Vantage point

Tuesday, December 16, 2003


At the end of the second day, I said to my friend, �This test has Calcutta 2001 written all over it.� At this stage, India were 180/4, still needing 176 to avoid a follow on. And no, it is not only Dravid and Laxman�s performance that reminded me of that famous win. It was the statements coming out of the Australian camp.

Ponting said that no matter how cheaply India gets dismissed on day 3, Australia WILL NOT enforce the follow on. That for me showed that for all their bravado, they are still under mental pressure and are a bit scared of the Indian batting lineup. It was a rank defensive statement if there ever was one. The actual decision to not enforce a follow on might have been a prudent one, but talking about it so early showed that the Aussies still hadn�t exorcised the ghosts of Calcutta, the World Cup final and the TVS Cup final notwithstanding.

Everyone was wishfully talking about another mammoth partnership from Dravid and Laxman, and the dressing room that morning seemed pleasantly relaxed, communicating that they were sure that those two would bat long, maybe all day long. Day 3 is when India really delivered a major blow to the Aussie psyche. The way the Aussie press was interpreting the end of the Brisbane test as some brilliant tactic by Waugh, which gave the Aussies, the mental edge back, showed how much the whole nation was in denial. Only the players were aware of the challenges that lay ahead. This awareness was driven home firmly by the Indian batsmen on day 3, and it was this psychological edge that eventually won us the match.

At the end of the first inning, and even now, everyone was clucking their tongues about how India let Australia make 556. That is a really shocking way to think. Our first inning bowling performance was as good as the second. Only we were unluckier. Look at the score � 556. Now consider the chances that Ponting got. Even if you discount the dropped catch, consider the 2 plumb LBW appeals that were turned down. Had the umpire given them, notice the fact that hardly any other Aussie batsman made a good score, and if decisions had been fair, we would have dismissed them for under 400. Under 400 on a batting paradise!

But just like all of us, even the Aussies didn�t realize that their 556 was really built more on Lady Luck�s rather than Ponting�s shoulder. As the clich� goes, she is a fickle mistress, and deserted them in the second innings, seduced by Laxman�s charm and Dravid�s grace, to join the Indian camp. All the stupid shots that the Aussies played got the punishment they deserved, except for the standard reprieve to Gilchrist. Agarkar bowled well, as did the unsung Pathan and Nehra, to make sure the Aussies never really got off to a flier.

When Gilly got going for about half an hour, that was the only time after day 2 that I thought we may just lose this match. Fortunately Kumble took care of that and once the target was under 250, it was always going to be easy for an in-form Indian lineup.

Who is Stuart Macgill? No seriously, who is Stuart Macgill? I read a news piece in which he said �I am happy with my Brisbane performance and will unleash everything at Adelaide�. That statement itself confirmed my opinion that he will never be even a tenth the bowler Shane Warne is. Someone who has such low standards for himself that he thinks 4-86, in which 2 of your wickets were batsmen playing on 75 and 144 who threw away their wicket, and the other 2 tail enders with single digit averages, is no match for the Sheikh of Tweak. Even in this match, he was totally ineffective. Our batsmen handled him with total ease. He really doesn�t deserve a place in the side, but thanks to is dismissal of Tendulkar, he will stay on I guess.

About Tendulkar now�..what is he doing? He is doing the exact opposite of what Sehwag does at times. Sehwag plays an unnecessary and technically flawed attacking shot. Sachin has recently started playing technically flawed defensive shots! A ball, pitching in line, and he pads up!!! I hope this win makes him realize that he is no longer the only man in the team, and he can afford to play his natural game. He is a naturally attacking player, and him leaving balls, is like a tiger voluntarily embracing vegetarianism. After India�s abysmal performances in the late 90s, he was forced to play this way in both forms of the game. I think it was the Natwest series, followed by the successful chase of 325 against West Indies, that made him realize, �Hey we can regularly win even if I get out early.� The key word being �regularly�, not flukes like at Dhaka in 1998. So in he World Cup, he changed gears. He went for the hooks, the pulls, the lofted cuts, backing his talent and technique to pull them off with a high probability of success.

This belief of his was further cemented when he got out 100 runs away from victory against Pakistan and yet the team sailed to victory. He knows cricket enough to realize that days like the WC final and the Natwest series final, will be there in your life.

What he needs now is a similar transition in his test match game. He needs to look at the phenomenal record of Dravid and Laxman over the past 2 years (not just this match). Dravid has got 3 double centuries in the last 9 test matches!!!! Laxman has averaged more than Tendulkar in the period from 2001! This win will now drive home the fact in his head, that for the first time in his career, he is actually part of the team, rather than being the team itself. Here�s to a more attacking and free-flowing Tendulkar from Melbourne onwards. Ganguly also said today that he can sense a big one for Sachin right around the corner.

People criticize Sehwag too much. Leave him alone, and let him work out his mistakes by himself. He is too talented to keep getting out in 40s, and he realizes it. See what a fantastic 2004 he has.

