tried to pretend he was setting an "imaginative" field. His 75 today was good enough for a hundred, like Tendulkar's 76 against Australia at Mumbai in 2001.

Both Laxman and Ganguly gave away their wickets to Stuart McGill, which is probably a good thing, because it will ensure his selection for the next test, when sachin says to him "Kya bola tha re tu? lara mujhse accha hai? saale bowling ki hai kya kabhi mujhe toone?" using his bat.

Another reason why I felt elated today was that 1 of the 2 overrated Australians I despise, Andy Bichel, was carted all over the park (the other one being Ian Harvey). He completed his bowling century today, at an economy rate of around 5 an over. Yeeha!! *wicked smile*

I feel bad for Rahul Dravid. He got what was probably the ball of the day from Gillespie, pitching in line at a testing length and then moving away, taking an edge to Hayden at first slip. He would have wanted to erase the only blemish on an otherwise splendid overseas record. Of course, there are at least 6 more innings for him to do that.

Coming to the Sachin Tendulkar dismissal. I will criticise Steve Bucknor, not because he misinterpreted the trajectory of the ball. I will criticise him for missing something that an experienced umpire shouldn't miss. But then I guess that is pardonable because it is something none of the commentators noticed either. And it was the simple fact that the wicket keeper Adam Gilchrist and first slip Matthew Hayden, who, apart from the batsman, were in the best position to judge where the ball would go, did not appeal! There was a cursory appeal from Gillespie and when Bucknor didn't react for a few seconds, Gillespie quietly started to walk back to his run up. Now imagine this. An Australian bowler calmly accepts that the batsman is not out. That too when the batsman is Tendulkar. No way in hell is that going to happen. Aussies raise hell when they feel the umpire has given a bad decision. The bowler would have barked at Bucknor, glared at Tendulkar and made enough hue and cry to make you suspect he was being fed IIML mess food. But he was quiet. Even in the face of all this, Bucknow raised his finger. That is the biggest error in my opinion, ignoring all these signs.

Parthiv Patel's inning was a gem today. He played some elegant straight bat drives, and he also played some beautiful horizontal bat cuts. He survived a lot of fiery Gillespie overs without seeming in too much trouble. He was absolutely unflappable even when Ganguly was out. This boy, whom I saw bat for the first time today, is destined for a great career. Mark my words, he is going to lead India one day, and with distinction.

However despite all this, the moment of the day for me will be when Agarkar came to bat. A lot of the Australians in the crowd must have jeered at him, reminding him of his last 7 innings against Australia (5 in Aus, 2 in Mumbai), which went thus - 0,0,0,0,0,0,0. Facing Stuart McGill, he turned a ball to the onside and called to Patel for a single. As soon as he completed his run , he lifted his bat and waved it at the crowds, the way a batsman does when he scores a 50 or a hundred. Then he started laughing as the crowd applauded his gesture. It was a really heart-warming gesture from a man who had the ability to laugh at himself, and move ahead from his follies. At the end of the day's play he was batting comfortably for 12 off 25 balls.

When light was called off for bad lights, India were sitting pretty at 362/6, 29 runs ahead of Australia. Forget the fact that we made Australians eat their own words with a helping of vegemite. Try to remember the last time any team scored 350 plus in a day at a runrate of over 3.5, against the Australians. Try to remember the last time the Australians conceded first innings lead in a meaningful test match at meaningful I mean a test match in which the series is yet to be decided. Try to remember the last time India had an opening stand of 50 plus abroad. Try to remember the last time India scored more than 300, with both Sachin and Dravid together contributing just 1.

Splendid day, was it not?

So what do we do tomorrow? It would be great if Patel and Agarkar punish the Aussie bowlers a bit, even better if both get half centuries. We should bat so well that we declare about an hour before lunch. That will give us around 22 overs or so to play. Suppose the tail makes 70-80 runs. That will give us a lead of 100 odd. Even though a bright and sunny day is predicted tomorrow, and conventional wisdom would dictate that the Asutralians will also be able to bat easily, remember Calcutta 2001. At the end of the 4th day, everyone said "Very nice, Laxman saved the match, but no way can we dismiss them in under a day". We all know what happened there. So don't assume anything. This is the game of glorious uncertainties. For all you know, I could be making a post about a sensational Indian win tomorrow.

p.s- a lot of cynical Indians will definitely snort and say "Oh Lee and Mcgrath weren't there". I am amazed at how a lot of Indians derive depraved pleasure in criticising their own team and discounting its success. And how they will invent reasons to do so.