Now about the Australians. As Harish said in this blog post, Steve Waugh�s team an not handle pressure. Not just that, Steve Waugh just isn�t that good a captain tactically. He can lead from the front in an adverse scenario by batting well, but that�s all. He can�t outthink the opposition, as Harish has pointed out. It is just because he has won so many tests, that people attribute to him many qualities he doesn�t possess. I love his batting, and he is a fantastic player, but a thinking captain like Mark Taylor, he is not.

The commentators kept praising his field placings, and how he constantly shuffled the fielders around, making the batsmen think. That was ridiculous idolization of something that was very ineffective. Tugga, as Steve Waugh is called, has a policy of �dynamic field setting�. It is purely reactive rather than attacking. And for all the praise showered on him for his �astute fielding changes�, I cannot think of too many batsmen who were �thought out� by Waugh. He has not been able to come up with any specific weaknesses of the Indian batsmen, except for � a. Indian batsmen, specifically Ganguly, don�t play short bowling well (YOU DON�T SAY!!!!!!) b. Sehwag can�t handle a left armer who seams the ball into him.

The first weakness was shown to be truly ineffective, as except for Dravid on 233, no Indian batsman in the two tests has been dismissed, directly o indirectly, by the short ball. The second weakness was correct, but he inexplicably dropped Bracken from the team and neutralized that.

His bowling changes haven�t been great shakes either. The morning of the third day, he gives Bichel the ball only at the fag end of the morning session. Until then, the batsmen were well set. And even now, at the end of the match!! Bichel dismisses Ganguly, in comes Laxman, and immediately edges one that falls just short of the keeper. What does Tugga do? Spin at both ends!!!! Laxman embraced this generous gesture, and proceeded to figuratively yank up the whistle of the pressure cooker and let all the steam out of the situation. Then onwards India strolled to a win, and any memories of past failed chases, stayed buried. By the time Bichel was brought back, India was already eyeing the chequered flag with no sight of Australia in the rearview mirror.

As opposed to this, Ganguly has been an unsung captain. Yes, everyone applauds his attitude and how he has made the team mentally stronger. But we just do not appreciate the tactics he employs when fielding. So many Aussie batsmen have been �thought out� by Ganguly in this series. Ponting in the first test was an example, when he kept only one fielder on the onside, and asked Zaheer to bowl short. Ponting went for the hook, though the bouncer was outside off, and fell for the bait hook (!), line and sinker. Damien Martyn and Adam Gilchrist in the first innings here were dismissed using methods propagated by Stephen Fleming. Steve Waugh in the first innings was an excellent example. Nehra kept him on the backfoot using bouncers, and then sent a beautiful length delivery that castled him. Katich�s dismissal in both innings was the standard �dig-it-in-keep-a-fine-leg� stuff.

But kindly take note of one fact. For all the talk of chin music for the Indians, more Aussies have fallen to short bowling in this series. It means either the Indian bowlers bowl better bouncers than this second string Aussie attack, or the Indian batsmen handle short stuff better than the full strength Aussie batting attack.

Yes, Ganguly�s captaincy has not been absolutely perfect. Far from it. He still misses a trick or two. I still haven�t figured out the logic behind his no-thirdman approach, even when the Aussies love driving and cutting. But he certainly is a smarter captain than Steve Waugh. He is the best person to lead India at the moment. Harish advocates Dravid, but I have my doubts.

Talking of Dravid, man what a performance. After batting in the hot hot weather for about 5 sessions, he fielded sharply, and batted supremely in the second innings. Ponting, too tired after his first inning double, got a few favours from fortune, but didn�t last long. Dravid�s stamina however is phenomenal, much more than Tendulkar. His batting here was reminiscent of Steve Waugh in the 1990s, and I hope he is still far from his peak.

Laxman is in magical form, and Ganguly too seems to have found self-belief. With Tendulkar looking like approaching top form, I get the feeling we are in for a glorious 2-3 years ahead.

What was heartening was that though Ganguly looked happy, he seemed to have the 2001-2002 West Indies at the back of his mind. There too India got a 1-0 lead to lose 2-1 after playing some really pathetic cricket in the last 2 tests. He is aware that though he is getting the plaudits now, they could be whisked away from him if they lose the remaining two matches. Though he will go for a series win, even a 1-1 draw will ensure that the Border-Gavaskar trophy, the only one missing from the office of Cricket Australia, will stay in the Northern Hemisphere.

So what next? I suggest, we continue the good work. Some Australian papers had said they felt that Indians had peaked too soon at the Gabba test. By dismissing all 20 batmen in the absence of Zaheer Khan and scoring over 750 runs at a run rate of around 3.3, we have managed to say �Yeah right, mate!!!� to those deluded loonies.

We should keep out-batting them. The pitch at Melbourne will be a drop-in one, so cant say what will happen there. We are yet to bat on the first morning, but in such a dry summer, it shouldn�t be a problem. We batted first at a green top in Leeds and beat the Poms by an inning. A Warne-less and Mcgrath-less Aussie attack is not much better than the English attack anyway, something I hope now people will agree with, even if you throw in Lee.

Let us wait and see. Till then, let us savour this victory. :)